Across the post-Soviet space, Ukraine impresses observers as the most emancipated polity, its citizens ready to rise up for their rights against authority. In the past 15 years alone, Ukrainians have responded twice to injustice on the part of the ruling elite with powerful protest. In 2004 they revolted against a stolen election, and in 2014 against stolen aspirations for a closer relationship with Europe.
The 2014 Euromaidan revolution, otherwise known as the ‘Revolution of Dignity’, was an expression of dissent and civil disobedience that signalled a deep crisis of governance. With almost 20 per cent of the population participating, the Euromaidan was widely viewed as ‘a struggle by citizens to defend their rights’. It reflected popular support for European values, the rule of law and enhanced governance. Ukrainians demanded more freedom, human rights, economic security, open and transparent politics, the prosecution of corrupt officials, and signature of the EU–Ukraine Association Agreement and accompanying Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA).
A pluralistic civic identity has emerged, in which values and attitudes to governance outweigh ethnic, linguistic or historical affiliations
This protest movement was met with force, both external and domestic. Russian ‘little green men’ started the occupation of the Crimean peninsula. Ukrainian riot police in Kyiv killed over 70 protesters and wounded many more. The casualties of the latter clashes are now venerated as the ‘Heavenly Hundred’, a powerful testament to the value that Ukrainians place on the right to build a rules-based European state on their own terms, and to the high price they paid to regain this right. In this context, the Euromaidan paved the way for a different political establishment that pledged to reform Ukraine and restore justice.
The violent events of early 2014 and Russia’s subsequent ongoing military aggression have boosted Ukraine’s sense of national identity. A stronger collective national awareness has taken root. Across language and regional divides, 62 per cent of the population now identify themselves first as Ukrainian citizens, as opposed to 52 per cent in 2012. Ukrainians now demonstrate more respect for the national anthem, flag and Ukrainian language. A pluralistic civic identity has emerged, in which values and attitudes to governance outweigh ethnic, linguistic or historical affiliations.
This newly crystallized political sensibility is articulated, above all, in demand for more pluralistic and representative democracy. A legacy of paternalistic government is slowly receding. Forty-four per cent of the population nationwide believe that ‘the people hire the government and control it’, as opposed to believing that ‘people should be like children taken care of by the government’. In other words, popular understanding of functional democracy has gradually expanded: people no longer define democracy as merely the holding of free elections, but also expect more inclusive and accountable governance.
Endemic corruption is viewed as the number one problem preventing the country from developing politically and economically. Recent events have reinforced citizens’ confidence and determination in demanding clean government. In 2009, 56 per cent of Ukrainians thought it pointless to fight corruption; in 2015, only 34 per cent shared this view.
Just as importantly, the emerging democratic consciousness and the drive – led by highly motivated grassroots constituencies – for reform and national democratic transformation provide the context in which the conflict between Ukraine and Russia has evolved.
Mobilizing civil society
Active civil society is key to any functional democracy. Defined most commonly as the sum of institutions and active citizens located between the family, the state and the market – and as a space in which people associate voluntarily to advance common interests – civil society influences public policy, holds state and private corporations accountable, responds to social interests and empowers citizens. It makes democracy more inclusive and facilitates feedback on policy.
Since independence in 1991, Ukraine has maintained a relatively open space for civil society. This partly reflects the legacies of the Soviet-era dissident movement, the post-Chernobyl environmental movement, and the activism of Afghanistan veterans’ associations in pioneering independent civic engagement. It has also reflected Ukrainians’ strong sense of autonomy from the state; their low trust in government; their preference for ‘horizontal’ social links rather than hierarchical structures; and the greater importance, compared to in Russia or Belarus, placed on self-expression. All these factors have helped to nurture an independent non-state sector in Ukraine. In addition, international donors have helped to sustain an active cohort of citizens who have defended human rights, monitored elections, developed local communities, promoted free media, campaigned against domestic violence and mobilized for environmental causes.
