Children of Ukraine revolution cling to ideals despite disappointments


Kiev (AFP)

The Ukrainian revolution that forced out pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 inspired a generation of entrepreneurs, activists and journalists to get involved in politics.

But now only a stubborn handful of "Generation Maidan" -- the name of the central Kiev square where demonstrations took place -- are still at the coalface of political reforms.

As the country gears up for unpredictable elections that may kick first post-revolution President Petro Poroshenko out of power, many of the "Maidan Generation" admit they were naive.

They say they underestimated the difficulty of changing a power structure largely inherited from the Soviet era at the time of national crisis -- Russia's annexation of Crimea and the start of a war with Russia-backed separatists.

"We all thought it was going to be a sprint," said deputy prime minister Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze.

"Now it's clear that it wasn't a sprint. It wasn't even a marathon but a series of marathons," said Klympush-Tsintsadze, who entered parliament in a general election following Poroshenko's victory.

"We need the strength to keep running and training those who can take on the baton from us."

The energetic 46-year-old headed a number of international cooperation organisations before becoming a lawmaker.

Now in government, she oversees Ukraine's efforts to align itself with the European Union and NATO, with an ultimate view to joining both groups.

"For each of us, this was a continuation of the Maidan," she said of her first term in politics.

"You realise that if your generation does nothing, you will just throw away the chance given to the country."

Klympush-Tsintsadze told AFP she believed Ukraine needs another five years to build on the achievements of the revolution.

- Reformers pushed out -

Tired and disillusioned, only nine percent of Ukrainians say they have confidence in their government, the lowest rate in the world, according to a Gallup poll.

While Poroshenko and his government have launched major reforms, it is hard for many Ukrainians to see any practical changes.

As a result, Poroshenko is polling well below Volodymyr Zelensky -- an actor with no political experience, who has played the role of president in a TV comedy.

The president is also running neck-and-neck with former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, putting him at risk of being eliminated in the first round of voting on Sunday, before a run-off in April.

Government advisor Oleksandr Starodubtsev, also part of the Maidan generation, helped introduce an innovative and globally recognised system for awarding government contracts, replacing previously corrupt channels.

Nonetheless he told AFP that reformers had on balance failed to achieve their goals.

The reality turned out to be "more complex" than most had imagined and many reformers were pushed out by the system, he said.

Klympush-Tsintsadze said money, or the lack of it, also played a key role.

She earned 200 euros a month as a lawmaker and now earns a little more than 1,100 euros per month in government.

"We must have an appropriate level of pay for the people who take decisions for the whole country," she said.

- 'Disorganised' -

Aivaras Abromavicius, a Lithuanian citizen, was named economy minister in 2014 along with a number of other foreign nationals appointed to top posts by Kiev.

He resigned in 2016, saying Poroshenko hindered the efforts of reformers.

Abromavicius told AFP that reformers were given support for the first two years following the revolution, "when the situation was critical", but later "there was real obstructiveness".

He is now acting as an advisor to Zelensky's campaign.

Many Ukrainians blame the Maidan generation itself for post-revolution failures.

The young reformers did not create their own political party or nominate a single presidential candidate.

"Our greatest weakness was being disorganised," said Mustafa Nayyem, a 37-year-old former journalist and a face of the revolution, who is now an MP.

But he also blamed the lingering influence of the previous political elite and oligarchs' control of media.

Klympush-Tsintsadze however argued that "a huge number of things that we take for granted today, in 2014 we simply could not have imagined to be possible".

She cites the opening up of government files and the restoration of the armed forces.

"Our state apparatus was rotten to the core. Now it's still not ideal but it's already much more serious about defending the public's interests."

"We've grown up as a country," said Starodubtsev, urging other business people to get involved in politics.

"You can make your country better with your own hands right now and see the results right now. What more could a person want?"