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21 January 2016

In Search of Ukraine’s “True North”


On November 21, 2015, Ukraine commemorated the second anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity and the 11th anniversary of the Orange Revolution. The Day of Dignity and Freedom, as November 21 is now known in Ukraine, should have been a day to commemorate the heroes of the Heavenly Hundred, and other victims of the fight against tyranny and oppression. Instead, the day was marked with fraud at local elections, clashes over the blockade of the Russian-occupied Crimea, and expectations of the “Third Maidan.”

Russia’s troops and mercenaries are still occupying and terrorizing Crimea and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Corruption continues to pervade the highest levels of Ukrainian government. Patriotic warriors and civil society members are being prosecuted, and human rights violators continue to enjoy impunity. Ukraine’s problems have not disappeared, and the country faces severe challenges ahead. As a people capable of overthrowing our corrupt governments, and having fought for freedom and dignity in two revolutions in a decade, we must turn toward building the strategic foundation for a better future for Ukraine. To do that, Ukraine’s moral compass desperately needs repositioning.

I can confidently say, without being overly cynical, that the current compass of an average Ukrainian politician, whose only dual goal is to secure personal enrichment and a future in Ukrainian politics to remain immune from prosecution, shows nothing more than the directions to several oligarchs (including the current President). This type of compass, myopically positioned merely for personal gain, is a relic of Ukraine’s past that must be vanquished.

In fact, only a handful of politicians in Kyiv or the regions’ capitals have a moral compass showing anything other than the oligarchs’ names between the poles of corruption and impunity. Yet this upgraded version is very short-lived in a system, which is fine-tuned to self-guard and self- perpetuate.

While politicians trade favors, most lay Ukrainians have been struggling to live normal lives amongst all the turmoil. Their personal compasses work in the same system of coordinates, yet point toward less ambitious goals of survival and happiness, while also comfortably featuring corruption and impunity as features of normalcy they have come to expect from politicians and each other.

Naturally, this system limits options of common Ukrainians (especially those in Donbas) to a set of undesirable choices. To ensure survival under Russian occupation, they must either: 1) keep a low profile while shuddering at each loud sound and knock at the door, or 2) abandon their homes and become internally displaced persons or refugees.

Despite the corruption and turmoil, all hope is not lost. I am rather optimistic about the growing number of members of our civil society and our volunteer warriors, for they possess the basic code to reposition Ukraine toward the strategic “True North”. When ex-President Yanukovich, following the Kremlin’s orders, declined the European Union’s offer for an Association Agreement with Ukraine in November 2013, he triggered a profound transformation within millions of Ukrainians. They have selflessly abandoned their normal lives, and for the past two years they have been building an ever more powerful civil society and a stronger military to defend our freedom. Each of them contribute in his/her own unique way, guided by a powerful moral compass. They may chose new exciting directions, including human dignity, rule of law, peace, and personal integrity.

I am proud to know many of these fine individuals. While cheering their admirable efforts, one needs to remain sensitive to the magnetism of corruption and impunity, which still has a strong grip, as recent scandals within some of our prominent NGOs and volunteer battalions demonstrate all too vividly). Additionally, one needs to constantly balance the noble cause and available means. Falling into the primeval logic of war, one struggling to advance human rights and freedoms often easily dehumanizes others, kills or tortures, or justifies these deplorable actions, which only leads us all down the vicious circle of violence and bloodshed.  

As we commemorate freedom, dignity and human rights, let us all meditate on our own moral compasses and together seek a “True North” to guide the next generation of leaders for a better Ukraine. At the Reloading Donbas Initiative (RDI), we are building a team of co-thinkers to work together on reconciliation in Ukraine and post-conflict rebuilding in Donbas. We invite you to contribute to our journey and follow updates on the RDI website (

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