Why Medvedchuk's allies, including many traitors, continue to exist as a party in Ukraine

18 April, 07:51 PM
SBU has arrested Viktor Medvedchuk (Photo:Security Service of Ukraine (SBU))

SBU has arrested Viktor Medvedchuk (Photo:Security Service of Ukraine (SBU))

During the war, the pro-Russian OPZH (Opposition Platform – For Life) party has became a real fifth column of the Kremlin. There have been attempts to ban the party, but it’s had its chance to sail under a false flag.

On March 27, on the 24th day of living under Russian occupation, the residents of Enerhodar, a town 120 km from the city of Zaporizhzhya, learned that a puppet authority had appeared in the town. This was reported by a round-facedman with glasses and two rings on his hand, in a video published by the enemy on Telegram messenger.

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“A public council of the people’s self-organization begins its operation in the town today," he said monotonously and without looking at the camera, standing against the background of the town's coat of arms.

"I, Andriy Volodymyrovych Shevchyk, was elected chairman of this council by a vote."

This name is well known to locals, since Shevchyk is an OPZH council member, a member of the city council of Enerhodar.

He became the only representative of the government of Enerhodar who publicly agreed to cooperate with the invaders. At the same time, the legally elected mayor, Dmytro Orlov, and other council members, refused to betray Ukraine. As a result, the invaders abducted and are still detaining Ivan Samoidiuk, the city's first deputy mayor.

"If I was told who the orcs were betting on, I would definitely say it would be Shevchyk," Yana Dabizha, head of the executive committee of the Enerhodar City Council, told NV.

She explained that Shevchyk had never hidden his views, loved the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, and greeted the population on Victory Day with the St. George ribbon, banned in Ukraine, even after 2014.

Shevchyk's party bosses, the leaders of OPZH, behaved the same way at the national level.

Russian supporters

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there were many such OPZH representatives. This party has become almost the main "supplier" of collaborators in Ukraine.

This isn’t surprising: in recent years, OPZH has become the key pro-Russian force in Ukraine, while its leaders have proved to be the only Ukrainian politicians regularly received by the Kremlin.

A fish rots from the head, because one of the party's leaders was Viktor Medvedchuk, who has close relations to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, with the Russian dictator being godfather to one of Medvedchuk's daughters. At the beginning of the war, being suspected of treason, he escaped from house arrest. The SBU security service of Ukraine has recently detained Medvedchuk, and is now trying to exchange him for Ukrainian prisoners.

Another well-known representative of OPZH, Ilya Kiva, fled to Spain, from wherehe moved to Russia and began to fling mud at his homeland on Russian propaganda television channels. On the first day of the war, he declared that Ukraine was "enslaved and brought to its knees by the West, imbued with Nazism," and that "the people need liberation."

The rest of the top politicians of this party have either disappeared from the information space (like Serhiy Lyovochkin), or are trying to keep out of sight (like Yuriy Boyko, co-chairman of OPZH).

Their party colleague, businessman and politician Hryhoriy Surkis, was no less radical: he fled Ukraine together with his brother Ihor, president of football team FC Dynamo, and his grandsons of conscription age.

At the grassroots level, some OPZH members went into direct cooperation with the invaders. This was the case, for example, in the almost destroyed Mariupol.On April 4, members of this political force "elected" Kostiantyn Ivashchenko as the mayor, a member from OPZH in the City Council. In addition, according to Mariupol City Council, five OPZH council members "not only supported the invaders, but also acted as informants for the enemy army and actually adjusted the shelling of critical civilian infrastructure."

Anatoliy Fomichevskyi, an MP from OPZH in the town of Izyum in Kharkiv Oblast, also helped the enemy. According to the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), he and MP Yuriy Kozlov, a former mayor and police officer, defected to the enemy's side and leaked information about the location of units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, local activists, businessmen, members of the territorial defense units, and their relatives.

A similar situation took place in the town of Kupiansk in Kharkiv Oblast, where Mayor Hennadiy Matsehora, also a member of OPZH, made a deal with the Russians.

Representatives of the Opposition Bloc Party (former Party of Regions) also sided with Russia in occupied Kakhovka and Melitopol.

Ukrainian law enforcement officers are recording these cases of collaboration with the enemy, and are opening criminal proceedings for treason and encroachment on Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Yenin told NV that law enforcement officers have identified 227 collaborators since the beginning of hostilities. However, the law enforcers did not mention in their statistics which party the traitors belong to.

"It's very simple: you help the occupier – you get 15 years in prison or you get life imprisonment, whoever you are," Yenin said.

The corpus delicti of such persons is determined by the article on treason, the deputy interior minister said. Collaborative activities, such as public denial of Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine, will be punished by deprivation of the right to hold certain government positions or engage in certain political activities for a period of 10 to 15 years.

If collaborative actions have resulted in deaths or other serious consequences, then the occupiers' accomplices face 15 years in prison or life imprisonment.

However, criminal proceedings against OPZH members for treason is only part of the consequences for them. The behaviour of traitors among local deputies gives impetus to a larger process – the final collapse of the largest pro-Russian project in Ukraine.

