Ukrainians seek answers as politicians’ vast wealth is exposed

Western-backed declaration system reveals cash and assets held by Ukrainian officials

Many Ukrainian politicians are under pressure to account for their vast and unexplained wealth, after a new western-backed law to boost transparency and fight corruption forced them to declare assets and income for the first time.

In a country where the average monthly wage is less than €200, and thousands of citizens have died in a grinding conflict with Russian-backed separatists, the revelations have added fuel to simmering public anger.

The electronic declarations give at least a glimpse of the lavish property portfolios, luxury cars, collections of art, watches and jewellery – and towering piles of cash – accumulated by officials and deputies across Ukraine’s political spectrum.

The revelations have not entirely shocked a nation that holds no illusions about its ruling class, but they have sparked interest in what may still be hidden, and in whether prosecutors and anti-corruption agencies have the will and the wherewithal to investigate powerful people and put a stop to shady dealing.


Opulent homes

They have also given Ukrainians more cause to wonder whether today's officials are so different to those who fled to Russia after the 2014 Maidan revolution, and whose opulent homes were then presented as proof of their venality.

The declaration of prime minister Volodymyr Groysman – who earned a modest official salary as a regional mayor from 2006-2014 – shows that he and his wife have the equivalent of almost €1.5 million in cash, as well as a collection of luxury watches of which the cheapest is a $4,000 Rolex.

Roman Nasirov, who leads Ukraine's tax service and is regularly accused of blocking reform, declared several Kiev apartments, expensive items ranging from fine porcelain to an assault rifle, and cash holdings with his wife of almost €2 million; his official salary for 2015, the Kyiv Post reports, was about €1,300.

Nestor Shufrich, a deputy for the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc and former ally of ousted president Viktor Yanukovich, listed seven Kiev apartments, 287 paintings, a collection of weapons comprising hundreds of guns and knives, and cash in different currencies amounting to some €8 million.

Eye-opening wealth

Even some minor officials revealed eye-opening wealth: Sergei Maizel, a former head of Kiev's public transport firm, declared more than $1 million (€910,000) in cash, according to the Ukrainska Pravda news service.

When challenged over their wealth, Ukrainian politicians often shrug and point to president Petro Poroshenko, the billionaire owner of more than 100 firms, who failed to fulfil a promise to sell the main ones when he took power.

In Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday, deputy Yehor Soboliev said populist party leader Oleh Lyashko "who declared more than $1 million in cash, serves as a good example that it is time for those who say they are fighting for the interests of the poor to explain how they got so rich".

Another deputy, Mustafa Nayem, said Ukrainians should treat the revelations as a launch pad for real change.

“Essentially, the campaign for the declaration . . . answered society’s question: ‘How much?’” he said. “Now a civic campaign should begin to answer the question: ‘Where is it from?’”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe