THE ASCENDANCY OF VICTOR ANDRIIOVYCH YUSHCHENKO

The Terror-Famine was a personal tragedy suffered by all Ukraine. In 2004 the Holodomor became a symbol of national solidarity with the official backing of resident Viktor Andriiovych Yushchenko and his wife Katrina, a former American-born citizen from Chicago of Ukrainian descent. Another “must-read” on contemporary Ukraine is the work of Andrew Wilson, author of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution (2005). At the time,AndrewWilsonwas at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) of the University College in London, and since promoted to senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Viktor Andriiovych Yushchenko was born in 1954. Both his father and mother were villager teachers; his father Andrei taught foreign languages and his mother Barbara, mathematics. Viktor Yushchenko’s father who came from Sumy served in the Red Army was captured, but escaped from seven Nazi concentration camps (Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau…). The elder Yushchenko died in 1992. In Ukraine’s Orange Revolution British writer Andrew Wilson observes with keen perspicacity : “Many of those who returned to the Soviet Union were shot, and others shot before they could return, so young Viktor was doubly lucky to be born… . Viktor Yushchenko is a country boy. He speaks with an accent that involves some surzhyk, a unique convergence of Russian and Ukrainian; his perilous hobby is bee-keeping. Yushchenko has heard terrible stories in his youth of the Great Famine 1932-33 caused by Stalin’s collectivization and grain-requisitioning policies, when rural regions such as Sumy were ravaged by some of the highest death rates, estimated at between 15 to 20 percent of the local population – some four hundred souls in Yushchenko’s immediate region.” (Andrew Wilson, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Yale Univ. Press, 2005)

The early personal history of Katherine Yushchenko-Chumachenko, Viktor Yushchenko’s second wife, is also a tale that touches the miraculous. Originally came from the Ukrainian disapora, her parents separately survived the Holodomor only to be captured by the Nazis. They meet in Germany, where they are both ostarbeiters (slave laborers from Eastern Europe) and liberated after the war somehow find their way to Chicago. After studying economics at Georgetown University, Katherine earns her MBA at the University of Chicago (1986) before joining President Reagan’s State Department. She moves to Kiev (1993) where she works with the international consulting firm KPMG, and marries Viktor (1998) when he is the “highly successful” head of the Ukrainian National Bank according to Wilson; that’s a bold understatement given the country’s dire status for double-book corruption, money-laundering economy, and ingenious tax scams. During the 2004 election campaign, the Yushchenkos suffer “vicious attacks”, in particular, against his wife over alleged CIA connection, but not about money-laundering and corruption which hit too close to home President Kuchma and state institutions. All in all, during the election the press construct for the world a very clean image if not total white-wash of the ascendancy of Victor Yushchenko. And nothing is ever disclosed how the Americans swept in quickly depossessing the Ukraine of its nuclear arsenal after it broke away can reclaimed its national independence. That full story awaits to be told.

Yet in view of the disappearance of hundreds of millions of dollars and billions from the decommissioned nuclear arsenal of the former Soviet Russian empire hidden in the Ukraine, Wilson writes “the NBU (National Bank of Ukraine) was guilty of extremely creative accounting. The IMF stopped funding Ukraine, despite Yushchenko’s apology. The NBU’s inelegant defense is that they did what they had to do to survive in the conditions of the time”. But why did the CIA, and the State Department’s USAID wait so long to enter the fray after the US government swept clean the nuclear missiles buying them up en masse for peanuts soon after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Inside the fury of oppositional politics I arrived in Kiev in late 2004 and was struck immediately by the absence of any national student democratic organization to lanch the new generation against the older corrupt master political class. (A.Wilson, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution; <www. Faminegenocide.com>; italics added.)

Less than two years after the popular victory of the people’s so-called “Orange Revolution” during which Yushchenko was severely poisoned and his face (that too had been publicly contested) – the love affair with hope for the future rid of corruption faded and died, badly scarred, with the quick return of the Yanukovich gang loyal to Moscow. In 2010 Ukraine headed to a showdown in the presidential contest. Yushchenko’s five-year term came to an abrupt and climatic end. His popularity falls to new lows. Murders pass unsolved, jails remain empty of the perpetrators and the politicians openly clashed, sometimes violently on camera in parliament for all the world to see that capitalism in the Ukrainian still faces a very hard road ahead. Corruption is widespread and a thorn in the side of Euro-enthusiasts. And his contentious former Prime Minister Ulia Tymoshenko, heroine of the “Orange Revolution”, courts death languishing for years isolated in hospital under guard while facing multiple long prison terms.

In 2013, as I write, Ukrainians, after uninterrupted deprivation, scarcity of goods and government subsidy, suffer two-digit inflation and higher prices for food and clothing, gas and electricity. In October 2008, the Ukrainian national economy suffered a major hit during the global financial meltdown prompting an emergency $16 billion loan from the IMF. With its economy contracting 15 per cent and hit by the IMF’s refusal of a $15 billion bailout by the end of the decade and unaided by lackluster reform efforts, Ukraine’s debt problem grew steadily worse sending the hryvnia, Ukraine’s currency sliding to a three year low. As of late 2012, Ukraine had achieved world status as basketcase default risk rated the six highest of 93 countries, according to a study published by Bloomberg, and reported in London’s Financial Times. (“Ukraine Requests Fresh IMF Bailout”, Financial Times, Nov. 30, 2012)

While it owes the owes the IMF $5.9 billion, and with its weak economy strained by a poor grain harvest, a domestic credit crunch, and reduced demand for steel exports, it’s largest revenue resource, it seems unlikely the country will be able to roll over about $10 billion in external sovereign due in 2013.

Burdened by heavy feelings of betrayal, the Ukrainian population was besieged by an advertising blitz selling the Hollywood-manufactured American dream of market capitalism spear-headed by brand-name corporations led by MacDonalds, Coca-Cola, Gillette, Ford, Phillip Morris tobacco to name a few among the many international firms grabbing market share to the beat of kitsch pop music imports.

After the 2004 election Ukraine rushed to find a place in the new market economy. Inflation rose with the pace of rising real estate values. Ukrainian folk culture stepped in spiritually and artistically rich national traditions added an eerie incongruity to the modern tempo of life. In that climate of public enthusiasm for change and die-hard reactionary blowback to the Stalinist nightmare of stability balanced with that frightening knock on the door in the dark hours of night, President Yushchenko had to walk a political tightrope to combat Holodomor apologists and preserve the memory for a nation of survivors and for the world as its witness.