For the second month already, Ukraine has been living in a regime of continuous restrictions: public transportation is not available, markets and shopping centers do not work, and groups of more than two people are not allowed to walk in the street. However, such restrictions force many people not to stay at home at such a dangerous time, but on the contrary, to go out. Analysts of the Center for Security Studies “CENSS” analyzed the protest actions that took place in different cities of Ukraine. In general, according to the monitoring data, almost 70 protest actions took place all over Ukraine during the quarantine. Most of them took place in Chernivtsi, Dnipropetrovsk, Kyiv, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts, as well as in Kyiv.
The protest sentiment united mostly the entrepreneurs, who for 2 months fought for the abolition of quarantine restrictions and restoration of their activity. Taking into account the changes in conditions and restrictions imposed by the government, a number of protest actions were held in the form of motor rallies, some of the protests were also held online.
Protests out of fear of getting sick
The first protest actions in Ukraine related to the coronavirus took place in early March. They were connected with the fear of the unknown disease COVID-19 and were isolated incidents. Such actions were held in Zhytomyr and Chernivtsi Oblasts.
For example, on the evening of March 3, people gathered in Chernivtsi near the house where the family of the coronavirus patient lives. Neighbors demanded to isolate the patient’s wife, who was in her apartment. The residents were ready to block the road and resort to radical actions, demanding that the woman be isolated. The degree of confrontation was such that the mayor and the law enforcement officers were at the scene. Eventually, an ambulance arrived at the house and hospitalized the wife of the patient.
Subsequently, the protest sentiment has changed to the exact opposite. A month later, on March 29, passengers which were evacuated from Vietnam to Boryspil have been protesting against obligatory medical observation. A crowd of people knocked down the doors of the terminal, after which passengers started running away from police and doctors. It was reported that before the departure people agreed to mandatory observation, but upon arrival to Ukraine, they changed their minds.
On April 15, on the border with Poland, dozens of Ukrainian citizens also protested against forced observation. They demanded to be allowed to go home for self-isolation. In order to be better heard, people blocked the highway at the checkpoint “Yahodyn”. Their relatives were waiting for them to take them home at the border.
The main reason for the underlying grievances of the citizens was the lack of a systematic approach to medical observation: some people who arrived from abroad were immediately isolated, others were let to go home, hoping for their self-discipline and responsibility.
Protest actions of entrepreneurs
Markets in Ukraine have been banned from working since March 18. On March 31, the ban was lifted, and from April 14, the markets were closed again. All these events were accompanied by numerous protest actions from representatives of the small business sector across Ukraine. It was the entrepreneurs’ protests that were the most massive during the quarantine. They actively went out for mass actions in Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson and Ternopil Oblasts.
On March 17, entrepreneurs of local markets gathered near Zaporizhzhia City Council demanding not to close them. Entrepreneurs were collecting signatures under a letter to the President demanding not to close market places, as they had invested money in the goods, which they cannot sell now, so they risked great economic losses.
In Sievierodonetsk, entrepreneurs working in the local market blocked the road, protesting against the ban on street trade during the quarantine. People demanded that the markets not be shut down. At the very least, the entrepreneurs managed to achieve a one-day postponement of the closure of market places.
On March 18, around 30 entrepreneurs from Kryvyi Rih went out to protest in front of the City Council. In addition to the demand not to close market places, entrepreneurs asked to cancel a number of laws regulating small businesses, in particular on the establishment of cash registers and electronic checks. The entrepreneurs have promised to come with their demands to the capital.
On March 27, entrepreneurs protested in Poltava. They demanded to open markets because it would help to unload supermarkets. In addition, they recalled that they are trying to actively assist medical institutions in the fight against coronavirus: buy protective masks, disposable cutlery and other necessary things.
