If you google the phrase "on the fact of cruelty to animals" (in Ukrainian, - ed.), you will get about 875,000 results, of which no more than 20 indicate the opening of criminal proceedings. For example, in Yagotyn, Sumy, Berdyansk, Kamianske, Kyiv, the police and the public managed to draw attention to the problems of animals and remind Ukrainians that animals also have rights.
Yes, animals have rights. It is difficult to understand for those whose grandmothers drown kittens, whose fathers and uncles work in slaughterhouses, whose mothers and sisters work on Ukrainian farms that are far from Disney reality. But animals do have rights, even if some of them are raised for slaughter, this does not mean that you can kill them in the cruelest way.
Any encroachment on the life and health of any animal (from a domestic cat to a wild bear) entails administrative or criminal liability. The only question is whether Ukrainian legislation provides a sufficient punishment system and whether it works in practice because zoo activists have repeatedly stressed that Ukraine needs to strengthen responsibility for cruelty to animals. For example, to clearly define concepts such as "animal mutilation", "bodily injury", because it is because of this collision that such cases as in the Khmelnytsky region, where a man tied a dog to a car and dragged it along, remain unpunished. The animal suffered bodily harm, but since this is not considered mutilation (loss of organ and organ function), the case ended not in criminal but in administrative proceedings. All these changes are spelled out in the bill number 2351, which has not been adopted in a second reading yet.
But even with the current legal framework, changes are possible if only the police responded correctly to such cases.
How should the police respond to animal crimes?
Speaking about how the mechanism for responding to such cases should ideally work, first, it is worth distinguishing between the fact that now, according to Ukrainian law, there are two types of cruelty to animals: cruelty to animals, which did not cause injury, and death (administrative offense), and a more socially dangerous act of violence, in particular, if it resulted in the death of one or more animals (felony). Since the cases are different and have different penalties, the police response procedure is also different.
Administrative offense. "If this is an administrative offense (someone mocks the dog, for example, hitting it), the police are obliged to accept the call and come," lawyer Svitlana Rudenko says.
According to the expert, the police are obliged to come, record the explanations and evidence (if it is an offense) in order for them to be considered by the court: "This is necessary for the cases when questions about the confiscation of an animal are being resolved, because, according to Constitution, only a court can deprive a person of property, the police cannot do it."
In the event that the confiscation of the animal is not needed, then according to the Code of Administrative Offenses of Ukraine, the police can independently issue a resolution, consider this offense on the spot.
Criminal offense. If a criminal offense occurs, then the investigative and operational group, which consists of an investigator, operational workers, experts with the involvement of dog service workers should leave for the scene – here we have a more serious response procedure.
"First, the patrol police are obliged to leave the call to make sure that the event of a criminal offense really happened, if this is really the case, an investigative and operational group arrives at the scene. It is obliged to record all traces of this offense so that the case ends first with an indictment, and then it was sent to court," the lawyer explains.
The investigative-operational group collects all the evidence, for example, if it is a corpse of an animal, then it delivers it for examination. Today, the investigator can independently make a decision on the appointment of a forensic veterinary examination, but since there are still not very many such experts, it is allowed that the animal's corpse is delivered for an autopsy to a veterinary laboratory, and then the forensic veterinary examination can be carried out on the material of the autopsy and other collected evidence.
"An indictment must be drawn up, approved by the prosecutor, and the materials are submitted to the court, and the court will determine whether this person is guilty of a crime or not," the lawyer assures.
Everything is beautifully written on paper, but in practice, we see a completely different attitude of law enforcement agencies to their direct duties.
How does everything happen in reality?
"The police almost do not react to the citizens' appeals. If citizens and volunteers still manage to call the patrol police to the crime scene, then they almost always simply do not register the call or pass it on to the investigator," says Inna Pozdnyakova, head of the Zaporizhzhya Zoo Protective League.
Activist of the Ecological Platform community confirms this issue, emphasizing that without publicity and active actions of animal rights activists, the police rarely take up cases of cruelty to animals:
“I can say from my own experience that the police did not really react to such cases. They rescued animals either on their own or through publicity on the Internet. Even in the latter case, when they were filming porn and killing animals, it helped only that the activists spread the news via the Internet. Of course, only after that did the police appear."