As a result, and despite fundamental institutional problems, Ukraine scores relatively highly on measures of civic engagement compared with its regional peers. Among post-Soviet states, it has long had one of the highest rankings on the NGO Sustainability Index compiled by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). After the Euromaidan revolution, this ranking improved further. Despite being classed as a ‘flawed democracy’ in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, Ukraine scores as highly for political participation and civil liberties as EU members Poland and Slovenia, and higher than Romania.
The Euromaidan movement brought many citizens to the forefront of Ukraine’s political transformation. Ukrainians also seem to have learnt from the mistakes made following the 2004 presidential election. When Viktor Yushchenko took office, his government pledged to put an end to the fusion of business and politics. This prompted NGOs and active citizens to disengage from the public sphere, as they counted on the establishment to deliver reform. In this they were bitterly disappointed.
Since the events of the Euromaidan, Ukraine has seen increased vigilance and engagement by civil society organizations (CSOs), along with the emergence of a new voluntary sector. The result has been increased bottom-up pressure for reform. Today the civil sector largely consists of two groups: voluntary self-organized groups; and well-established, professional, non-profit NGOs. Of these two cohorts, the voluntary sector in particular has expanded remarkably in the post-Euromaidan period. In response to Russia’s attacks on Crimea and Donbas, various new initiatives have flourished to support internally displaced persons (IDPs), the Ukrainian army, and Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) veterans and their families. It is estimated, for instance, that around 300 new groups that unite ATO veterans have emerged.
Wary of incompetence and corruption in state institutions, Ukrainians have self-organized to fill gaps in services normally provided by the state. Influential new organizations have emerged to sustain such support, including Crimea SOS, Vostok SOS, Krylia Feneksa and Legal Hundred, among others. Many of these groups started as support networks for protesters in Kyiv. Having impressed with their capacity to offer solutions in challenging situations, these volunteer groups have gained strong public recognition.
Voluntary groups enjoy the highest level of public trust among all civil society institutions. Fifty-three per cent of Ukrainians trust volunteers
Surprisingly, volunteering and non-state initiatives have also surged in the southeast of Ukraine. Historical perspective is crucial to understanding the capacity of had led to a culture of submission and fear of challenging authority.in that region to engage in reform. Despite continuous Western assistance to civil society, little aid reached the southeast of the country prior to 2014. Nor was the local environment conducive to a vibrant civil society: an entrenched Soviet-era mentality, a paternalistic outlook on the part of government officials, a lack of critical thinking and decades of single-party rule
Yet after the retreat of Russia-backed separatists, under pressure from the Ukrainian army, from parts of Donbas in the summer of 2015, the region woke up to a new civic reality. For many, the restoration of Ukrainian control heralded the possibility of a transformation in the region’s governance, but it also brought new challenges. The inflow of IDPs from the occupied territories placed a heavy burden on an already-depleted welfare system, with cities in Ukrainian government-controlled areas in the southeast of the country having to accommodate large numbers of IDPs. In response, active citizens joined forces with local authorities to find solutions and reorganize community life. IDPs also self-organized into support groups.
Voluntary groups enjoy the highest level of public trust among all civil society institutions. Fifty-three per cent of Ukrainians trust volunteers. In comparison, only 9 per cent of citizens trust the government. Despite economic hardship, individual donations to voluntary groups have soared. Thirty-seven per cent of Ukrainians gave money to charitable causes in 2016, up from 21 per cent in 2012. Support was provided for IDPs, reconstruction of schools and houses, assistance to families affected by war and rehabilitation of veterans. From the start of the conflict with Russia in 2014, a network of volunteer civil self-defence units – a so-called ‘people’s army’ – started to emerge. Ukrainian citizens supported these groups as well as regular army units by providing medical supplies, food and equipment. Mobilizing inside the country and among the diaspora, volunteers also organized supplies to the front line of night-vision goggles, home-made drones, protective gear and paramedical equipment, often purchased on eBay.
