Yesterday, June 20, a regular session of the Kharkiv city council began with a picket near the city administration building and a meeting, which turned into fighting.
Usually, only a handful of protesters gather to voice their objections to the city authorities. However, this time about a hundred young men with the symbols of Metalist ultras and the National Corps joined the meeting. They demanded to ban construction of a multi-storey building complex near the Metalist stadium. The issue has become a painful one for Kharkiv football fans. They explain that such a close arrangement of high-rises near the stadium calls into question the stadium’s safety according to UEFA requirements. Therefore this will make it impossible for Kharkiv to host international football matches in future.
However, despite numerous appeals to Kharkiv mayor to refuse the building, the mayor’s team has been trying to vote the decision to develop the construction site previously for several sessions in a row. This issue was specifically introduced into yesterday’s session agenda.
After the session started, the picketers made an attempt to enter the city council’s building to take part in the discussion but they were not allowed. “Only those, who applied in advance and were loyal to the mayor’s office, could take part in the session,” the activists claim.
This stirred up the indignation of the meeting participants. Moreover, in the mayoralty’s corridors, the athletically built young men, wearing white masks, were waiting for the protesters. These people called themselves “municipal security” though they neither wore uniforms nor showed any identity cards. So the unidentified “guards” of the mayor’s office managed to build barricades on the second floor out of the available furniture, in an attempt to prevent the activists gaining access into the session hall.
Fighting soon started at the barricades, using tear gas, fire and smoke bombs. The smoke was so thick that rescuers had to evacuate about 300 people from the building. Some activists got injured during the fighting. The protesters shoved deputy mayor Andriy Rudenko, who was going out of the city hall, into the garbage can and carried him across the street.
Later the protesters claimed that all these illegal weapons were used by the unidentified municipal “guards” who sprayed tear gas. In reply, the mayor’s team accused the protesters of doing the same.
After negotiations on the problematic issue of the development near the stadium, city council’s deputies decided not to allocate land for the construction site at this time and to postpone the decision. Some activists consider this to be their small victory. They thanked all the piquet participants, who helped to uphold the Metalist stadium and “big football” in Kharkiv.
In addition, the city deputies promised to review the regulations for visiting the sessions and to ensure the admission of Kharkiv community’s representatives.
At the same time, Kharkiv mayor Hennady Kernes blamed regional SBU officers in organizing yesterday’s commotion and a fight in the city council. He stated that the Security Service was putting pressure on him and the municipal services, and therefore hampering their work.
Deputy of Kharkiv regional council Dmytro Bulakh denied Kernes’s charges to SBU having stated that those were the municipal “guards” who were throwing fire extinguishers into activists. Also, SBU office called mayor’s charges “dirty and unfounded” and offered their help in investigating the incident.
The police started the investigation into the yesterday’s commotion in the city council. Activists, members of NGO and opposition parties like DemAlliance Kharkiv and Samopomich promise to continue their fight to monitor the city council’s sessions and not to give up.
Text: Olena Sokolynska
Photo: Denys Likhachov, NewsRoom