Villagers defying an oligarch who poisoned their land endured a beating
“One day Ryaba the Chicken laid a golden egg,” a traditional Slavic folk story tells. “But the elders weren’t happy. For they could not boil the egg and could not eat it, since they could not break it,” the fairytale goes. Unrelated though it may seem, this story is surprisingly real for the villagers of Ukraine. It describes very well their current situation in a fight against the exploitation of nature and the all-conquering power of money.
In 2010, the largest industrial chicken production company in Ukraine – Myronivsky Hliboprodukt (MHP) – started the construction of a massive poultry farm near the village of Chetvertynivka. “They promised us steady and well-paid jobs for everyone,” is how Sukhopara explains the very beginning of the whole story. The pledge of new jobs and high wages helped MHP to get public support for building two complexes on an area of 37 ha (91 acres).
When the mistake becomes clear
Soon enough the locals realized the outcome of MHP’s production – soil and water pollution, a decreasing water level in the Pivdennyi Buh river, an omnipresent awful smell, and an enormous increase in the traffic passing through the village, which made some houses literally uninhabitable.
And not even the life quality promises were kept. “In 2010 MHP employed about ten per cent of us, which means around 90 people, but nobody stayed there for a long time since the working conditions there are not acceptable,” is how Sukhopara himself explains the reason that changed people’s minds. So when MHP came up with the suggestion of expanding the premises the local community started to raise concerns about the growing negative impact of the factory.
“A local farmer who had leased land from the villagers signed an underhanded
contract with MHP for them to use 120 ha of our fields.”
Even though a majority of the village voted against the expansion during a public hearing in October 2015, the secret contract allowed MHP to start the construction as planned and soon the construction machinery started to excavate the fertile black soil (chernozem) of Chetvertynivka.
Swift protest and a bloody retribution
Suchopara quickly organized a protest, informed all the concerned parties (the mayor and the MHP representatives), and, together with another 300 residents of Chetvertynivka, started a blockade of the original two units from November 2nd, 2015, letting no trucks in or out. After four days an MHP manager, Maxim Pisarev, arrived promptly to make an agreement. MHP would stop the illegal construction, return all the excavated soil, and not persecute the participants in the blockade, Pisarev promised.
Two weeks after signing the memorandum on November 21st, Volodymyr Suchopara and his wife went to the market in Ladyzhyn to sell their farmi produce.
“I was sitting in the car. Suddenly two unknown men tapped on my window, saying
there was something wrong with my rear wheel. When I stepped out there
they were with iron bars and brass knuckles in their hands…”
It was still dark in the morning when the two thugs attacked Sukhopara. Volodymyr’s wife rushed out from the car and startled the men. Volodymyr ended up with a cut eyebrow and beaten and bruised. “It happened only two weeks after our blockade. I’m 52 years old and I’ve never had any problems like that. I think the men must have been hired by MHP,” Sukhopara expresses his opinion.
If you thought this is an exceptional incident, think again. The same two men attacked a local civil society activist, Andriy Skakodub, and later that same year, also a village mayor in the Cherkasy region, Vasyl Tkachenko. Mrs. Sukhopara even recognized the men from Tkachenko’s photos and found out their names, but nevertheless the police did absolutely nothing in the name of justice.
Next destination: Europe
MHP has naturally never admitted any involvement in the whole case. Instead, the company, which has been accused of soil exploitation, breaking the ecological limits, causing environmental pollution, and violation of civil rights, has expanded to the Netherlands and Slovakia and plans to spread into many other countries of the European Union.
“In the traditional fairytale of Ryaba the Chicken people couldn’t eat golden eggs.
We also want to breathe fresh air and to eat regular unpoisoned food.”
ENG Lost in transition: 25 Years of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (CEE Bankwatch Network)
ENG 30/07/2015 Ukraine agribusiness firms in 'quiet land grab' with development finance (Claire Provost, Matt Kennard and Bertha Fellows, The Guardian)
UKR 05/11/2015 The people from Chetvertynivka are blocking roads to the poultry bridages for already five days (Anastasia Jakovichina, 33kanal.com)
UKR 21/11/2015 VIDEO: The participant of protest against the henniks in Vinnitsa region was brutally beaten (Pravona.org on YouTube)
UKR 24/11/2015 The activist form Ladyzhyn was beaten with brass knuckles because of “Kurochka Rjaba” (Viktor Skripnik on vn.20minut.ua)
UKR 24/11/2015 The man from Vinnytsja suffered because of the poultry farm (Tetjana Sherbatjuk, Vlasno.info)
UKR 02/12/2015 The operation “Antibroyler”. The end of the armistice (Young Ukraine)