We are all breathing a sigh of relief here in the West and, indeed, around the world now that the violence in Kiev has halted. Recent developments are heartening for supporters of democracy and although the road ahead will certainly be a difficult one, there is certainly more reason to be optimistic today than even yesterday about the bright future of Ukraine.
I am hopeful that we will soon see a revival of civil society and democracy in this country. The changes that we are already seeing are a great step forward and it is my hope that the US and the EU continue to support Ukraine, especially as Russia fights against the interests of Ukrainians and democratic ideals.
To this end, Russia has recalled their ambassador from Kiev. Russian Prime Minister, Dmitri Medvedev, said in Sochi earlier, “Today, I see no legitimate Ukrainian partners for dialogue. If people crossing Kiev in black masks with Kalashnikov rifles are considered a government, it will be difficult for us to work with such a government.”
The international community must remain vigilant and protective of Ukraine to ensure that the interests of the Ukrainians themselves are safeguarded and represented today, tomorrow and in the forthcoming elections in May. The possibility of a Russian invasion is not only a direct challenge and threat to Ukraine, but to the world as a whole.
Russia is propping up corrupt, undemocratic regimes across the globe. From Syria to Iran to Venezuela, they support governments with interests inimical to the US and to democracy more generally. We cannot allow them more influence in Ukraine, and while they should be part of this transition process, we must be scrupulous in watching their every action.
Last week, I posted an article written by a friend and colleague, Tetyana Shvachuk, which offered a unique perspective into the crisis in Ukraine from a young woman who divides her time between New York and Ukraine. I do believe that her insight is invaluable for a Western audience to truly understand this crisis and it follows that I am sharing another piece of hers here.
The Fight For Ukraine Is Not Over
I write as someone who has spent more than half of my time each year from 2010, when Yanukovich was elected, until today in Ukraine. I saw first hand the impact of his presidency on the country, its citizens and its quality of life. What follows is a look inside what my country has been like during the Yanukovich presidency.
The tour of the Mijhiriya residence of former President Yanukovich is a stark reminder of a tasteless man who oversaw many years of oppressive leadership in Ukraine. Since his takeover, Ukraine has become impoverished, demoralized and destabilized. So what was it like to live under Yanukovich’s rule?
Yanukovich consolidated power amongst all high and middle raking governmental posts in Ukraine. He made sure that every single part of Ukraine was headed by his own Party of Regions representatives, modeled much like that of communist era totalitarianism.
He then went to work on intricate schemes of enriching himself and his “family” by robbing the country blind. He attacked anything that seemed to be making money. He passed laws that made small businesses almost impossible to operate at anything but a loss. This was because small business was no use for him – only big business would reap the kind of profits he was after.
In Ukraine there are countless stories of people having had their business taken over by Yanukovich’s thugs. They say, “You work hard, and your business grows and prospers. Then one day you get a knock on your door from the government, meaning the “family”, saying that your business is for sale now. Then the “family” forces you to sell your business for an unfairly low price or kill you and your loved ones.”
But Yanukovich did not stop there though. How could he? There was so much more money to be made.
He made sure that everything in “his” government operated much like mafia. Bribery and corruption was the modus operandi. His ideology permeated to the most local levels of government, instilling fear for life itself into those that did not support his regime.
For Ukrainian citizens, he made sure that the only way you could do anything, from receiving treatment in a hospital to getting into college, was made possible by a bribe to the government. As the years went by, the thirst of the “family” bribe collectors reached staggering proportions.
Yanukovich made it very clear that he would personally punish all those that protested his rule. And punish he did. In one particular incident soon after his election, he decided to take a tour of Ukraine to introduce himself. When he reached the city of Ivano-Frankivsk, a very western-minded city that was embarrassed to call him their new leader, they egged the president.