An inflow of reform champions from outside the system started a process of ‘positive selection’ in public service for the first time
One of the most notable differences with the events of 2004 has been an inflow of many civil society leaders and volunteers into Ukraine’s legislative and executive branches. The election of new members of parliament (MPs) from the media, civil society and the private sector, as a result of the legislative election of October 2014, brought a substantial number of change-makers inside the system for the first time in Ukraine’s history. These ‘reform champions’ became the main partners for the CSOs driving reform. They started a process of ‘positive selection’ – that is, recruitment on merit and suitability – for public servants, a revolutionary step for a country that for decades had been run predominantly by people who entered public service to enrich themselves, protect their private interests and abuse office. In doing so, the new ‘reform champions’ helped integrate non-state trust networks into public politics.
Many more preferred to remain as volunteers and to assist from outside formal politics, believing their leverage would be stronger if they operated at arm’s length from what they perceived as corrupt government agencies. Engagement by non-state sector activists was facilitated by the establishment of reform project offices in government ministries. These Western-funded groups provided assistance, and drafted new strategies and regulations. For example, the reform office at the Ministry of Defence (MOD) engaged activists in reforming logistics, housing policy and food supply to the armed forces. Volunteers contributed to the drafting of a Strategic Defence Bulletin.
Since 2015, other forms of self-organization have started taking hold. Housing Such associations have brought citizens together to take charge of communal spaces and improve the quality of utility services in towns and cities. Most importantly, they have helped to democratize decision-making at the local level. In the words of one assessment, there is evidence that ‘the housing associations have provided a powerful and sustainable example of collaboration between civic and political sectors to address community interests’.have expanded, taking advantage of a new law adopted in 2015. Even in the east of Ukraine, known for historically low levels of civic mobilization, activity has surged. In just 11 months in 2016, the number of housing associations in the city of Mariupol grew almost fourfold.
Driving the reform agenda
The traditional, well-established CSOs that existed prior to the Euromaidan worked at the national and regional levels to promote reforms. These groups, too, have used the opening up of the political system to promote their ideas. In a survey of 162 CSOs conducted for this report, respondents identified three main purposes for their actions (see Figure 3). Their number one goal is to influence policy (56.2 per cent of respondents). Their second objective is to consolidate citizens’ interest around issues to achieve common goals (55.6 per cent). Their third priority (34.0 per cent) is to hold government to account. In comparison to these aggregate national responses, regional CSOs are more committed to promoting democratic values and helping citizens understand reform, and less inclined to believe that it is their function to influence public policy.
Figure 3: In a democratic system, what are the three most important functions of civil society?
Compared with the situation in 2004, the strategy of organized civil society is now more sustainable. At the national level, CSOs have sought to overcome fragmentation by creating coalitions. The so-called ‘civic sector of Euromaidan’, which united many well-established NGOs, led to the creation of a group known as the Reanimation Package of Reforms (RPR) to sustain pressure on the country’s new leadership. This coalition of 70 NGOs proposed its own plan to reform Ukraine, and has facilitated the adoption of around 120 new laws in parliament since 2014. Other active groups have consolidated into coalitions such as the Movement for Transparent Local Budgets, Civic Initiatives of Ukraine, Nashi Groshi and Nova Kraina.
The impact and public image of CSOs have improved, thanks to their high media visibility, their active use of social networks and the state’s openness to engagement with them. In 2016, according to one survey, popular trust in CSOs had almost doubled from 2013, with 37 per cent of Ukrainians trusting these organizations. The overhaul of public procurement, the creation of a public broadcaster, the establishment of new patrol police, administrative decentralization, gas market reform, the procurement of medicines by international organizations and the promotion of transparency in the extractive industries – all have become possible thanks to advocacy by non-profit organizations.
