Ukraine: Harm Reduction and Law Enforcement, Part 2

Global Voices Online
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Back in October, Ukrainian blogger mazay, who writes for a newly-launched collective LJ blog depo3p, wrote about his attempt to educate a group of Kyiv police officers on harm reduction programs. A translation of mazay's story was featured on Global Voices and on Rising Voices earlier this month.

Although the police officers who listened to the harm reduction lecture did not seem as interested in this not-yet-popular approach to dealing with drug addiction as they were in obtaining free condoms from the activists, judging from this follow-up post (RUS) by mazay, the talk did after all bear some positive fruit.

In the first few paragraphs, mazay describes a recent visit to the apartment of his drug addict friends, who told him of an encounter with the police that they had roughly a month after mazay's harm reduction lecture:

[...] "Stand still!" Anyway, they began searching me. First, through the pockets, like, okay, come on, get everything out yourself... Then they opened my wallet, and there's nearly a thousand hryvnias [nearly $200] there - my own and the money that my aunt asked to give to my mother. Well, the moment the cops saw the money, they went, "Wow! Where from?" and I said, like, this isn't mine, commander, I swear, [...] and he started the old song right away: "A drug addict? Come on, show me! Show me your arms!" I pretended to be a fool, circled my palms, and he [hit me in the stomach]. Like, stop pretending, I see it in your face that you inject. That's it, I thought, [...] they'll take us to the police station now, search us in full, will find all they need to find, and will take all the money away... [...] And then he spreads out my wallet and opens a small pocket where all the cards, notes, tickets and other stuff is. And he takes out this...

At the point, the narrator takes out a plastic card out of his pocket - the card of a participant in the Harm Reduction program. "Municipal program of HIV/AIDS prevention."

The cop basically jumped away!

- What, do you have AIDS? he said.

- No, commander, - I say, - there's this program, where you can get condoms for free, and various vitamins.

Another officer came up. Took the card and said to the other cops: "Remember, there was this gray-haired guy doing a presentation to us the other day? About social services working with drug addicts, giving them clean syringes, other stuff, to keep them from spreading infection too much." The cops nodded, and he asked me: "So? Are you one of those, what do you call it?.." I nodded to him, yes, I'm a volunteer, visit local drug addicts, gather used syringes, exchange them for new ones then. For the first couple months, you visit along with a social worker, learn how it all works, and then begin to visit your clients on your own... exchange syringes, distribute info - leaflets, various newspapers, invite them to all kinds of lectures. "I know, I know," said the cop. And then I couldn't believe what I heard when he told his guys: "Okay, folks, give the money back to him and let him go." And to me - you won't believe this! - he said, Count the money, see if it's all there. [...] I told him, Come on, commander, it's okay, no need to count. Like, you're supposed to trust people... [...]

I was sitting there, smiling quietly. No matter what you say, somewhere deep in my soul, as they say, it was inexplicably pleasant to realize that the "gray-haired guy doing a presentation" was the author of these lines, who just happened to stop by at this apartment for a minute now. [...]

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