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The Kyiv Prosecutor’s Office charged Petro Panteleyev, deputy head of the Kyiv City Administration, with negligence on Jan. 31. He is a long-standing ally of Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.
Panteleyev is accused of failing to decontaminate the site of Kyiv’s former chemical plant Radikal, which according to prosecutors, led to severe environmental damage. Prosecutors allege that a failure to enact environmental measures at the plant, as well as the lasting effects of pollution in Kyiv's left-bank Lisova district, have caused damage worth over $1.4 billion (Hr 40 billion).
The Kyiv Prosecutor’s Office said during a briefing that concentrations of mercury at the site far exceeded legal limits. Soil concentrations were between 5.8 to 35.4 times higher than acceptable. Air concentrations of mercury near the plant were also between 2.1 to 145 times higher than legal limits.
Meanwhile, the Kyiv City Administration, in a post on their official website, has dismissed this criminal case as “just another attempt at political pressure on the city authorities.”
The Radikal plant, which was abandoned in 1996, is heavily polluted with mercury, which has soaked into the surrounding ground. According to a statement posted by the Kyiv Prosecutor’s Office, over 200,000 tons of contaminated materials remain at the site.
Since 2003, the Kyiv authorities have been working to decontaminate the site. The government’s original plan was to remove around 130,000 tons of mercury-contaminated waste from the site, most of which will be buried elsewhere in Ukraine.
The city administration states that it has already removed over 300,000 tons of harmful materials from the Radikal plant and sponsored a project for the safe disposal of waste from the site.
City officials also allege that they had been denied funding by the central government to decontaminate the site. The city administration cited a 2020 decision by the Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine which denied the Department of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Kyiv City Administration funds to finance the decontamination of the site.
The private company OJSC Radikal, owners of the site, went bankrupt in 2000 and began liquidation procedures. The company has yet to be fully liquidated, while the city inherited the contaminated land from the private owners, whom city officials alleged have not undertaken any of the responsibility.
The city administration stated that it was the state’s responsibility to fully liquidate the company. In a statement, the city officials alleged they have appealed to the state for meetings and support but were denied.
Tug of war
During Klitschko’s eight-year reign, the mayor and his allies came under fire for impoverished infrastructure, a lack of proper public transport, deteriorating historic buildings, haphazard construction, poor utility services, alleged embezzlement and corruption.
On Jan. 25, First Deputy Head of the Kyiv City Administration Mykola Povoroznyk was accused of misappropriating a land plot that was intended to be used for apartment buildings and car parking facilities.
He denied wrongdoing.
Since May 2021, the State Fiscal Service and the Kyiv Prosecutor’s Office conducted over 80 searches alleging corruption, tax evasion, abuse of office, embezzlement, and fraud among Kyiv city officials.
A total of 13 people were charged, most of whom were incumbent officials connected to Klitschko. Criminal proceedings have now been opened against Panteleyev, who is accused of failing to undertake measures to eliminate the effects of pollution and decontaminate the area.
Yet, some critics have viewed these prosecutions as the government attempting to put political pressure on the Kyiv Administration.
Klitschko has been embroiled in a power struggle with President Volodymyr Zelensky since Zelensky took office in May 2019.
Zelensky’s office unsuccessfully tried to deprive Klitschko of his powers in Kyiv in late 2019 accusing the mayor of turning a blind eye on corruption.