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Ukraine’s Toughest Battle Yet: Corruption

  • Anita Powell

"Corruption is a cancer," said Ukraine's new President Petro Poroshenko during his recent inaugural address, vowing to root his nation of the backdoor deals that have dogged the nation since its post-Soviet days — and created countless oligarchs.

But can this seemingly clean oligarch-turned-president really clear out such an entrenched system?

It was tales of former president Viktor Yanukovych’s excessive lifestyle at his Mezhigirya estate — furnished at the expense of his people — that brought thousands of protesters to Kyiv’s central square in February to demand his ouster.

Since he fled to Russia, his home has become an unlikely tourist magnet.

Although Yanukovych’s fabled golden toilet never existed, corruption is a very real problem in Ukraine.

Fighting corruption is not easy, says anti-corruption crusader Alexander Kostrenko, who travels with a retinue of armed guards. He questions Poroshenko’s vow to fight corruption from within.

“Authorities shouldn’t establish anti-corruption committees inside their ministriesm," he said. "How can state authority organize their own state officials to fight against themselves? It’s ridiculous.”

But Kyiv region deputy governor Dmytro Khrystyuk says government has a big role to play.

“The authorities’ credibility now is extremely low," he said. "To regain people’s trust, we need to make the access to the officials transparent and open.”

Back at Yanukovych’s palace, caretaker Petro Oliynyk gives tours of the more than 100 rooms.

He lives on site, and calls it “my golden cage.” But he feels strongly about the need to maintain a monument to Ukraine’s legacy of pork-barrel politics.

“Everything on this territory, everything was made at the people’s expense," he said. "At the cost of people’s lives, the lives of children and retirees, people’s souls and blood.”

The site has become a popular venue for wedding photos.

One couple, who gave VOA News an interview on their wedding day, said they feel their country also needs a new start.

“I think we need absolutely new people," Yaroslav, the groom, said. "We need to break a system, to have young people in the government, old ones all have been rotten.”

But restaurant owner Maria Taranova says it will take more than that to trim the fat in Ukraine.

“It will take at least two generations to get rid of corruption,” she said.

Ukrainians who came to see this monument to corruption say they don’t want this grandeur for themselves.

In the new Ukraine, they say, they just want to make sure that everyone — not just one man — can have a piece of the sweet life.

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