In April, I sat down over coffee and sweets in Kyiv with investigative journalist Oleksa Shalayskiy, editor-in-chief of Nashi Groshi (Our Money), who explained in detail how corruption functions in Ukraine.
Shalayskiy knows what he’s talking about. His watchdog organization regularly uncovers examples of corruption that the top anticorruption organizations use in their public crusades.
But Shalayskiy is anything but loud. Soft-spoken and detail oriented, I had to lean forward multiple times and ask him to speak up.
Shalayskiy said the problem is that officials still believe they must steal.
However, things changed this week.
The legislative work is over, and now it’s time to select judges. These are the people who will become the face of the new institution. Will the Anticorruption Court become an effective and impartial body? Everything depends on who is appointed to the bench.
But time is not on Ukraine’s or the European Union’s side.
When I spoke with Iryna Shyba, a leader with the DEJURE Foundation in Kyiv, Ukraine, she almost rejected the premise of the piece.
“I don’t feel like I am doing more than any other civil society activist,” Shyba said. “There are incredible females working every day in IT and science, and to fight corruption. One day there should be no special column about women working on important issues; there should just be a column about anyone working on these issues.”
You know you’ve found a good subject to profile when they don’t want the spotlight.
When war broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, 150,000 college students and 10,000 faculty and staff were thrown into an uncertain situation.
We asked UkraineAlert experts and friends the following: Will Ukraine face a serious financial crisis if it does not get any IMF money before November?
Ukraine’s public engagement has taken various forms. Early on, experts from independent think tanks helped ministers develop reform policies. Because of Russia’s aggression in Crimea and the Donbas, a number of volunteer organizations helped thousands resettle within the country and supply Ukrainian fighters with much-needed aid that the government couldn’t supply at the time.
Thanks to the pressure exerted by the European Union, the United States, and activists, Ukraine made significant institutional advances to fight corruption. The establishment of the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine is well known, but it’s worth mentioning two less visible wins. Both the adoption of the e-declaration system that makes the incomes and assets of state and local officials transparent and the public e-procurement system ProZorro were developed with the direct assistance of anticorruption activists. But they also contributed to the political establishment’s backlash against civil society.
The political elites also took advantage of discord within civil society.
But when everyone looked at the map, I was horrified to discover that the country I had so excitedly announced wasn’t there; instead, there was just a colossal landmass identified as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I tried to convince the class that such a country really did exist, but I didn’t have much luck: it simply wasn’t on the map.
That was my first attempt at promoting Ukraine in public, and it wasn’t a great success.
These days, I make a living advocating for businesses in Ukraine, and I’m still running into barriers. As in my London classroom, many American and international investors haven’t yet detected Ukraine on their radar screens.
That’s not necessarily surprising. For many years, the country was mismanaged by a small cohort of greedy oligarchs and their cronies, and it became internationally recognized as a haven of corruption and vested interests, a terrain inhospitable to foreign investors.
That now appears to be changing.