This is a recent high-profile case that caused a resonance in social networks. The main person involved is a woman living near Zaporizhya. The notorious businessman organized groups where she leaked animal abuse, as well as photos and videos in which she was naked. The woman sold access to the groups for 50 euros.
Since the police did not respond to the citizens' statements for a long time, the residents organized lynching - they burned her car and house. A similar situation took place in Zaporizhya, where a man hanged his own dog on the balcony.
Private volunteer House of Adoption "Kind Hands", where 4 dogs were poisoned during several nights, also did not wait for help from the law enforcement officers.
“We managed to save one dog in the clinic. The patrol came to call the hostess of the House of Adoption but did not issue the registration card, we found out its number using the hotline. but if we ourselves make an examination and bring the conclusions of the examination to the police station, it is possible that they will do something," Inna Pozdnyakova tells about her experience of cooperation with the police.
The woman also notes that the complexity of the case was that the dogs were killed on the night before the weekend when the veterinary examination did not work.
This state of affairs can be explained both by the indifference of individual representatives of the law enforcement system, which should be immediately suppressed and by collisions that arise due to confusion in the articles of the current legislation with regard to animals: a number of articles are not even coordinated with each other and are just a formality. For example, Article 89 of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offenses, which punishes cruelty to animals, is not coordinated with the Law of Ukraine "On the Protection of Animals from Cruelty" (therefore, it is practically inactive).
According to statistics from the Office of the Attorney General, in 2019 only 406 criminal cases were registered (208 cases were closed, about 190 cases were registered, in 31 cases suspicion was filed) and only 28 of them were sent with an indictment to court. How many of them will be successful? A tiny fraction, because the court may pass an acquittal or terminate the proceedings due to the lack of corpus delicti. Why? Experience shows that at the scene of the incident, the police are often not so attentive to the necessary evidence, and without them, it is almost impossible to complete the case. The circle is complete.
The only thing that pleases is that the statistics does not stand still: in 2017, 232 cases were registered, in 2018 - 325, and in 2019 - 81 more cases. Yes, such a number does not really reflect reality, and most of the registered cases will "go to waste", but even this is already progress.
Reaction of the police
"Madam, but there is no cruel treatment here. He did not torture the animal but simply shot it," this is how one of the heads of the regional police departments explained his inaction with regard to the case of a stray dog shot from a hunting rifle, chairman of the "Green Power" public association Andriana Bailo noted.
“I opened more than 40 cases all over Ukraine. It was difficult, with pressure, pressure, publicity. The police are not always competent, you have to literally explain the mechanism of work in the context of animal cases,” says Adriana.
Lawyer Svitlana Rudenko is often involved in explaining and consulting representatives of environmental authorities: “A month ago, the Red Book eagles were confiscated in Odesa region, it took a long time for the police officers to read about their powers – they have the right to check the conditions of detention, etc. I showed them an article on what can be done, and then they did it.”
It is important to note that this is not a problem of some individual law enforcement officer, but of the whole system, where the issue of preventing cases of cruelty to animals is clearly not even one of the
But in fact, we cannot blame everything on law enforcement agencies, because the dialogue between the public, volunteers, activists, and the police, the presence of an atmosphere of cooperation, also plays an important role. Specifically, a senior retired UK police officer who now works with the Naturewatch Foundation, Mark Randall, is creating this atmosphere:
“When I train with the Ukrainian police and animal protection groups, I say that everyone should understand the other. Sometimes animal protection groups think that the police are not working, and they are working though, but in some cases, they don’t. Sometimes the police think that the animal welfare groups are expecting too much - the case cannot be considered if there is no evidence that must come from a forensic expert or a witness."
From the British point of view, the man advises local animal protection groups to meet with local police and discuss the next steps (as Chernivtsi did) - the police can explain what they want, and animal protection groups can explain why it is so important to fight abuse with animals.
The problem of responding to cases of cruelty to animals in Ukraine is acute, requiring action from both the police and the public. After all, some of us still think of animals as objects that we can get rid of at any second. And this is far from the case.