USC Shoah Foundation Testimonies Help Reform Police in Ukraine

Fri, 05/29/2015 - 5:00pm
As Ukraine embarks on an effort to radically change its law enforcement culture, USC Shoah Foundation’s international consultant in Ukraine, Anna Lenchovska, is using testimony to teach newly trained police officers tolerance and non-discrimination.

As Ukraine embarks on an effort to radically change its law enforcement culture, USC Shoah Foundation’s international consultant in Ukraine, Anna Lenchovska, is using testimony to teach newly trained police officers tolerance and non-discrimination.

Lenchovska said the Ukrainian police still operate the way they did during the Soviet Union. “A Soviet legacy, our police is not about protecting people, it is about protecting the authorities from the people,” said Anton Gerashchenko, a senior member of the Parliament. Policemen are underpaid and poorly equipped, and sometimes even pay for gasoline themselves.

Though Ukraine has one of the highest numbers of police per capita in Europe (376 per 100,000 people, vs. 300 on average for Europe), only 3 percent of the population actually trust the police, according to a recent Bloomberg article

The Ukrainian government now wants to completely change the culture of law enforcment in the country. It will replace 80 percent of police personnel within the next five years and for the first time, women will serve as patrol officers in Ukraine. The new force in Kyiv will no longer distinguish between traffic cops and "beat cops," instead focusing completely on crime prevention. The new Kyiv officers will train for three months before appearing on the streets on June 14, 2015. Three other major Ukrainian cities – Lviv, Harkiv and Odessa – will train new police officers this summer.

Many of the newcomers are inspired and enthusiastic to change their country and even willing to leave better-paying jobs, Lenchovska said. Candidates (70 percent of which are university graduates) underwent a comprehensive interview process that included a test of analytical skills and communication, a physical, psychological testing, and an in-person interview.

To build the trust of population, the officers’ training program includes courses on topics including “Human rights,” “Tolerance and non-discrimination,” “Domestic Violence,” and “Prevention of human trafficking.”  Organizers have invited specialists from non-formal education to teach such topics, and also to use interactive methods, which is a revolution in teaching police in Ukraine, Lenchovska said.

Lenchovska, who organizes USC Shoah Foundation’s educational programs in Ukraine, was selected as a trainer for the course “Tolerance and non-discrimination.” The course consisted of five topics: “Discrimination,” “Gender sensitive approach in the work of police,” “Stereotypes and prejudice,” “Hate crimes” and “Ethnic profiling.”  The course is aimed to build tolerance and to provide training in the non-discriminatory approach in the work of police.

To teach the topic “Hate crimes” earlier this month, she chose to work with Visual History Archive testimonies, since “they help to create a human dimension and better understanding of how discrimination may lead to a hate crime,” she said.

“When I was selected I decided to use our testimonies to teach the course, because it is the real way to change attitudes and prevent discrimination by police,” Lenchovska said. “The testimonies were taken from people here in Ukraine; many of them were so afraid of Soviet authorities that they have never shared their story, and they have also suffered from anti-Semitism and other discrimination. So now their testimonies - at least some - will be shown to new police officers and will impact their understanding of the harm of discrimination and importance of human dignity.”

She showed a clip from Basya Ioffe’s testimony to the students since both topics of discrimination and hate crimes are present. Basya tells how in mid-1930 in Dubno, which belonged to Poland that time, the first traces of anti-Semitism appeared. Labels “Do not buy from Jews” appeared at shops, Jewish children were seated on the left part of the classroom, and Jews were not accepted at universities. In 1938 Basya and friends had submitted an application to Lviv Conservatorium, and on the way back they were attacked and beaten because of their Jewish origin.    

Students were very surprised that such anti-Jewish measures took place in Dubno and Lviv before Nazi occupation, and the testimony helped them understand how important it is that they protect people who are the victims of hate crimes.

 “The testimony helped to understand what discrimination really means for a person, how badly it can impact one’s life,” one student said.

Another said, “Everyone has stereotypes from childhood. It is important that we do not let stereotypes misguide our work, a person should be perceived as a human being, who has rights, and our duty is to protect those rights.”

“Hate crimes should deserve a special attention, because they have an impact not only on one person, but on a whole community,” a student concluded.

After discussion of Basya Ioffe’s testimony students analyzed real cases of hate crimes in Ukraine, criteria for a crime to be considered as a hate crime, and procedures from Ukrainian criminal law.

“The work with a survivor testimony has brought personal dimension, a comprehensive understanding of what a discrimination may really mean for a person,” Lenchovska said. “It is more efficient to address all channels of perception with a visual testimony, than just work with a dry text of criminal code.”

Police officers are not a traditional target group for educational activities of USC Shoah Foundation, but they could become a valuable addition to it, she added. Using testimonies to teach police about non-discrimination and the impact of stereotypes and to provide a better understanding of hate crimes could improve law enforcement training programs.

Lenchovska said she hopes that police officers that she and her colleagues have trained will implement their knowledge and skills of tolerant communication on the streets of Kyiv and new police will be helping people, not harming them. 

With reporting by Anna Lenchovska