"Roman would be proud of us": How the Protasiv Yar community continues to fight

"Roman would be proud of us": How the Protasiv Yar community continues to fight

Roman Ratushnyi was a public activist, Euromaidan participant, head of the Save Protasiv Yar NGO, and a volunteer soldier. A year ago, on June 9, the Russian military killed Ratushnyi in the Izium direction.

Since 2018, the community of Protasiv Yar, led by the activist, has been fighting with developers for the right to create a nature reserve and a park for Kyiv residents. Over the years, the activists have faced threats and lawsuits. After the death of their leader, the community continued his work: activists succeeded in creating the reserve and won an appeal against Dnipro businessman Hennadii Korban. However, the confrontation continues to this day, and developers are filing lawsuits to prevent the actual creation of the reserve.

Read about the activities of the Save Protasiv Yar NGO, the fight for the park, and the commemoration of Ratushnyi a year after his death.

Fighting for Protasiv Yar

Protasiv Yar is a historic green area in the centre of Kyiv. The history of the construction plans in the area dates back to 2002, when the status of a land plot on Mykola Amosov Street was changed from "green space for public use" to "residential and public development space." Construction was planned there.

In 2007, the Kyiv City Council, with Leonid Chernovetskyi as its head, removed 3.23 hectares in Protasiv Yar from the green zone and leased it to Bora LLC for five years. The founders of this company are offshore companies registered in Cyprus and the Marshall Islands.

"The 2007 decision to remove the site from the green zone is illegal: the procedure for amending the General Plan was not followed. Roman Ratushnyi and Yevhen Samudzhan appealed the decision. The first instance [court] sided with the developer, but the claim was upheld on appeal. The decision was upheld by the Supreme Court. In 2012, the Kyiv City Council extended the lease agreement with Bora for five years until 2017, but Chernovetskyi single-handedly 'extended' the lease agreement until 2022 — he just counted 10 years not from the date of the agreement, but from whenever he wanted," said Yevheniia Zakrevska, a lawyer of the Save Protasiv Yar NGO.

Based on this agreement, in 2018, Bora LLC entered into a sublease agreement with Dnipro-based developer Daytona Group LLC, which planned to erect three 40-storey buildings on the site.

"After the announcement of the results of the presidential elections, even before [Volodymyr Zelenskyy's] inauguration, on May 1, 2019, a fence began to be erected right under my house in Protasiv Yar. This is a Dnipro-based developer (Daytona Group LLC — ed.) that is associated with Hennadii Korban. The community immediately began to counteract, we quickly organised as neighbours and formed an initiative group," said Roman Ratushnyi about the creation of Save Protasiv Yar.

The community helped initiate criminal proceedings, filed lawsuits, and identified the people involved in the construction — the beneficiaries of the construction company were Dnipro businessmen Hennadii Korban and Oleh Levin.

Ratushnyi said that since the beginning of the dispute with the developers, the community coordinators had received threats. The current head of the NGO, Yuliia Bartle, was attacked, and Ratushnyi himself had to go into hiding because of the persecution. Roman's lawyer, Yevheniia Zakrevska, succeeded in opening a criminal investigation, but no one has actually investigated it.

The protests helped stop the felling of trees and prevent construction work. This provided time for legal action by community lawyers to invalidate the building permit, restore the site to green space for public use, and invalidate the sublease agreement. In January 2022, the Supreme Court upheld the decisions of the previous instances courts to invalidate the sublease agreement.

Roman died a year ago. Then, the community announced that they would continue his work and build a park in Protasiv Yar, which would be named after the activist.

In July 2022, Kyiv City Council members voted to create a landscape reserve on both slopes of the ravine. Yevheniia Zakrevska, a lawyer of the Save Protasiv Yar NGO, says that the entire territory of Protasiv Yar is de facto a green zone, but not all of it is so de jure.

"The decision of the Kyiv City Council was immediately challenged by two companies — Protasiv Yar LLC and ENSO GROUP Holding Company (both companies lease and operate real estate — ed.), which want to continue building up the ravine. They do not hide this, and, moreover, they consider the creation of the reserve as an increase in the attractiveness of the development. Their legal actions have already delayed the creation of the reserve for a year," says Zakrevska.

The Kyiv City Council lost the first instance of the case with Protasiv Yar LLC, and an appeal hearing will be held on June 15. In the second round of the case with ENSO GROUP, there will be a hearing in the first instance, but the proceedings have not yet begun, and the hearing has not yet been scheduled.

The community initiated a lawsuit against Protasiv Yar LLC to establish an easement — the right to use someone else's property in the common interest. Since a nature reserve has been created on their land, it must be legally recorded that people can visit it. The company opposes the easement, and the court of first instance sided with it — Save Protasiv Yar filed an appeal.

"The people fighting against us who want to get this green zone do not think about being remembered by Kyiv residents as people whom the whole generations will be grateful to — they are only fighting for their own money and the development. After Roman's death, the threats resumed. The community expanded with many people who moved from other regions — there were attempts to get in touch with them. Representatives of developers offered to help develop the green zone, but at the same time build a school and high-rise buildings," says Yuliia Bartle, head of the NGO.

