Ten years ago, it seemed hopeless. Corruption in Ukraine was so ubiquitous it was hard to name a sector that bribery and sleaze did not infect. Education, customs, medicine ― at every level of society was a corrupt method of getting things done, which was the easier route for many citizens.
Then-president Victor Yanukovych headed the trend, amassing a treasure trove of bribes. The 2013-14 clashes started partly because people were fed up with corruption. New president, Petro Poroshenko, won using the slogan: “Living in a new way”.
At first, everything went according to plan. Comically clumsy, pot-bellied bribe-takers from the transport police were fired, and new staff replaced them. After training, the officers worked according to western standards. Even well-paid managers or lawyers joined the traffic cops.
With transport police it was ― and is ― a success. But high-profile corruption remained: people like oligarch Dmytro Firtash were forced to leave the country, but kept their wealth. Five years ago, society radiated disappointment. New president Volodymyr Zelensky won a landslide with the promise: “As spring comes, we’ll start putting corrupt people in jail.”
Yet again nothing happened. Firstly, the pandemic messed up his plans, then Russia invaded. Ukraine had even bigger challenges ― until the war caused the biggest anti-corruption shift ever.
Without financial help from the West, Ukraine can’t make ends meet ― and our allies have set the rules for access to cash. One of these rules is reliability. That’s why our anti-corruption bodies are finally working at their full capacity.
Last week, in a true crackdown on the Ukrainian corrupt officials, investigators ordered hundreds of searches, and many suspects were detained. Several regional governors lost their posts, as well as customs and tax service management.
In a strange situation where war and hardship push Ukraine towards the rule of law, our only hope is that the effect will be long-lasting.