By Nadiya Kostyuk
In the midst of the major international and national crisis and Russia’s “outrageous and highly dangerous power play,” Ukrainian politicians are fighting for power (not surprisingly at all!) One might wonder who would want to become the president of a country with numerous catastrophic situations on hand: an enormous international debt, pressure from Russia to pay its gas debt ( $38.4 billion USD total debt); a possible increase in the gas price to $485 per 1,000 cubic meters or even a gas cut off (in case of non-payment) in the upcoming winter; and a possible Russian “invasion” nobly aiming to protect the rights of Russian-speaking Ukrainians that could lead to the southeastern quarter of the nation becoming a part of Putin’s “New Russia.” What kind of person would want to be in charge of a place like this?
Apparently, 18 brave (and rich!) Ukrainians are still running for the presidential elections. While these men and women have paid a 2.5 million hryvnias ($221,240 USD) bond each to run their presidential campaigns, the Ukrainian government is begging poor Ukrainians to donate money for its ill-equipped army. Though the wealthy presidential candidates have enough money to run for elections, poor Ukrainians whose average salary is $100 USD a month are requested to drop some change into the army’s tin cup. As the old Ukrainian saying goes: “Moia khata z krayu, nichogo ne znayu” (My house is on the outskirts, I do not know anything). A cash strapped army, like the corrupt administrations of the recent past, which led the army to its present state, it may not be close enough to the outskirts of even the most patriotic Ukrainians.
Interestingly, the original list included 35 candidates. Luckily (for the Ukrainians and the country’s future), some of the candidates withdrew their candidacies. One prominent example is Oleg Tsarev who holds a special place in Ukrainian politics. Not only did he want to have surzhyk (an incorrect grammatical mixture of the Russian and Ukrainian languages that reflects regional differences) as a state language, but on April 11, 2014, he announced that he wants to be a leader of the “Southeastern movement,” and that he would do everything to prevent the presidential elections from happening. A few days later, he decided to run for president. Moreover, while not being able to answer the question of when the Second World War started (a very important event for the Ukrainians), Tsarev (along with the other 148 Verkhovna Rada deputies) signed the address to the Seimas of the Republic of Poland with the request to recognize the 1942-1944 Ukrainian national liberation war as a genocide of the Poles.
Along with Tsarev, among those who recently withdrew their candidacies from the presidential race and who are guilty of corruption also include Natalia Korolevs’ka and Petro Symonenko. Korolevska, for instance, declared her total family income worth in 167,640 UAH (around $14,451 USD). The magazine Focus however estimates her assets at $23 million. Moreover, the magazine published photographs demonstrated that Korolesvka was wearing clothes from Louis Vuitton and watches from Breguet worth 82,000 Euros. On the other hand, the communist Symonenko, who promotes proletariats and equality and is against oligarchs, owns a house worth of approximately half a million US dollars.
So, we can probably guess why the criminally corrupt would want to run for president. But what about the honest people? Why would so many apparently upstanding people want to become the president of a country that is in the vice of several major international crisis; a country that will take decades to recover, to pay its external debt, and to stabilize its economy? Do any of these candidates have the skills and abilities to accomplish this Herculean task? Or are they just the next group of people who are fighting for the chance to “nabyty svoii kysheni growyma” (make their pockets full with money)? Let’s examine some of those fearless Ukrainian candidates.
The first, and possibly most appealing, candidate is Yulia Tymoshenko. Having spent years in jail and looking for treatment in the European Union for debilitating spinal problems, she got back on her feet within only a few weeks after being released. There is no need to discuss the validity of her illness, as her activities speak for themselves: many believe, and the evidence demonstrates, that she was not sick right before her arrest. Specifically, in May 2011, she was running 10 km (6.2 miles). However, within a few week of her arrest, bruises appeared on her body as a result of “being poisoned.” Is she playing Victor Yushchenko’s game, who was mysteriously “poisoned” during the 2004 presidential elections? Whatever the case, Tymoshenko only has 6 percent of the polls.
