Kyiv Court to Consider Criminal Proceedings Against Ukraine's Social Minister
13 May, 2019

A Kyiv court has received two lawsuits regarding Ukraine's social minister's use of the word "scum" when talking about residents of the occupied Donbas.

In an interview to the BBC, the Ukrainian Minister of Social Policy Andriy Reva is heard saying that he "doesn't feel pity" for the people in the occupied Donbas who did not leave the area for government-controlled Ukraine. Reva later clarified that he was only talking about those who took up weapons to "fight against their own country." However, among public outrage, some people – including chairman of the Ukrainian parliament's human rights committee – are calling for Reva's dismissal.

What Happened

In an excerpt of the interview made and published by the BBC Ukrainian service's journalist Olga Malchevska on April 26, Reva says that he doesn't feel sorry for those who stayed in the occupied Donbas.

"Everyone who's pro-Ukrainian has left and those who want to claim pensions on both sides have to put up with it," the social minister is heard saying in the abridged version of the interview. "Honestly, I don't feel pity for them, not one of them, at all. I feel pity for those soldiers and officers, and for their families. They were killed there because of those scums." 

The interview was made as part of a report on the pensioners living in the occupied Donbas who due to the Ukrainian law specifics have to constantly travel between government- and separatist-controlled territories of Donbas to receive their payments. Ukrainians living in occupied Donbas can only receive their pensions if they register as internally displaced persons (IDPs). 

So those who wish to receive a Ukrainian pension – of which there are around 700,000 – are forced to break the Ukrainian law by misrepresenting themselves to the state as IDPs.

Every month, they have to travel to government-controlled territories via checkpoints, where the queues can last up to 8 hours. In cold and hot weather conditions,  the time-consuming process of going through checkpoints sometimes turns lethal for the elderly. Since the start of 2019, 10 pensioners have died going through the checkpoints between Ukraine’s controlled and uncontrolled territories, with the latest recorded case taking place on April 11.

READ MORE: Why Are Ukrainian Pensioners Dying in Donbas?

Public Reaction

Reva's statements, which the minister claims were taken out of the context, have already caused much of an uproar among some of the Ukrainian population. Ukrainian MP and chairman of the human rights committee Hryhoryi Nemyria even hinted that Reva should be dismissed. 

"The Minister of Social Policy Andriy Reva officially during an interview to the BBC called the Ukrainian citizens who have ended living in the occupied part of Donbas against their will "scum." There have been no attempts to apologize so far: neither from Reva, nor from the government or the prime minister," Nemyria is quoted as saying during a May 13 parliament session by the Ukrainian National News agency.

"I don't see how such person can continue serving as minister of social policy within the Ukrainian government," he added.

Alyona Lunyova, the advocacy manager at Ukraine's Human Rights Information Center, also called on a political reaction to Reva's words.

"This phrase, and the interview overall, the part that was shown in the report, deserves a political reaction because it's a political statement. It's not an official's position. It's a political statement, albeit quite an emotional one," Lunyova told Hromadske on May 3. 

The Minister's Response to the Scandal

Reva himself claims that the phrases that were used by the BBC do not represent his actual position regarding the residents of the Donbas.

"Only one phrase from the entire half-an-hour-long interview was used in the report. The author of the report used it as illustration of my supposed attitude towards ALL WITHOUT EXCEPTION residents of Ukraine in occupied territories," Reva wrote on Facebook on April 29.

He went on to explain that he only referred to those Ukrainians who use weapons to fight against their own country as "scum."

READ MORE: Pensioners From Occupied Donbas Struggle to Get Payments

"In no way do I blame Ukrainian citizens who consciously don't help the occupants and who merely became their captives for the situation that occurred. I have been and I will continue doing everything in my power to help these people. That's my solid position in life, which is based on my personal convictions," Reva explained.

The District Administrative Court of Kyiv wrote on May 13 that they are revising the lawsuits to determine whether criminal proceedings need to be started against the social minister.

Reva, along with the social ministry, have previously been criticized by the public for not introducing a less burdensome way of receiving Ukrainian pensions and for deliberately making people lie to the state.

/By Maria Romanenko