Thus, on March 19, the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) of Ukraine decided to suspend the activities of the OPZH and 10 other smaller pro-Russian parties during the period of martial law. Now all that remains is to draw up this decision correctly from a legal point of view, Oleksiy Haran, Professor of Comparative Politics at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, told NV. After all, there are grounds for this.

"We should recall their statements that it wasn't a war before February, but a 'fratricidal' conflict," Haran said. 

"They did not recognize the presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian territory, and there had been no condemnation for a long time after the start of the war. They called for peace, but did not name who was to blame for the war."

Haran is convinced that the defection of many OPZH MPs and politicians to the enemy's side at the local level is another argument that can be used.

Attempts to save a sinking ship

After the start of the war, nine people left the parliamentary faction of OPZH, consisting of 44 lawmakers. At the same time, members of this political party began to disband local factions and create new ones, such as "Platform for Life and Peace."

A few days after the NSDC's decision, Vadym Rabinovych, co-chairman of OPZH, being in Israel, announced that the party had ceased to exist. He claimed that the party had always advocated for peace, but it was now gone. However, Rabinovych did not condemn Russia's war against Ukraine.

According to political scientist Volodymyr Fesenko, Rabinovych tried to absolve himself of "part of the responsibility, in order to not be involved in accusations of collaboration with the occupiers," as well as distancing himself from Medvedchuk, with whom he had been a partner for many years.

However, Rabinovych's statement disappeared from the party's official website the next day. Instead, another one was posted, from another co-chair of the political party, Yuriy Boyko. He announced the continuation of the party's work and the dismissal of Rabinovych.

Later, Boyko made another attempt to save the party: he condemned Russia's aggression against Ukraine and said that the political party would help the government, and some members of the party would even enlist in the territorial defense units.

NV asked Mykola Skoryk, an MP from OPZH, to explain how he sees the party's future. However, he declined to comment and told our journalist to look for "official information from the political force itself." To NV's remarks that local politicians from their party were cooperating with the invaders, he replied that "this is far from the case."

NV asked Mykola Skoryk, an MP from OPZH, to explain how he sees the party's future. However, he declined to comment and told our journalist to look for "official information from the political force itself."

To NV's remarks that local politicians from their party were cooperating with the invaders, he replied that "this is far from the case."

Bag and baggage!

No matter how the members of OPZH try to salvage the situation, the process of liquidated the OPZH has already started. On April 14, the party's faction in parliament, once the second largest, ceased to exist. But the party said it would create an MP group among those who remained.

However, it's still impossible to take away the mandates of lawmakers who have always belonged to the pro-Russian party. Also, the OPZH party continues to exist, legally, even after the NSDC's decision. However, the Justice Ministry is trying to revoke its license in court.

Oleksandr Kornienko, the first deputy speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, explained to NV that this situation was due to the lack of laws that would allow the government to revoke mandates, or ban the party.

"Unfortunately, there are no direct answers to these questions both in the Constitution, the Rules of Procedure, the basic laws concerning lawmakers," said Kornienko. 

"There is no reason to lose the mandate, even such as a party ban (by the decision of the NSDC). There is not even a reason to dissolve the faction, unless there are less than 17 people in it."

Now, Ukraine’s parliament has passed in the first reading a bill to regulate the ban on pro-Russian parties. The document is being amended. Therefore, according to Kornienko, it is not yet clear what the law will be in the final version. 

"There is a very wide range of proposals: from the dissolution of the faction and the transformation of MPs into non-factional ones, to ideas on how to withdraw the status of parliamentarians."

The politician admits that a more difficult question is what to do with pro-Russian party members in local councils. After all, in addition to OPZH, there are many banned minor parties, e.g. pro-Russian blogger's Anatoliy Shariy party. If these groups are banned and their members are recalled, local councils may begin to lose their quorum. That is why the parliament is now discussing models on how to resolve this situation.

They will try to sail under false flags

If OPZH is completely banned, its members will try to rebrand and rename themselves, said Haran. They have experience doing this: this is exactly what happened to the Party of Regions, from which the Opposition Bloc emerged in 2014, and from part of the latter the OPZH was formed in 2019.

"Therefore, it's very important that people are informed about their behaviour, their betrayal, and their justification of Russian aggression," said Haran. "In fact, a great responsibility lies with our media."

Fesenko also agrees with this. According to him, it is not a problem to create a new party in Ukraine. There are registered formal avatar parties, that can be bought and serve as vessel to return to politics, under false colors. But even in such a scenario, members of OPZH will not be able to re-establish themselves as a pro-Russian party.

"Rather, it may be a formation like moderate business owners," said Fesenko. "They will work in such a non-ideological way, without the use of pro-Russian slogans, without the slogan of reconciliation with Russia."

But this is provided that OPZH representatives still manage to return. The government admits that pro-Russian politicians may face lustration, or removal from their post.

"My colleagues will advocate and promote (political lustration) to make this happen," Kornienko said.

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