When protesters first took to the streets in Ukraine’s largest cities in 2013, economic concerns were at the top of the agenda. As the geopolitical situation in eastern Ukraine has heated up, economic prospects in the contested regions of the country have only gotten worse. Yet average Ukrainians are still working for a more prosperous and democratic future.
Since the Maidan protests, the business climate in the Donbass, the easternmost, coal-mining region of the country, has taken a turn for the worse. Amid the turmoil, local businesses – in particular small and medium-sized firms – have suffered. Many have been shaken down for so-called “donations,” and in some cases have been looted and ransacked.
A recent article in the local press has documented fines, bribery, and other abuses committed against local businesses by police departments and government officials. Many people have even left the region, heading either for Western Ukraine or even Russia. The owners of small businesses have left their homes and their enterprises behind. They are unsure when they can return, or whether they will find their businesses in the same condition.
As one CIPE partner in the Donbass noted, “Public sector bribes have grown by several times what they were prior to the strife, and not one Grivna [the Ukrainian currency] is going to the budget.” He confirmed that many business owners and heads of banks in the region are being forced to leave their businesses. “Because of roadblocks and military activities, there are just no opportunities to run a business,” he laments.
The pro-European, Kiev-based protests that led to the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovich made Ukraine a hot topic in international news. Yet in many ways, the situation that set international media ablaze in early February is really a much older story.