Today in Ukraine, both inside the government and out, it isn’t uncommon to hear that President Petro Poroshenko is no less corrupt than Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-connected leader who was ousted in the 2014 Maidan revolution. The main difference between Poroshenko and Yanukovych, according to many Ukrainians, is that the Poroshenko administration is simply far more duplicitous at presenting a polished image to Western donors.
That was the view from more than 100 interviews with Ukrainian public officials, activists, lawyers and businesspeople that I conducted as a visiting Fulbright scholar at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy throughout 2016 and 2017. This striking message is a warning that after several years of hard-fought victories in the wake of the Maidan revolution, Ukraine’s campaign against corruption—the root of many its political ills—is facing tough times, with implications that extend beyond Kiev.
Many of the people I spoke with knew all about the venality of Yanukovych, whose criminal ties preceded his presidency and were hardly a secret. They said his links to Russia gave Western leaders an additional cause for wariness, even before he backed out of an association agreement with the European Union in 2013.