The past week I have visited the Easygenerator team in Ukraine. My first visit to Ukraine was in 2010 and I since then I have visited Ukraine two or three times per year. A lot has happened in that period; here is my view on the current situation in Ukraine. I will start with a bit of background first in order to provide some context.
Background on the Ukraine
In order to understand the situation in the Ukraine you have to understand the location of the country.
As you can see Ukraine is located between the EU and Russia. This position by itself makes them a battleground between the EU and Russia for political and economic influence. But the situation is more complicated than that. Ukraine has been a part of the Soviet Union from the beginning (1922) to the end (1991). The ties between Russia and Ukraine are much older than that. Moscow was founded by an Ukrainian prince (Yuri Dolgoruky) from Kiev in the 12th century, so you could say that Ukraine in a way is the motherland of Russia. Ties have always been close and although Ukrainian is the official language, 30% of all Ukrainian speak Russian as their first language, end theUkrainian culture is very similar to the Russian. Ukraine is an independent country since the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991). This is the first independent period in 900 years (except for a few months earlier in the 20th century). There is much more of course, but this will give you an idea.
Situation in the east
In the end of 2013 the unrest in Ukraine started when the Ukrainian president suspended an association agreement with the EU and started talks with Russia instead. This led to the occupation of the Maidan square, it was called EuroMaidan (EuroSquare) because the protesters wanted a closer integration with Europe. But it soon also became a protest against the abuse of power and corruption. After four months of protests and many deaths the president fled to Russia. As a response pro-Russian groups began to protest in the east of the country and began taking over cities. These groups were supported by Russia and this led to the annexation of Crimea by the Russians and a war in the east of Ukraine. There is now a seas-fire and the situation has improved in comparison to a year ago, but fighting still occurs every day, people are still dying and there is no prospect for a permanent solution of the conflict.
The situation in the East of Ukraine has severely damaged the economy. A substantial part of the economy was connected to Russia and that is now cut of for the largest part. The East is also a location with a lot of industries and mines, they are now lost to the Ukrainian economy. As a result the Ukrainian currency the Hrivna has lost 70% of its value. 5 years ago I would get 8 Hrivna for an Euro, now 28. All imported goods became very expensive, and all this put a big strain on every day life in Ukraine. Companies went bankrupt, people lost their jobs. The economy of Ukraine shrunk in 2015 with 20%. Since the clashes in the east have decreased the exchange rate of the Hrivna has stabilized and the economy looks to be recovering.
But the biggest problem of Ukraine is not the problem in the east or the economy; it is the wide spread corruption. It is a national decease. In the past two years some improvements have been made. Ukraine is building a new police force to replace the old corrupt police force. Newly recruited and trained cops are now on the streets and the first reactions are quite positive; it looks to be an improvement. Ukraine is also reorganizing the ministry of Defense (two third of all employees will be dismissed) and there are other initiatives, but the core of the country and the economic and political system are still rotten and corrupt. So the measures that have been taken are not enough, they are just a beginning. The people of Ukraine have successfully risen against the corrupt leadership twice now. The first time in 2004 after corrupt elections (The Orange revolution) and in 2014 with EuroMaidan. Both times they forced the president to leave, but the system did not really change and the corruption remained. After Maidan people were convinced that changes would be implemented and that they would be fundamental, but the corrupt system proves to be hard to change. Some people have been replaced, some measures have been taken, but in essence nothing or to little has changed.
Leaving the country?
As you can imagine this has a really bad effect on the morale of people. Many people want to change the country for the good and fight the corrupt system, but after two failed attempts people are starting to lose hope. This is a big threat for the future of Ukraine because of this young and talented people are now leaving the country more and more. In 4 years time the population of Ukraine dropped from 45.5 million to 42.7 million, emigration was one of the reasons for this drop. Our development team in Ukraine proved to be very stable. We hardly had any people leaving our company to work for another company, but three of our team members decided to emigrate. One went to Canada, one to Switzerland and one to Spain. This is a really dangerous development. If a country loses its talented people, it will lose its future.
What will be?
I don’t know of course, but I do know that fighting the corruption is the most important thing for Ukraine and it is a decisive fight. If Ukraine fails in this fight it will fail as a nation. Thanks to Maidan the EU and Ukraine now have an association agreement that will improve trade, but it also means support for Ukraine in fighting the corruption. Last month in my homeland The Netherlands there was a referendum on this agreement and I’m ashamed to tell you that the Netherlands voted against the agreement. I will not go into the details why that happened (It will take another post about the political situation in The Netherlands) but I do hope that this vote will not affect the association agreement and the support for the fight against the corruption. I do know that Ukraine needs all the support it can get.
Some other posts I wrote about Ukraine:
- March 2015: A week of working and learning in Ukraine
- January 2015: Energy shortage forces Ukrainian schools to close during the winter period
- June 2014: A week in Ukraine: What is it like at this moment?
- January 2014: Visiting Ukraine: Don’t steal their future
- September 2011: Visiting Easygenerators Ukrainian development team