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#Ukraine is again diving into heavy corruption, warns a Ukrainian mayor




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Michel Terestchenko, Mayor of Hlukhiv, a Ukrainian city 10 km away from the border with Russia, said that his anti-corruption programmes since 2015 are now facing strong counterforce led by Andrei Derkach, oligarch of the region.


"The Revolution of Dignity has been stolen," Terestchenko said on Thursday (22 February) in Brussels. After two years of efforts to build "a corruption-free, EU-oriented city", he now risks of losing his position as mayor.


As the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections draw near, Ukraine's corrupt political system is gaining back its influence. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been facing constant accusations of sabotaging anti-corruption reforms. A recent poll shows that his support rate fell from 55% to 14% over the past four years.



An OECD report released in October 2017 warns of a serious risk of backsliding on anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine, despite some remarkable achievements after the Revolution of Dignity in 2014.


The Corruption Perceptions Index published annually by Transparency International also shows rather slow improvements in Ukraine over the past two years. "Ukraine continues to see attacks against anti-corruption activists, NGOs and journalists exposing corruption," says the 2017 report.


The establishment of an independent anti-corruption court has also been delayed despite pressure from international and national stakeholders.


"The same system is back," Terestchenko told EU Reporter. "Ukraine is again diving into heavy corruption."


Encouraged by the Revolution of Dignity, Terestchenko renounced his French citizenship in 2015 to start a political career in Hlukhiv, where his prominent family originated. Before that, he spent most of his life living outside Ukraine and knew little about local politics in this most corrupt nation in Europe.


"I have decided to help Ukrainians to build a new country, a European country at the Eastern border of Europe," he recalled. "After Maidan (the Revolution of Dignity), we have to do things differently."


With a population of around 34,000, Hlukhiv is in a region notoriously plagued with corruption and contraband. The historic town is also one of the poorest municipalities in Europe. According to Terestchenko, 88% of the citizens rely on subsidies to live.


Two years later, Terestchenko has succeeded to turn a deficit of €90,000 per month into a monthly surplus of €60,000. Without receiving any subvention, he achieved the small-scale reforms by "just trying to manage the city correctly and not stealing anything". "Normally everything works fine," he said.


Terestchenko's anti-corruption programmes have made him become the obvious target of various political attacks commonly seen in Ukraine. During his mandate since 2015, Terestchenko has been constantly under pressure posed by criminal proceedings, threatening letters and paid rallies. An assassination plot by car crash on him was stopped before the mayor election.


According to Terestchenko, Andrei Derkach, current MP for the region and an oligarch accused of corruption by Ukrainian anti-corruption NGOs, is the main manipulator behind the scene. "Many governors, prosecutors and police officers are controlled by Derkach, who manages this region as his kingdom," he said.


Derbach is also deemed to have close ties with President Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.


The approaching national elections have made Terestchenko's situation even more critical. Terestchenko believes that his resolution to hold a corruption-free election will for sure hamper Derkach's re-election. " They want to take me out of the seat of the mayor of Hlukhiv," he said.


Terestchenko does not know how long can he keep his position as mayor. "We have to stay positive, that is the only thing we can do," he said.


"Either we will smash the system of corruption, or this system of corruption will smash us," he added.


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