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Drug Users Are Criminals in Ukraine. New Police Training Aims at Changing That

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Lt. Maya Breslavski and her team detain a drunk driver after he attempted to flee the scene. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

Lt. Maya Breslavski and her team detain a drunk driver after he attempted to flee the scene. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

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Lt. Yaroslav Petrushka explains the dangers of drug use to local kids in Borispol. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

Lt. Yaroslav Petrushka explains the dangers of drug use to local kids in Borispol. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

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Lt. Yaroslav Petrushka finds a drug-filled syringe at a place popular with drug users. Image by  Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

Lt. Yaroslav Petrushka finds a drug-filled syringe at a place popular with drug users. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

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Discarded syringes stacked behind a garage in Borispol. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

Discarded syringes stacked behind a garage in Borispol. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

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Lt. Vlad Fisotchenko helps paramedics calm down an aggressive intoxicated drug user. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

Lt. Vlad Fisotchenko helps paramedics calm down an aggressive intoxicated drug user. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

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Irina, 28, (left) fled the war from Enakievo, a town now under separatist control in eastern Ukraine. She is an intravenous drug user and receives substitution therapy which was made illegal by separatists. NGO Svitanok Club assists her in her hometown Kramatorsk.

Irina, 28, (left) fled the war from Enakievo, a town now under separatist control in eastern Ukraine. She is an intravenous drug user and receives substitution therapy which was made illegal by separatists. NGO Svitanok Club assists her in her hometown Kramatorsk. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

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Olga Ponomareva, an internally displaced person (IDP) herself, from Svitanok Club, helps newly arrived IDPs to settle down by finding housing and assisting with paperwork. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

Olga Ponomareva, an internally displaced person (IDP) herself, from Svitanok Club, helps newly arrived IDPs to settle down by finding housing and assisting with paperwork. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

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Lt. Maya Breslavski on her first day as Borispol's chief of police. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

Lt. Maya Breslavski on her first day as Borispol's chief of police. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

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Sveta Moroz from NGO Svitanok Club explains the situation with drug users in Borispol to Chief of Police Lt. Maya Breslavski. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

Sveta Moroz from NGO Svitanok Club explains the situation with drug users in Borispol to Chief of Police Lt. Maya Breslavski. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

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Sveta Moroz from NGO Svitanok Club educates Borispol's patrol officers on modern approaches to dealing with drug users. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

Sveta Moroz from NGO Svitanok Club educates Borispol's patrol officers on modern approaches to dealing with drug users. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

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Sveta Moroz from NGO Svitanok Club educates Borispol's patrol officers on modern approaches to dealing with drug users. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

Sveta Moroz from NGO Svitanok Club educates Borispol's patrol officers on modern approaches to dealing with drug users. Image by Misha Friedman. Ukraine, 2016.

The problem continues to grow year after year. While the war-torn country is struggling economically, there is little hope in improving the situation.

Boryspil is a blue-collar town of 60,000 just outside of Kiev. Unemployment is high and for many, life can be bleak.

Following the Maidan 2014 revolution in Ukraine, old police symbolized corruption and the old regime, so the new reformers focused on overhauling this symbol. The recently rebooted police force in Boryspil is led by Lt. Maya Breslavski. Some of her patrol officers spend as much as 40 percent of their time dealing with drug-related issues.

Just like in the rest of the country, police here see and treat drug users as potential or actual criminals. However, some nongovernmental organizations in Ukraine like Svitanok Club believe a different approach can help policing Boryspil.

Svitanok Club was one of the first NGOs in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region created by people living with HIV who use drugs. Their mission is to improve the quality of life for people living with HIV and for drug users. Most of the Svitanok Club's activists had to flee the war in Donetsk and are living in other parts of Ukraine now, helping other displaced people like themselves.

Social workers from Svitanok have started working with the local patrol officers on another approach that's proved a success around the world: Treat drug addiction as an illness, not a crime. The hope is that by changing the police officers' mindset, dramatic changes in the community will follow.