Angered by corruption, increasing Russian influence and a last minute U-turn on a deal which would have seen Ukraine form stronger ties with Europe, protesters from all walks of life gathered in Kiev in late November 2013. Barricades, soup kitchens and temporary shelters were erected, then streets were torn up, cobbles were thrown, weapons were brandished, shots were fired and eventually more than 70 people were killed in brutally violent clashes with the police. Consequently, last week, democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by the government and fled to Russia.
With the entrance left unguarded and the Ukrainian police having declared their allegiance to the people, the protesters explored the grounds of the President’s palatial home. What they found there shocked them; covered tennis courts, a boxing ring, an aviary filled with exotic birds, a collection of cars, gold toilets, a petting zoo, a helipad, a golf course, chandeliers and lavish decor… the obscene evidence of corruption was there for all the world to see. And it did.
These images of astounding wealth, shown on news channels world-wide, are in stark contrast to the country’s current state of economic crisis. Ukraine faces near bankruptcy and requires at least $15 billion in aid. Unemployment rates are high and for those fortunate enough to be in work, the average wage is only $405 per month (306 euros or £252).
Ukraine’s interim government has scheduled a presidential election for the 25th May and hopefully Yanukovych’s replacement will have less expensive taste. That said, the culture of corruption is deeply entrenched in Ukrainian society with citizens regularly paying bribes for public services such as health care, education and policing.
In 2012, Ukraine was ranked as one of the 3 most corrupt countries in the world and even Yanukovych himself has been quoted as saying that “through corrupt dealings 10 to 15 percent of the state budget, ends up in the pockets of officials.” With this in mind, can any political figurehead be trusted to bring this to an end? What, if anything, will stop the money of Ukraine’s tax payers lining the heated indoor swimming pools of the next President?
Perhaps then, it would be better if the Presidency didn’t go to a political figurehead at all. With former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitchsko having announced his candidacy on Tuesday, this is a real possibility. Although, as is always the case with ‘celebrities in politics,’ he may fail to win votes due to lack of political experience. He may also win them for that very same reason. As a leader of the protest movement, he will also have the support of those wishing Ukraine to become more involved with Europe.
One thing is for sure, whoever takes the helm as Ukraine’s next President will have to address the issue of corruption if they are to win the confidence of the population, and it won’t be an easy task.
Written by Francesca Bassenger