Central Ukrainian City Declares War on Zelenskyy's Coronavirus Restrictions
2 May, 2020
Since speaking to Hromadske, Cherkasy mayor Anatoliy Bondarenko released a Facebook video repeating his stance and calling on Zelenskyy to attack corrupt officials and not city mayors. Screenshot / Anatoliy Bondarenko / Facebook

Since the start of the nationwide quarantine in mid-March, much of Ukraine has been religiously obeying the announced restrictions. 

This was until May started and the mayor of the central Ukrainian city of Cherkasy, Anatoliy Bondarenko, allowed for various shops to reopen, restaurant terraces to accept clients, and food markets to operate.

Zelenskyy was noticeably unhappy with this frivolousness and promised "juridical consequences" for Bondarenko.

"This will apply to all local governments' representatives that confuse decentralization and autonomy. Do not engage in self-initiated activities that endanger the safety of people," the president said in May 1 video address.

The same day Bondarenko was interrogated by the police.

In a May 2 telephone interview with Hromadske, Cherkasy mayor explained why he turned his city into Ukraine's "freetown."

"I would like for Ukraine to have the same laws for everyone," he said. "I do not see any difference between 'Epicenter' (a big chain of home and gardening stores owned by millionaire married couple Oleksandr and Halyna Hereha -ed.) and a small hardware store... How is the "Velour" restaurant (owned by Servant of the People MP Mykola Tyshchenko -ed.) different from a small cafe?"

"Velour", located in central Kyiv, has been uncovered by investigative journalists to carry out business as usual, despite nationwide quarantine restrictions that apply to restaurants. "Epicenter" stores seem to operate, too, and, according to Cherkasy mayor Bondarenko, the store in Cherkasy hasn't closed for a single day of the quarantine.  

Bondarenko also justified his decision with Cherkasy residents' requests to open up food markets.

"They don't understand why they can visit supermarkets but not markets and open-air areas that stick to hygiene standards," the mayor told Hromadske.

Bondarenko hints that Zelenskyy's hostility to his actions is linked to the fact that he's in opposition to the president.

"[Mykola] Tyshchenko is a Servant of the People, so he's untouchable. He's part of the president's faction. While the Cherkasy mayor can be pressured because he's in opposition to the president," he said.

The city's mayor has already been compared online to the navy minesweeper U311 "Cherkasy," known for being the last Ukrainian ship in Russia-occupied Crimea. An eponymous film was released in 2019 telling Cherkasy's story.

Asked by Hromadske whether Bondarenko's city will adopt similar resilience, the mayor said "yes, it will. And very seriously."

/Interview by Tetiana Bezruk, text by Maria Romanenko

For all the latest updates on the coronavirus in Ukraine, follow this link.