Domestic and international civil society groups, in particular the Anti-Corruption Action Centre and Transparency International, have been instrumental in creating a new anti-corruption framework, which includes a new National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) and a new National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) (see Chapter 7, in particular, for more detail). CSOs have helped to bring credibility to the anti-corruption process. All nine members of the commission to appoint the new head of the NABU were representatives of civil society, nominated by the president, parliament and government. Pressure for the creation of a new anti-corruption court, the renewal of the Supreme Court, and the launch of an e-declaration system for assets of government officials (including judges) have enabled incremental progress in anti-corruption efforts.
Domestic and international civil society groups, in particular the Anti-Corruption Action Centre and Transparency International, have been instrumental in creating a new anti-corruption framework
In terms of building a new judiciary, Ukraine’s innovation has been the establishment of a Public Integrity Council (PIC). Formed in 2016 from representatives of civil society and academia, this independent body is supposed to vet judges according to criteria of ethics and professional integrity. The challenges it faces remain much in evidence. In selecting new judges for the Supreme Court, the council expressed concerns over 88 judges – yet of these, two-thirds were approved for the job by the High Qualification Commission of Judges of Ukraine. Pervasive corruption still makes it difficult to reform the system, even with strong oversight.
Western funding has played a critical role in CSO-led reform efforts. It is estimated that the volume of grants to Ukraine almost doubled after the Euromaidan. Around $1 billion a year is now directed to reform-related projects, with roughly 30 per cent of this assistance channelled via civil society – making for an annual operation worth roughly $300 million. USAID has doubled its assistance: in 2016 it allocated $67 million to programmes supporting anti-corruption efforts, good governance and civil society in Ukraine.
The story of ProZorro
ProZorro, a digital public procurement system, was developed by a group of Euromaidan activists. They were stock exchange traders, digital marketing experts, management consultants, investment bankers, and activists at Transparency International. With a market value equivalent to around $11 billion, public procurement in Ukraine was a well-documented source of illegal enrichment. The value of bribes paid in relation to Kyiv road construction alone has been estimated at $180 million annually.
When the Viktor Yanukovych regime collapsed in February 2014, one of these activists, Oleksandr Starodubtsev, an expert in digital trading systems, started an informal initiative hosted by Pavlo Sheremeta, then the dean of the Kyiv School of Economics. With $35,000 in start-up funding from six online trading companies, Starodubtsev and his team developed the first prototype of a digital platform that would later become ProZorro, meaning ‘transparent’ in Ukrainian. The developers used open-source code, both to protect it from abuse and to increase trust in the system. ‘Everybody sees everything’ was the slogan of the platform. When Sheremeta became the minister of economic development and trade in February 2014, he declared reform of public procurement his top priority and started working on a new legal framework for it. The IMF also made reform of the procurement system a condition for disbursement of funding under its framework programme for Ukraine.
Georgian reformers played an important part in inspiring and guiding the Ukrainian teams. David Margania, who had modernized the Georgian public procurement system, and Tato Urdzymelashvili, the former head of Georgia’s state public procurement agency, helped to galvanize support for the proposed reforms.
In July 2015, Ukraine’s MOD conducted the first test of the system, trialling it with purchases under $10,000 in value. It was a truly revolutionary experiment. Yuri Husyev, a new deputy minister of defence and a former volunteer, wanted to restore the trust of taxpayers. Artur Pereverziev, the new head of the MOD’s reform office for digital procurement and himself a former Euromaidan volunteer, oversaw the creation of the necessary legal framework at ministerial level for digital procurement to be enabled.
The launch was bumpy. The system rapidly crashed as thousands tried to access the website. Yet ProZorro also quickly demonstrated its capacity to save money, enable procurement of better-quality products and help the government to diversify suppliers. In the six-month pilot phase, prices dropped by 17 per cent and savings of $9 million were delivered.
