Lone Judge Fights Corruption in Provincial Ukraine, Wows The Country
27 April, 2017

Corruption among judges is, unfortunately, a widespread phenomenon in Ukraine. Especially on a local level, because when a judge receives a bribe, they keep the matter quiet. However, Ukraine is struggling to change its judiciary system for the better. The process of reforming the judiciary system began back in 2016.

To find out more on reforms, read Hromadske’s analysis: One Year Of Groysman's Government in Ukraine, Examined

Fortunately, not all Ukrainian judges are corrupt. Hromadske’s investigative team ‘Slidstvo.Info’ found at least one honest judge. How hard is it to keep your word and be a totally transperent and honest judge in Ukraine? As the journalists found out, instead of honour and respect, judges experience disregard from their collegues, pressure from the authorities and threats from influential lawbreakers. Read Hromadske’s special project about how to survive in such tough circumstances.

Larysa Golnyk is a judge in the Oktyabrsky district court of Poltava, the capital city of the Poltavskiy region in central Ukraine. However, she has neither donned her robe, nor rendered verdicts in 2 years. Her judicial powers expired in 2015 and the documents for indefinite judge re-election is stuck within the Kyiv institutions.

‘It’s bad not having judicial powers in 2 years. It's extremely bad. I think it's absurd. It’s absurd that a person can receive a salary for doing nothing’, says Larysa Golnyk.

At the same time Golnyk as a victim regularly attends hearings in the other court. She accuses a local major and his assistants of attempted bribery. In 2014, Golnyk was appointed a judge in the case against the major of Poltava Oleksandr Mamai. He was accused in the conflict of interests when allocating land to his step-daughter Iryna Klymko.

‘Then, according to the legislation it was considered corruption. Consequently, the city council had had to consider the removal of the major from the office. Maybe, the issue of early elections would have arisen’, the woman recalls most high-profile case in her career.

The trial in the case of the mayor was being perpetuated, he either didn’t attend court hearings or even when attended was complaining of health problems and the trial was postponed again. All of a sudden a former deputy mayor Dmytro Trykhna entered Golyk’s room with a proposal to solve this problem.

This is a part of the talk of the judge with the intermediary which Larysa Golnyk has secretly taped. When she understood that they are trying to bribe her for a verdict in favor of the major, he appealed to the law enforcement agencies.

«Mamai: There is a need to close this case one way or another.

Golnyk: For what reason?

Mamai: For any reason. One reason… one of the reasons is your recusal, if you don’t accept it.…».

The deal did not take place. The judge was withdrawn from the Mamai case proceedings and in several months the case was closed. ‘Slidstvo.Info’ asked the judge whether she regretted that she decided to do so or not.

‘No, I have never regretted it. I am more and more convinced I did the right thing’, says Larysa Golnyk.

A former deputy mayor of Poltava Dmytro Trykhna was accused of offering improper award and interfering in the activity of the official. The trial in this case is ongoing. Trykhna doesn’t recognize his guilt and do not comment the situation to Slidstvo.Info.

The mayor of Poltava Oleksandr Mamai is a witness in this case and denies all the accusations.

‘This is not my personal conflict with the head of the court. The problem is that any judge who has principled position in the case, the head of the court has personal interest in, can appear in such a situation’, says Larysa Golnyk.

Larysa Golnyk says that after cooperation with the law enforcement agencies attitude of the colleagues to her got worse: 'I understand it comes from the chairman. For example, at the meeting of judges when I was reporting to the colleagues of misconduct of the head of the court, that he abuses me, that it’s not ethical, some judges told me: "You don't like it, quit." That is how it was, not vice versa.'

Slidstvo.Info meets the head of the court Oleksandr Strukov in the same court hall where the meeting of Larysa Golnyk with a mayor of Poltava took place.

‘Mrs Golnyk decided to make a provocation. And she made it as I found out. Moreover, there were all the reasons to close the case. When she made this provocation, the term of bringing this authority to administrative liability expired,’ that is the reaction of Oleksandr Strukov on the incident, which took place in the court he is a head of.

We ask him about the conflict with his subordinate and the pressure she faces:

- The judges are appointed by our president or parliament. So I can’t drive this judge out of work. It is not in my power.It’s like when all the soldiers are marching toe-to-toe…you understand...She was going against the team.

- She wasn’t going against the team, she was asserting her position

In terms of that case, that’s her personal opinion, she made that decision, that’s her decision. I’m talking about something else, the fact she is taping everyone, even the court staff. She records every step she makes. I have 30 years of experience, and Golnyk is the only one who has ever decided to act out in such a way.

- So you have never been offered a bribe for a verdict?

- No. Personally, I haven’t.

- And you haven’t heard about any cases of bribery in your court?

- No!

Golnyk doesn’t give up. She comes to work every day, despite conflicts and the lack of support from her colleagues. During our conversation, she admits that it’s always easy to recognize judges who take bribes, but it isn't usually discussed within the judicial circle.

‘Nobody ever talks about it. You read the verdict and understand that it was given for a reason. It’s absolutely clear, but there is no reaction to it. Was anyone caught red-handed? No one has been caught, not a thief.’

Larysa Golnyk's small modest house looks like an archaeological museum. Her husband, Igor Gavrylenko, is a historian, who works at the Poltava National Technical University. A piece of mammoth ivory, fragments of ancient tableware and jewelry – some of these items were presented to them, some they found themselves. Excavation is a family hobby of theirs.

‘There was no fear, but a feeling that she had to do something. I understand that she couldn’t have done it any other way. Larysa has a heightened sense of justice’, says Igor Gavrylenko.

‘I had a choice. It’s up to you to choose where you want to be. I’ve chosen such a path, and, moreover, I’m absolutely convinced that I've done everything right,' adds his wife.

/ Maria Zemlyanska, Svidomo bureau for Slidstvo.Info

/Translated by Olga Kuchmagra