In speaking about politics, Ukrainians have long referred to sistema—the country’s informal rules of governance that were notoriously difficult to change. Sistema constantly reproduced itself, even through upheavals like the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2013-2014 Maidan Revolution. So it’s not surprising that after having been elected in 2019 as an outsider promising to reform Ukrainian politics, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had a mixed record in doing so. Sistema was simply part of normal Ukrainian politics.
But normal politics in Ukraine ended with the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. Wartime conditions, including the imposition of martial law, are finally breaking down sistema. And the prospect of European Union membership is adding greater momentum and focus to those efforts. From tackling corruption and rooting out Russian influence to shoring up democracy and the rule of law, Ukraine has taken significant steps since the invasion. But much remains to be accomplished, amid the ongoing war and the uncertainty of what will come after it.
Before February 2022, Ukraine was notorious for being an oligarchy in which a handful of mega-rich individuals were able to manipulate politics to defend their wealth. But by last December, the Ukrainian edition of Forbes magazine reported that the 20 richest individuals in Ukraine had seen their wealth almost halved, losing more than $20 billion since the start of the war.