Who can afford bodyguards in Ukraine
Over the last three years, the Ukrainians have already forgotten the notorious convoys roaming Kyiv streets creating traffic havoc to the comfort of the former president and prime minister, but the army of bodyguards serving the lower rank officials has not gone anywhere. Meanwhile, state funding, the one actually coming from people's pockets, of the agencies providing such protection has been increasing ever since.
Agencies, offering physical security services, can be divided into three types. Each of them has a limited range of potential customers.
There is the State Protection Service (SPS). According to Ukrainian law, a limited number of individuals can use its services. First and foremost, of course, it’s the president and his family, senior officials (Prime Minister, Rada Speaker, Prosecutor General and some others). Even if the public does not pay much attention to it, the ex-presidents are provided lifetime protection (Viktor Yanukovych lost that privilege once he fled the country, although, they say, he feared for his life more than anyone else in Ukraine). Speakers, prime ministers, and prosecutors general are protected by the SPS within a year of their resignation (i.e., the former head of the PGO, Viktor Shokin is still under the protection of SPS bodyguards).
In addition, according to the head of the SPS, Valery Heletey, the agency provides services to MPs, members of the Cabinet, the National Bank governor and a number of other individuals, if there is a threat to their life and health, with the president of Ukraine to decide on granting such protection.
For example, two years ago, at the height of the fighting in the east, Petro Poroshenko greenlighted protection to the governors of Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Luhansk and Odesa regions. Heads of Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk regions declined such services at the time.
The information on whether the governors, ministers, or the head of the NBU are protected for the money from public funds stays behind seven seals. Earlier this year, after a resonant resignation of Minister of Economic Development and Trade Aivaras Abromavicius, there was information leaked to the media that his SPS protection had been lifted on the eve of his resignation, in January 2016. According to journalists, bodyguads watched out for former Minister of infrastructure Andriy Pivovarsky and ex-Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko up to the moment of the Cabinet dismissal.
However, the SPSassured that they definitely did not protect the MPs of the current eighth Rada convocation.
In addition to the personal security of certain officials and their families, the SPS also ensures the safety of the buildings of the Verkhovna Rada, Cabinet of Ministers, Constitutional and Supreme Courts and other facilities of Ukraine’s state agencies. The area of responsibility of the agency also includes protection of official foreign delegations (presidents, prime ministers, heads of international organizations) and their families arriving in Ukraine or staying within its territory. Moreover, according to employees of the SPS, if they have to work at the events outside Kyiv, some of them travel to the venues ahead of the official delegations. At the same time, their daily allowance, despite the increase in the agency’s funding, is at a ridiculous UAH 30 (a little over $1) per day.
By the way, before 2014, the SPS had a UAH 300 million annual funding, but after the annexation of Crimea, despite the fact that there was no more need to protect the Crimean leadership and state property on the peninsula, the expenses increased by approximately UAH 150 million. This year, the funding increased by nearly UAH 540 million. Moreover, the draft budget for 2017 sees a UAH 850 million funding for the agency.
According to President of Ukrainian Federation of Professional Protection Serhiy Sydorenko, that does not mean that the security situation in the country deteriorated. However, he does not believe that we should look for any corruption traces in this issue. The expert believes that the increase in funding is directly related to the growth of the structure’s needs. "It’s not bodyguards. There is security on Bankova Street, Hrushevskoho Street , etc. There are troops serving there that need equipment, they need to be paid… Of course, no one will work for some UAH 1,500," says Sydorenko.
Protection costing a million
This is a solid point, given, so to speak, the market rates for the provision of security services. For example, in August of this year, Mariupol City Council was willing to pay UAH 1.3 million for the four-month services of bodyguards. The tender recorded by Prozorro e-procurement system said that there were six people in need of "personal protection", without further elaboration. According to Mariupol activists, it was a city mayor Vadym Boychenko and his entourage. "Everyone knows that, even before taking office, he had bodyguards, traveling around the city in two Land Cruisers. We assume that, having become mayor, the man could not resist the habit and decided to shift the burden of personal expenses on the community,” said the representative of the public on the city’s Executive Board, Lidia Muhli.
In September, the controversial tender was canceled.
However, perhaps, one of the most memorable facts among the attempts to get protection at taxpayers' expense was the story with the head of the Board of Naftogaz of Ukraine, Andriy Kobolev. In the summer of this year, Naftogaz tried to purchase an armored Mercedes valued at about UAH 5.1 million for him, through Prozorro.
