He said members of the group stole two ambulances from a local hospital for their “own personal rides” this week, Moskal said in an online statement on April 1. The offense adds to a long list of misdeeds that Moskal said have begun to alienate the local population and undermine the public’s trust in local authorities. The Aidar Battalion has not responded to the Kyiv Post requests for comment, but the Defense Ministry started a probe in response to these accusations.
“Aidar fighters conduct themselves not like representatives of the armed forces who are subordinate to the Defense Ministry, but like hell-raisers, outlaws and robbers armed with automatic weapons. They have essentially opened a second front in peaceful territory, where a war is under way,” Moskal wrote.
Human rights activists and local officials have repeatedly warned that the lawlessness of the battalion threatens to destabilize the region, and Moskal said that is precisely what is happening after the group seized control of the region’s main bread factory, UkrVeresk.
The factory was seized last fall and the Defense Ministry was made aware of it at the time, he said, “but no measures were taken.”
“This enterprise, which is the main bread factory in the region, was seized by armed militants of the Aidar Battalion, who have installed their own rules and begun arbitrarily increasing the prices on bread, which has caused social tension and sadness at the actions of authorities among the local population,” he wrote.
Aidar fighters have also pocketed Hr 280,000 in cash from the factory and begun tearing up equipment to sell as scrap metal, he said.
In addition, he said, “they are not paying for gas,” racking up an overdue debt of Hr 700,000.
Since the factory’s takeover, bread production has fallen by 50 percent, the governor said.
Moskal was unavailable for further comments on the matter on April 1, but his spokesman Yaroslav Galas said Aidar had seized the factory last October and “decided to try and build a business on it.”
“They won’t let anyone in, they won’t let other bread manufacturers work and they’re raising the prices to get more profit,” he said.
Galas noted that many other abuses committed by the group had been done in a “drunken fashion,” but not the bread factory takeover.
On March 16, three members of Aidar drunkenly broke into a resident’s home and beat up the owner in front of his wife and child, Moskal told the Ukrainian media. They then looted the place before orchestrating a shoot-out in the street.
Moskal appealed to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry and the Central Command of the Armed Forces to liberate the bread factory from its armed occupiers on March 31, prompting Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak to order an investigation.
Poltorak said in an online statement published the same day that a group of military police would be dispatched to the region to look into the activities of the Aidar Battalion.
Last September, Amnesty International called on Ukrainian authorities to keep members of the Aidar Battalion in check after it found evidence of abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions by the group.
An Amnesty International researcher cited an Aidar member issuing a frightening warning while the report was being prepared: “If I choose to, I can have you arrested right now, put a bag over your head and lock you up in a cellar for 30 days on suspicion of aiding separatists.”
The report concluded that “members of the Aidar battalion act with virtually no oversight or control, and local police are either unwilling or unable to address the abuses.”
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