Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 139

“I am the president of all Ukrainians, those who voted for me and those who didn’t, those who understand me and those who don’t,” President Viktor Yushchenko said upon his July 15 arrival in the eastern city of Donetsk, which remains largely hostile towards him. Donetsk Region voted overwhelmingly in favor of former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych in last year’s presidential polls, while support for Yushchenko was limited to single digits. Last Friday marked Yushchenko’s second trip to Donetsk since his inauguration. This visit was not only an attempt to win the hearts and minds of the locals, who believe Yushchenko is too nationalist and too pro-American to be the leader of the Ukrainian nation, but probably also the last warning to the local elites, who, Yushchenko believes, resist democratic changes.

Yushchenko’s reception in Donetsk this time around was an example of Soviet-era hospitality. In October 2003, when he tried to hold a congress of his Our Ukraine bloc in Donetsk, he was met with insulting posters depicting him in a Nazi uniform. In July 2005, Yushchenko was met with freshly mended roads and welcoming billboards. The day before his arrival, a local court outlawed an anti-Yushchenko protest near the airport, so arriving in Donetsk he saw orange flags and happy faces. But this, apparently, failed to impress him. “The authorities must be moral. But in Donetsk they are not,” Yushchenko said, addressing a hall full of local dignitaries. Yushchenko’s allies had been ejected from this same hall in 2003. “The [Donetsk] authorities do not understand their purpose yet, they are restoring clans and bringing back the links that discredit all of you,” the president warned.

This was a clear warning to local officials. Recalling the 2003 propaganda campaign against him, Yushchenko openly accused Donetsk Mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko, of “assisting the crime.” Yushchenko said that he still expects an apology from the mayor, which he received today (July 19). It was expected that on coming to Donetsk Yushchenko might fire regional governor Vadym Chuprun, a former ambassador to Turkmenistan, whom he had picked to head the region last February. On July 9, Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine-People’s Union Party adopted a motion (1,362 votes to three) urging Yushchenko to dismiss Chuprun for failure to diminish the influence of the local “clans.” It was rumored that Chuprun might be replaced by Our Ukraine MP Mykhaylo Pozhyvanov, a former mayor of Donetsk Region’s second largest city, Mariupol, and a former deputy mayor of Kyiv. But Yushchenko apparently gave Suprun another chance, as he chaired the July 15 meeting.

Steel tycoon Renat Akhmetov, who is believed to be the real boss of Donetsk Region, may have no such second chance, as reports have appeared that police suspect him of criminal activity. On June 23 the Interior Ministry’s anti-organized crime department head Serhy Kornych said at a news conference, “Akhmetov is a real boss of an organized criminal group.” Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, asked to comment on Kornych’s statement on June 28, said that he had no evidence of Akhmetov’s involvement in crime, and that Kornych would have to “either prove his statement with evidence or apologize.” But no apology came from Kornych; instead, on July 13 the Interior Ministry’s criminal investigation department summoned Akhmetov for questioning on July 18 (Akhmetov ignored the summons, and his aides replied to the ministry that he is vacationing abroad). Also on July 13, Glavred quoted a source in the ministry as saying that Akhmetov is suspected of masterminding an attempt on the life of a criminal boss in Donetsk in 1988. Interviewed on television on July 16, Lutsenko indirectly confirmed this report. “The criminal investigation department told me today that one individual who lives abroad testified that Akhmetov committed an attempt on his life,” he said. “An investigation has to be conducted in order to find the truth.”

Symptomatically, Akhmetov did not attend the meeting with Yushchenko, neither did Mayor Lukyanchenko. And Donetsk Regional Council Chairman Borys Kolesnykov could not do so physically, as on the day of Yushchenko’s trip to Donetsk a court in Kyiv, where he faces a trial on extortion charges, ruled to extend his term in custody (see EDM, April 11). Another former local dignitary recently targeted by police is a former mayor of Makiyivka and former deputy governor of Donetsk Region Vasyl Dzharty. The Interior Ministry said on July 13 that Dzharty is suspected of tax evasion during the purchase of a Mercedes limousine in 2002, and that the purchases by him of a Lexus and two more Mercedes cars are being checked.

(Obkom.net.ua, June 23; Interfax-Ukraine, June 28, July 13; UNIAN, July 9; Glavred.info, July 13; Ukraina TV, July 15; Inter TV, July 16; Kanal 5 TV, July 18; Ostro.org, July 19)