Judge looks to build ‘new society’ in Ukraine rebel bastion
Even as he breaks down in tears, judge Alexander Klyanoshkin admits no regrets about ending a decade on the bench in his government-held hometown in eastern Ukraine to serve in the pro-Russian breakaway republic of Donetsk.
Along with his wife and children, Klyanoshkin made the 50 kilometres (30 miles) journey south to sign up as a judge in the fledgling court system being established by rebels in their war-scarred capital.
Now his dream is to help build what he hopes will be a “new society” in the self-proclaimed separatist statelet.
Klyanoshkin says he left Kiev-held territory to cross over to the legally unrecognised would-be country after becoming “disgusted” by the Ukrainian authorities, whom he views as illegitimate.
“That country (Ukraine) has no future,” he says, sitting in a leather chair in his new office.
Pro-European President Petro Poroshenko, voted in last May after the ouster of Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych, “took power by unconstitutional means”, the judge insists.
“A president must be elected according to the constitution and not by revolution,” he says, with the flag of the enclave the rebels have carved out through a brutal uprising on his desk.
After almost a year of fighting that has cost the lives of more than 6,000 people, the legal system in the rebel republic is still in its infancy.
The basis of it — and everything that Klyanoshkin believes to “the bottom of his soul” — is bound up in a new “Criminal Code”, published by the separatist leaders.
– ‘Respect power!’ –
The little book — with a cover depicting a Russian eagle on top of the separatist flag — replaces the Ukrainian code that rules in the rest of the country.
The new criminal code is “more humane” than its Ukrainian counterpart, the judge says, citing its reduced reliance on custodial sentences.
A new civil code should follow, but not without a lot of debate over its contents, he adds.
“People should respect power! And if they want to fight against it, they must do so through democratic means,” he argues.
“I do not see democracy in Ukraine. I was attracted by the Donetsk People’s Republic because this ‘state’ respects the fundamental principles of law: respect for the individual, religion and cultural diversity.”
According to the judge, the refusal of the international community, notably France and Germany, to recognise DPR’s legitimacy “does not matter”.
“It may take a year, 10 years, but the international community will recognise the People’s Republic,” he predicts.
“We will convince them by promoting democratic principles. And because we are creating a new society.”
Klyanoshkin served in the judicial system for 10 years in his home city of Artemivsk, but claims decisions there were made “not by law but by politics”.
After a decade of resentment, he says, “it is very hard to be disappointed here”.
“There will certainly be challenges, but I’m ready to do anything so that the judicial powers will be respected,” added the stocky judge, but stressed that it must be “without violence”.
He suddenly breaks down in tears when asked if his eight-year-old daughter blames him for taking the family from their old life, away from the bombs and fear.
“No, I think she understands. But when she watches a film about the war on television, she cries,” he admits, rushing to the window to hide his tears.
“During the bombing, we hid in our bedrooms,” he recalls, looking down on the street.
Meanwhile, his 20-year-old son is following his father’s footsteps, and just now completing his law studies.