KRAKOVETS, Ukraine – Aggressive government supporters, known as “titushki,” came to the Krakovets checkpoint on the Polish-Ukrainian border on Sept. 9 to protest against ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s planned arrival in Ukraine on Sept. 10.
The move followed the establishment of a protest tent camp by Saakashvili supporters at Krakovets on Sept. 9. His supporters, who say the “titushki” will be used for provocations, installed dozens of tents.
Saakashvili, who was stripped by President Petro Poroshenko of his Ukrainian citizenship in July while being abroad, is planning to come back to Ukraine through the Krakovets checkpoint on Sept. 10. He believes the decision to strip him of his Ukrainian citizenship to be illegal and unconstitutional, while the Ukrainian authorities say they will not let him enter the country.
The pro-government activists looked athletic and wore tracksuits – a characteristic feature of “titushki,” ill-famed paid supporters usually hired to attack genuine activists or imitate protests.
Some of the titushki, including Oleg Stepanchenko from Kyiv, said that they had come to protest against Saakashvili, while others claimed they had come for a tourist trip but failed to provide more details.
“I came here to voice my position,” Stepanenko told the Kyiv Post, adding that other people on the buses shared it. “I don’t like Saakashvili.”
The use of titushki was a widespread practice under ex-President Viktor Yanukovych and continued after he was overthrown in February 2014.
“The authorities have brought six buses of armed athletic men who are preparing provocations,” said David Sakvarelidze, an ally of Saakashvili.
Sakvarelidze and Yuriy Derevyanko, another ally of Saakashvili, asked the police to check the buses with pro-government activists for weapons. The police inspected them and said they had found no weapons.
One of the buses was from Poltava Oblast, and some of the others came from Kyiv.
The occupants of the Poltava bus could be linked to controversial Poltava Oblast-based police official Oleksandr Pluzhnyk, who had previously been accused of organizing titushki, Dmytro Klipchik, a Samopomich party activist from that region, told the Kyiv Post.
Some of the pro-Saakashvili activists traveling to Krakovets said their buses had been stopped and thoroughly searched by the police as part of what they deem to be political pressure.
Meanwhile, barbed wire was installed at the Krakovets checkpoint as part of what Saakashvili’s supporters saw as preparation for his arrival. A helicopter was seen flying along the border with Poland.
When Poroshenko stripped Saakashvili of his citizenship in July, he argued that the former Georgian president had submitted incorrect information when applying for citizenship in 2015.
Saakashvili says that no proof of this has been provided and that the cancellation of his citizenship violates both Ukrainian and international law. Ukrainian authorities have so far refused to give Saakashvili documents on the loss of his citizenship, or specify the legal grounds for the cancellation.
Saakashvili’s lawyers argue that the cancellation of Saakashvili’s citizenship is illegal because it violates the Constitution and due process, and is politically motivated.
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