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Ukrainians Urge Amazon To Drop Separatist Kitsch From 'Marketplace'


"Donetsk People's Republic" products for sale on Amazon

KYIV -- What's black, blue, and red all over Amazon Marketplace?

All the kitsch that supporters of Russia-backed fighters in the separatist-controlled, eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk could want.

That's the answer from Kyiv, anyway.

And some Ukrainians, led by the country's health minister, are livid at the availability of what they see as "terrorist" swag on one of the world's biggest shopping sites. They want a ban, preferably in time for Christmas.

"Amazon profits from promoting terrorism," Health Minister Ulana Suprun charged in a bilingual Facebook post alongside images of the products on offer on November 19. She called for "a flash mob on social networks" and via e-mail to demand that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos "take the products off of Amazon's site."

The post has been shared more than 1,500 times and liked by over 3,600 people.

RFE/RL has reached out to Amazon and will update this story with any response.

The "Donetsk People's Republic" and its equivalent in Ukraine's neighboring Luhansk region are names used by armed separatists, aided by Russia, to refer to swaths of the country under their control since the conflict broke out in early 2014. Russia denies it is a party to the fighting despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

The United Nations overwhelmingly supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine in a rebuff to the separatists and to Moscow, which also forcibly annexed Crimea in March 2014.

Odd Assemblage

In addition to black, blue, and red flags and guitar picks, some of the "DPR" items for sale include:

  • "2018 pants Beach Towel New Donetsk Peoples Republic Flag 80" X 130" Soft Lightweight Absorbent for Bath Swimming Pool Yoga Pilates Picnic Blanket Towels";
  • "Donetsk Peoples Republic Flag Sleeve Raglan Baseball Jerseys";
  • "New Donetsk Peoples Republic Flag Pen Pencil Bag Pouch Pencil Case Storage Organizer Multifunctional School Supplies With Zipper Unisex";
  • "New Donetsk Peoples Republic Flag Baby Girl Boy Clothes Cartoon Baby Clothes";
  • and "Soviet Army veteran badge-Worn by WW1,WW2, Afghan, cold war, DPR (Donetsk People's Republic), LNR (Luhansk People's Republic), Russian, and other veterans. Profits are used to help republics"

Suprun, who was born in the United States and moved to Ukraine in 2013, argued in her Facebook post that "No one should profit from the victims of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's war against Ukraine and consumers should not pay for Russia's hybrid war against the civilized world."

She added that the Donetsk separatist flag "represents terrorism, repression, death, and occupation."

The third-party retailers include little-known, seemingly niche sellers like Yimo, SHoelska, StickersWorld, and Moald7.

Three one-star customer reviews for a six-pack of bass-guitar picks with the "DPR" flag on them include phrases like "Warning! Terrorists!", "These are symbols of terrorist organization," and, "By supporting the aggressor country and the terrorist organizations that it sponsors, by putting these products up for sale or purchasing them, you are paying to kill someone."

More 10,300 people have been killed since Ukraine's war broke out in April 2014.

The war has dragged on despite a peace accord, known as the Minsk accords, that was meant to provide a road map to ending the bloodshed.

Students of a military school stand in formation before a march marking Flag Day of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in the city of Donetsk.
Students of a military school stand in formation before a march marking Flag Day of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in the city of Donetsk.

Amazon's Policies

In addition to assertions by Ukrainian and NATO officials, mounting eyewitness and open-source evidence points to Moscow's involvement, and Russian soldiers and intelligence officers have been captured in Ukraine by pro-Kyiv forces.

Ukrainian officials routinely refer to the Russian and separatist forces as "terrorists," stemming from Kyiv's initial designation of the conflict when it broke out as an "antiterrorist operation." Ukraine has since changed the official designation to a "joint forces operation."

Suprun further cited testimonials by Ukrainians who described being detained and tortured by separatist forces as reasons to ban the items.

International human rights groups and journalists have documented dozens of such cases, including some that allegedly occurred on the territory still under control of government forces.

Amazon describes its Marketplace as "an e-commerce platform owned and operated by Amazon that enables third-party sellers to sell new or used products on a fixed-price online marketplace alongside Amazon's regular offerings." Amazon takes a cut of all sales on its site.

The company says it bans sellers from offering products that "promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views."

And it has banned specific, controversial merchandise before.

This year, after pressure from nonprofit groups and politicians, Amazon announced that it would no longer allow third-party retailers to sell products that feature Nazi or white-nationalist symbolism on its platform.

Amazon also banned a self-proclaimed "men's rights advocate" from selling his pickup-artist books, including one that promised tips on "how to break up with a girl in a way that minimizes the chances that she will successfully accuse you of domestic violence or rape," The Daily Beast reported.

Suprun and many of her Ukrainian supporters hope Amazon will take a similar route when considering the sale of Russia-backed separatist items.

By supporting Russia and the separatists it backs in eastern Ukraine, Suprun said, and "by putting these products up for sale or purchasing them, you are paying to kill someone."

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