5 years ago, a group of protesters went to the Independence Square in Kiev, which laid the foundation for what became EuroMaidan, the protest movement that ended up radically altering the political landscape of the whole of the Ukraine. The demonstrators had come out to protest against the decision of the then President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, to temporarily postpone the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union, which the government of Yanukovych had earlier initiated.
The protesters were soon dispersed by the police, but managed to gather again, demanding the signing of this agreement. Although the agreement was purely economic in its nature and determined quotas for the supply of goods, the protesters, as well as many Ukrainian and Western media, called it a “civilizational choice”, appealing to European values. Ukrainians were then promised European pensions, European salaries, European roads. On the eve of Maidan, in the fall of 2013, Radio Liberty compared Ukraine and the EU, associating the EU with absence of corruption, an elite approach, a healthy lifestyle, political responsibility of leaders, secure retirement and high health care expenditure. At the same time, the organizers of the Maidan tried to hush up the fact that by that time the Association Agreement had already been signed by Moldova, whose citizens were also granted visa-free entry into the EU, but still remained one of the poorest and most divided countries in Europe. However, soon Ukraine was to beat Moldova, becoming the poorest nation in Europe in terms of GDP per capita.
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In November 2013, protesters in Kiev waved flags of Ukraine and the EU. The Maidan united both the Ukrainian liberal supporters of the EU and the ultra-right nationalists: they all rushed to Europe, with one difference: for some it was the idealized version of contemporary Europe, for others – the Europe of 1930. The current speaker of the Ukrainian parliament and the former founder of the Social-Nationalist Party of Ukraine (SNPU), Andriy Paruby, became the socalled commandant of the Maidan. European media noticed only one part of the protesters, stubbornly ignoring the participation of the far right.
Since the five-year period has passed, the dreams of “European integration” have come true – the agreement has been signed, but how much has the life of the Ukrainians themselves changed during this period? Let’s take a look.
Just a month ago, in October, the Global Wealth Report was published by Credit Suisse, a Swiss financial conglomerate, according to which Ukraine is now the poorest country in Europe, taking 123rd place among 140 countries in terms of personal wealth. In 2018 – $ 1,563 per year, and in 2013 it was – $ 3,413, that is, we see a 2.5-fold drop. Richer than the Ukrainians, according to the rating, were residents of Tajikistan, Cameroon, Kenya and Bangladesh. According to the World Bank, in 2018 in Ukraine, 25% of the population lives below the poverty line, and in 2014 the number was 15%.
Ukraine’s national debt in 2013 was $ 73 billion, or 39.6% of GDP. At the end of 2017, according to estimates of the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU), the national debt reached a level of 2.14 trillion UAH ($ 79 billion), or 73.1% of GDP.
If in the state budget for 2013, allocations for medicine accounted for 5.4% of GDP, in the current year state budget expenditures amounted to only 2.6% of GDP, that is, more than two times less.
Over the period 2013-2018, the so-called “happiness index”, according to a UN report (World Happiness Report), collapsed in Ukraine from 87 to 138 out of 156 countries.
One of the main reasons for such a sharp economic downturn is primarily the economic model of the new government with emphasis on the supply of cheap raw materials to the countries of Western Europe, whereas previously Ukraine’s economy was focused on the production of high value-added goods — cars, machines, airplanes, agricultural machinery , locomotives, etc.
Now Ukraine mainly imports these goods, exporting cheap agricultural products, as a result of which revenues to the state budget are sharply reduced, and the country itself is constantly forced to borrow additional funds from international financial organizations, which makes it always dependent on creditors.
In the budget for the next year, for example, more than 40% of expenses will be payments on the state debt. This is generally a new economic model for Ukraine, which former US ambassador Jeffrey Payette in 2016 described as the formation of an “agrarian superpower” in Ukraine, forgetting that, in principle, there are no agrarian superpowers in the modern world, because agricultural produces are genereally too cheap on the global markets to become the source of economic development and wealth for any country. Usually this economic model is called a “raw materials appendage”.
Yes, one can, of course, try to explain the economic turmoil with the war and the “Russian aggression”, but how then to explain the fact that, according to Forbes, the state of Ukrainian billionaires has only increased since then the conflict started in 2014? How to explain the fact that in the last year alone, the income of President Poroshenko increased 8 times?
Undoubtedly, any political changes and revolutions always go to the benefit of someone, but to the detriment of someone elese. There is no such thing as a revolution that is truly nationwide — someone always loses, and someone wins. And the data show that the revolution was profitable for the Ukrainian oligarchs, but for the population at large – not really that much.
