Oleksii Goncharenko is an opposition MP in the Ukraine parliament.
I AM seriously concerned by the latest crackdown on Ukrainian opposition politicians by President Zelensky.
The Ukrainian Government continue to block political opponents, including myself, from leaving the country for short periods to attend important political meetings of international organisations including the Council of Europe.
As a Member State of the Council of Europe, it is the responsibility of Ukraine to ensure that our representatives have every opportunity to actively participate in and effectively carry out their duties. Preventing us from fulfilling our responsibilities threatens the impartiality and legitimacy of Ukraine’s decision-making processes, posing a direct threat to democracy within our parliament.
Let me be clear, politicians are banned from leaving Ukraine only if they are part of an opposition party. Ruling party MPs, politicians and hangers-on are completely unhindered from appearing abroad or leaving the country.
Moreover, we are routinely excluded from appearing in the official news coverage of the war effort. Ukraine launched United News or UA immediately after the full-scale invasion began so that Ukrainians would have 24/7 access to information on the war and its impact. This service is undeniably a good thing for Ukraine – we want our citizens to know how our campaign against the invaders is going.
Yet the ruling Servant of the People party has been hugely overrepresented. Analysis of political appearances shows that their representatives have taken more than 70 per cent of all political slots. As a comparison, MPs from European Solidarity, my party, have appeared less than 3 per cent of the time.
Worryingly, the Ukrainian government is also clamping down on opposition voices by aggressively restricting the activities of both opposition groups and media channels. In one prominent example, the popular outlet based in my constituency of Odesa, Dumskaya.net, was raided and investigated under the premise of an investigation against ‘one of the deputies of the Odesan Regional Council’. It has been suggested that I may even be one of the ones being targeted.
Despite public statements, journalists were prevented from returning to their offices and carrying out their work. After a lengthy process, nothing was seized and no-one was arrested. This is a clear violation of Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, which safeguards the rights of our journalists to carry out their lawful professional activities.
Dumskaya.net have told me that the operation was carried out as an intimidation tactic. It was an attempt to shut down their investigations into corruption and abuse of power by local elites. Our laws clearly state that ‘the powers of a People’s Deputy [MP] and their constitutional rights and freedoms cannot be limited during martial law’. However, it is martial law that is being used as the flimsy excuse to restrict opposition figures.
On the most recent occasion, as I was blocked from attending a Council of Europe event, my grouping – which includes the Conservative Party in the UK – was not represented at all as I was the key nominated representative.
Words cannot truly express how wrong it is that the government is using the war against the Russian invaders to clamp down on legitimate opposition parties.
Opening spurious criminal investigations into popular news outlets is the kind of activity common in Russia, not Ukraine. Preventing the freedom of travel for opposition politicians while giving special benefits to his cronies is something normal in Putin’s dictatorship. It must not be part of our system.
President Zelensky needs to stop eroding the foundations of our Ukrainian democracy. Democracy is what differentiates us from Russia. Ukrainians are fighting for our future and our democratic rights against Russia. I worry that if the President continues along this this path, our democracy will be in danger.