On the morning of Jan. 27, a group of law enforcement investigators knocked on the door of Edward Peters’ tire warehouse in Kyiv’s Solomiansky district. They showed Peters a search warrant, and confiscated the office’s records and the business telephone.
Over the course of the next five hours, the investigators questioned Peters and his partner, Edward Makarov, and took inventory of the 9,781 tires in the warehouse. Then, the investigators locked and sealed the warehouse and took Peters and Makarov to the police station for another two hours of questioning. Тheir lawyer was not present.
Requests by the Kyiv Post for information from police and prosecutors were not immediately answered.
Peters was charged with supporting terrorist activity for allegedly selling tires to activists in the EuroMaidan movement, who have burned tires on Hrushevskoho Street to create a smokescreen between protesters and riot police.
However, Peters, a Dutch immigrant, says his tires were never burned on Hrushevskoho Street and that he has never sold tires to activists. When he appeared in court on Jan. 29, the prosecutor said he could provide no evidence linking Peters’ business to the tire fires on EuroMaidan. Still, the judge ruled that the investigation should continue, and placed a moratorium on Peters’ tire sales.
Though the tires remain in his warehouse Peters says he “cannot operate at all” and has had no income since the judge’s ruling. As a result, Peters and Makarov have been forced to lay off their entire staff.
Protesters have occupied Independence Square and several surrounding streets in central Kyiv since Nov. 21, when President Victor Yanukovych put an association agreement with the European Union on hold and later sealed a bailout with Russia.
Over the past nine weeks, riot police and special forces have tried several times to drive people from the square violently, but these attempts have only emboldened protesters and increased the number of people standing on the Maidan.
Courts have increasingly targeted individuals and businesses thought to be associated with the EuroMaidan movement as a form of intimidation. Dozens of activists sit in jail in Kyiv and throughout Ukraine, where protests have spread in recent weeks. EuroMaidan supporters accuse government prosecutors of levying false accusations against activists.
“If they take the law into their own hands, what can we do?” said Peters, contemplating the future of his own business, and of the EuroMaidan movement. The moratorium on Peters’ sales is not unique: Peters says he knows of “at least 11 cases of tire businesses that will be closed” while the government investigates their activities.
Peters appealed the judge’s ruling, and appeared in court on Feb. 3. However, the court neglected to hire a translator for Peters, whose native language is Dutch, and the trial was postponed until Feb. 18.
By then, the warehouse will have been closed for nearly three weeks. Without any business, Peters says he is having difficulty supporting his wife and children: “I need to feed my family…I don’t go to the center [to protest]…I don’t complain. I’m just trying to do my job.”