Democracy and rights
Abbreviated as UKR by Abbreviationfinder, Ukrainian nationalism has grown in recent years and it plays an increasingly important role in the everyday life of the population. Freedom of the press is guaranteed by law, but a propaganda war is ongoing between Ukraine and Russia and makes it difficult to navigate the media landscape. Corruption is widespread and prevents the development of a rule of law.
In important respects, Ukraine has become a more democratic country in recent years, although it has been amended several times. The country’s history as a Soviet republic until 1991 still makes it important for a Ukrainian to clarify who they want to be, and what society they want. For example, Ukrainians have been able to choose between new trade unions, which call themselves independent, and old ones who are heirs to organizations that were in the centrally controlled Soviet system, where it was ultimately Moscow that decided.
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As war is now raging in several countries (see Current Policy), ethnic belonging has become the most important dimension. In everyday life it sometimes decides what can be said and what is allowed to do. The orthodox Christian must in practice define whether the religious affiliation is Ukrainian or Russian (see Religion).
A language battle also sets boundaries in school and culture. Teaching from grade five onwards will only take place in Ukrainian from 2020. There are several linguistic minorities in border areas. For them, teaching minority languages is an important issue.
Censorship can stop films in Russian. In the fall of 2018, the Lviv regional parliament banned Russian language in culture, such as books and music. Moscow-friendly artists can be stopped at the border, and nationalist markings have even been made in the Eurovision Song Contest.
The 2019 presidential election was won by a candidate who grew up with Russian in the family. Perhaps this is a sign that large groups of Ukrainians do not like polarization. A new law makes it mandatory for civil servants to speak Ukrainian, but Russian-speaking President Volodymyr Zelenskyj has promised that the law will be reviewed.
The hard-nosed nationalist groups are socially conservative. A law against discrimination was passed in 2015, but LGBTQ activists point out that their rights are not respected. Amnesty International has also highlighted that women’s organizations risk violence from right-wing extremist organizations.
Ukraine has not adopted the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention and Control of Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.
Corruption is a widespread and difficult problem – within politics, administration, and even within the school system. Western countries and international organizations use, with varying degrees of success, loan pledges and grants to persuade Ukraine’s government to take action. Individual citizens who engage in mosquitoes are at risk of reprisals from people who serve at foam speed (see Calendar). Among leading politicians, many have either themselves been “oligarchs” (wealthy businessmen) such as the chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko, or, like the new president, linked to oligarchs (see Calendar).
On Transparency International’s list of corruption rates in the countries of the world, in 2019 Ukraine was ranked 126 out of 180, see list here.
Suspected vote purchases, according to the OSCE, resulted in 125 criminal investigations after the 2019 parliamentary elections, although the election itself is considered to have been well conducted. The OSCE also criticizes the lack of transparency in Ukraine’s party financing system.
Freedom of expression and media
In 2020, Ukraine was ranked 96th in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, see list here. It was better than the year before and much better than Russia, but worse than many African and Asian countries. It was also worse than states like Hungary and Poland where freedom of the press has been crowded in recent years.
Media freedom increased significantly after the “Mayan Revolution” in 2014, but many problems remain. One is that the media is largely owned by oligarchs, whose own economic and political interests control the news reporting. Independent media is difficult to sustain financially. In addition, there is a shortage of well-trained journalists.
In the Russian-backed separatist pianos Donetsk and Luhansk in the east, the opportunities to conduct independent news reporting are small. But the Ukrainian state has also been criticized for undemocratic methods. Russian radio and TV broadcasts are blocked, Russian books and magazines are banned and journalists who have worked in Russia or Russian-backed breakout areas have sometimes not been admitted into the country. In 2018, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti was banned from working in Ukraine, a three-year ban. In connection with the 2019 presidential election, journalists from Western countries also found it difficult to obtain entry permits. Since 2014, the Internet site Myrotvorets, with links to the government and the security service, has designated people who have been active in Russian-supported areas as “enemies of Ukraine”. In 2015, two people, including a journalist, were murdered after their names were published on the site.
