Cleaning Up Ukraine

Can Kiev Overcome Its Dysfunction to Fight Graft?

A climber installs the Ukrainian national flag on a roof, marking the Day of the State Flag, on the eve of the Independence Day, in Kiev, Ukraine, August 23, 2016. Gleb Garanich / Reuters

Over the past several weeks, Ukrainians have been treated to a digital feast, of sorts. Although most of the population has long resigned itself to the fact that its leaders are corrupt and, as a result, financially well-endowed, never have the particulars of that wealth been laid bare in volume and detail—until recently, that is. Thanks to Ukraine’s new “e-declaration” system—an online database through which public servants are required to openly declare their assets—citizens can now behold the spoils that their politicians and others across the state bureaucracy collected during nearly three decades of misrule and widespread graft.

The declarations are startling and also downright ludicrous. Besides suspiciously large bundles of cash, parliament deputies and ministers registered multiple properties, extravagant watches, and extensive collections of wine and antique art. One lawmaker even declared his private chapel, and Borys Filatov, the mayor of Dnipro, a major city in Ukraine’s southeast, logged a ticket from Virgin Galactic, a commercial spaceline for outer-space travel, valued at around $175,000 at the time of purchase.

Of course, a public servant might have entered politics after a successful business career, as did Filatov, who was a local tycoon. But in a country where the average monthly wage is around $200, and where soldiers are sent to the frontline for not much more, few find that explanation acceptable. And far more baffling was the record of a 27-year-old lawmaker with little to no business links and a yearly salary of around $2,700 who keeps the equivalent of $215,000 in cash. Many Ukrainians were predictably stunned, and the declarations sparked a maelstrom of commentary in the press and on social media.

The much-vaunted e-declaration system, known as the Unified State Register of Declarations, would not have been possible without the persistence of a robust civil society. Empowered by the 2014 Maidan street revolution, activists across the country have worked tirelessly to hold Ukraine’s politicians to their promises of ensuring democracy and justice. In Kiev, groups such as the

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