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Ukraine Marks First Anniversary of EuroMaidan Protest

Ukrainians light candles during a rally in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014.
Ukrainians light candles during a rally in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014.

A year on, the relatives of protesters who died in Ukraine’s EuroMaidan uprising aren’t the only ones angered by the country’s direction since the ouster of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych.

The lack of progress in investigating the slayings of more than 100 protesters caused hecklers to shout, “Where are the killers?” at President Petro Poroshenko during an anniversary ceremony Friday in Kyiv.

Frustrated Maidan activists point to the snail-like pace of reform and say they feel like they are on a carousel and all that has changed is some new riders on the wooden horses. They say they worry the endemic corruption the country has suffered since Soviet days and the incestuous embrace of politics and business will never be overcome.

“This is a terrible country,” says Natalia, a 24-year-old pro-reform journalist in Dnipropetrovsk, 241 kilometers from the separatist insurgency in Donetsk. “There are no opportunities and nothing has happened - it is the same people, the same problems, the same patterns.” Natalia says she feels trapped, and like other young people here in this industrial city on the banks of the Dnipro River, she complains about the difficulties in securing visas for Europe and the United States. She, like many of her friends, wants to escape.

Businessman-turned-politician Borys Filatov, who was elected to parliament earlier this year, says the biggest danger for post-Maidan Ukraine lies with feelings of disappointment. A member of a team of rich businessmen led by billionaire oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, Filatov was in the forefront of preventing Dnipropetrovsk from sharing the fate of Donetsk and falling into the hands of pro-Russian separatists last spring.

The businessmen used negotiations and incentives to split away the more moderate separatists from extremists, and threats and direct action against the hardliners - giving confidence to the general population of this eastern Ukraine city to rally behind Kyiv.

The straight-talking Filatov acknowledges that serious problems face Ukraine, aside from the separatist agitation further east. He says says civilians suffering in Donetsk because Kyiv has stopped funding public services there “deserve everything they get.”

“We still don’t have transparent rules governing our politics nor accountability for saying one thing and doing another,” he says. And he worries about the influence of business in politics, insisting there is nothing wrong with businessmen being in politics as long as there are clear regulations governing their involvement.

“But I remain an optimist,” he emphasizes, tapping his hand on the desk in his office in the city’s main administration building. “There has been a tectonic shift in public mentality. We demonstrated with Maidan that we are capable of civic solidarity and despite all the difficulties there is no going back; we will go forward toward Western liberal values.”

Speaking at a conference sponsored by the Kyiv Post to mark the first anniversary of the Maidan uprising, U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt also identified corruption and the absence of reform as real threats to stability in Ukraine. “I think the greatest single risk factor is business as usual,” he said. “It’s the assumption in some circles that Ukraine can keep doing as it had been doing in the past. I think that attitude is a greater threat than Russian tanks...Results, a change in business as usual, need to be demonstrated in a matter of weeks.”

Maidan activists agree the clock is ticking on the country’s government and parliament.
There was widespread frustration in the country at the length of time it took after the October 26 parliamentary elections for the key parties to sign a coalition agreement, which they did Friday. There is still, however, haggling over Cabinet positions and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has offered a deadline of 10 days for a Cabinet deal to be struck. The behind-the-scenes political bargaining, though, conjures up memories of the backdoor and sweetheart deals of the past.

There is also deep anger among Maidan activists at the slow implementation of a law that would see a million Ukrainian officials being vetted for corruption and whose lifestyles can’t be explained by their official income.

The process will take up to two years and risks dividing the country more. It could also deprive Ukraine of experienced administrators, but failure to cleanse the government of those who abused power during the Yanukovych regime could trigger new protests. Maidan leaders have threatened a second uprising, if they feel the country is sliding back.

At the moment, the general public seems ready to give the country’s new political leaders the benefit of the doubt. Nearly 60 percent of the population expects changes for the better, according to a poll conducted this month by Ukraine’s Rating Sociological Group. About half the respondents thought the newly elected parliament would prove more effective than its predecessor.

The lack of tangible benefits from the revolution frustrates activists, acknowledges activist leader Valeriy Pekar. Writing for a pro-uprising website, EuroMaidan Press, he cites “lack of economic reform” as disturbing. He worries about: “The fact that most people are stuck in the old paradigm of thought: waiting for good and happiness from the state, voting for old regional barons and Russian agents at the elections.”

As people here in Dnipropetrovsk take stock of post-Maidan Ukraine, the Russian land grab earlier this year of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea still rankles and Moscow’s backing of violent separatists in southeast Ukraine remains a constant source of anxiety. “I still worry that we will end up with full-scale fighting,” says window salesman who gave his name as Yury. “Poor Ukraine,” he sighs.