L'Humanite on Ukraine: 'The true fuel of the uprising'

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From L’Humanité (French Communist Party daily newspaper).

By Vadim Kamenka, translated (March 4) by Gene Zbikowski

Fenruary 24, 2014 -- Kiev (Ukraine), from our special correspondent. While a majority of Ukrainians back the movement that led on February 22 to the deposition of president Yanukovich, social distress was at the centre of political discontent. This is what bore the aspiration for change which is on everyone’s lips.

Barricades by the dozen, the ground black with soot, the pavement torn up, buildings burnt to the ground – the stigmata of the clashes are still visible on Maidan square, the epicentre for the past three months of the uprising against President Viktor Yanukovych. People came by the tens of thousands on February 23 to place red flowers and to remember the dead (60 since February 18). “We will see it through to the end”, Vassili, 42 years old, promises.

The fall of the president, the return to a parliamentary regime, the liberation of Julia Timoshenko, early elections – what more do these citizens, mobilised for weeks, await? “We pay our taxes, we work, and the only thing that has been seen to change, in the past ten years, is the fortunes of the oligarchs”, Vassili explains, disgusted by all the leaders who have followed one another since the 2004 orange revolution. Most Ukrainians have not forgotten the economic and social context which never changed under the “orangists”, in power until 2010, and then under Viktor Yanukovich. For a portion of the press, behind these events, one is again witnessing a battle between oligarchs.

Veritable pauperisation

“One clan made its fortune in industry and finances against another, the dominant corporations in the East, closer to Russia, against other corporations implanted in the West”, the Ukrainian version of the daily newspaper Kommersant underlined. The agreement with the opposition came when Rinat Akhmetov, the Donetsk strongman with his corporation, System Capital Management (coal mining, metal-working, banking, the media), and the other billionaires close to the government, Dmytro Firtash, Sergei Taruta and Sergei Levoshkin, of the RosUkrEnergo company, abandoned the head of state.

“The people really want a change. Alas, are the same politicians going to undertake judicial, economic and social reforms so that corruption ends and wages are paid? I doubt it”, the Donetsk deputy, Vladimir Bidievka, a member of the Ukrainian Communist Party (UCP), said. Ukraine has experienced a veritable pauperisation in the past few years. The economic crisis has accelerated it.

This social bankruptcy includes ever-rising unemployment (officially 10%), 40% of the population living below the poverty line, an average monthly wage of 250 euros, and retirement pensions of less than 90 euros a month.

“Whereas for the majority of the people, nothing changes, the prices of gas, electricity, housing, etc. are rising. And with bankruptcy, we’re going to have to make additional efforts. We’re going down the road of Greece. We’re going to sell all our wealth to the multinationals: our industries, the oil pipelines and the gas pipelines, the fertile land and a skilled workforce,” is economist Oksana Antochenko’s analysis.

A very active far right

The poorest regions are the rural regions in the west, where the uprising started. Despite its fertile soil (sunflowers, sugar beets), the agricultural sector has been particularly hard hit, since 2008, by the economic crisis.

“Necessarily, people believed that an economic partnership with the European Union would solve all their problems and end unemployment, corruption, and the destruction of social gains”, Vladimir Bidievka noted. This part of the Ukraine, close to Poland, where a majority voted for the opposition parties and for the far-right Svoboda party, had the backing of an opportunistic ally, “the Polish neighbour”, in the opinion of the economic daily paper Kommersant. “Poland would have a lot to lose if Ukraine ever turned towards an economic partnership with Russia. The opening of borders and an end to visas would guarantee Poland a cheap workforce. Moreover, this is already partly the case.”

Other economists put forward how little the country has been modernised, as it is still too centred on its industry, which has not changed much since the fall of the Soviet Union and which is based on the same sectors (iron, steel, chemical industry) and important mineral resources (iron, uranium, coal). And yet, the Ukraine’s entry in the 21st century has been marked by double-digit growth. “The future government must succeed, otherwise the Ukrainians, who are in a situation of deep social distress, will sink into chaos”, Anatolii Sokoliuk concluded.