Sunday, February 8, 2015
Draft Dodgers and Oligarchs’ War
In recent blogs, posts and tweets, I wrote about the disturbing revelation of draft dodgers in Ukraine. With their homeland in a life-and-death war with Russia, young men are using every opportunity to avoid enlisting in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, instead choosing life in the near or far diaspora as a way of saving themselves.
What was most startling about this news was that the young men come mostly from western Ukraine, the heart of patriotic, nationalistic Ukraine that in the past proudly sent its heroic boys to fight for and defend Ukraine’s sovereign independence.
I first read about Ukrainian draft dodgers on a reliable Ternopil-based news website. The local draft board had raised a warning about the high number of young men who had refused to report for military duty, despite appealing to their sense of patriotism. The official noted that the potential recruits decided to avoid the issue by hightailing to any one of the diaspora communities around the world through Ukraine’s porous border with its eastern European neighbors. From there to the USA, Canada or elsewhere is not a great complication because most families in western Ukraine have relatives in the diaspora who will be cajoled into providing them with necessary documents.
Thinking that these young men are consciously abandoning Ukraine in its time of dire need, I suggested that they should be greeted with white feathers in New York City, Chicago, Toronto or other towns.
However, a few days later I read in the same Ternopil website that the issue has not simply been escaping from Ukraine to avoid military service. Sounding somewhat akin to conscientious objectors, these unwilling conscripts were expressing their disdain for draft corruption and favoritism of the elite, while denouncing the 12-month-old war with Russia as an oligarchs’ war. I inquired with urban and rural Ternopil residents and learned that contrary to the early bravado of enlisting and fighting the heathen Russians, today young men are reluctant to enlist because, as they charged, “the oligarchs aren’t fighting, they’re only mobilizing the underprivileged.” Rural residents have even blocked draft board officials’ access to their towns and villages.
“The oligarchs aren’t going to fight, the deputies (parliamentarians) aren’t going to fight, their sons aren’t going, nobody is going. Only the children of the poor from the villages are being mobilized, those who can’t buy their way out,” an angry resident of Ostapye was quoted as saying.
This is an incredible turn of events in Ukraine, which has undergone a major political and national transformation since the second Maidan that ousted corrupt President Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian band of thieves. The scorn against Yanukovych has been so vitriolic since then that the Verkhovna Rada was forced to formally retract his questionably obtained title of President of Ukraine.
The new, promising pro-Ukrainian leadership, beginning with President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, who everyday demonstrate a high dose of patriotism and scrupulousness in running Ukraine, is not fulfilling its mandate of transparency beginning with themselves thus angering the people. It’s become a public secret that Poroshenko has not divested himself of his candy factory in Russia and ship building yard in occupied Crimea.
My airborne friend from Lviv confirmed this contempt by youth, saying draft-aged men from rural districts are not inclined to enlist when the President’s 26-year-old son is serving in parliament rather than on the frontlines of the war.
“Why is the recruit provided with clothes, footwear, equipment, flak jackets, helmet, sleeping bag, etc., by his family and village (and even the diaspora – TC)? Why are children of parliamentarians, prosecutors, judges and cops continuing to go to restaurants and drive around in jeeps costing 50-100,000 bucks?” he rhetorically asked.
Indeed, residents of one community not far from Ternopil has been sending weekly to the front lines a truck filled with food and supplies for their native sons.
Is petty and grand larceny, corruption and vice irreversibly ingrained in the Ukrainian mentality? Ukrainians continue to live by the adage why buy something when you can steal it – favors, positions, placement, laws and regulations, permits, academic grades, diplomas and draft exemptions – just like their parents and grandparents did in Soviet times.
And almost simultaneously England’s The Guardian published an article “Welcome to Ukraine, the Most Corrupt Nation in Europe.”
Its editors questioned: “While the conflict with Russia heats up in the east, life for most Ukrainians is marred by corruption so endemic that even hospitals appear to be infected. Can anyone clean the country up?”
The newspaper further observed: “Kyiv has a grand opera house, cathedrals, chain stores, sweeping central avenues, a metro, everything required to make a place look European. But it resembles a modern European capital city only in the way the Cancer Institute resembles a hospital. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – the most widely used indicator of corruption worldwide – rates Ukraine 142nd in the world, alongside Uganda. In the latest ranking, it fell behind Nigeria.
“Since 1991 (the year Ukraine declared its independence from the USSR), officials, members of parliament and businessmen have created complex and highly lucrative schemes to plunder the state budget. The theft has crippled Ukraine. The economy was as large as Poland’s at independence, now it is a third of the size. Ordinary Ukrainians have seen their living standards stagnate, while a handful of oligarchs have become billionaires.”
Sadly, a high level of corruption still exists in Ukraine despite three government ministers who participated in the Maidan revolution and another three who came from outside Ukraine, including one from the United States. One must believe that the government’s efforts to save Ukraine from drowning in a cesspool of vice are continuing at a hectic pace, but unfortunately they seem inadequate due to the depth of poisonous sludge that has stigmatized the people and country. And now this toxic condition threatens Ukraine’s ability to fight an already unequal war with its archenemy, Russia.
“What is most important, in my opinion, is that not one reform has been initiated, no one has been brought to justice for the crimes on Maidan, the destruction of the army, judges on the take, and so on. So a third Maidan is brewing and it will be more fearsome and cruel. The people are tolerant because of the war but at any moment this cup can overflow,” my friend observed.
He said Poroshenko and Yatseniuk must stay in Ukraine, actively pursuing reforms rather than showing off their English-language skills during jaunts to Europe and the USA.
“There are good people who continue to travel abroad for work to earn money for their families. And you can’t deny that there are enough of others who continue to undermine the army but then there were enough of them at all times,” he said.
Ukraine’s corruption crisis does not exonerate the draft dodgers or relieve them of their military obligation especially with Russia waging a war against their country; and the diaspora should not be handing out white feathers to all young men from Ukraine encountered outside of churches in the USA or Canada.
Ukraine should not be viewed through rose-colored glasses, but at the same time this internal catastrophe should not discourage Ukrainians in Ukraine and diaspora as well as the USA and other countries from supporting Ukraine’s war effort. Americans should still urge the White House and Congress to provide Ukraine with essential lethal military aid to subdue and repel Russia from Ukraine.
But needless to say, Ukrainians themselves must do more to overcome the disease of corruption. And the lion’s share of the responsibility of eliminating dishonesty rests solely with the government leaders of Ukraine, President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatseniuk, generally regarded as saviors of Ukraine. They must do everything possible to rid Ukraine of this blight and be worthy of the blood Ukrainians are shedding in battle with Russian terrorists.
The alternative is Maidan 3.