As soon as the story gained publicity, the press service of Naftogaz stated that the car was needed to ensure the Kobolev’s safety ahead of the arbitration proceeding with the Russian energy giant Gazprom. According to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov, Kobolev was repeatedly threatened and his life was in danger. However, it is rather strange that he had not requested protection of the SPS from the president. Anyway, a heated discussion around this topic has led to the fact that Naftogaz refused the idea to spend money of the state-owned company for such type of protection for its CEO.
In addition, as evidenced by Prozorro, hiring a personal bodyguard was significantly cheaper - instead of UAH 5 million, it cost a little more than UAH 300,000. The relevant tender was held in July, and the agreement was signed in August, with the Office of Police Protection in Kyiv.
By the way, it is the Police Protection Office is the most requested agency to provide bodyguards for Ukraine’s officials. "As a former head of this structure [2007-2009], I can say that the majority of them is there," Serhiy Sydorenko said.
According to him, the information on who is guarded exactly and how it is done is not subject to disclosure. However, the cost of such services is no secret. The Police Protection Office of the National Police of Ukraine has told UNIAN that qualified police officers can protect individuals on an hourly or daily basis. "The cost of one hour of physical protection of a particular person in Kyiv and Kyiv region is UAH 85 per hour, in other regions it’s UAH 65 per hour... Round-the-clock protection in Kyiv and Kyiv region costs UAH 2,040 hryvnia, in other regions it’s UAH 1,680," the report says.
To date, the regional offices of police protection provide services to 261 people, among them - 17 deputies and one mayor.
Remnants of the past
A political expert, former MP Taras Chornovil said that earlier, most of the MPs used the services of bodyguards. However, as a rule, those were their own security services, rather than those paid for from the public funds.
According to political analyst Valentyn Hladkykh, it is a feature of the social environment where our politicians operate. "They came out of the 1990s, when all issues were dealt with at some shady meetings. Despite the fact that the 1990s are long gone, many politicians feel they remained in that environment... It is necessary to distinguish between those who really need protection from those who walk around with bodyguards just because they enjoy it," he said.
This point of view is confirmed by the current MP, Viktor Chumak, who says that it’s mainly the “old school” who use security services today - MPs of previous convocations, in particular members of the Opposition Bloc. "There are times when, due to the deputy’s work, say, aimed at some investigation, or termination of lobbying activity, his life may be threatened, and then they can be provided protection on the order of the president. The others who believe that they are so important, hire private bodyguard services," he says.
Often bodyguards are listed as assistants to the MP, and often they don’t get an official public pay. The number of guards depends on the MPs’ "pockets" and the level of arrogance. "As for me, for most of them, such protection is just a show-off thing.
However, given high expenses of such services, Valentyn Hladkykh believes that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau should check, at whose expense the officials use bodyguard services, whether the latter carry firearms and whether it is allowed, and how the contracts are signed. Moreover, Ukraine, as recently stated by Minister of Justice Pavlo Petrenko, is launching a new process of monitoring of the officials’ lifestyle.
Bodyguards have enough work
Despite the fact that Ukrainian bodyguards are not cheap, private security firms say they are loaded with work. Director of Partner security firm Ihor Doroshenko says that the market is growing and so does the demand for personal protection. "There are many factors to this. The crime rate is not dropping; the competence of law enforcement agencies is questionable. People are beginning to fear for their life and health. And the officials go to those whom they’ve known for years," he says.
The same opinion is shared by director of Antikiller security firm Mykola Zborschyk. According to him, the VIP officials mostly use recommendations to hire their bodyguards.
Doroshenko says that the minimum cost of 24/7 protection by one bodyguard starts from $1,000 a month, but, depending on the degree of a threat, the sum can be increased. Taking into account the expenses of security firms, a bodyguard gets an average of UAH 50,000-60,000 per month for his round-the-clock services.
According to Mykola Zborschyk, a real demand today is for the so-called universal bodyguards who serve both as bodyguards and drivers. Typically, they work six days per week. Serious protection requires specialists who have been trained systemically. Their salaries start from $1,000 per month, plus food and clothing.
Representatives of the private security business do not tell, whether they provide services to well-known officials or deputies. But they note that they remember cases when the MPs used bodyguards during election campaigns. "I remember the case when a man was holding an office for about five years, but when he was dismissed, he refused protection," says Zborschyk.
Anyway, personal physical security continues to be a profitable business in Ukraine. Officials of different levels seek bodyguard services spending thousands of dollars on them. However, information on this matter is under the heavy lock: selected firms are chosen, who never name their customers.
But the presence of a bodyguard cannot always be explained by fear for their lives. Unfortunately, Ukrainian officials are still bragging the number of their guards, trying to show off their status. But let it please not be at the taxpayers’ expense. And we will soon see in e-declarations, whether their expenses on bodyguards are comparable with their declared income.
Iryna Shevchenko, Tatiana Urbanskaya