The role of women in corrupted Ukrainian politics


Nikola Mikovic writes from Serbia

Ukrainian political scene is known for widespread corruption. Women politicians are not an exception. Many female ministers and policymakers have been compromised by various scandals.

Recently, the Ukrainian State Bureau of Investigation summoned Minister of Finance Oksana Markarova for questioning. The interrogation was connected with the investigation of the PrivatBank case. The largest Ukrainian bank, whose major shareholder was a powerful oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, was nationalized in December 2016. Kolomoisky was de-facto exiled by former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, after being accused of defrauding PrivatBank of billions of dollars. After it became evident that Poroshenko is going to lose the presidential election to Volodymyr Zelensky – who is heavily linked with Kolomoisky – District Administrative Court of Kieviv satisfied the claim of Igor Kolomoysky against the National Bank of Ukraine and the Cabinet of Ministers on the nationalization of PrivatBank. Thus, the nationalization of the bank was declared illegal.

Oksana Koliada, Minister of Temporarily Occupied Territories, IDPs, and veterans, is accused by some Ukrainian activists of falsifying her biography, as she apparently worked for the Ministry of Interior during the violent protests in Kyiv’s Maidan Square which resulted in overthrowing of the President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Shortly after the Maidan, the war in the Donbas erupted and Koliada apparently called the Russia-backed forces “rebels”, while in the official Ukrainian narrative they are seen as “terrorists”. Also, she apparently called the war “the internal Ukrainian conflict”, while the official Ukrainian position is that the country is facing “Russian aggression”.

Since anti-Russian rhetoric has been part of the Ukrainian political mainstream for the past five years, it is no surprise that the Minister of Education and Science Hanna Novosad recently announced that from September 2020, Russian-language schools will transfer to schooling in Ukrainian. Moscow has criticized the legislative measures taken by Kyiv, saying they targeted the Russian language that is spoken by the vast majority of Ukrainian nationals and was native for many of them. However, Russia has no influence on Ukrainian politics whatsoever, since it completely lost its position in the country after the Maidan.

Another woman who plays an important role in Ukrainian political life is Iulia Mendel. President Volodymyr Zelensky has appointed her to the post of his press secretary on June 3. However, four months later members of Ukrainian independent journalists’ group Initsiativa 34 have demanded her resignation over her alleged physical confrontation with a journalist. Some media reports have claimed that the press secretary attacked the journalist Serhiy Andrushko of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian Service by pushing him. Mendel has meanwhile maintained that she did not push Andrushko and was merely trying to protect the president’s personal space.

Even before the events in Maidan in 2014, women were very active in the Ukrainian political scene. Yulia Tymoshenko is certainly the most famous Ukrainian female politician. She served as the country’s Prime Minister twice and is currently the leader of the opposition Batkivshchyna party. One of the key demands during the violent protests in 2013/2014 was the release of Yulia Tymoshenko who was imprisoned in 2011. According to prosecutors, she harmed Ukraine’s interests when, as prime minister, she carried out negotiations with Russia in 2009 over the price of natural gas. Tymoshenko became known as the “gas princess” because of her lucrative dealings at the head of a major energy company in the 1990s. She came to the world’s attention during Ukraine’s 2004-2005 so-called Orange Revolution, which pitted her against her main rival Viktor Yanukovych.

It was Yulia Tymoshenko who brought Nadiya Savchenko – the only female aviator to pilot the Sukhoi Su-24 bomber and the Mil Mi-24 helicopter – into politics. During the war in the Donbas in 2014 Savchenko was captured by pro-Russia forces and handed over to Moscow where she was accused of having directed artillery fire that killed two Russian state-television journalists. In 2016 she was exchanged in a prisoner swap for two Russian GRU officers. After she returned to Ukraine she softened her anti-Russian rhetoric, which is why some Ukrainian nationalists accused her of being a Kremlin agent. She was even arrested in March this year charged with planning a terrorist attack to overthrow the Ukrainian government, but was shortly released. Presently, she plays no role in Ukrainian politics as she failed to win a parliamentary seat.

In the near future, Ukraine’s parliament might be obliged to have at least 40 percent of seats occupied by women. Whether that proposal will go through or not, women in the post-Soviet county will keep being a politically active part of the Ukrainian society. However, it is unlikely that the level of corruption and scandals will be reduced in the foreseeable future.


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