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What are the peculiarities of the Odesa region and how does this affect the work of the police?
First of all, we should talk about the geographical location: the length of the borders, water space, and the border with unrecognized Transnistria. Secondly, it is the tourist season. A lot of people come here to rest and to work. And, of course, the criminal world also takes advantage of this.
We have 7.5-8 thousand criminal proceedings per week during the "quiet period". A week before the tourist season, they were already 10.5 thousand. And in June-July we have 15-16 thousand registered cases per week. Unfortunately, we do not have any additional forces for the tourist season to perform certain specific tasks. This is not a complaint, just a statement of fact.
What kinds of crimes are the most typical?
If we talk about the tourist season, it is primarily street crime. The main emphasis we make on fighting the street crime: street robbery, theft, hijacking, and, of course, burglary. Last year there were up to 30 robberies, last year we managed to decrease it by 10-12, this year, there are 4-5 robberies a day (or up to 7 during the weekend).
The number of burglary in May 2017 reached 553, in May this year it was 370. The number of robberies last year for 29 days of May was 989, this year it reached 507. We witness more than 30% decrease. Robberies are usually paralleled with impudence and the use of weapons. Last year there were 96 cases of robbery, while this year, only 104 cases were registered. These are real figures.
This year we see the growth of serious bodily injuries. The growth is very rapid, more than 50%. This is due to the fact that no one wants to hide it; so we register a crime and investigate it. Probably, our society is not ready for some civilized norms of behavior, a high level of aggression could be seen in the society.
What is usual for the Odesa region is a tourniquet property. Last year, 107 facts were fixed, and 74 in 2018. Not because there are fewer crimes but rather we manage to prevent them. First, all of them are registered, and secondly, they are aimed at a full-fledged investigation. And prevention. Patrol police, video recording, enhanced night patrolling, including in rural areas. And the introduction of the National Guard is very useful in this situation.
And how about gang activity?
You know, Odesa is just incomprehensible without gang activity? (Laughs) Last year, we have identified 6 organized criminal groups (OCG), and this year, there will be 5 OCGs. We have gathered some materials about a certain criminal group, associated with the gambling business. They are engaged mainly in armed robbery, apartment theft, kidnapping, extortion, and theft.
Are there many code-bound criminals? Where do they come from?
We call them “criminal tourists,” they come from near abroad. They come from the Caucasian region. They come here, try to take control over the cash flows, including from the street robberies, pick-pockets, etc. And, of course, we should not forget about the sale of drugs. They are code-bound criminals, as well as persons who equate themselves with criminal authorities, the so-called mafia enforcers or underbosses.
Odesa has a vivid criminal past, so there are areas in which the activities of the small thieves flourish.
Tell us about the situation with street drug abusers.
The problem has deep historical roots. There are such areas as Palermo, Nerubayske, Usatovo, where certain nationalities reside. This is just like their business, of course, they are struggling with this, but they were not defeated in the Soviet era, it is difficult to do this now when the criminal code is more liberal.
Of course, there is a problem of addiction. The drugs are hidden in special places, sold through via social media, the addresses are written right on the facades of houses. We interact with the cyberpolice, but this is not always successful, so a patrol officer is forced to paint all these inscriptions himself. This is like one of the methods of preventive struggle.
We do not focus on sick people, I mean, drug addicts who need the drug, we focus on combating drug dealers, those involved in criminal activities, sellers, brothel keepers, drug laboratories. We harass them hard. And sick drug addicts are just bringing grief to the family, and if we put a drug addict behind the bars, where we now have rest homes and advanced training for the criminals, it cannot be called correction therapy.
Last year, 54 traffickers were detained, and in 2018 – 93. And this is for 5 months. Last year, 532 drug addicts were detained, and only 390 in 2018.
And how about the traffic situation? Are there a lot of the car accidents?
Accidents are a huge problem, I should admit. When there were no roads, there were few accidents. Now the roads are repaired, the number of road accidents, injuries, and corpses increases. The traffic police serve the roads only around Odesa and the Kyiv route, but this is not enough. So good roads have their advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage is the number of accidents.
You mean the speeding, right?
Yes, they began to drive faster. In some places, there were no roads for some 20 years, now there are European highways there. Those cars with European license car plates take 200 km / h, and have car accidents. In addition, they drink alcoholic drinks during the ride. Previously, we had a certain system, road patrol police, stationary posts, and now they have just begun to restore the stationary posts. Now there are 5 of them in the Odesa region, we need at least 10 of them. There are only 8 patrol cars that serve the routes. Of course, this is not enough for Odesa region, as we have 836 km of roads. Plus the traffic police have an obligation to register the accidents.
How does the situation in Donbas affect the type and number of crimes in the region?
There are a lot of weapons, and not only in the Odesa region. We witness shootings and blowing up. The anti-terrorist operation (ATO) zone is the ATO zone, but military counterintelligence, military prosecutor's office work here. By the way, there is a positive experience: we are in very good working relations with the military prosecutor's office. Again, one should not forget about the large segment of the Transnistrian border. Border guards keep detaining someone; a few weeks ago, they have even prevented the operation of explosive devices, the timer was on. But nevertheless, the weapons come not only from the ATO zone but also from our neighbors. Weapons smuggling; cheap Turkish weapons are illegally imported, then it is redesigned, and thus it becomes a gunshot.
And how about smuggling?
First of all, these are items and goods that are banned from circulation or have limited access: cigarettes and elite alcohol. One more position should be mentioned here – fish, including species from the Red Book. Poachers harvest sturgeon, flounder – the fishes, which are registered in the Red Book and protected by the law. This fish goes abroad, to Romania, to Moldavia, and to the domestic market as well. That's why we have opened a special water police department. It has its own boats and stuff. Together with border guards and environmentalists, we are fighting against the poachers. We have already detained some poachers, took their boats and nets, they catch tons of fish, you know. And the fines reach millions. Every week, we manage to detain someone, and this is despite the fact that we have only one patrol. We have the largest water area in Ukraine, I guess. I mean, including the sea coast, the inland water bodies, and rivers (Dniester, Danube).
You said, only one boat?!
We will get some more. There are specific features of the water bodies. Need a boat, which could be navigated by sea and through the inland reservoirs. And we need some, which would move around the estuaries. The boat is not only a fight against poachers, people grow a lot of marijuana in the floodplains, there are whole plantations of this plant. The other boats will work there and our so-called water special forces. These are trained certified fighters who have undergone water training, diving and so on. These are not fighters of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, they will perform the police functions on the water, including when detaining particularly dangerous criminals. When entering the land, when detaining criminals who are on ships, yachts, other water transport. And, naturally, they will fight with drunks on the water.
There is one more unit that works in the catacombs. Odesa region is specific, it has 2,5 thousand km of underground catacombs. About 500-800 km of them are investigated, the rest are just black places. Therefore, it was decided (with the support of the leadership of the National Police and the Ministry of Internal Affairs) to create a unit (apart from other security structures), performing police functions and specific tasks: filtration, search functions, and mapping.
We also work in the catacombs area together with the SBU. There are some reasons to suspect that the catacombs are used for hiding some separatists’ stuff like weapons. This is a matter of national security.
Probably, the criminals are also hiding in those catacombs?
The criminals have been hiding there since 1726! And seriously, not only criminals come here, but diggers and smugglers. Therefore, the new combat unit is not a tribute to fashion or a beautiful picture, it is just our routine. Previously, there were no trained experts that could enter the catacombs and conduct qualified search operations there. Now they undergo special training, including a psychological one. It is extremely difficult to spend a day without light, and after three days they just go crazy. They have special equipment, there are places where it is difficult to survive without an oxygen mask, without waterproof clothing. And, of course, they have special weapons and equipment, including thermal imagers and night vision devices.
We have launched the tourist police, a European analog. These are special guys who support tourists during the tourist season. They perform an information and consulting function. These are bike patrols, foot patrols, police service; they are improving the city’s tourist image.
Tell us more about the staff.
The staff is very small. Now we have 6 thousand, and previously, there were 12 thousand officers. But we manage to cover the area. Of course, we are often criticized; people have to wait for 20 minutes or more. Yes, we do not always have enough time. First of all, the state should expand the patrol police staff during Odesa’s tourist season.
And we must not forget that the level of the terrorist threat is constantly "yellow," that is, at any time it can explode. Not so long ago, the guests from Transnistria have blown up a hotel. This must be taken into account. Plus, traditionally on April 10, May 2, the situation is not quite calm in terms of ensuring public order.
You have problems with Romani people, right?
There are some problems, but no more than in Lviv or the Dnipro. There was almost a pogrom against Romani people in Loshchynivka, and it might have ended with casualties. Odesa is the city of the resorts, people come here, and we carry out prevention and raids. The dialogue police are involved, juvenile prevention as well. There was a case when three 13-14-year-old girls of Roma nationality were detained for three times. But these were not Ukrainian Romani people, they did not understand Russian or Ukrainian; they committed the theft. And, of course, our armchair (pejorative term, - ed.) human rights activists claimed that we have violated the constitutional rights, various conventions for the protection of human rights, etc.
Are acts of vandalism usual?
Our city is multinational. Yes, it is partly Jewish, but it not only about anti-Semitism. There are also Bulgarian, Moldovan diasporas. The main blows of scoundrels are applied to loosen the situation. For example, with Bulgaria, the monuments of Bulgarian culture are desecrated with paint. The same things take place at the cemeteries. We have more than 100 nationalities here.
The problem of separatism is acute?
People say that Odesa is a Ukrainian hero city. You should not say that “vatniks” a (pejorative term, a slang word for blindly patriotic and not very smart Russian - ed.) and fans of Putin live here. No! Go out to the beach or to Privoz and talk to people, I do not think that someone wants to have a war here. No. We have normal Ukrainian cities and villages that are "for" Ukraine. Of course, there are a certain percentage of those dissatisfied; however, one should not confuse protest moods and discontent with manifestations of separatism.
Is this percentage greater than everywhere?
In this issue, we see many speculations, individual politicians or entire political forces use social tension to achieve their own ambitions and cultivate such an opinion. But in fact there are practically no "Russian world" admirers, the true face of this world has already become evident to everyone in the fourth year of the war.
In addition, work is being carried out with the locals, with local self-government bodies, especially in the south-west of the region. There were no Ukrainian TV channels here before. The situation has radically changed in recent years, but stereotypes and labels have not disappeared.