10 years both feels like a lot and as if it were yesterday. Only by remembering ourselves at that time will we be able to really understand how much the world has changed.
What were we like in November 2013?
First of all, we knew almost nothing about our country.
We are now constantly tracking news feeds from all possible messengers; ten years ago, most of our citizens learned news from television and radio. They were almost entirely owned by the oligarchs and skillfully served their interests. Of course, there was still print and online press, but it was not easy to get balanced and impartial information from there.
Those were the times when publications of high quality could not get professional journalists because the “young team” of Arbuzov and Kurchenko bought up the media and disrupted the market with unreasonably high salaries not only for journalists but also for PR specialists.
There was very little independent journalism left under Yanukovych, and 2013 was the year that went wild. In April, there was a shameful raider seizure of TVI, the channel that was the first to dare talk about corrupt procurement of “Boiko’s Towers.” In June, we found out about the “agreement of the decade,” when an unknown billionaire Serhii Kurchenko bought the UMH Group holding with its massive publications Correspondent, Forbes, Komsomolska Pravda in Ukraine, and others.
What were we doing back then? Laughing! When Yanukovych could not say words properly in Ukrainian. Or when a wreath fell on him. Even total censorship and bootlicking in the media were unable to hide the fact that our president was an absolutely pro-Moscow scumbag who could not even speak Ukrainian. We knew about the stump jumping in Mezhyhirya, as well as about the fact that Sasha “The Dentist” (Yanukovych’s son) became a billionaire, which his father really wanted. But we knew very little about our country.
No wonder, given the number of services or opportunities we had. In comparison with today, it is almost nothing!
Back then, to register as an individual entrepreneur, a person had to go to the district state administration at 5 am, write their name on a piece of paper, get a number in the queue, and then go home to sleep some more. Then one had to return at 9 am with all the documents filled out by hand. Moreover, it could take you several such visits. The same was with the tax service. And with any state body.
If this seems distant and alien, remember the queues in outpatient hospitals and the constant changes in appointment schedules, which you could only clarify with the “polite” woman at the reception. The state hospital was another abyss; to visit it, you had to leave for the whole day because no one knew how it would go there.
Nowadays, such situations are almost unreal because half of all services are in our smartphones. Thanks to this, a Ukrainian, even at the subconscious level, knows much more about their capabilities.
In 2013, in Kyiv, few waiters or salespeople would address you in Ukrainian; it would be a real surprise. Kyiv was fully Russian-speaking, and it seemed that it had been so for ages and would be forever. Perhaps speaking Ukrainian in a Kyiv café did not sound as strange as speaking Ukrainian on a bus in Donetsk, but still, the state language in Kyiv then seemed unnatural and even uncomfortable to many locals.
In general, 2013 was not just an uncomfortable but even dangerous year, with the police on the streets regularly “reminding” us of it.
If you saw a person in uniform — in the capital or in any other city of Ukraine — you felt it was better to pass by quickly or even go to the other side of the street, out of harm’s way. Because if they found fault with you, it would take a long time. One of my acquaintances, a foreigner who worked at the U.S. embassy during Yanukovych’s time, recently came to Ukraine and recalled how traffic police officers could simply stop him in the center of Kyiv and demand money for some kind of violation. At that time, it was normal; today, it seems crazy.
Over time, such police activity in the center of the capital somewhat died down, but a little further on, on Podil, they would carry on with this practice. If not the police, then there were “titushky”; this definition also comes from 2013. No wonder it got widespread during the Revolution of Dignity, when the so-called law enforcement officers, concentrated mainly in the center, needed “help” in the residential areas of Kyiv.
Politically, these were also very interesting times. Representatives of the “elite” changed their affiliation with political forces like luxury suits or watches. It is sad that today’s general approach to the development of political parties has not changed much.
Something that has not changed as much over these 10 years as we would like it to is Ukrainian politics. We talk a lot about European values, but our western neighbors have already developed a political culture, and we have never had it. During each election, we have a dozen new parties, most often nominal, with neither ideology nor a real political program — only a face that other politicians will join, and Ukrainians will vote for.
The Servant of the People in this regard differs little from Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine or the People’s Front; in fact, these are one-day parties that could provide seats in the parliament. There are also old-timers who changed their names but did not change their essence: the Petro Poroshenko Bloc has become European Solidarity, and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc is now known as Batkivshchyna. They did not have an ideology, and they do not have it now because it is not so much a party as an interest group. It was ten years ago; unfortunately, it remains so today, but I am sure that this should not be the case in ten years from now.
But let’s go back to 2013. How did we fight corruption then?
We didn’t because such a fight was impossible when the Ministry of Internal Affairs was headed by a Donetsk bandit Vitalii Zakharchenko, and the Prosecutor General’s Office was headed by a gold and marble lover Viktor Pshonka.
Therefore, it is not surprising that many ex-MPs or former officials who are now involved in the cases of the NABU and the SAPO are people from that establishment. At that time, they began to “earn” their money and eventually turned their whole lives into a permanent scheme that functioned because of their connection to the power. Let me remind you that Sasha Yanukovych earned his billion dollars in just two years. The “young oligarch” Kurchenko, who appeared out of nowhere, almost instantly dominated the entire oil trading market in Ukraine. Any motorist had to buy Kurchenko’s gasoline or diesel at some point, and his oil products were just terrible.
As the famous movie quote says, “There’s always room for family.” Not always, as it turned out.
The fall of 2013 was very somber. At that time, it seemed that the stagnation and greed of Yanukovych and his friends captured us for years. But on one gloomy November day, several hundred Ukrainians heeded the call from Mustafa Nayyem’s short post and took to the streets of their cities.
They did not understand the scale of corruption and the level of inefficiency of the authorities. They had no idea how many difficulties awaited them on the way to the desired European integration. We did not know that two stages of the biggest and most terrible war of the 21st century lay ahead. These people just saw the news from Vilnius and were so outraged that they could not stay away.
Ten years ago, on November 21, a new reality began for us that changed us forever. But we didn’t know that yet.
Ten years ago, on November 21, a new reality began for us that changed us forever. But we didn't know that yet.