It was also reported in mass media about the organization of large-scale motor rallies of entrepreneurs against quarantine restrictions and the restoration of small businesses. Therefore, on April 22, Zaporizhzhia hosted a mass motor rally of entrepreneurs defending their rights. They once again demanded to open markets and convinced that it is much easier to catch coronavirus infection in the supermarkets. In addition, it was reported that farmers haven’t got a clue what to do with their vegetables, while prices in the stores rose because all goods are imported.
On March 24, entrepreneurs in Kramatorsk protested against market closures. Because of the quarantine, they were left unemployed and forced to fire their hired workers. Entrepreneurs, who found themselves in a difficult situation, were advised by representatives of Kramatorsk City Council to contact the social security authorities.
In Khmelnytskyi, a conflict situation arose due to the closure of the wholesale and retail market. The day before, the market administration was fined for work during the quarantine. However, the authorities did not take into account the fact that entrepreneurs from the entire region buy small wholesale lots from the wholesale market. Then they provide retail outlets in their settlements with these products.
In Kamianske, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, on April 26, entrepreneurs “stormed” two markets and restored trade, justifying it by the fact that this is how they exercise their right to work, without waiting for official permits to initiate work of the markets.
On the same day, several dozen entrepreneurs in Lviv organized a protest action demanding that the regional authorities and government open markets and shops of less than 300 square meters. Representatives of small and medium-sized businesses drove by cars in front of the building of the Lviv Regional State Administration, signaling horns.
In response to the pressure and numerous protests over quarantine restrictions, which were broadly publicized and highly resonated, the government decided to ease the restrictions for the quarantine period, although according to the Ministry of Health the disease peak is expected in early May. However, if the number of patients increases, the Government may reconsider its decision, as it was done in late March.
Protests against restrictions on the use of public transportation
The ban on transporting more than 11 persons in public transportation simultaneously and only wearing masks led to a huge number of collisions both between passengers and between passengers, drivers and police. The total number of such cases was at least 10 as reported in the public sources.
For example, in Kyiv on March 18, a man without a mask protested that he was not allowed in the tram. As a sign of dissatisfaction, he clung to the front of the tram and prevented it from moving, demanding that the door be opened for him.
In Odesa, the morning, when restrictions on public transportation for no more than 10 passengers were introduced, began with numerous conflicts. Sometimes passengers threatened the driver, who tried to identify the 11th passenger himself, in other cases passengers blocked the traffic demonstrating their protest.
Sometimes the confrontation transitioned into a more aggressive phase: for example, a man threw the driver off one of the trolleybuses in the capital because he refused to drive the 11th passenger. A resident of Odesa, who was not allowed in the tram without a mask, laid down on the tracks in protest, blocking the traffic.
On March 19 in Odesa, a passenger dissatisfied with the fact that the trolleybus driver refused to drive more than 10 passengers broke the windshield of the trolleybus with a stone.
Protests against the ban on the long-distance and the international transportations
Due to the ban on both international and long-distance connection, as well as restrictions on the number of passengers in public transportation, there were numerous protest actions by both carriers and those who could not return to Ukraine due to the restrictions.
For example, on March 15, on the border with Poland, citizens of Ukraine went on strike because a pedestrian passage was blocked. At night, around 5 000 persons unsuccessfully tried to return to Ukraine from Poland, but they were not allowed in. In the morning, the situation stabilized and buses started to be allowed across the border. Polish border guards asked all drivers of regular-route transport and cars to give Ukrainians a ride, who could not cross the border on foot. Due to problems with crossing the border, huge queues were formed. Truck traffic was also blocked.
On March 18, residents of Kyiv Oblast working in the capital blocked railway traffic at the “Fastiv” station. People were outraged by the fact that they could not get to work and demanded to restore the movement of electric trains, which was stopped on the basis of the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine in connection with preventing the spread of acute respiratory disease COVID-19 in the country. After negotiations with local authorities, people were taken to their destination points by vehicles.
On March 19, public transportation drivers from Pokrovsk (Donetsk Oblast) protested due to restrictions on passenger transportation. They stated that it was unprofitable for them to drive only 10 passengers. One of the drivers said that he was fined for driving 11 passengers, including a 4-year-old child. None of the officials went out for dialogue to the protesters. Similar actions took place all over Ukraine.
