Monday, October 27, 2014

Petro Poroshenko is facing rebels and growing discontent: Can the Ukrainian president hold Ukraine together?

KIEV, Ukraine—Less than a year ago, Viktor Yanukovych was not yet the disgraced former president of Ukraine and ruled over his impoverished but peaceful nation from Mezhyhirya, his sprawling residence outside Kiev. Here Yanukovych entertained his cronies aboard a fake Spanish galleon, watched TV from the comfort of his wood-paneled Jacuzzi, and prayed for redemption in a jewel-encrusted private chapel.

The main house—an outsized, five-story peasant cottage—is nicknamed Honka, after the Finnish company that built it. Today a wild-eyed revolutionary named Petro Oliynyk offers visitors an express tour from bowling alley to bedroom at $15 a head. Wrapped in the black-and-red flag of the World War II–era Ukrainian Insurgent Army, Oliynyk coasts across Honka’s inlaid wooden floors in traditional straw shoes. Mezhyhirya has become to Kiev what Versailles is to Paris—except Ukraine’s revolution is far from over.

A 34-year-old native of western Ukraine, Oliynyk is mad as hell. He protested on Kiev’s Maidan for three months last winter until Yanukovych fled on Feb. 22 after a bloodbath that left more than 100 people dead. Oliynyk, who says he has been guarding Mezhyhirya since that day, blames fellow activists for looting the residence. Worse yet, he is convinced the new authorities granted Yanukovych safe passage to Russia and unleashed a war to cement their own grip on power.

Oliynyk isn’t alone in his anger. Not even half a year into Petro Poroshenko’s presidency—and days before early parliamentary elections—Ukraine is still in upheaval. As if the Russian-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine weren’t bad enough, the rest of the country is divided over how to overcome the legacy of two decades of rampant corruption.

Former Maidan protesters grumble that Poroshenko, a political insider who built a candy empire, is hardly the kind of leader they risked their lives for. Cynics suspect the fighting in the east is only a cover for the latest round of robbing the treasury. Even the president’s well-wishers fault him for surrounding himself with weak, pliable ministers and rarely explaining key decisions to the people, not unlike Yanukovych. In an impatient country awash with fighters and weapons, the threat of a new revolt is very real.

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