Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dirty business at Donetsk National University

Disturbing events have occurred in recent days at the prestigious Donetsk National University, increasing tension around an affair that has been rumbling on for several months now.

In July this year, the rector, Volodymyr Shevchenko who had been in the position for over 24 years, was sacked by Ministry of Education Dmytro Tabachnyk.

Two candidates stood for election to the vacated post: Tabachnyk's man - Petro Yegorov, who had temporarily been appointed as acting rector, and head of the economic cybernetics department at the university - Yuriy Lysenko.

On 10th December, a conference of the 'trudoviy kolektyv' unexpectedly supported Lysenko for the job. His nomination as rector needs now to be approved by the minister of education.

Lysenko who had complained that the campaign had been unfair, nevertheless won in a vote by a solid majority. He also had a personal motive to stand for election, his wife, Tatiana Lev, university vice-rector and dean of the financial and economic issues, had been dismissed from the university by the new bosses.

A few days later, on 15th December, while he was away, Lysenko's apartment was raided by police in connection with possible charges of embezzlement by 'certain university officials'.

Local press report that the 17th December election may have been annulled by the Kyiv regional administrative court.

But as usual in Ukraine, things are not quite what they seem.

There has been a lively debate in the local press discussing possible reasons why the new government was pushing so hard for a new university head.

At a meeting with teachers and students, acting rector Yegorov had presented a proposal for the construction of a new 24-storey building in place of the existing Philological Faculty building. Yegorov said that he could find funds for the construction of the tower block, but the university community was indignant because the current department buildings, where human rights activist and poet Vasyl Stus had studied, would have to be demolished.

Interest in the project intensified when it became clear it was linked to two other projects in Donetsk involving the MAKO construction company, which belongs to Alexander Yanukovych - the president's older son. Some unofficial commenters claim 13 hectares of land - the 'PhilFac', a swimming pool, and a sports ground near city centre" have been promised to Yanukovych's son" by Yegorov.

This is not the first time Yanukovych's boys have been involved in dodgy property deals.

Yuriy Lysenko's victory is seen as a reaction by the University to pressure from the Ministry of Education, which had originally sacked in the popular Volodymyr Shevchenko, and then tried to impose its own candidate for rector. Deputy Minister of Education Yevhen Sulima, having come to 'make sure their man won, refused to congratulate the winner or comment on the election results to journalists.

One rumour circulating is that the alleged confrontation between Yegorov and Lysenko is a continuation of a long-running conflict between education minister Dmytro Tabachnyk and vice-premier Boris Kolesnikov.

And the latest: On the evening on 17 th December, on the way home, Lysenko's wife, Tatiana Lev, was badly beaten up by two assailants, who shouted: "This is for your husband..."

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