Initial analysis of the incident identified Russia as the likely guilty party. A major multinational investigation has since confirmed these conclusions, with Russia now accused of supplying the BUK anti-aircraft missile system responsible for the tragedy. Court proceedings against individual suspects could proceed in the Netherlands this year.
In mid-November, Hanna Solomatina, the former head of the financial control department within the National Agency for Corruption Prevention (NACP), alleged that she was fired after disclosing that the organization’s chairwoman forged Ukrainian members of parliament’s income statements, prevented the investigation of specific judges’ tax returns, and illegally enriched herself. According to Transparency International, further disclosures revealed that at least five other high-level NACP members were guilty of similar misdeeds and were part of a crime ring allegedly linked to President Petro Poroshenko’s administration.
While Solomatina’s case is well known in Ukraine, she is not alone.
Anders Åslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, clearly described the crux of this fight: “Ukraine is far too transparent and open to stay so corrupt. Ukrainians are also far too educated to stay so poor.” This is not to say, he clarified, that Ukraine is poised to become rich and open. On the contrary, if the economy doesn’t start growing rapidly, the quality of education will decline. And, if it stays corrupt, its openness will also diminish.
Ukrainians have been fighting daily for at least thirty years, maybe even the last one hundred years. The fight is still in the manner of “one step forward, two steps back.” 2018 is likely to be more of the same.
In July, a Kyiv court released Roman Tymkiv, the head of a state-owned military plant, on bail. Tymkiv was accused of embezzling $1 million by supplying the Ukrainian army with used tank engines for the price of new ones.
In May, the same court released former member of parliament Mykola Martynenko, suspected of embezzling $17 million, on bail.
In ordinary criminal cases, suspects normally go to jail for at least two months for theft that exceeds $20, but of course, Tymkiv and Martynenko walked away.
These few examples show why no high-level corrupt public officials have been put behind bars. This was the central demand of the Maidan, and it remains unfulfilled.
Throughout the year, elites claimed that Ukraine does not need an independent anti-corruption court and the old system would finally deliver. But the public and the international community weren’t convinced, especially after the effort to rebuild the Supreme Court flopped and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine’s (NABU) independence was attacked.
Ukraine, on the other hand, has perverted this principle by guaranteeing elected officials complete immunity from civil or criminal prosecutions unless a majority of its 450 deputies allow charges to be laid. The significance of this cannot be overstated. This is impunity, not parliamentary immunity, and has been a license for up 450 people and their sponsors or allies to break laws and loot the country.
Every election cycle Ukraine is for sale to the highest bidders.
Shore’s book couldn’t have come at a better time. Four years after the Maidan, civil society in Ukraine is exhausted, most of the reformers who served in government are long gone, and the powers that be are distracted by next year’s elections already.
“We are very tired,” leading anticorruption activist Daria Kaleniuk admitted in Washington last year. One can count the number of reformers within the Cabinet of Ministers on one hand, and there are real concerns that President Petro Poroshenko, despite putting a number of positive reforms in place, doesn’t want to go any further. He never managed to deliver the central demand of the revolution—justice—to this post-Soviet country of forty-five million. Some predict that there will be no more structural reforms this year, and any remaining momentum will be focused on relatively easy policies like education, health, and pensions, avoiding real legal reform altogether.
In this blah year, when little appears to be going in the right direction, The Ukrainian Night is a must-read for reformers, the diplomatic corps, journalists, and friends of Ukraine—if for no other reason than to remember what they sacrificed, what bound strangers together, and how far the country has come.