It is December out there, which means it is time to take a stock. I will try to re-think and critically evaluate the last year of Ukraine’s history as an independent state. In fact, after being participant and observer of events in Ukraine, from Euromaidan and Revolution of Dignity to illegal Crimea annexation and permanent military conflict in the Eastern Ukraine, I feel myself far older than I really am. As my friend and colleague, Associate Professor of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Mychailo Wynnyckyj once told me: “Maidan is a time machine”. This is, no doubts, a true fact. This year was a challenging one, and, in my view, was the worst and the best year in Ukraine’s modern history as an independent state and I will explain why.
“Maidan is a time machine”
– Mychailo Wynnyckyj
No doubts, there was other years in a modern Ukrainian history that had potential to become tipping points. First of all, the 1991 when Ukraine became independent country. However, this independence was rather a gift or a legacy of the fall of Soviet Union but not a Ukraine’s achievement. Moreover, Ukraine was hardly prepared for it. Another such a promising year was 2004. However, Orange Revolution, its outcomes and Yushchenko in particular have not fulfilled high expectations for a quick democratic development of Ukraine. I should also mention, that I am not speaking about the year in a strict calendar way. The “year” that I am analyzing started after Yanukovich refused to sign the Association Agreement with EU in late November, 2013.
2014: The WORST year
Losing democracy or Political and economic crisis
Even though Euromaidan and Revolution of Dignity were attempts to change the overall political and economic situation in the country, Ukraine still has experienced both political and economic crisis over the last year. The crimes of Yanukovich&family could not be easily overcome. It was nothing but exploiting the power and the country in interests of one family and its closest people. According to various estimates, Yanukovich enriched himself and his surrounding for billions. Anders Åslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute, estimated that Yanukovich&family could have stolen 8-10 billions Euro from Ukrainian budget per year. Moreover, former Acting General Attorney Oleh Mahnytskyj in interview with BBC reported that Yanukovich’s gang managed to take out nearly 100 billion of Euro from Ukraine, which is more than a half of yearly GDP of Ukraine (177 billion according to World Bank), to outer countries, mainly Russia.
Another example is, when Yanukovich had just become a president in 2010, his son’s assets were approximately 7$ million. After three years of father’s presidency, Yanukovich Jr. raised his assets to 510$ millions. Multiple evidences prove that it was not a result of entrepreneurial skills, but rather of political and economic favourable conditions artificially created by Yanukovich’s government to facilitate the process of enrichment of “family”. These criminal and corrupt schemes of Yanukovich&family are well described by investigative journalists (see, for instance, Forbes investigation). However, while Yanukovich enriched himself, the Ukraine’s external debt increased dramatically over the period and reached its historical maximum at the beginning of the 2014. In all, Yanukovich’s government behavior endangered and threaten Ukraine’s economy and democracy. The political crisis resulted into an attempt to adopt so-called “Distatorial laws” on 16th of January that were aimed at significant limitation of rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens.
Economic problems have not ended after Yanukovich left the post. In fact, Ukrainian currency is becoming cheaper in comparison to USD and Euro, while, simultaneously, foreign exchange reserves are decreasing. Moreover, the purchasing power is also threatened. Ukraine also kept the low positions in Doing Business (96th place out of 189) and Corruption Perception Indexes (142nd place out of 175). These are the main economic challenges that new government faces.
In fact, cruelty, police brutality, military aggression started on Maidan and continued during the war with Russia in the East. Slightly more than one year ago, on 30th of November, defenseless students have been beaten by the riot police. After that, in less than two months, first casualties were reported from Maidan. February 18-20, 2014, became ones of the darkest days in Ukrainian history, when “Heavenly Hundred” died right in the heart of Ukraine’s capital because of bullets and physical injuries caused by the riot police and special forces. For me, as well as for thousands of people, it was psychologically hard to see corps and blood of people who stood together with us for a better future for a few months. It made an unforgettable impression on me, and I cried as others did.
But, it was neither the victory nor the end as some might expect. The Russian-Ukrainian war in the East has began shortly. According to official data released by President Poroshenko few days ago, more than 1,200 soldiers died defending Ukrainian freedom, while 3,000 were injured, while unofficial data reviels even more pessimistic numbers. Unfortunately, almost 7 hundreds of people are in captivity of Russian-baked militants and terrorists. Even though the cease-fire was announced in Minsk, military actions continued every single day. Thousands of families have already lost someone in this war. And, unfortunately, more to come in either case of a “frozen conflict” or a full-scale invasion, as predicted by Mychailo Wynnyckyj. Apart from casualties, more than a half million people now are considered as internally displaced, while Donbass region is constantly being ruined and destroyed during the war. Indeed, it was a painful year. Ukraine has not experienced such a tragedy in its modern history. More or less, the war negatively affected everyone in Ukraine and is a permanent existential threat.