The system’s wider roll-out was funded by the Western NIS Enterprise Fund, which signed a $50,000 agreement with Transparency International to launch ProZorro nationwide, thus forming an alliance between business, civil society and government. ProZorro was incubated in the non-state space and only later transferred to the state. Thirty paid staff and 150 volunteers were involved at different stages. As of today, Transparency International has invested about $800,000 to develop, upgrade, promote and monitor the system.
To ensure the effects of the digital procurement reform were sustained, several of ProZorro’s managers from outside the state sector had to take public office. Having done so, they energetically lobbied parliament for a new law requiring ProZorro to be used for all public procurement – at both national and regional levels. In December 2016, the law was adopted at the first reading and without a single amendment. The speed of this reform was unprecedented: it had taken only two years to overhaul the old system. In recognition of this, in 2016 ProZorro won the World Public Procurement Awards. Since its launch, the system had saved over UAH 31.2 billion ($1.1 billion) in public funds.
Pushing for an accountable state
Since the Euromaidan, the push for transparency in public life has gained new momentum. CSOs have lobbied for new tools to restrict malfeasance by vested interests and improve accountability. More information about the state has become available on a government website (www.e-data.gov.ua) that lists all public spending. A portal for international assistance, www.openaid.org, has been launched to track major loans and grants to Ukraine. ProZorro itself uploads details of public tenders to the website bi.prozorro.org. The Ministry of Justice has opened 13 public registers, where citizens can access information about registered companies, CSOs, media organizations and court decisions, as well as the names of individuals convicted of corruption. A new law on transparency in media ownership requires full public disclosure of shareholdings in media companies. Meanwhile, the introduction of the system of e-declarations of government officials’ assets has set a new benchmark for transparency in the public sector.
Administrative decentralization has played an important role in reinforcing accountability, bringing government closer to the people
The benefits of these initiatives have been significant. Increased transparency has empowered CSOs to expose inaction and misuse of power. They are now more effective as fact-checking platforms, able to hold the government to account by providing information to the media about the status of reforms. For example, when the government reported progress in the fight against corruption, the Nashi Groshi network of investigative journalists rebutted the claim: it found that out of 362 government officials convicted of corruption, only five had been sent to prison in 2016. Nashi Groshi also highlighted the fact that the majority of corruption cases involved sums between $40 and $400. Even though the sums involved are seemingly small, this exposure of the government’s failure in tackling corruption is significant in two respects. On the positive side, it shows that CSOs are making a difference in holding government to account. On the downside, the revelation of numerous instances of corruption going unpunished risks undermining faith in reforms and increasing the disillusionment of citizens.
Administrative decentralization has played an important role in reinforcing accountability, bringing government closer to the people. The reform is widely supported by Ukrainian citizens, with 67 per cent already reporting improvements in governance as a result of decentralization. New initiatives are emerging to mobilize citizens locally, with the aim of helping them to exercise civic oversight and drive local development. Since 2013, 23 per cent of Ukrainians have attended at least one community meeting, while 16 per cent have got together with others to raise issues with local officials (and twice that share have declared their willingness to do so if provided with an opportunity).
The need for civil society oversight has increased as the fiscal component of decentralization has resulted in the allocation of additional resources to authorities at the community level
The need for oversight has increased as the fiscal component of decentralization has resulted in the allocation of additional resources to authorities at the community level. Civil society has responded by monitoring the transparency of city management and local budgets, which have increased by almost 30 per cent compared to 2016 due to fiscal decentralization. Public participation in budget decision-making, also known as ‘participatory budgeting’, has benefited from technical support from non-profit groups such as Social Boost, which provided software to dozens of cities, including Kyiv, Kirovohrad, Lviv and Odesa. Amounts allocated via participatory budgeting so far have been minuscule, however. In Kyiv, participatory budgeting accounts for only 0.15 per cent of the total budget, but it still helps citizens to become interested in the affairs of the city and express their opinions. In Lviv, around 15 per cent of inhabitants visited the special participatory budget website, with around 14,000 people voting for various projects.
