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“It hurts that they don’t understand that Ukrainians work here.” Employees of Ukrainian Sberbank subsidiaries comment on protests at their branches
Protests against Russian banks continue to rage in Ukraine. The board of the Ukrainian subsidiary of Russian’s Sberbank announced that the financial organization would be sold after protests against it worsened in March. After that, the protests ceased, but only temporarily, resuming with full force in mid-April. The entrance to the central office of Sberbank in Kiev has been blocked for several days. Protests then spread to Sberbank branches in Odessa and Dnipro on April 12 with protesters claiming that they would continue protesting until all banks with Russian capital vacate Ukraine. Meduza interviewed several employees encumbered by protests at Sberbank subsidiaries in various Ukrainian cities.
When the protests did not [affect] the central office, we pitied the [employees] who were barricaded [in their offices] in the regions. And when [the protests] came to us, there was a strong sense of fear and vulnerability. [We came to the] realization that people who have no power can come and lock other people in a building. The police and the National Guard did not react at all. [The attackers] simply barricaded us and did what they wanted.
Amongst ourselves, we [admitted] that it hurts that the attackers pretend not to understand that Ukrainians work here [and that the bank] holds the money of Ukrainian citizens.
I have never personally communicated with protestors. None of my acquaintances support such protests.
Of course, many employees had thought about resigning [from their posts]. I will admit that there are things that I cannot abandon. I have a responsibility [and] a certain loyalty to this company, which has taken care of me for [the] two years [that I have worked here].
An employee at a Sberbank branch at a regional capital
Our office [succumbed to] a “light” blocking. There were no smashed windows and no barricades. [Instead, it came] in the traditional form of paint and stickers that the staff then cleaned away.
This [current protest] is the tenth such incident. Our reaction was different the first time round. Initially, we were scared, even for our lives. People came in military uniforms, bore flags, tires, and bags – this was the first time. Then everyone began to treat [the protestors] as, what can only be described as, idiots.
When you talk to the [the protestors] away from the camera, they understand everything perfectly. They understand that this is a Ukrainian bank, that Ukrainian citizens work here and serve Ukrainian clients who were not forced to [be serviced by this bank]. It is just that these young men from the National Corp have a command from above that this should be done and so [they do it].
Well, how does this happen across Ukraine? They arrive, barricade the branch, douse it with red paint, and plaster it with fliers. But this is not the worst thing - the worst thing is how people react. Both branch employees and passers-by are frightened. They do not feel safe.
The bank employs more women than men ... imagine the situation that [these women] find themselves in. Yes, the branch closes immediately, but it’s scary even when the crowd rages outside the window. Though I would not say that many leave their jobs. After all, the situation in Ukraine [does not allow] people [the luxury of just] quitting their jobs.
The bank employs living people, [people] with emotions [and the] desire to live in peace. To what end are all these protests [being held]? To close down a bank that operates legally and pays enormous taxes into the state budget?
How does this look? About a hundred young men bearing National Corps flags and insignia come to a branch; they look [about] 15-16 years old. They are also led by young adults, though older – about 30 years of age. [They then] launch into a bacchanal, shouting aggressively and causing damage to the building. You observe this with uneasiness from inside the bank. It’s scary. What’s there to say?
It was especially unpleasant when they began to seal the entrance to the bank with bricks. If previous protests came as dress rehearsals, then everything was real this time round: they really did completely block the entrance. The media’s report of “immurement” was true (Meduza’s note: immurement is a form of punishment in which a person is enclosed against their will.)
Though we were afraid, we didn’t have the thought that [it was all over]. We have very good security, which ensured the employees’ smooth exit from the bank. We were just outraged that no one was preventing this from the outside, [that] the police had not intervened. It was just chaos.
The first time that police intervened in the National Corps protests [was] this week. Perhaps this is due to the government’s signing on to the International Monetary Fund [order on] the security of banks with Russian capital in Ukraine ... So things have become [calmer].
We have no shame in working here. Having seen it from the inside, we, better than anyone else, can say with certainly that the workings of this bank are honest. We have very strict rules and procedures [and] comply with all the norms. It’s just that the bank was unluckily a very convenient target for various political forces.
* Name changed.
- Since early 2017, several protests have taken place in Ukraine against VTB and Sberbank subsidiaries operating in the local market. On March 13, Interfax-Ukraine reported that dozens of ATMs in various regions across the country were allegedly filled with spray foam, the statement read. Over the course of these protests, the branches these banks have been plastered with leaflets and doused with paint. In Kiev, there was an attempt to “brew” the door of a branch of a local subsidiary of VTB.
- Veterans of the anti-separatist operations in the Donbass and other activists who, in late February, organized a blockade of railway lines connecting territories controlled by the authorities with the Luhansk and Donbas People’s Republics with the rest of Ukraine, announced on March 10 that they intended to halt Sberbank’s operation in the country within two weeks.
- The activists demanded that Ukrainian authorities prohibit Sberbank’s operation in light of the Russian bank’s announcement that it would begin servicing clients with passports from the two separatist regions. Ukrainian authorities have yet to officially make an decisions in regards to this matter.
- On March 15, 2017, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council secretary Oleksandr Turchynov said that Ukraine’s National Bank and Security Service intended to study the activity of the subsidiaries of Russian banks and “make corresponding proposals, including one on imposing sanctions against them”.
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