Three years ago the Maidan demonstrations ended in blood and with the flight of president Yanukovich to Russia. Young Ukrainians, like journalist Maxim Eristavi, have been disappointed about reforms. But it is too early to be desparate: the economy is growing and hundreds of young reformers fight corruption on a daily basis.
During Maidan people were sleeping in the town hall at Khreshchatyk street in Kiev
Three years after the violent regime change, Ukrainian revolutionaries keep fighting. Has the revolution achieved any of its key goals, though?
Every February, when it comes to remembering all those 130 fallen on Kyiv’s main square in what now is called the Maidan Massacre of 2014, I often keep thinking of Maro Makashvili. She was not a Ukrainian. She lived in Georgia. And she died not in February of 2014, but in February of 1921. But, like many Euromaidan revolutionaries, she was also young (19 years old), she was a volunteer (nurse) and she was defending the European future for her country. Maro died on a battlefield, together with thousands of young Georgians defending Tbilisi from Soviet occupational troops. Later she will be recognized as the country’s first female National Hero.
Days before Maro sacrificed her life, then Georgian Prime-Minister Noe Zhordania addressed the world with a plea for protection: 'What do we have to offer to the cultural treasure of the European nations? A 2.000-year-old national culture, a democratic system and natural wealth. Soviet Russia offered us a military alliance, which we rejected. We have taken different paths. They are heading for the East and we for the West.'
Exactly three years before Maro’s death, on late January 1918, around 400 young Ukrainian cadets faced 4.000 Soviet troops near Kruty railway station, about 130 km from Kyiv. It was by no means an even battle, but they managed to stop the advancement of Soviet occupational troops for days to come. They lost almost every third kid while doing that.
Fast-forwarding to almost 100 years later, look at Eastern Europe now: young people keep sacrificing their lives for the chance to get rid of colonial oppression and rejoin the European family. Ukraine, Georgia are still battling Russian troops in the decolonization struggle.
The job is not done.
And like a century ago, because of its size and resources, Ukraine is still the center piece in the Eastern European colonial game. The insurgency in the East, instigated and directly managed by Russia to upset the gains of the pro-European revolution in Kyiv, is now three years old and still claiming lives. The military advancement of Russians was halted by the heroic effort of young Ukrainian volunteers and strong support from allies like the United States and Germany. That support has disappeared now. The new White House and the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, still unclear if willingly or not, created a toxic power and communication vacuum on the ground. It pushed both sides towards the recent bloody escalation in the Donbass.
As Ukrainians were dying in Avdiivka, the German ambassador suggested that the presence of Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine might be tolerated during the upcoming local elections in Donbass, one of the conditions of the collapsing Minsk peace agreement. The prospects of defending Ukraine's territorial integrity are as unclear as they were in 2014.
Nowadays, Ukrainian leaders are crystal clear about the fact that Russia is the fundamental threat to the success of the Maidan Revolution. It is true that the Euromaidan uprising always was about decolonization from Russia. But what Ukrainian leaders don’t like to admit, is that it is about decolonization in a broader sense – from Russian-inspired rent-seeking and the system of the captured state in Ukraine as well.
As Ukraine enjoys strong economic growth, for the first time since the Revolution of 2014, not all numbers seem promising. Economic growth is driven by local oligarch investments in heavy industries, agriculture, construction and transport. But Ukraine's recovery is plagued by absence of small businesses, smart economy, young energy, foreign investments (2.9% of all investments) or bank credits (just 7% of economic growth is financed by the banks). This is extremely unhealthy. The only signal this kind of recovery gives is that Ukrainian oligarchs after 3 years feel confident again. If you keep in mind that more than 80% of their wealth comes from corrupt rent-seeking, you’d better be worried too.
Moreover, this unhealthy economic growth coincides with the fact that most reforms are hitting full stop or flattening, for the first time since 2014. With Petro Poroshenko, a powerful oligarch himself, in control of the Presidential Administration, the ruling party and the government, it is now obvious that Ukraine's decolonization from oligarchy is not one of his goals.
You win some, you loose some
The Maidan Revolution is not a story of only bleak prospects, though. Tens of thousands of young Ukrainians fighting an army seven times bigger in size - three years ago this wouldn't have been imaginable. Hundreds of reforms enrolled in the course of months - three years ago it wouldn’t have been possible. Hundreds of young civil servants and bureaucrats fiercely fighting the outdated, rusty and corrupt system of Soviet-style governing from within - also unimaginable. And the most breathtaking change is probably that we are witnessing a massive crystalization of a national identity. But all these developments are still an unfinished job.
In the last three years, I was forced to substantially lower my expectations after the Maidan Revolution. At the moment I have three simple benchmarks to check on reforms.
First. There should be at least one person in court from the following three categories: a former kleptocrat of the Yanukovych regime, anyone responsible for the Maidan Massacre and at least one severe sentence for murderers of my queer sisters and brothers.
Second: I don’t expect the execution of my colleague journalist Pavel Sheremet in downtown Kyiv in 2016 to be ever investigated properly. But stop parking cars right next to his makeshift memorial at the place of the murder. Ideally, if there are no public protests, I would like to see at least fellow journalists rally or go on strike once per month demanding a successful investigation into the murder.
Third: traveling abroad a lot, I meet incredibly many young Ukrainian expats, who were forced to leave their country. One of them shared her story with me recently: graduating top of her class from a prestigious university, she wanted nothing more than to serve her country as a diplomat. Her dreams were crushed by the incompetent and corrupt bureaucracy. Eventually she found a terrific job abroad and left the country before the Maidan Revolution. But even now she still doesn’t see a future back at home. I know hundreds of stories like that. I want the spark in their eyes when they speak about Ukraine reignited.
Has any progress been achieved at all on these three issues? No. But let’s check in another three years. Most Ukrainian revolutionaries are still busy fighting and are not yet ready to deliver any final verdicts.