Despite this progress, CSOs still struggle to ensure effective checks and balances within the system of governance. Ukraine’s score for ‘voice and accountability’ in the World Bank’s World Governance Indicators has improved slightly, from a ranking in the 41st percentile in 2005 to one in the 48th percentile in 2015. Its move up the ranking reflects recognition of increased transparency in the state budget and growing trust in the new patrol police. Nonetheless, Ukraine’s percentile rank for this indicator remains far lower than the one for Poland, which occupies the 80th percentile.
A growing reform ‘toolbox’
Ukraine is transforming from the ground up, thanks to active grassroots groups of committed individuals and well-established CSOs that use a variety of tools to promote their agendas. Some of this engagement in policymaking is facilitated and welcomed by national and local authorities; some is secured by law; and some is informal. According to the survey of civic organizations conducted for this report, CSOs use a variety of instruments to influence policy. The most common include participation in public councils, provision of information to the media, and input of policy ideas and legislative drafts during public policy consultations. Many CSOs have reported working individually with decision-makers on developing new laws and regulations. They also monitor publicly available information and use Ukraine’s Freedom of Information Act to access government data. Anti-corruption groups at the regional level use similar tools, but with more emphasis on investigative reporting, civic education and provision of legal consultation. To a lesser extent, CSOs have used legal instruments (such as filing court cases) or have worked with political parties to oversee and enforce reform.
It should be noted that not all of these tools are new: some have existed since the early 2000s. Post-Euromaidan, the most significant innovations have been enhanced transparency and the inclusion of CSOs’ input in shaping new anti-corruption agencies and reforming the courts and police. New platforms that accommodate engagement with civil society have also developed within the Cabinet of Ministers. The Reform Delivery Office, the new Policy Planning Unit, the Strategic Communication Unit and the Strategic Advisory Group on Reforms all engage think-tanks and advocacy groups. These offices still have to prove their ability to collaborate meaningfully with CSOs, as positive outcomes are frequently undermined by opacity in policymaking. Stakeholder consultations, and discussion of policy options and their impact, are still more the exception than the rule. CSOs and the Ministry of Justice have been working on a new law on public consultation that could make policymaking more inclusive and transparent. However, the ministry is also stalling adoption of the law.
The Chatham House survey of CSOs provides an indication of which tools are considered most effective in influencing policy in the current political culture. CSOs believe indirect pressure via the media, civic protests, mobilizing public opinion and individual engagement with government officials to be most effective in promoting policy change. Institutionalized cooperation between state and non-state sectors is viewed as less potent (see Figure 4). At the regional level, CSOs demonstrate more frequent use of freedom-of-public-information legislation but are less involved in public consultation processes than are Kyiv-based groups.
Figure 4: Which form of civic action is most effective in the current political system?
Widening the circle of change-makers
CSOs acknowledge the importance of ‘people power’ in promoting reforms, but they invest insufficient effort and resources into achieving viable engagement with ordinary concerned citizens. Only 44 per cent of the CSOs surveyed mobilize citizens for civic action, instead focusing their attention mostly on the state. As a result, the incidence of direct civic activism by citizens to correct policies remains strikingly low, and public awareness of reforms limited. Fewer than 5 per cent of Ukrainians in 2016 reported corruption to the police, filed complaints, participated in public hearings or discussed legislation. Many indicators relating to these issues have deteriorated since 2013. Citizens are unsure about the best way to engage in reforms, and only 1 per cent believe it is their responsibility to do so.
In part, this situation can be attributed to low awareness of civic rights, low trust in law enforcement agencies and growing insecurity due to the impact of the military conflict in the east. Disillusionment with the current political class, along with exhaustion on the part of activists, makes it harder to widen civic mobilization.
