Corruption and bureaucracy hinder Ukraine’s reconstruction efforts

16 aug., 2023

As Ukraine looks to rebuild itself during and after the war, official corruption is a major concern among Western leaders who fear it could undermine their support for the war-torn nation as well harm its long-term security and its hopes to one day join the European Union.

This year alone, Ukraine’s deputy infrastructure minister was fired for being part of an illicit network caught taking $400,000 in bribes; an official from the Kyiv’s military administration was fired after he was caught taking money to help military-age men leave the country, and four leaders at a National Guard training facility were exposed taking nearly $26,000 in bonuses, despite having never been near the war’s frontlines.

Last Friday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that he’d sacked all the heads of regional military draft boards in a continued push to purge corruption amid a sprawling crackdown since the war started.

“This system should be run by people who know exactly what war is and why cynicism and bribery during war is treason,” he said in a post in his Telegram channel.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year, scores of Ukrainian officials have been dismissed on official graft charges including dozens security service officials.

During an EU summit in Kyiv in February, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed relief that Ukraine’s anti-corruption bodies were getting serious in tackling graft but emphasised the need for a continued push.

According to Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine ranks 116 out of 180 countries, with first place being the least corrupt. But on top of official graft, stifling bureaucracy is also hampering recovery.

This has been highlighted in the city of Gostomel in the Kyiv region. Near the start of the war, the city now known as “Hero City” was heavily bombarded by Russian forces. In one district, five high-rise civilian apartment blocks were destroyed, leaving hundreds homeless.

A French company, Neo Eco, was then charged to clean up the carnage and reconstruct homes for residents. But so far, the company’s efforts have been held back by stifling paperwork in a city that has seen its fair share of corruption since Moscow’s forces left.

“The project is complicated by the fact that the ownership of the land is communal,” said Viktoriia Shymon, the Neo Eco project manager in Ukraine, in an interview with Context.ro. “The situation is such that we can’t sign the contract now.”

For about six months, some of the city’s residents lived without connections to gas, water, or electricity supplies, and to this day many still haven’t received any compensation from the authorities to reconstruct their homes despite pledges to help. Meanwhile, some officials are implicated in illegally logging a local forest for monetary gain.

Angry residents have periodically called on President Zelenskyy to address the issues in Gostomel and to purge the local government. Indeed, the head of Gostomel’s city hall has changed at least three times through the war, with some of them accused of inactivity or embezzling local funds.

As a result, Neo Eco’s project has been repeatedly halted during the design phase. “Now we are starting everything from scratch,” Shymon said. “All this work with documentation takes a lot of time.”

The Gostomel case is not isolated. Reports of similar situations all across Ukraine serve to highlight how pervasive corruption and burdensome bureaucracy can harm the country as it looks to push back Russian forces.

Halyna Goncharova, a resident of Irpin who survived Russia’s brutal siege of the city, bemoans what she says are her local government’s drawn-out efforts to reconstruct homes.

“All we can do is wait, but after so many years, I was already mentally tired of waiting and I simply despair,” the 51-year-old nurse, who was displaced by Russia’s 2014 invasion, said. “I believed that I would get a new home, and now I just live one day at a time, because no one knows what will happen tomorrow.”

Shymon of Neo Eco said that the company needs guarantees to ensure their project can “go smoothly, that everything will be fair and just.”

She added: “And that we will be given the rights to transfer new apartments to the affected residents.”

Edited by Stephen McGrath
Photo: Dorel Nicolae Oancă

Despre autor: Alina Okolot

Avatar of Alina Okolot
Alina Okolot este o jurnalistă ucraineană din Kiev care lucrează în presă din 2017. Alina a lucrat ca reporter TV în departamentul de știri al canalului PravdaTut TV unde a documentat știri din sectoare diverse, de la politic la economic, cultură și sport. Ea a lucrat de asemenea ca editor de programe educaționale și de divertisment pentru canalul Kiev TV și pentru ediția online a Adevărului de Irpin. Alina spune că jurnalismul este vocația sa. Ea s-a alăturat echipei CONTEXT, după ce s-a mutat în România. Ca jurnalist, ea se ocupă de investigarea crimelor de război comise de Rusia în Ucraina, țara sa natală. Ea scrie des despre corupție și documentează poveștile martorilor în subiecte legate de război. Țelul Alinei este să arate lumii adevărul printr-un jurnalism de calitate.

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