KYIV -- Ukrainian Interior Minister Anatoliy Mohyliov admits that corruption exists within his ministry but said he is fighting against it on many fronts, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.
Mohyliov, who also answered questions from RFE/RL listeners during an exclusive interview on September 1, claimed he has not received any "orders from above" to single out opposition figures for prosecution and vowed that "all are equal before the law."
Several opposition political parties and groups have complained of an increase in the prosecution of activists since Viktor Yanukovych came to power in early 2010.
Mohyliov admitted that 20 years of independence in Ukraine had done little to reform the police force and that the Interior Ministry continues to function according to its old Soviet model.
"During the Soviet period the job of the police was to protect the interests of the state," he said. "I want the police to stop being a punishment organ. The police should help people."
The police consistently receive poor marks from human rights watchdogs. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Ukraine's ombudsman have raised their voices over the torture and ill treatment of people in police custody.
Mohyliov said this is the result of "Soviet thinking," in which the end justifies the means.
He admitted that in an effort to solve many cases and elicit confessions, some police officers resorted to abuse of detainees.
But Mohyliov said such behavior is strictly forbidden in the police force and "solving a crime does not justify committing the smallest violation of human rights."
Mohyliov said several hundred police officers are being prosecuted for human rights violations and the ill treatment of detainees.
Ukrainian traffic police, the notorious DAI, are famously corrupt. Mohyliov said he plans to remove them from Ukraine's highways and roads altogether.
"They will no longer hide behind trees and bushes, but only man existing stationary posts," he said. Traffic violations such as speeding will be registered by speed cameras and local officials will be responsible for collecting the fines, he said.
Mohyliov said his reforms have so far not only reduced the amount of paperwork traffic police deal with, but made the roads safer. He said in August the traffic accident rate has fallen by 9 percent, and fatalities have decreased 25 percent.
Mohyliov said Ukraine's 16 police academies are far too many and he plans to revamp the entire police education and training system.
"We get kids into our academies straight out of school, where they have paid bribes for good grades and for exams," he said. "This kind of corruption continues in the police academy. [The graduate then] becomes a police officer where far too many temptations present themselves."
While Mohyliov believes that most police are honest and do not succumb to corruption, he admits that there are problems within the force, which he deems to be far too large -- there are currently some 300,000 people working in the Interior Ministry.
The country's parliament is poised to vote on a new Criminal Procedural Code later this year which will simplify administrative police procedures and result in a reduced number of police personnel.
Another problem that has plagued Ukraine's police since Soviet times is institutional extortion. In some regions a network of officers and their superiors systematically extort money from suspects, with the funds often reaching the highest ranks of the ministry.
"I have not been able to completely eradicate the extortion system in the police, which has been constructed over decades. I have, however, shaken it up considerably," Mohyliov said.
Ukrainian police are not only widely perceived as being corrupt, they are also deeply distrusted by Ukrainians. According to a recent study conducted by the TNS market research company, only 17.4 percent of Ukrainians trust their police force.