Overall, however, working conditions for journalists have improved. During former Presidents Leonid Kuchma (1994–2004) and Viktor Yanukovych (2010–2014), media were often subjected to political pressures and physical threats. Georgia Gongadze, who had revealed corruption and abuse of power, was found decapitated outside Kiev in 2000. A former police chief was sentenced in 2013 to life in prison. He acknowledged the murder but also pointed out the then President Kuchma for participation. A lawsuit against Kuchma was filed in 2011 (see Modern History).
Reporters Without Borders in 2018 sharply criticized Ukraine’s security service for a strange incident when staging a pretense murder of the award-winning Russian exile journalist Arkadij Babchenko. There was a threat to him, but serious media was also brought to light. The incident also provided an opportunity for the Russian government to criticize Ukraine for having used Babchenko for propaganda purposes.
There are both Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking newspapers. In fact, Ukrainians are often used to reading both languages.
In addition to the state public service channel UA: Persjyj, there are three major TV companies with broadcasts that basically reach the entire country and a number of local and regional channels. Most major media companies also have radio channels. On March 1, 2020, Ukraine began broadcasting in a new channel aimed at separatist areas, where viewers would otherwise mostly watch Russian TV. The channel Dim (“Home”) will offer sports and entertainment from Ukrainian broadcasters, but also make their own news broadcasts.
Judicial system and legal security
Formally, the courts have always been independent, but in practice they have been sensitive to pressure from the regime.
Political governance of the judiciary deteriorated during Viktor Yanukovych’s tenure as president (2010–2014). He appointed a close ally to the state prosecutor and he explicitly said it was his job to execute the president’s decision. Prosecution was brought against 13 high ranking members of the previous government. Most notable were the prison sentences against former Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko (see Modern History). Human rights organizations regarded them as political prisoners.
A restructuring of the judiciary began immediately after the 2014 revolution, when Parliament decided to reform the Prosecutor’s Office. In 2016, Parliament passed several laws aimed at strengthening the independence of the courts and reducing the opportunities for corruption in the judiciary. The reform meant, among other things, that the judges appointed by the President must have been nominated by an independent committee and selected solely on the basis of their professional competence. Even after the change of power in 2014, it has blown around the justice system. The state prosecutor who was appointed in 2015 quickly gained a reputation for protecting bats by delaying corruption investigations. After a year at the post, he was dismissed by Parliament, but there was immediate criticism of the new President Poroshenko for appointing a new state prosecutor as a loyal employee without legal training.
Finally, in 2018, a court against corruption was set up, which helped the EU and the IMF approve new loans to Ukraine. In 2019, on the other hand, the Constitutional Court handed down a new blow to the fight against corruption by rejecting some of the criminal law that had been designed precisely to reduce the world’s concern that money borrowed by the state would disappear into the wrong pockets (see Calendar).
The police force was also the subject of reform and Western financing after 2014. Patrol police forces have since been reorganized, but almost all the country’s police officers are reported to have retained their jobs. In 2020, allegations were made against police officers for serious abuse (see Calendar).
The death penalty was abolished in 2000. Severe abusive conditions still exist in detention and prisons.
The Separatists in the East agree with their own prosecutors and courts. In October 2019, a journalist from Radio Free Europe, financed by the United States, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of espionage.
The state almost bankrupt
The growing economic crisis reaches a critical position, when the state lacks funds for salaries and pensions and to pay the bills on Russian gas supplies. The government is forced to request extended credit from the IMF to meet the repayments on the support loans granted the year before.
Police chief arrested for journalist murder
Former police chief Oleksij Pukatj is arrested after long suspected of the attention-grabbing murder of regime-critical journalist Georgij Gongadze in 2000. Pukatj acknowledges participation in the bestial crime – Gongadze was beaten, burned and beheaded. The murder has always been considered political, and former President Leonid Kuchma is suspected of ordering it
Political problems deepen
Protests involving around 20,000 participants demand the resignation of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, and the protesters give the latter the nickname “Mrs. Ruin” with an indication of the deep economic crisis. President Yushchenko is supported in opinion polls by only three percent.
Acute economic crisis
Ukraine’s industrial output will fall by 34 percent in January, and there are doubts as to whether the country will meet IMF loan terms.