The Kyiv City Council has urged the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to draw up a law on banning the public sale of pyrotechnics. What prompted it to do so was a recent accident that involved the council member Oleksandr Pabat. It will be recalled that, when the latter was launching fireworks for his children, he was gravely injured, losing an eye, receiving burns, and having facial bones fractured. Doctors fought to save his life for several days in a row. Now they are trying to save his eyesight.
“We are not saying they should not be sold at all – we do not want them to be on public sale. These fireworks shows should only be arranged by the firms that are licensed to stage this kind of events and, accordingly, to sell pyrotechnics. The people who buy this are not below the poverty line, so they can afford not only to buy fireworks but also pay for the services of specialists. We are speaking of the most valuable thing – the human life,” Tetiana Melikhova, initiator of this request, head of the BYuT – Fatherland faction in the City Council, told The Day. Kyiv Council members believe that the existing limitations on the sale and use of pyrotechnics are ineffective.
It is allowed today in Ukraine to shoot up fireworks and use other pyrotechnics in open areas at least 100 meters away from schools, hospitals, kindergartens, apartment houses, and other public places. If a firecracker thrown from the balcony or a skyrocket salvo near the house entrance leaves a passerby injured, this is grounds for a criminal prosecution. And the illegal sale of these “toys” carries a maximum fine of 1,700 hryvnias. Besides, it is forbidden to use pyrotechnics from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. (except for a New Year night) and from May 1 to July 1, the so-called quiet month for animals and birds, on the territory of nature preserves and recreation areas.
However, in fact every Ukrainian has seen fireworks launched next to their windows in courtyards – very often after 10 p.m. And one can buy pyrotechnics even in underpasses and at metro stations from unauthorized sellers. So we hear almost daily from new bulletins about the tragic consequences of failure to observe pyrotechnics safety regulations. Official statistics say that last year five people died and 20 sustained serious injuries in Ukraine as a result of the negligent handing of festive pyrotechnics.
Of course, the Pabat story is in no way the first instance of people being severely injured by pyrotechnics, but this is the first time it happened to a well-known person. It is unlikely that Pabat bought an uncertified substandard firework at some marketplace – he just failed to observe all the required safety rules. This is why many consider the Kyiv Council’s initiative “too radical.” They claim that if the councilor had not suffered, there would not be so much fuss. If passions continue to run high, much more people will suffer: the ban will only activate the illegal and uncontrolled market of pyrotechnics, bringing up the number of “fakes” and, accordingly, victims.
Meanwhile, the first “victims” of Kyiv councilors’ initiative will be… pyrotechnics sellers. According to Nina Kravets, deputy manager of the company Dance of Fire, if this law is really drafted and passed, this will in fact ruin their business. “It will become unrealistic to deal with consumer pyrotechnics in Ukraine. People will just stop buying our products for the simple reason of high cost. It is very expensive to pay for the services of a specialist,” our interviewee says. Incidentally, Dance of Fire specialists are in offer if the minimum cost an invitation is 3,500 hryvnias, whereas Ukrainians buy pyrotechnics worth an average 500-700 hryvnias. “This will be technically impossible on the New Year night. There will be just not enough specialists for all those who wish to invite them. We can’t possibly send a team of pyrotechnicians to every family,” Kravets emphasizes.
She also reminds us that sparklers, which cost 2 hryvnias, also belong to consumer pyrotechnics. “It is also pyrotechnics, and, to sell them, you also need licenses and declarations,” Kravets points out. “And, by the logic of Kyiv Council members, only a certified specialist should light and hold them. It is absurd!”
Besides, a resentful Kravets says, there have been very few instances in Ukraine when consumer pyrotechnics caused injuries. “Far more people are daily injured in road accidents, but it occurred to nobody to suggest that automobiles be banned from being sold and a chauffer be hired to drive a car,” Kravets says in indignation.
Tetiana MELIKHOVA: “We are not saying they should not be sold at all – we do not want them to be on public sale. These fireworks shows should only be arranged by the firms that are licensed to stage this kind of events and, accordingly, to sell pyrotechnics. The people who buy this are not below the poverty line, so they can afford not only to buy fireworks but also pay for the services of specialists. We are speaking of the most valuable thing – the human life.”
“Nowhere in Europe are there bans like this. Naturally, there is a division into classes, such as consumer and proximate pyrotechnics (as is the case in Ukraine. – Ed.), and sellers of these items are required to have the necessary documents and to have done a training course,” Kravets notes. In her words, this market is strictly regulated and needs no other bans.
The Day asked ordinary citizens of various EU countries about how one can acquire and use pyrotechnics in their country. Here is what we managed find out.
In Germany, the use of pyrotechnics is strictly regulated. Rockets, firecrackers, and fireworks can be sold just three days before the New Year (December 29 to 31) to over-18s only. They can only be used from 6 p.m. on December 31 until 2 a.m. on January 1. Festive light-and-noise firecrackers can only be set off on the New Year night from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Not so loud pyrotechnics can be used for 24 hours before and after the New Year. It is strictly prohibited to sell pyrotechnics in the remaining 362 days of the year. The fine is from 1,000 euros upwards. Yet, even in these three prohibition-free days, safety requirements are so tough that almost a half of all products are scrapped. Only the items that have been thoroughly examined are allowed to be sold. For example, last year about 40 percent of pyrotechnics were barred from selling in Germany.
Polandand the Czech Republic do not have so strict regulations: firecrackers can be sold all year round. According to Blazej Zajonc, chairman of the Polish socio-cultural association East-West Mutual Understanding, even a 7-year-old child could easily get hold of a firecracker until recently in Poland. “Of course, it was illegal but in fact without any obstacles,” the Pole says. But rules have been toughened lately. “The reason is the mass media began to focus on injuries,” Zajonc notes. On his part, Ales Zarembluk, a Warsaw public figure, told The Day that adult Poles usually launch fireworks on Christmas and New Year only. Incidentally, in Belarus, his ancestral home, selling and using consumer pyrotechnics is banned altogether.
In Romania, one can freely buy only the non-dangerous, so-called children’s, pyrotechnics. “For the rest, you need special permission. The requirements are rather strict,” says Oana Popescu, director of the Bucharest-based Conflict Prevention Center.
In Sweden, according to musician Peter Stenlund, if you are 18, you can buy a firework without any problem anywhere and any time. But, as a rule, pyrotechnics begin to be sold on New Year Eve, and they remain on shop shelves until the end of April.