Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
When 2,000 new police officers were sworn into duty in Kiev last Saturday, Ukrainians couldn’t help noticing how attractive the recruits — a quarter of them women — looked. They wore flawless makeup, shiny aviator sunglasses, and Police Academy-inspired, close-fitting uniforms. And they had been instructed not to refuse any selfies.
Since then, Ukrainians have been taking photos with police officers and posting them online under the hashtag #KyivPolice. Many feature male civilians posing with female law enforcement and vice versa — one pink-lipped blonde leans in to plant a kiss on the cheek of a bashful policeman. The images are easy to smile at and, strangely enough, seem totally sincere.
According to the BBC, they’re all part of a marketing ploy to reinvent the image of Kiev’s notoriously corrupt law enforcement. Ukrainian police have long been known to torture people in custody and extort money from suspects. Most infamously, during the Euromaidan protests of 2013, they violently beat protesters and killed more than 100 civilians. Unsuprisingly, a 2015 survey by Razumkov Center found just 24% of Ukrainian citizens trust the police.
After president Viktor Yanukovych was forced out of power, the new administration led by President Petro Poroshenko began a difficult overhaul of the system. They fired hundreds of officers, shut down some police academies, drafted new laws regarding the function of the National Police, and brought in trainers from the US and Canada.
The new officers aren’t meant just to catch crooks and keep the peace, but to also act as watchdogs against the old guard. “You will risk your health and even life, but the danger is not where bullets are flying, it’s where banknotes are rustling,” President Poroshenko told them on July 4. “You are the living evidence of the fundamental change in our country.”
The recent selfies reflect the optimistic hope in Kiev that things might change. Actor Antin Mukharskiy told the BBC a story about how the new recruits responded to some “traditional policemen” causing a ruckus beneath his window. “A patrol arrived in three minutes and traditional policemen started to disperse like elementary school students,” he said. “When my wife thanked [the new officers] from the balcony, they replied: ‘From now on, we will always take care of you.’”