Korban's "honour and dignity"

"[Hennadii] Korban decided to fight for his 'reputation.' If the Daytona Group LLC cannot build in Protasiv Yar, and it is not possible to intimidate opponents even with criminal proceedings and crime, then the means of struggle include such a tool to silence them as a lawsuit for the protection of honour and dignity," is part of Roman Ratushnyi's post at the end of 2021.

Simultaneously with the initiation of criminal proceedings against Ratushnyi in March 2021 over the rally near the Presidential Office, the Dnipro businessman filed a lawsuit demanding that all references to him on the Facebook pages of the activist and the Save Protasiv Yar initiative be removed.

The Solomianskyi District Court ruled in Korban's favour: it found almost all the information about him on Ratushnyi's and the NGO's pages to be inaccurate and defamatory of his honour, dignity, and business reputation, and ordered them to refute the information and Roman Ratushnyi and the Save Protasiv Yar NGO each to pay ₴25,000 in non-pecuniary damages and ₴69,974 in legal costs.

The lawyers filed appeals. The hearing was scheduled for June 22, 2022, but Roman died. Ratushnyi's parents tried to enter the case as his successors. The Court of Appeal rejected them, examined the appeal without Roman, his representatives and successors, and dismissed the complaints.

Lawyers for Ratushnyi's parents and the Save Protasiv Yar NGO, Yevheniia Zakrevska, Anton Dykan, and Oksana Mykhailevych, filed cassation appeals against the appeal decision and won — the Supreme Court ruled that legal succession was allowed in the case and sent it for a new appeal hearing.

On March 22, the Kyiv Court of Appeal upheld the lawyers' appeal and cancelled the previous decisions of the Solomianskyi District Court. Korban's claim was completely dismissed, and his representatives did not appear at the appeal hearing.

Lawyers Mykhailevych and Zakrevska told us that Korban had filed a cassation appeal. Currently, his representatives have to eliminate the shortcomings of the appeal. If they do so in time, the cassation hearing will take place.

Activities of the community

After the death of Roman Ratushnyi, Yuliia Bartle became the head of the Save Protasiv Yar NGO. She says that during the full-scale invasion, the community became even more united.

"There are many initiatives in our neighbourhood that help both the military and civilians. Volunteers collected humanitarian aid and travelled to the liberated Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson regions. People are becoming more proactive in engaging in various types of social activities," Bartle says.

Yevhen Cherepnia was mainly involved in organising rallies and public activities. At the end of March 2022, he and Ratushnyi travelled to the Sumy region and joined the 93rd Kholodnyi Yar Mechanized Brigade. Cherepnia says that many community activists went to defend Ukraine in different units. Yevheniia Zakrevska is now serving in the 92nd Ivan Sirko Mechanized Brigade.

"The community has remained active, but it has reformatted and is working simultaneously at the frontline," the serviceman says.

Activists continue to preserve the cultural and historical heritage of Protasiv Yar. Yuliia Bartle says that they found out an interesting fact — the Protasiv Yar community received over 200 votes in the 1917 elections to the Kyiv City Council after the First Universal of the Ukrainian Central Council. This means that the Community has existed for over 100 years. Protasiv Yar also used to be a training ground where the Japanese helped train artillerymen during World War I.

"We are interested, we do our research and want to develop this area. We would like to involve the Institute of Physical Education and various research centres and development hospitals to make terrainkurs — hiking trails with ascents and descents intended for therapeutic walking. We will create such paths in the green zone for walking. There are many ideas that we are working on. I think Roman would be proud of us," says Bartle.

Commemorating Ratushnyi

"Free, accessible to all Kyiv residents, the green Protasiv Yar became the life's work of the leader of our community. In his will, Roman urged us to bring the case for the liberation of Protasiv Yar to an end. The community will continue to fight and do everything to make his dream come true," the activists write.

In memory of the community leader, Zelenbud of the Solomianskyi district arranged a flowerbed with the community symbol, created a mural with his name, and planted trees in the ravine. Yevhen Cherepnia said that on behalf of the community, negotiations are underway with local authorities and Kyiv residents to paint a mural on a building above one of the slopes of Protasiv Yar. The main thing, says the NGO representative, is to name the park after Ratushnyi in the future, but they "still have to fight before that point in time."

In September 2022, the Kyiv City Council renamed Volhohradska Street, which was named after a Russian city, to Roman Ratushnyi Street. Voting for the renaming took place in the Kyiv Digital app, with more than 30,000 people supporting the decision.

Now activists, together with the PEN organisation, which includes Roman's mother Svitlana Povaliaieva, have organised a festival in memory of Ratushnyi that will last until September: "It was this festival that united the community even more because our goal was to create a living continuation of Roman's idea: to gather many active young people who are interested in joining various initiatives," says Yuliia Bartle.

On June 24, the Day of Remembrance of Roman will be held, during which a documentary about the activist will be presented.

"I would like us to have a museum of Roman Ratushnyi at Protasiv Yar, for which we are collecting materials. Roma never had any despair, he was confident in the ommunity, and we are confident that we will achieve his dreams and fulfil his wishes in this park," concludes the head of the community.