Authorities in Ukraine have barred demonstrators from holding mass gatherings in Kharkiv and capital city Kiev marking International Workers’ Day due to “security concerns,” fearing a repeat of incidents last year.
More than 30 people were killed in the city of Odessa in last year’s May Day events when a pro-Russian trade union building was set alight by Ukrainian nationalist protesters.
The violence occurred just two months after former pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country following months of pro-EU protests in Kiev, as well as the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia shortly afterwards.
The Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) had planned to hold a rally to protest against “decommunization” laws that have recently been passed by the Ukrainian parliament.
19 arrests were made in Kiev as supporters of KPU, who turned up despite the ban, clashed with masked youths from rival right-wing groups trying to infiltrate the demonstrations.
Police were also quick to disperse around 200 Communist Party supporters in Kharkiv following a brief standoff with far-right counter-protesters.
A number of far-right organisations had also warned left-wing activists against marching in Kiev, with the head of the Freedom Party (Svoboda) Andrew Mohnik telling Interfax his supporters were willing to use “a variety of methods” to prevent the KPU opening their banners in the capital.
“I think that if the Communists will try anything to demonstrate, the public outrage will stop them. I think that this will involve not only the Svoboda, but all the Ukrainians, who understand that today the Communists are working in favour of Russia, and during the war, in fact, are traitors to the state,” Mohnik reportedly said.
Svoboda member and former lawmaker Igor Miroshnichenko told Apostrophe, “The actions of the Communist Party in the country must not only be banned, we must prevent by any means their presence in the public space.”
Ukrainian nationalist Right Sector leader Artem Skoropadsky also vowed to prevent the KPU from marching.
“Our patriotic force will not allow people with communist symbols to roam around Kiev. Anyone with the flags of the Communist Party will not allow to walk more than two metres, they will not pass. And other left-wing anti-Ukrainian forces will also be repelled. The Right Sector will protect the honour and dignity of the Ukrainian people by all available means and methods,” Skoropadsky said.
KPU secretary Peter Simonenko, who was recently summoned to give testimony to the Internal Security Service (SBU) after the party’s branch in Dnipropetrovsk was implicated in allegations linking it to a “terrorist” cell working for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine said protests would be re-organised for May 28.
According to the Ukrainian Justice Minister Pavel Petrenko, the new laws passed on April 29 means all Communist symbols are now outlawed in the country, and thus requires the KPU to change its symbols and charter.
Failure to comply with the new laws could result in the party being disbanded.