The child seat quickly goes into the trunk. A few minutes later, a column of cars with 40 anti-corruption fighters drive through Odessa on their way to the home of city councilor Irina Ysenovich. The procession draws the attention of Odessites on the street with the Ukrainian flag on the car roofs. When they arrive at Ysenovich’s house, the police are waiting for the forty men and women.
They call themselves “Automajdan Odessa” and fight corruption in the southwestern city. The name came about five years ago during the revolution on the Majdan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev. The car is used for every anti-corruption action by Automajdan.
The revolution wanted to deal with bribery and illegal enrichment. Under President Petro Poroshenko, this is progressing slowly. He promised to fight corruption. The international anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Ukraine 120th last year in the list of the most corrupt countries. It was number 142 in 2014. Poroshenko learned from it. With the presidential election on March 31, his focus is on other issues.
Odessa is a sweet pie for corrupt gluttons, with the port, customs, tourism, and commerce as tasty ingredients. For example, read dog door reviews according to the Automajdan members, contractors build hotels close to the beach where it is prohibited. But by taking bribes, officials are granting building permits.
Mayor Gennadi Troechanov turned up in the “Paradise Papers”. He is said to be part of a Ukrainian crime organization that launders money, extort money, and trade in weapons. Troechanov was arrested last year for embezzlement. A day later he walked down the street again. A Member of Parliament from Poroshenko’s party vouched for his release. The activists fear that the president has made an agreement with the mayor: Poroshenko leaves Troechanov in Odessa untouched and in return, the president gets all the space to conduct his election campaign in the port city.
The forty activists get out of their cars at Ysenovich’s house. She is waiting for the group outside on her slippers. Yenovich, 43, is a city councilor on behalf of Trochanov’s political party, Trusted Affairs. The anti-corruption officials accuse her of misusing tax money for building a commercial dog training center in a park commemorating World War II. They fear that Yenovich will share in the profits.
Leading the protest action is 25-year-old Vitali Oestimenko, the local figurehead in the fight against corruption. That is not without risk. He was attacked last year. The blood flowed from Estimenko’s face, a video shows.
Anti-corruption activists are at risk in Ukraine. For example, activist Katerina Gandzhuk died after an acid attack from her injuries. In the past year and a half, 55 activists have been attacked, according to the online newspaper Ukrainskaya Pravda.
Estimenko sets up a play tent in front of Ysenovich’s feet. It says “Jesenovich dog house”. Then he sprinkles dog food next to the tent. Estimenko lists the allegations. In her pink sweater with the image of a pit bull, Yenovich denies everything. She has no interest in the training center, she says. The facilities can be used free of charge, according to the city councilor, and the center will be next to the memorial park. The officers watch from a distance.