Pavel Skala, manager of policy and advocacy programs, International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine, Kiev

December 2009

Russian transcription: Olga Zelinska

Translation and editing: Sophie Pinkham

I’m from Svetlovodsk, in Kirovograd oblast, 300 km from Kiev.  On the Dnepr.  In the 90s, when I started working in the police force, it was a very “young” town—the level of drug addiction was very high.  When I was a young man, I also had that choice—to start using drugs, or not to.  But a lot of my friends went down that road, they tried drugs, they continued.  At first soft drugs, then injected drugs.  And later a lot of them…the majority of them aren’t alive anymore.  They already died or were killed.  Some of them were in prison.  And very few of my comrades managed to avoid getting caught up in that.  So, in those circumstances, knowing that whole scene, I work in this field.  I know the problem from the inside, because I could have fallen into it, too…

At the Alliance I work on advocacy and policy.  We have many service projects, prevention, treatment, and all of these projects require support through advocacy—on both the national and the regional level.  I coordinate regional advocacy activities in the framework of our projects.  And we expend a lot of energy on national-level advocacy.

We raise and resolve different issues connected with the expansion of substitution treatment, including with methadone; problems connected with implementation of harm reduction programs and needle exchange; legal issues…

My area of interest is drug policy.  So we work a lot in this area, since it’s closely related to substitution treatment, drug trafficking and law enforcement.  I draw on my many years of experience in the Ministry of the Interior, where I worked for more than 12 years.

From 1998 to 2004, I worked in the Department Against Narcotics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and there were a lot of questions related to drug policy.  My work brought me into contact with non-governmental organizations that worked in this sphere.  They started trying to introduce substitution treatment.  And when substitution treatment started, I was part of the barricade against it, because I represented the Ministry of the Interior.

At that moment I had trouble imagining substitution treatment, methadone, because I was an opponent of these programs.  Until, after lots of meetings, I starting looking into the question, started reading about it, including foreign materials.  And I started to develop an alternative point of view.

This got to the point where, during meetings with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Renaissance Foundation I presented conclusions that contradicted the arguments of the Ministry of Internal Affairs with regard to substitution treatment.  I expressed doubts about their categorical position.  That happened several times.  There were various conflicts, including ones connected with the leadership, because they didn’t have a very good attitude to…to people.  And so I had a difficult relationship with them.

This conflict developed and I moved to Interpol headquarters in Kiev, which was also under the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  I worked there for about six months and when the Orange Revolution started—all these falsified elections and everything, I considered it my responsibility to speak publicly about my position.  Then there was a serious discussion about whether the police would use force, weapons on people on Maidan [central square where protesters gathered during the Orange Revolution].  I considered it necessary to speak publicly in support of these democratic movements.

I went onto Maidan, spoke to television channels, foreign channels, saying that the police would never come out against their people.  [I said] they’d never shed blood, and that we supported all these democratic processes.  I was categorically opposed to the possibility of the government, including the armed forces and law enforcement, being headed by a person with criminal convictions [i.e. Yanukovich, former and current President of Ukraine].  For me that was just unacceptable.  That was the key factor.  Under other circumstances I would hardly have taken such radical action.

After those public statements, it was impossible for me to continue working in the Ministry.  Out of 3,000 or 4,000 people in ministerial headquarters, I was the only one who spoke out in public, on television, on Maidan, on the central square.  And naturally, under those circumstances…I even submitted an application to the general prosecutor to open criminal proceedings against the Minister of the Interior, on an array of charges.  I resigned voluntarily.  That Minister of the Interior is still on the run.  He’s being searched for, he’s wanted by prosecutors…he’s in Russia.  He left then and never came back.  My application might be part of the materials gathered against him, but he left because of many different accusations.  He took [Russian] citizenship, so Russia won’t send him back here.

