UkraineAlert

Since 2014, when a democratic revolution triumphed in Ukraine, there have been two kinds of reports coming from my country: those about Ukrainians’ heroic resistance against Russian aggression, and those about the corruption that is destroying the country. The truth, of course, is more nuanced and mundane: Ukraine is gradually advancing, sometimes with two steps forward and one step back, and the West has a greater role to play than some of its policymakers realize.

Land reform is a case in point. In November, the Ukrainian parliament endorsed pension, health care, and education reform. Alas, land reform was not among them. The reason, I believe, was a leftover Communist mentality that persists among many Ukrainian politicians, including current members of parliament who were elected after the Revolution of Dignity; many voted for an extension of the ban on the sale of agricultural land.

This is now the eighth time the issue has been put to a vote and rejected.

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When Russian-led separatists seized control of Donetsk in 2014, Ihor Kozlovsky did what many residents of the city were doing: he stayed put.

But unlike others, Kozlovsky was not a supporter of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR). In fact, he was a Ukrainian patriot, a professor and world-renowned expert of comparative religion at Donetsk National Technical University, and a former civil servant. Instead, he had a different reason to remain in Donetsk; his oldest son suffered from Down Syndrome and paralysis and could not be easily transported elsewhere.

Eventually, however, the separatists came for Kozlovsky, detaining the 63-year-old scholar outside his house on January 27, 2016.

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Election reform in Ukraine is finally gaining some momentum. In December, parliament passed in the first reading draft law #3112-1, which creates an open list proportional election system and makes it easier for small parties to win seats in parliament. In addition, the president’s long-awaited list of candidates for the Central Election Commission has finally been submitted.

This is a good start to improve Ukraine’s electoral system—but it is only a start.

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In January, the Czech government announced plans to double its annual quota for Ukrainian fast-track migrant workers from 9,600 to 19,600. Three years ago, the quota had been just 3,800. Prague’s message is clear—Ukrainian workers are not merely welcome but vital to the Czech Republic’s economy.

The Czechs are not the only ones in Central and Eastern Europe seeking to entice greater numbers of Ukrainian workers to replenish their own depleted populations. From the Baltic to the Balkans, national governments are relaxing employment regulations and looking at ways to bolster their Ukrainian workforce. Many are actively recruiting within Ukraine itself, with billboards in towns and cities advertising the attractions of seasonal work or full-scale emigration. Others have set up agencies and launched multimedia campaigns as they fight over the human resource Klondike that is the highly skilled and grossly underpaid Ukrainian workforce.

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Russia’s disinformation activities have reached a new level: the government is now attempting to reinterpret international law. And the international community appears to be largely ignoring these audacious, unlawful efforts.

The latest effort began on January 14 when the first deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, Konstantin Zatulin, acknowledged that Russia had violated its treaty of friendship with Ukraine. He then called for a cancellation of the treaty. “All the issues need to be addressed again, including those with regard to the borders,” said the parliamentarian.

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Western reports about Ukraine are inevitably laden with doom and gloom comments mentioning “stagnation,” “a crisis in reforms,” and even “counterrevolution.” Meanwhile, concerns are circulating that the United States and Europe have reached another cycle of Ukraine fatigue. But while Ukraine still has many reforms to undertake, this should not blind observers to the real progress that the country has made since 2014.

In no other period of Ukrainian history since the disintegration of the USSR have so many reforms been undertaken in such a short period of time. The country’s governments since the Euromaidan have transformed the bankrupt nation they inherited into one where Europeanization is driving profound structural changes.

There are five key reasons why reform is not in crisis in Ukraine.

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Russian corruption will cast its shadow over South Korea’s Winter Olympics that will be held between February 9 and 25.

For decades, the Games, notably the winter ones, have handed Russia its greatest public relations coups. Unable to deliver decent living standards or democracy to its people, the Kremlin has concentrated instead on gold medals in hockey or gymnastics to garner respect at home and abroad.

But now an incredible documentary has lifted the curtain on Russia’s dirtiest little secret: Corruption at the top has metastasized throughout its society and onto its ice rinks, ski slopes, and gymnasia. Through a state-sponsored program, the Russians cheat and they have been caught.

Now Russia is banned by the Olympic Committee indefinitely, beginning with these Winter Games.

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Seven years ago Olga Stefanyshyna took a leap of faith. Pregnant with her second child, she left a secure job and—along with Dmitry Sherembei and Inna Boiko—established a new NGO called Patients of Ukraine. The organization strives to ensure that all Ukrainians receive the high-quality medications they deserve. Without offices, funds or salaries, Stefanyshyna and her colleagues made the move, determined to change health care for the better.

Despite the challenge of starting from scratch, Patients of Ukraine played a key role in creating Ukraine's first hepatitis C program, obtaining desperately needed medicines for HIV patients, and ensuring children with cystic fibrosis received treatment. After the Euromaidan, Stefanyshyna partnered with Anti-Corruption Action Center board member Oleksandra Ustinova to push through parliament a law outsourcing the procurement of medicines to international organizations, saving the state 40 percent of costs while increasing the quality and availability of a wide variety of drugs.

Stefanyshyna now faces a new—and potentially even greater—challenge.

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Many were insulted by a letter from the International Monetary Fund to Ukraine’s presidential administration critical of the president's bill on the High Anticorruption Court. Ukrainian VIPs proved to be touchy. Considering how they take offense at critical newspaper articles, imagine what they think when clerks, whom they find inferior, start writing to them directly. This insult brought forth two claims. First, corruption is not a problem in the poorest and most corrupt country in Europe. Second, we don’t even need the IMF. Those who seriously advance the first claim should see a shrink. The second claim, strenuously exploited by those close to power and the opposition, is much older and more menacing.

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In 2017, for the first time ever, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that Russia be designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for the religious repression occurring there and for its exportation of such repression to Ukraine. USCIRF’s primary role is to monitor countries engaging in or tolerating "systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom,” and to recommend those countries that should be designated as CPCs. CPC designations open the door to a wide array of possible sanctions, though implementation is at the discretion of the State Department. Even without sanctions, the designation alone serves as a powerful signal to religious freedom violators of US disapproval. In its most recent announcement of CPC designations on January 4, however, the State Department did not include Russia.

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