In the half-decade that has passed since the start of Ukraine’s EuroMaidan Revolution, few who were in Kiev during the three-month-long uprising could have imagined the upheavals that the country has had to endure since a small group of protestors first set up camp in the Ukrainian capital’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti square five years ago.
The ousting of a government, annexation, invasion, and war have dominated Ukrainians’ psyche during this time. On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the start of the revolution on November 21, most are beginning to wonder exactly where their country of more than 40 million people is headed in the immediate future.
Presidential elections are scheduled for next year, but the top two candidates are faces from the ancien régime – the much-maligned current President Petro Poroshenko and controversial former prime minister and grande dame of the 2004 Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko, whose nickname after more than 20 years in Ukraine’s post-Soviet politics is “the Gas Princess”, given to her as the owner of an energy supply monopoly that made her one of the country’s richest people by the time she entered the political sphere in the late 1990s.
Like his rival Tymoshenko, Poroshenko is a member of Ukraine’s “oligarchs”. Like their counterparts in Russia and other post-Soviet republics, they are the robber barons who control the overwhelming majority of the wealth of the country after having acquired, usually through illegal means, key businesses during the chaos of the 1990s when Ukraine and the other 14 republics that had made up the Soviet Union attempted to make the painful transition to capitalism.
Tymoshenko’s status amongst the class of powerful oligarchs was cemented when she was the owner United Energy Systems of Ukraine, In the mid-1990s it was the largest supplier – at one time controlling nearly 85% of the local market – of natural gas to Ukraine’s huge industrial base. The company was eventually closed in 2009 after criminal charges were brought up against Tymoshenko and her partners for money laundering and embezzlement of billions of dollars.
Poroshenko, though he had promised to divulge himself of his business holdings after being elected as Ukraine’s chief executive in the wake of the EuroMaidan Revolution, remains the sole owner of Roshen – one of the world’s largest confectionery manufacturing companies. Roshen’s share of the local sweets market since Poroshenko, who is often referred to by the pejorative “the Chocolate King”, became president has become so dominant that Western candy manufacturers have noticeably scaled back their business in Ukraine, despite Poroshenko’s attempts to portray himself as a champion of foreign investment in the country.
Poroshenko’s reluctance, which often borders on open hostility, to follow through on much-needed reforms and to oversee the creation of an empowered anti-corruption court, has caused much of the population to turn against him.
Outside of their rabid supporters and apologists in the Rada and Ukraine’s vocal and highly reactionary North American diaspora community, neither Tymoshenko and Poroshenko can muster enough support to claim a mandate.
Compounding the problems ahead is the fact that an even smaller number of Ukrainians believe the country’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, is capable of pushing ahead with the reforms needed to pull Ukraine out of its quarter of a century-old Soviet malaise. This is essential for the country if it hopes to continue with its dream of integrating with Europe, while at the same time cutting ties with Kiev’s old imperial masters in Moscow, who are still waging a bloody separatist war in Ukraine’s east aided by local pro-Russian proxies. a conflict that has killed 10,500 people since April 2014 and left close to a million as IDPs.
Those local pro-Moscow allies recently did their best to take advantage of the lost hope of the Maidan uprising. Earlier this month, Russia’s handpicked choice to head the unrecognised breakaway states that call themselves the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics won in landslide elections and further reiterated just how far out of Kiev’s reach they remain.
For all of the bleak assessments, most Ukrainian still have a favourable view of the events that occurred in central Kiev between November 2013 and February 2014.
A recent survey of 80 Ukrainian analysts, political scientists, activists, and media representatives showed that an “absolute” majority of Ukrainian believe the EuroMaidan uprising “achieved victory” as some of the positives of the post-revolution years have been further European integration, a visa-free regime with the Schengen Zone, and the signing of an Association Agreement with the European Union.
Adding further insult to injury has been the government’s reluctance to prosecute those who gunned down more than 100 protesters during the revolution. Of the 289 cases that have been sent to the courts, 52 people have thus far been found guilty, with only nine actually serving jail time. Furthermore, 33 of the suspects are still serving in the interior ministry and national police force, many in administrative posts.
Most Ukrainians, however, have come to focus on the missed opportunities an unfulfilled hopes of five years ago. For many, the old corrupt ways of the past have once again come to be the norm.