Thursday 02 December 2004    


The Week


Neil Barnett on the mood of angry defiance in Ukraine’s Yanukovich-supporting east

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Issue: 4 December 2004
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Backing the bad guy

If Yushchenko’s technocratic, free-market reforms are carried through, globally uncompetitive heavy industries, including mines, will suffer. Most of these are in the east. Western Ukraine, by contrast, is much better placed to receive foreign direct investment in areas such as car production as labour in new EU entrants like Hungary and Poland becomes more expensive. Ukraine would not be the first east European country to swallow the bitter pill of the market, but the suspicion of regional bias carries added bitterness.

Yanukovich’s support is not confined to workers. Among the outstandingly leggy, fur-clad devuchkas of the Donetsk university language department (here, as the world over, languages are a girly subject), the lecturers and professors are as stoutly pro-Yanukovich as the miners are. Natalia Pyrlic, the deputy dean, said, ‘The EU has closed the door to us, the answer is no. Even Romania and Turkey are more welcome than we are. So we will make our own destiny instead. A partner must make steps towards us as well; it is not only we who must work for the relationship.’

Mr Putin sees his opportunity, and is undoubtedly pulling strings in eastern Ukraine. At a meeting of 16 eastern regions to discuss autonomy on Sunday both the Russian ambassador, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and Putin’s close ally Yuri Luzhkov, mayor of Moscow, were present. Moscow is far from a disinterested observer, and may prefer to see Ukraine split than the whole country go West.

So the people of Donetsk face a choice. They can continue for some time in a corrupt but protected economic bubble, lacking political freedoms and looking to Moscow as a political godfather. Or they can expose their economy to global competition and ‘restructuring’ in return for the apparently hopeless process of EU accession and eventual Western foreign investment. The political crisis now engulfing Ukraine calls for an urgent decision. Right or wrong, the people in this freezing and grim industrial region seem to have made up their minds — if Yushchenko prevails, their future lies to the east. As Mr Mikhailovich at the mine said, ‘Yushchenko doesn’t listen to us, so we would rather have autonomy, and we will vote for it.’

Neil Barnett is an independent foreign correspondent (

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