Immediately after the end of quarantine Ukraine may expect a large-scale protest actions of miners because of the crisis in the energy industry, which has led to the shutdown of mines.
Since the morning of March 16 in Novovolynsk on the highway P-15, near the Epicenter, miners have been constantly walking on a crosswalk, blocking the movement of cars. By doing so, they demanded the discharge of the General Director of the State Enterprise “Volynvuhillia”. Among other demands were provision of good equipment and salary.
Also, according to the available information, one of the largest coal-mining enterprises in Ukraine ceased to operate. These include all 10 mines and auxiliary enterprises of PJSC “DTEK Pavlohradvuhillia” that were closed on April 20. Almost 20 000 persons are on forced leave from now on. As early as on April 14, “DTEK Enerho” warned that the mines would stop in a week due to the systemic energy crisis, economic turmoil and coronavirus. Under such conditions, immediately after the end of quarantine the miners are going to organize mass protest actions in Kyiv.
Protests of medical workers
The spread of the coronavirus coincided with the implementation of the second stage of medical reform, which began on April 1. It provides for the closure of certain specialized medical institutions and the discharge of doctors. The change of the Minister of Health and the numerous criticisms of high-ranking officials led both patients and doctors to demand the cancellation or at least putting on hold the decisions to be taken within the framework of the reform. In total, there were about 10 protest actions during quarantine related to the activities of medical workers and medical institutions in Dnipropetrovsk, Zakarpattia, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, and Kherson Oblasts.
Patients of the occupational pathology department of the Zaporizhzhia Regional Clinical Hospital, as well as veterans who are treated in the hospital department, protested near the regional state administration in Zaporizhzhia. The main requirement was not to stop the functioning of these two departments.
Employees of the emergency stations in Zaporizhzhia recorded a video appeal to the President, demanding a salary increase due to the fight against COVID-19. They were outraged by the fact that as early as March medical workers of Ukraine, engaged in the treatment of patients with laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, were to receive an additional payment of three salaries. However, the ambulance workers were not included in this list. After public speeches, the Ministry of Health fixed this situation.
New forms of protest expression
The mask regime and the ban on groups of more than two people to walk in the street forced citizens to seek new forms of protest expression.
On March 27, the first online meeting was held, the participants of which protested against the reduction of funding for culture, because of the Ukrainian State Film Agency, the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation, the Ukrainian Book Institute, tourism and the like are likely to be deprived of the budget funding.
Actors from Zaporizhzhia celebrated the day of the theatre on March 27 during quarantine by solitary pickets. The theatre workers did not write requirements on the posters, they wrote only witty inscriptions.
Another form of protest was the motor rally and placing a large number of cars in front of the government buildings. In Kyiv on March 30, activists organized a motor rally against the opening of a land market in Ukraine, the law on which was under consideration in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. The cars passed through the central streets in a convoy.
The analysis of the study results shows that in many cases, local authorities did not respond properly to the protesters’ demands by contacting the police.
Taking into consideration the fact that quarantine restrictions are still in place, protest sentiment will only increase. There are several reasons for this:
- unequal conditions for doing business (among the arguments of the protesters are the following: why supermarkets work and markets cannot, why network stores sell coffee and small cafes are closed);
- lack of justification and proper communication of restrictions (for example, why 10 passengers on public transportation is a safe measure and 11 is not);
- selective punishment of quarantine violators;
- lack of a clear comprehensive plan to address the economic impacts of quarantine.
It is evident that once quarantine is over, amidst political, economic and social problems, public discontent will continue and become even more ambitious.
Note. The study was conducted by analyzing the information obtained as a result of special processing of information received from public sources (official websites of state and local authorities, units of law enforcement agencies of central and regional levels; their profiles in social networks (twitter, Facebook); as well as Ukrainian digital mass media).