The only outlet for these very poor strata of the population was a visa-free entry into Europe. Because of “visa-free” regime, Ukraine “lets off steam”, with a significant part of the working-age population leaving for work and permanent residence abroad. Last year, Ukrainians ranked first in terms of obtaining residence permits in the EU, surpassing even Syrians. As a result, Ukraine experiences labour scarcity. This means, there is no-one to support the existing infrastructure – there is a shortage of workers in all spheres – there are not enough drivers, installers, locksmiths, builders, road workers and doctors. “The labor force in Ukraine is cheap, but it is almost nonexistent. Everyone who wanted to work has been working in Poland for a long time,” the Ukrainian expert Oleg Bosy said. At the same time, Ukraine cannot count on the inflow of cheap labor in the form of migrants from abroad, since the level of wages in Ukraine is lower than in most of the Third World countries.
Perhaps there were some improvements in the area of free speech? Unfortunately not. Commenting on new data from sociological polls, the head of the National Union of Journalists (NUJU), Sergey Tomilenko, noted that Ukrainians see no improvement in this area. “We would like the Ukrainians to be proud of the high level of freedom and in particular the freedom of speech. This should be tangible progress compared with previous periods in our history. Unfortunately, today this is not the case. Citizens of Ukraine do not notice any increase of faith in the realities of freedom of speech in Ukraine”, said Tomilenko.
The Media Sustainability Index found tendencies to the deterioration of freedom of speech this year. The IREX report states that freedom of speech in Ukraine is violated by the practice of intimidation of journalists, denial of access to information and obstruction in the course of their professional activities. Freedom House also noted this process, noting that in the last seven years the country from “absolutely free” has become only “partially free”.
The EU ambassador to Ukraine, Hugues Mingarelli, previously argued that one should wait longer for positive results, and not expect everything to change within a couple of years. “Many people say that they are disappointed, that the Association Agreement does not work and that it gives nothing at all, but this is not a serious approach. We all have to agree that over the past two years more reforms have been passed in this country than in the previous 23 years of independence”, Mingarelli stated.
Another advocate of waiting before passing judgement on Ukraine is the IMF. According to IMF forecasts, catching up with developing countries (not developed!), if the current economic reform trends continue, will require for Ukraine to wait until 2053. It is unlikely that anyone from the current leadership of Ukraine, the EU or the IMF will be able to take responsibility for their words by the time the year 2053 finally comes. It is almost as in the famous medieval tale about Hodja Nasreddin, who took money from the Shah under the obligation to teach a donkey to speak in 25 years. “In these 25 years, much can happen: either the shah will die, or the donkey, or me”, said the sly Khoja Nasreddin.
Analyzing the “successes” of Ukraine, Western analysts, including those working for resources funded by George Soros, emphasize that the “reform process” is underway, although, no matter what happens, you can always say that there is some lengthy reform process. Western analysts also do not make a mystery of regarding Ukraine’s breakaway from Russia as one of the “successes” of Euromaidan. Can breakaways in relations or conflicts with someone ever be considered a positive result? Let’s imagine what would happen if someone bragged or was proud of the deterioration of relations and the breakaway between France and Germany or between Canada and the United States.
You can often hear the accusation that Russia is to blame for all the shortcomings of Ukraine. In Kiev, indeed, it is customary to refer to any critique as an act of “hybrid war” on the part of the Russian Federation. And in this case, commentators tend to confuse cause and effect. At the end of 2014, the President of the Ukrainian Analytical Center, Alexander Okhrimenko, drew attention to the fact that in this case the laws of logic were being violated: “It is worth remembering that in October 2013, before the Maidan, Crimea was part of Ukraine, and there were no problems in the east. All these problems began after the Maidan. Therefore, in this situation, the cause is the Maidan, and the loss of the Crimea and the war in the east of Ukraine are its consequences. These are the laws of formal logic”, wrote Okhrimenko.
In general, it can be stated that over the past five years, social stratification and neoliberal reforms have intensified in Ukrainian society, with only a few top-level representatives benefiting. To implement these reforms, drastically increase prices, reduce social programs, redistribute property and other economic initiatives, ideological factors were used – with emphasis on patriotism, nationalism, “de-communization”, “European values” —and this kind of ideology cleverly disguised questionable financial policies that resulted in taking money from the pockets poor and middle class citizens to a few super-rich Ukrainians and Western companies.