Petro Poroshenko, the Shokoladniy korol (Chocolate king), is leading the Ukrainian polls with 34 percent as of May 2, and is way ahead of Lady Yu (Леді Ю ), the so-called Gas Princess, who has 6 percent. Poroshenko, impresario of Roshen, the largest confectioner in Ukraine, claims that he can bring the needed change to the country since he “know[s] how to build plants and factories… to create jobs… intend[s] to unite the people, to demonstrate zero tolerance for corruption, to modernize the country.” Poroshenko, who also owns a factory in Lypets’k, Russia, is one of the richest people in Ukraine, and not surprisingly was blamed for being corrupt. Because of his business interests, even if elected he will probably stay in contact with Russia—which may or may not be for the better (a discussion for a later time if he wins the election).
Are there any honest working class Ukrainians who can lead their nation out of this terrifying situation and be a good leader? It’s irrelevant. Such candidates, like medical doctor Ol’ga Bogomolets’ and mathematician Vasyl’ Kuibida, do not have enough support and are not likely to win.
Many of the candidates running at the bottom of the polls unfortunately share common features with past Ukrainian leaders, especially corruption and undeclared income. For instance, Dmytro Yarosh’s, electoral platform includes “the suspension of Russian aggression and modernization of the army to restore order in law enforcement and judicial bodies, the lustration officials and overcoming corruption, decentralization of authority and social-economic reforms.” What a noble deed from someone who declared his annual income worth 0 hryvnias and his family income (including his wife, son, two daughters, and grandson) as being a proletarian 803 hryvnias ($71.20 USD)! He might very well be Superman to be able to sustain a family of six on only $71 USD a year, taking into account that a loaf of fresh bread is around $0.05 US and a dozen eggs cost $1.12 US. Moreover, Yarosh owns two cars: a 2009 Skoda Octavia and a 2006 Opel Astra, both of which would need more than $71 a month in fuel alone to run. Astonishingly, this “poor” man had 2.5 million hryvnias to register as a presidential candidate. Where did these funds come from?
Might it be that a favorable climate is created for just such corruption? For instance, the Vekhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, adopted a law to decriminalize economic crimes in order to improve the investment climate in Ukraine, an initiative taken by another presidential candidate, Sergiy Tihipko. Or are illegal enterprises turning into legal ones? For instance, a former Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Renat Kuz’min, privatized housing that used to be state property and used the proceeds to pay the servants in his personal residence. The total cost of Kuz’min’s graft: 16 million hryvnias ($1,360,000 USD). Unlike Yarosh, at least we know where Kuz’min obtained his electoral bond. The falsification of academic diplomas is common among some also-ran candidates. The examples include Anatoliy Hrytsenko and Natalia Korolevs’ka. The latter claims to have two higher education diplomas but is only able to provide copies of diplomas. The doubts of her having any higher education at all occurred when she claimed that she had lost the originals of her diplomas when she was expected to show them to the Human Resources department of the Cabinet of Ministers.
Maybe a self-appointed presidential candidate like Vadim Rabinovich, who is a president of the Ukrainian Jewish Parliament and Vice President of the European Jewish Union, is worth considering. Despite the fact that he has only a high school diploma, he has a successful business by exporting natural gas from Ukraine. Considering Rabinovich’s criminal record and his links to “arms trading, money-laundering and attempts to sell arms and nuclear materials to rogue nations,” he is definitely not an ideal candidate. On the other hand, Rabinovich is famous for his philanthropic activities by donating 10 million NIS ($2,870,000 USD) to restore the Hurva Synagogue. One might say that it is easy to be philanthropic after selling arms to rogue nations. But where can the Ukrainians find good governance?
And lastly, we leave the corrupt behind for the weirdo. There is no point in seriously considering Oleg Liashko as a presidential candidate, who tried to bring a cow to the Verkhovna Rada, and tried to get into a plane with a pitchfork in order to start an uprising in Donetsk.
This laundry list demonstrates that the majority of tenable candidates have financial resources and are former convicts who were stealing state property or stealing from the state budget. On the other hand, candidates such as Bogomolets’ and Kuibida, have no chance to win. Maybe it is cultural; maybe Ukraine needs someone corrupt. Maybe Poroshenko, the Chocolate King, could be the best Ukraine can get. Or maybe Sergey Konoplyov, Director of Harvard’s Black Sea Regional Security Program and former security advisor to the Ukrainian parliament, was right when he expressed his concern that the soon-to-be leaders of Ukraine will do nothing better than those presidents of the recent past. Hopefully this new election will prove him wrong, but you can probably see why I have my doubts.