Ukraine civil society keeps up pressure for change

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Ukraine civil society keeps up pressure for change

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Ukrainians are acutely conscious that this Sunday’s snap presidential election has enormous stakes riding on it. The new leader will have to manage an economic crisis, military threats and a gaping hole in Ukraine’s budget. Austerity is in the wind, higher taxes on the rich and cuts in social services. In return, the people demand action against corruption, for which the World Bank rates the country 140th out of 189.

Natalya Sokolenko is with the Reanimation Reforms Package, a Ukrainian civil-society initiative aimed at breathing new life into long-stalled legislation.

Sokolenko said: “It’s main target areas are corruption, the judiciary, decentralisation and taxation reforms. Those are the headaches, the real problems which made people come out in protests – both in Maidan and eastern Ukraine. People were fed up with corruption in the courts and danger in the streets, which the police couldn’t handle.”

High-level corruption costs the country a fortune; public sector employees are among those most urgently in need of salary adjustments, but the treasury is empty. Growth, adjusted to real conditions, since 1993 has been 0.05 percent — the worst performance in all of eastern Europe.

Geography teacher Olha Zorenko gives us an idea of Ukraine’s realities.

Zorenko said: “A young teacher’s salary is the equivalent of around 60 euros per month. A teacher retiring with a good career record gets around 250 euros. Salaries like that are shameful for any country. Of course, something should be changed.

“We all talk about what might come next, and I’d say teachers here are ready to accept less. We’re ready to make certain sacrifices, but for a defined period. We see the future stretching out and all understand it could be better. If we waste this opportunity today, we’ll never have another.”

Olha and civil-society activists are determined that the seeds of regrowth sown around the black barricades of Maidan be nurtured, to guarantee all Ukrainians a level playing field.