Ole­sia Kholopik: Pas­sion­ate about rules and road safety

Kyiv Post Legal Quarterly - - Contents - By Olga Ru­denko ru­denko@kyiv­post.com

For some, rules and reg­u­la­tions are bor­ing as hell. Ole­sia Kholopik is not among th­ese peo­ple. This young lawyer gets pas­sion­ate when she talks about cor­po­rate pol­icy, lit­tle-known laws and road reg­u­la­tions.

Two years ago she left Sam­sung Ukraine, her first job out of col­lege, to join the Cen­ter for Democ­racy and Rule of Law, or CEDEM, a think tank in Kyiv.

Now Kholopik, 27, is co­or­di­nat­ing the cen­ter’s ad­vo­cacy cam­paign for road safety.

Even though work­ing in cor­po­rate sec­tor was Kholopik’s dream through­out her stud­ies in the Academy of Ad­vo­cacy of Ukraine, one of top 10 law schools in Ukraine, she says she never re­gret­ted leav­ing Sam­sung af­ter two years for a think tank.

“Here I can re­ally feel the change hap­pen­ing,” she says.

But even prior to join­ing CEDEM, Kholopik wasn’t a com­plete stranger to so­cial ac­tivism. She got a taste of it when she joined, and then headed, the Stu­dents League of the Ukrainian Bar As­so­ci­a­tion.

The youth or­ga­ni­za­tion of the Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, the League or­ga­nizes ed­u­ca­tional and so­cial events and aims to in­te­grate the stu­dents into the pro­fes­sional le­gal cir­cles.

When she joined it in her sec­ond year of col­lege, Kholopik’s first job was to fundraise for the league’s ac­tiv­i­ties. It was 2009, and fundrais­ing af­ter the eco­nomic cri­sis was harder than ever.

Was she, a 19-year-old who just re­cently moved to Kyiv from a much smaller west­ern city of Rivne, afraid to knock on the doors of the top law firms and ask for do­na­tions? “No, not re­ally,” she says. The youth league of the Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, she ex­plains, opened many doors. Thanks to it, she got ac­quainted with the whole mar­ket of le­gal ser­vices in Kyiv while still be­ing a stu­dent.

When she fin­ished col­lege, Kholopik left ac­tivism be­hind and headed for a le­gal spe­cial­ist po­si­tion in Sam­sung Ukraine. It was per­fect for

her: A sta­ble well-paid job, a multi­na­tional com­pany and a cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment where ev­ery­thing was reg­u­lated.

But three years later she was in­vited to join CEDEM, then known as the Me­dia Law In­sti­tute, to lead an ed­u­ca­tional cam­paign for lo­cal ac­tivists in Ukraine’s re­gions.

It was a tough de­ci­sion: to leave be­hind sta­bil­ity and great ca­reer prospects for a fixed-term con­tract in a think tank. But Kholopik took the risk, and in 2015 traded her of­fice desk for the on-the-road life of a co­or­di­na­tor of a re­gional pro­gram.

In the new role, she had to travel to 16 of Ukraine’s 24 re­gions, or­ga­niz­ing and some­times teach­ing work­shops for lo­cal change­mak­ers.

A year later, as the pro­gram came to an end she switched to two new ones: road safety and mon­i­tor­ing court re­form.

Change on the road

When the pro­tag­o­nist in a le­gal drama makes a fi­nal state­ment in a mur­der case, his eyes don’t sparkle half as much as Kholopik’s do when she de­scribes the leg­isla­tive flaws that un­der­mine road safety.

Small fines and lack of con­trol from the pa­trol po­lice make for reck­less driv­ing. Speed­ing is ubiq­ui­tous, while seat belt use is rare.

Only 14 per­cent of driv­ers in Ukraine and 34 per­cent in Kyiv use seat belts, CEDEM found out. Com­pared to 80-98 per­cent in the United States and most Euro­pean Union coun­tries, it shows just how lit­tle care for safety Ukrainian driv­ers have.

To trick the car mech­a­nism that rings an alarm when the driver isn’t us­ing a belt, Ukrainian driv­ers use spe­cial alarm stop­pers, dummy clips, or even clip the belt be­hind the seat.

“I’ve heard so many myths about us­ing a seat belt,” Kholopik sighs. “Some say it won’t save them in an accident, oth­ers say it leaves wrin­kles on their clothes.”

If caught not us­ing a seat belt, a Ukrainian driver would get a fine of just Hr 51 ($2). A driver from Spain would have to pay 200 eu­ros.

Speed­ing is an­other is­sue. While the speed limit within Ukrainian cities is set at 60 kilo­me­ters per hour, al­most no one sticks to it. The first prob­lem is the so-called “un­pun­ish­able 20 kilo­me­ters”: Only by ex­ceed­ing the speed limit by 20 kilo­me­ters or more might a driver face a fine.

And if a fine is im­posed, it's a light one. Speed­ing brings a fine of Hr 255-510 ($10-20). In the EU, the fines are sev­eral times higher, and speed­ing over a cer­tain limit means driv­ers lose their li­cense.

Throw in the fact that for the past two years there’s been nearly no speed con­trol on Ukrainian roads. Af­ter the old, cor­rupt traf­fic po­lice were shut down and re­placed with the new pa­trol po­lice, there was very lit­tle po­lice con­trol on the roads. Traf­fic cam­eras are promised to be in­tro­duced some­time in the fu­ture. As a re­sult, im­punity rules the roads. “Speed­ing is con­sid­ered al­most a norm,” says Kholopik, who is a new­bie driver her­self.

But there is a way to fight it, she be­lieves. Traf­fic reg­u­la­tions need to be changed, and higher fines to be in­tro­duced. For ex­am­ple, Kholopik says, the fine for driv­ing with­out a seat belt should be raised from Hr 51 to Hr 1,000 ($38).

“The idea is not to get a lot of money through fines,” she

says. “The idea is for the fines to work as a preven­tion.” In CEDEM, her job is to bring to­gether ev­ery sug­ges­tion from ev­ery side - driv­ers, pas­sen­gers, au­thor­i­ties - and boil it down into pro­pos­als of new reg­u­la­tions by au­tumn. Ob­vi­ously, many driv­ers aren’t ex­cited about bigger fines, so the dis­cus­sion gets tense.

That’s not even all of Kholopik’s work. In CEDEM, she jug­gles two projects. Be­side the road safety, she over­sees “Ch­esno. Fil­ter the court,” a cam­paign to mon­i­tor the se­lec­tion of new judges for courts of each level that is part of the on­go­ing ju­di­cial re­form in Ukraine. The first re­sults of the mon­i­tor­ing have been dis­ap­point­ing. The Higher Qual­i­fi­ca­tion Com­mit­tee for Judges that is vet­ting the act­ing judges has many times ap­proved the judges who were ve­toed by the Public In­tegrity Coun­cil, the body that an­a­lyzes the tax declarations, wealth, and past rul­ings of the judges, look­ing for the signs of cor­rup­tion.

Kholopik hopes that the se­lec­tion can im­prove if the so­ci­ety ac­ti­vates and starts watch­ing it closely. So far, the process hasn’t got­ten much of so­ci­ety’s at­ten­tion. That is what Kholopik is try­ing to change.

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