And luckily, there are distinct steps the government can take now to make real changes. On October 19, Ulana Suprun, the American-born doctor who is the acting Minister of Health in Ukraine, finally convinced parliament to pass far-reaching reform. There’s a big snag, however: President Petro Poroshenko hasn’t signed the bill yet, so implementation is delayed.
“There’s something going on within the presidential administration,” Suprun said in a December 11 interview; she was in Washington to meet with the World Bank and spoke with UkraineAlert for the first time since the bill passed.
Both Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman and Poroshenko publicly supported the bill, but she suspects there’s political infighting between the two factions who opposed the bill.
Health care committee chair Dr. Olga Bogomolets was and is the problem, said Suprun.
In fact, the Ukrainian authorities seem to be pursuing a policy of double standards, demanding that Russia liberate Ukrainian political hostages and journalists while simultaneously arresting dissenting activists, journalists, and political opponents.
The case of former Georgian President and opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili captured the world’s attention on December 5, as special forces attempted to detain him. The law requires a court order for such an arrest to take place, which law enforcement bodies did not have. His supporters eventually freed him, but Saakashvili was later arrested on December 8 for allegedly "aiding and abetting a criminal organization." On December 11, a judge released him. Numerous observers and rights organizations view the ordeal as politically motivated.
Saakashvili soaks up international attention, but there are numerous other cases that have escaped notice and are also worrisome.
But a successful Pakistani-born businessman, Mohammad Zahoor, isn’t giving up on Ukraine. He owns The Kyiv Post, a twenty-year-old English language newspaper that crusades for democracy, the rule of law, free markets, and western integration.
The Kyiv Post has a relatively small circulation, but punches above its weight as the source of news on Ukraine for embassies in Kyiv, chanceries around the world, and expats living and doing business there. Zahoor bought the newspaper in 2009 from its American founder and has lost money ever since. But that is okay.
“I believe that everyone has a responsibility to do community service. This is corporate social responsibility,” he said. “My wife and I love this country despite whatever is being done by the so-called establishment here. People need to have some independent views on the things happening from people who are truly non-partisan and have no fear to express their views.”
Zahoor is a self-made man.
On December 6, pro-government faction leaders Artur Gerasimov and Maxim Burbak registered a bill to remove the head of NABU, Artem Sytnyk. Wow, consider this: the bill’s architects are the leaders of the two major political factions in parliament.
In the last three years, the power struggle against anticorruption crusaders has never been so open.
Supporting NABU has certainly been a US priority, as the two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding for the FBI to assist NABU with training, capacity building, and information sharing. Ukraine's political elites have spent much of the last two years coming up with ingenious methods to weaken NABU and diminish its effectiveness. Ukraine's unreformed judiciary also stymies NABU's investigations by denying search warrants, setting purposely small bail for suspects—thereby allowing them to flee the country—and preserving official positions for people who are NABU suspects. This means that while NABU has investigated hundreds of cases, most can't make it through the courts. And despite the IMF's requirement that an independent anticorruption court be established, President Petro Poroshenko continues to slow-roll the submission of legislation to do so.
As bad as all this is for NABU, things got worse last week.
Ukraine’s political parties are struggling to secure double-digit support. With presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May and October 2019, it is anyone’s game at this point—and much work remains to build party structures and craft messages that resonate with voters prior to Election Day.
But there is a silver lining to the bleak picture: nearly 40 percent of likely voters want to participate but do not have a current party preference. This means that the political climate should be seen as a big opportunity for party growth, and IRI’s data suggests at least two strategies that can be utilized to increase a party’s support over the next year.
Although the concept of sanctuary for schoolchildren can no longer be taken for granted in eastern Ukraine, people from around the world have stepped up to offer respite. This past summer, the nationwide summer camp initiative GoCamp welcomed six hundred students from twenty-four schools in the war-affected Donbas to GoCamp East, a summer program held in Kozyn, near Kyiv, for two weeks of English language learning. During those fourteen days, the students were able to leave their conflict-ridden towns behind and immerse themselves in new ideas and opportunities.
The innovative program is part of the national educational initiative GoCamp, which involves over seven hundred schools across Ukraine. The program is run by Global Office, a nongovernmental organization that was co-founded in 2016 by Mustafa Nayyem, a member of parliament in Ukraine and a prominent reformer in the post-Maidan era.
“If we do not invest in the future, our children and nephews will encounter the same problems that we have,” Nayyem told UkraineAlert in 2016. “Many children in Ukraine have never seen foreigners.”
In just two years, the project has connected over 69,000 Ukrainian schoolchildren between the ages of ten and fifteen with hundreds of trained foreign volunteers from dozens of countries.
Michael Carpenter, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and Senior Director at the Biden Center: The conflict between Saakashvili and the Ukrainian authorities only benefits Russia. Saakashvili entered Ukraine under dubious circumstances but his case needs to be adjudicated according to the rule of law, not through force.
Aivaras Abromavicius, former Ukrainian Minister of Economy and Trade: I think there has been a good amount of progress made by the last two governments. Yet many of those achievements are at risk of being eroded by the recent blunt attacks on the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine by unreformed law enforcement agencies. In light of the total absence of sentencing of extremely corrupt current or former top officials, accusations against Saakashvili will always seem politically motivated. The West is going to be puzzled yet again and disappointed about where the priorities of Ukraine's leadership lie.
Lviv Mayor and head of the Samopomich Party Andriy Sadovyi opened the forum by reminding the crowd of international experts, politicians, and students from the United States and Europe that the twentieth century, a century of atrocities, was not kind to Ukraine. In fact, the city of Lviv was part of six different countries in the last century, he said. Sadovyi said that he’d recently met with the Israeli defense minister and his advice to Sadovyi and Ukraine was simple. “You have to survive,” he said.
The organizers went with the theme of survival, making #survive the hashtag of the forum. However, an emphasis on survival seems behind the times.