Why Yegor Soboliev is Still Optimistic and Even Joyful about Ukraine’s Future

The claw back of reforms in Ukraine is alarming, and the latest blow was the dismissal on December 7 of hardworking Yegor Soboliev as chairman of parliament’s anti-corruption committee.

A former investigative journalist and Maidan activist turned politician, he has been at the forefront of reforms such as electronic asset declarations for state officials, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), and has singlehandedly impeded the passage of three hundred draft bills containing hidden corrupt practices.

“Soboliev proved to be one of the most effective and sincere drivers of anti-corruption reform in the parliament, he protects the independence of NABU, opposes the appointment of a loyal auditor, and advocates for the establishment of the anti-corruption court,” said the Anti-Corruption Action Center after his dismissal.

Likewise, the European Union’s Ambassador to Ukraine, Hugues Mingarelli regretted Soboliev’s removal and applauded his “very important and impressive work.”

Soboliev is no stranger to adversity and said he was not surprised at his firing, and will remain on the anti-corruption committee.

“Now they will try to break the independence of NABU and create a fake anti-corruption court, then hide the assets of government officials by stopping e-declarations,” he said.

But he said crowds are growing in size with every abuse, arrest, and incident by the Security Service and others against activists, he said.

“Society is waking up again and realizing the work is not finished and we should go further against corruption,” he said. “This is what we must concentrate on.”

He said the counterattack began in the summer of 2016 because the kleptocracy realizes that the combination of an anti-corruption police force and court will put most of them in jail or send them scurrying to Russia where corrupt Ukrainians hide.

“They will propose new legislation to reduce NABU’S independence. They will try to dismiss the head of NABU [through the] courts and the Prosecutor General has initiated an investigation against him. But the main battle will be the creation of an independent Anti-Corruption Court and the result of this will define the future of Ukraine,” said the Russian-born Soboliev, now a Ukrainian citizen.

“If the court is not created, that will be a huge problem for the nation because without such a court the alternative is a new revolution and that’s a very risky scenario because we are at war with Russia at the same time for our independence,” he added.

Pressure by activists and the West continues to slow the counterattack. On December 6, a proposed law to defang NABU yielded a huge international outcry and condemnation from Western partners and was withdrawn from parliament’s daily agenda, though the bill remains registered and activists fear its return in 2018. Unfortunately, the next day Soboliev was fired to help undermine NABU’s independence.

“Soboliev was the only person who blocked the appointment of a controlled NABU auditor,” noted independent Yuriy Levchenko in a parliamentary speech on December 7.

He remains undaunted.

“I’m proud to be part of a movement to bring justice to a country that never had justice. This is a very big reason for joy,” he said. “I live in a small flat in the center of Kyiv. This is a sign that we can establish good governance and elect representatives who will not rob the people. I’m very proud to be with other honest colleagues working for the future of our country.”

But he understands the dangers.

“I check my car every morning before I drive it and I pray that my children will be safe,” said Soboliev. “But at the same time, I feel huge support from society and feel lucky to survive and help to complete the mission. I’m as optimistic as I was in 2014 when I entered the parliament.”

His optimism has increased along with the size of the crowds that now protest police abuses against activists. They also want an independent Prosecutor General, a ban on political ads by oligarchs, an end to immunity for politicians, and electoral reform.

“Ukrainians always rise up against oppression,” he said. “The arrest of activists, with some still in jail, represents a strong emotional moment for many Ukrainians. Ukrainians not only want freedom, they want decency.”

Diane Francis is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Editor at Large with the National Post in Canada, a Distinguished Professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, and author of ten books.

Image: Yegor Soboliev, a lawmaker and the head of the Ukrainian parliament's committee on fighting corruption, attends a committee meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine November 15, 2017. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko