July 10, 2012—Ukrainian union leader Valentyna Korobka was hospitalized with a concussion and other injuries after she was assaulted by police at a July 4, 2012, protest in Kyiv, according to the Free Trade Union of Entrepreneurs of Ukraine (FTUEU), which she chairs. FTUEU is an active democratic union, focused on street vendors, the self-employed, and informal workers. It is affiliated with the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) and the StreetNet International alliance of street vendors.
||Valentyna Korobka (right) protests the new labor law at a May 21 demonstration in Kyiv. Photo by KVPU
Korobka, a former geography teacher, ran a flower stand in Kyiv for 10 years. While working as a vendor, Korobka became a prominent trade union and human rights activist. In 2011 she was elected to head the 29,000-member FTUEU.
The protestors, among them a number of union members, were demonstrating against a controversial language bill passed by the Ukrainian Parliament. Many Ukrainians, including native Russian speakers, are nervous about efforts to introduce Russian as a second official language in Ukraine. Since the country gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, many residents have seen the renewal of the Ukrainian language as a symbol of national progress and unity.
As is true in the United States, union members and leaders in Ukraine are active in issues important to citizens across society. The right to peacefully assemble and protest is directly connected to the right of freedom of association in the workplace, and union leaders and members are often at the forefront of community action on many different issues.