The future is bright for Ukraine – but first Zelensky must face down the oligarchs, the west and Russia

He has a mountain to climb, but the country’s new leader has shown good sense so far

Mary Dejevsky
Thursday 23 May 2019 21:40
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Volodymyr Zelensky sworn in as Ukraine president

Five years ago, the English-language media around the world could not get enough of Ukraine. Its heroic young people were laying down their lives for a European future on the same square in Kiev where their elders had braved the winter cold a decade before in what became known as the Orange Revolution. The president fled, his only legacy being the estate bought with his ill-gotten gains, which now provides an entertaining day out for his fellow-countrymen.

Big bad Russia exploited the chaos to snatch Crimea, then helped foment pro-Moscow resistance in the southeast. Ukraine elected a new president, assistance flooded in from the EU and Nato and the IMF, and – well – the rest was, for the west, a bit of a disappointment. Corruption continued, political reform stuttered, there was no resolution to the armed conflict.

Which may help to explain why what has happened in Ukraine since the start of this year has received less exposure – I would say, a lot less – than its due. In these five months, Ukraine has held a keenly contested election that was judged by international observers to be free and fair. The winner, who beat the incumbent president by a landslide, was a complete political outsider, who is also a lawyer, a media mogul and a television comedian. Volodymyr Zelensky, whose first language is Russian and who is of Jewish background, was inaugurated this week. The man he defeated, Petro Poroshenko – and who had conceded without a fuss – smiled benevolently as his successor took office.

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