Protesters In Ukraine Camp Out Over An Old Issue: Corruption

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainians stomped and chanted on the icy cobblestones. They unfurled a gigantic banner with the words “Remember Us, We Are Fed Up!” And when a government collapsed, they thought they had won.


Protesters clashed with the police during a rally near the Parliament building this week in Kiev.

That was nearly four years ago.

Since then, frustration has again bubbled up, mostly over the slow pace of anticorruption measures by the new government.

Corruption was a crucial issue in 2014, as well.

This fall, yet again, a tent protest camp has popped up in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

Though far smaller than the Independence Square rallies of 2014, the new campaign has become the first sustained street movement since then.

For a country already plagued by economic collapse, a war with Russian-backed separatists and, over the past year or so, a string of assassinations and attempted assassinations in the capital, the several hundred protesters and their tents add another unpredictable element to Ukrainian politics.

“Corruption is flourishing and nothing has changed,” said Vladimir V. Makarichev, a war veteran who said he was upset with his shoddy treatment after being demobilized in May.

Ukraine is not headed toward a new revolution, political analysts say.

The post-revolution government has had some successes:

It overhauled the army into an effective force, tempered by combat; reformed the notoriously corrupt police; and persuaded the European Union to allow visa-free travel for Ukrainians.

But frustration with foot-dragging on anticorruption measures by President Petro O. Poroshenko, who came to power after the 2014 uprising, goes beyond the new camp.

At home, Mr. Poroshenko broke with early allies over worries about cronyism in his government.

And patience is running thin with foreign donors, as well.

The International Monetary Fund has linked aid disbursements to establishing an independent anticorruption court.

It is this issue that brought out the protesters.

They are demanding that Parliament pass a law to establish the independent court for high-level corruption cases and two other measures related to fighting corruption and making election campaigns more transparent.

The movement drew its largest crowd of about 5,000 people on Oct. 17, in a park near the Parliament building.

At their peak, the 2014 demonstrations attracted crowds estimated at about 250,000 people.

Despite drawing far smaller crowds, the organizers have mimicked the earlier protests on Independence Square.

The field kitchens doling out buckwheat stew and the tents warmed by wooden stoves, emblems of the previous rallies, today embody the accusation of unfulfilled promises.

All this has unnerved the government.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Yuri Lutsenko, has warned of a looming coup organized, he said, by a former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, a onetime ally of Mr. Poroshenko who is now a main backer of the tent camp.

A prominent critic of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Mr. Saakashvili supported the protests that overthrew Ukraine’s pro-Putin government and later advised Mr. Poroshenko.

The government has revoked the Ukrainian citizenship it granted him in better days of his relationship with Mr. Poroshenko, and has recently taken to threatening to deport the now-stateless statesman.

One night earlier this week, Mr. Saakashvili slept in a sleeping bag in one of the tents pitched on the street.

“Saakashvili challenged the state, and law enforcement will answer him,” Mr. Lutsenko, the prosecutor, said earlier this week.

“The right for peaceful protest does not mean preparations for a forceful coup, started by a small group.”

Mr. Poroshenko derided the camp as a movement that serves Russia’s interests, the ultimate insult in Ukrainian politics.

On Tuesday, speaking at a conference on economic development, he said that Russia wanted to destabilize Ukraine and “finds good-for-nothing politicians who not only support this, but agree to organize it.”

He added that “they will achieve nothing.”

On a recent day, Kiev residents strolled by the tent camp to evaluate the latest rendition of this Ukrainian protest tradition, sample some pickles and bacon from the field kitchen, and talk politics. 

One, Marta Slavitych, 28, was not supportive.

Ukraine, she said, needs gradual change, not another revolution.

“Everything needs time,” she said.

“There won’t be conditions when everybody is satisfied.”

Dissatisfaction among veterans is a particular worry in Ukraine, and among the protest crowd were many veterans, bearded and angry and still wearing camouflage.

They spoke bitterly of returning home from the war and, in a poor country, struggling with unemployment while being asked for bribes for entitlements like medical treatment.

“The government fears veterans,” said one, Igor V. Dechenko, of the crowd milling around Parliament. 

Source: The New York Times

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