Profiles of the civic activists leading the anti-tax protest in Kyiv.
Civic activist, lobbyist, lawyer, former Orange Revolution activist
Oleksandr Danylyuk, a 29-year-old native of Kyiv, is the same age as President Viktor Yanukovych’s son Viktor Jr., Unlike Viktor Jr., who was elected to parliament on the pro-presidential party’s ticket despite his lack of recognizable achievements, Danylyuk worked his way up to national prominence through activism that has made a mark on the nation.
Not a recognizable figure on the national scene until this fall, when he surfaced as a top leader of the protests against government tax reform efforts, Danylyuk traces his activism to the 2004 Orange Revolution. Back then, he was just one of millions of young Ukrainians who united against election fraud in defense of democracy, justice and fair access to economic prosperity for all citizens.
A lawyer, human rights advocate and poet, Danylyuk heads the All-Ukrainian Center for Business Assistance that he founded in 2005. He calls the center “a network of collective security” that lobbies the interests of small- and medium-sized business. Danylyuk graduated from Kyiv National Economic University in 2003 with master’s in law and studied business and law as an intern in the Czech Republic, France and Ukraine.
He authored a poetry book, titled “Pretorians: After and Before the Revolution,” published in March 2009. His poems reflect upon how politicians betrayed the goals and principles of the 2004 Orange Revolution. He aims to inspire citizens to not give up, but rather become more active in defending the cause and their own interests.
Civic activist, blogger
Serhiy Melnychenko, 31, is the leader of the Coalition of Participants of the Orange Revolution, a non-governmental organization which defends citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and assembly and has been aggressively fighting illegal construction in Kyiv, albeit sometimes having their own agenda.
The coalition on Aug. 31 surrounded the Russian embassy in Kyiv with barbed wire to show support for Russian civil activists, who traditionally demonstrate on that day to defend citizens’ rights for freedom of assembly. Melnychenko grew up in Ivano-Frankivsk, western Ukraine, where he studied at Interior Ministry academies from 1997-2005. He continued his education at Kyiv’s National Interior Ministry University from 2007-2010, according to his LiveJournal page.
Melnychenko believes that the ideals of the Orange Revolution were ideas which never took root. “In 2004 we repeated the mistake of 1991, when Ukraine became independent, by giving power to one group. The authorities abused the faith of ordinary Ukrainians, whereas the new authorities are practically copying the authoritarian model of Russian governance,” Melnychenko said in an interview published by Voice of America on Nov. 22.
Civic activist, taxi union founder
Popik, 43, was born in Vinnytsia, where in 1997 he created the city’s first commercial taxi service. When local authorities cracked down on private taxi drivers in 1998, he founded the Federation Of Transporters in Ukraine to defend their rights. The organization was renamed into All-Ukrainian Taxi Drivers Union in 2003 and now has 50,000 members nationwide.
Popik’s union has helped organize strikes against the government’s tax reform plans by cabbies in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Ivano-Frankivsk. “I supported the Orange Revolution in my soul, but not as a public figure. You know, 5,000 taxi drivers who are the members of my union [were in eastern Ukraine and] decorated their cars with blue ribbons [to support then-presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych], so I couldn’t betray them by speaking publically on the Maidan in 2004,” he told the Kyiv Post on Nov. 24.
That was then, this is now. Popik’s trade union of taxi drivers, which includes some 5,000 members from Yanukovych’s hometown region of Donetsk, is now - six years after the Orange Revolution - united in supporting the protests, which are pointing blame at Yanukovych himself.
Civic activist, successful businessman, organizer
Dorosh, 36, is serving as the press secretary for the protestors. He is from Chernivtsi, a western Ukrainian town that is close to the border with Romania. He is well known there as a civil society activist, having spent much of his career working with non-government groups and representing business groups in local and regional government councils.
He studied at the Chernivtsi State University, receiving a degree in accounting and audit in 2007. He chaired the board of the Antena factory from 2003 to 2009 and several local civic organizations, including the Bukovyna Foundation for Regulatory Reform Support, Association of Bukovyna Markets, Young Ukrainian Patriots and the Chernivtsi branch of the People’s Democratic Party. Like many of the protest leaders, he was not known on the national scene until now.
Civic activist, Socialist
Svyatoslav Shvetsov, 38, hails from Kyiv and is a longtime civic activist. Before involving himself with the tax code, he supported grassroots organizations defending the rights of depositors who struggled to get a hold of their savings from banks that were hit hard by the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and recession.
Since 2004, Shvetsov has been a frequent contributor on civic society issues to Internet media and political discussion.
The self-proclaimed Socialist’s last op-ed published by Ukraine’s leading Ukrainska Pravda website, titled “Ukrainian patriot games and the meaning of nationalism,” generated hundreds of reader comments.
Civic activist, economist, lawyer
Oksana Prodan, the 34-year old Chernivtsi native, has held a number of positions in government councils when Yulia Tymoshenko served as prime minister: Secretary of the Council of Importers (2005), deputy chairwoman of the foreign economic council (2005), head of the Council of Entrepreneurs (2008-2010).
She has headed the committee of entrepreneurs in the shadow government since May. Prodan graduated from the Chernivtsi State University during the early 2000s with degrees in accounting, auditing and law. She put her knowledge to work at Ukrtrans-Chernivtsi, a logistics and freight forwarding company and relocated to Kyiv in 2005.
Trade union activist, opposition deputy
The 54-year-old Mykhailo Volynets is much more than a lawmaker and longtime ally of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. He founded the All-Ukraine Independent Labor Union in 1997 and currently serves as Chairman of the Confederation of Free Labor Unions and the Independent Labor Union of Coal Miners.
His labor organizations are the only ones in Ukraine, a country where labor unions are tightly controlled by government and oligarchs, recognized by the US-based AFL-CIO as being independent and honest in its representation of the interests of labor. Volynets has spent nearly 25 years organizing trade unions. While he isn’t one of the protest’s original organizers, the largely apolitical protest organizers have brought him on to help with organizational matters and fuel support from his vast union membership.