That’s why I left.  Since I was still on the police force, I worked with the Renaissance Foundation, I was a technical advisor to the Open Society Institute’s International Harm Reduction Development Program on drug policy.  I left at the end of November, and in December and January there were elections.  Revolutionary events.  I was an election observer in Donetsk during the third round.

Then everything ended, calmed down, and I had to think about my career.  I started working more with the Renaissance Foundation…then there was a vacancy at the Alliance…the main task for the job was to promote advocacy for substitution treatment, including methadone, in order to introduce it in Ukraine.  After I was hired I worked hard on this issue, and we had serious success; now 5,000 people are receiving substitution treatment.  It’s expanding, it’s legal.  Many things that were unrealistic or problematic five years ago are now a reality.  They’re legitimate, affirmed in the legislation, and we’re continuing to work.

The problem [when I started at the Alliance] was that there was a shortage of specific knowledge and experience in drug policy.  In general, in the area of protection of rights, in the non-governmental sphere.  People didn’t know what to do, they didn’t understand their opponents’ arguments.  And there was really no experience in legislative work.  They didn’t know what to change, how to change it, and how to influence it.  And even now, there are only a couple of drug policy experts.  Mostly representatives of non-governmental organizations.

At that particular moment that expertise was in demand and very necessary.  If you’re debating your opponents, the Ministry of the Interior, the Security Service, other law enforcement agencies, you have to speak to them in their own language.  I knew that language.  More than that, I used specific authority in that milieu, since the debates were on substitution treatment and I had been involved with that when I worked there.

At that time I worked actively with the UN’s Belarus-Ukraine-Moldova Anti-Drug program.  It also included work with non-governmental organizations—I started working with it while I was still at the Ministry of the Interior.  That really helped.  I knew the situation really well.  To compare—often in Ukraine, good investigators become good lawyers, because they know how things are done, they know how things can be violated in court.

There was also the problem that there wasn’t enough international experience.  There was more domestic and Russian experience.  And it became possible for me to see, travel, observe, study foreign experience, by participating in different drug policy conferences.  Of course this experience was really helpful.  When you don’t know about these experiences, when you just read in a book—that’s one thing.  But when you’ve been there, asked questions, found out, seen it—it’s much simpler and more effective to implement it.

…When our opponents told us that the whole world had rejected substitution treatment, methadone…I collected all the latest statistics, showed the 25, at that moment, countries in the European Union that had substitution treatment, 500,000 people on substitution treatment.  And other countries.  The United States.  Our country was striving toward membership in the EU.  If we were in the EU we had to improve everything, all our practices.  If all those countries have substitution treatment, and drug policy there allows all these things, why isn’t it like that [in Ukraine]?   We crushed the arguments made by our opponents.  We used real arguments, substantiated scientific evidence.

The police are really helpful.  When police from other countries came here, or when they had the opportunity to go abroad and see, in study tours, how everything works.  They ask other police how they feel about it.  They see how it works…practical experience.  That’s what works.  Models that are described.  Research.  At the moment we had only foreign research.  For example, about the effectiveness of substitution treatment.  Now we have our own [research].  We already provide thеsе arguments in the context of specific facts.  And these arguments, ordinarily, should be written…fixed.  We prepare publications, policy briefs.  We take material from authoritative UN agencies, UNODC.

Again, participation in different drug policy events.  Conferences, round tables, where you can debate and discuss problems.  I lead trainings, when possible, for police, government officials.  For the corrections department.  With these kinds of people, you need to be able to show concrete examples with presentations, photos, figures.  And that works, in principle.

Then we have the problem of political will.  As always, we didn’t have enough will to start.  They understood that it was needed.  It’s possible, it’s justified.  But someone needs to give an order.  That happens when we’ve already worked on the level of the Prime Minister or the President.  To the point where the information has been brought to the President and he’s put out a decree.  Substitution treatment was introduced based on a presidential decree and the barriers were removed.  It’s very effective to participate in different structures.  Councils in the Ministry of the Interior, in other structures…

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