Yet these are not the main barriers to effective civic pressure. A bigger obstacle is the composition of funding. Because pro-reform CSOs have ample access to Western funding, they rarely reach out to domestic citizens for financial contributions. Traditional advocacy groups rely almost entirely on Western funding. For example, in 2015 the RPR coalition received around €500,000 from Western funders for its secretariat. Donations from Ukrainian businesses and individuals to the Ukrainian chamber of Transparency International constitute only 4 per cent of the chamber’s budget. Another survey reported that only 43 per cent of CSOs receive donations from citizens, and that funding from this source accounts for only 15 per cent of their budgets. Moreover, a recent surge in individual donations has mostly benefited charitable foundations assisting the ATO effort rather than non-profit groups that promote reforms.
Advocacy is another problem area. Civic advocacy campaigns are run by well-established and well-paid professionals from the non-governmental/non-profit sector, with little to no engagement of the wider public. Nationwide, only 12 per cent of the Chatham House CSO survey respondents claimed that they could wield power via their membership base, and only 21 per cent believed they could mobilize citizens. Regional groups seem to be more connected to citizens, with 29 per cent claiming that they have the capacity to mobilize citizens and 40 per cent claiming that citizens support their goals. This gap between advocacy-oriented CSOs and concerned citizens weakens the effectiveness of bottom-up reforms. CSOs’ special access to government and the media leaves local voluntary efforts detached from national centres of power. Few groups have acted upon citizens’ growing interest in joining CSOs and learning how best to engage with the state. As Figure 3 shows, CSOs assign relatively low importance to the functions of building trust, raising awareness about reforms and helping citizens better judge policies. Activity on behalf of citizens rather than with citizens prevails.
This lack of capacity among established groups to engage citizens in advocacy sustains what is sometimes termed an ‘NGO-cracy’, a system in which professional activists use access to domestic policymakers and Western donors to influence public policy yet are disconnected from the public at large. This is especially relevant at the national level in Ukraine. Many CSO leaders have confessed that Western conditionality and pressure have led to the promotion of policies and reforms that otherwise would generate little interest.
Reform impacts: risks and opportunities
Despite weak state institutions, a distorted media space and a corrupt political culture, Ukrainian civil society expresses confidence in its capacity to promote change. Impressively enough, 30 per cent of CSOs surveyed claim that they have an impact on policy all or most of the time; 54 per cent report having an impact some of the time, depending on the issue. There is less optimism at the regional level, where 29 per cent of CSOs believe they have no impact or rarely have an impact.
Citizens at large are also becoming more optimistic, albeit from a lower base: in a 2015 survey, 28 per cent of respondents considered NGOs effective in tackling corruption, up from 14 per cent in 2007. Among all institutions listed in the survey, NGOs registered the largest increase in perceived effectiveness at fighting corruption.
One important democratizing effect of civil society has been the integration of some non-state sector trust networks into the political process
One important democratizing effect of civil society has been the integration of non-state sector trust networks into the political process. The absorption of volunteer battalions into the Ministry of Interior and MOD, the institutionalization of ProZorro, the entry of several civil society representatives into political parties, and the presence of civic activists in the PIC and on various commissions – all have signified citizens’ growing willingness to entrust the state with the delivery of important political functions. By becoming co-creators of new norms and institutions, citizens now have more incentive to participate in politics. In effect, the efforts of civil society have partly translated the collective will of the citizenry into concrete state actions and policies – this trend is significant for the further democratization of Ukraine.
Risks from within
Prospects for further reforms are undermined by the complex and difficult operating environment. Elements from Ukraine’s ‘old’ system are defending their interests and seeking retribution against anti-corruption actors. The backlash started in March 2017 with the approval of amendments to the law on e-declarations for government officials. The amendments oblige all citizens affiliated with anti-corruption bodies, including trustees and sub-contractors, to complete the same extensive e-declaration forms as government officials. The legislation was initially designed to facilitate disclosure and prevention of corruption in the public sector, but its amended form targets individuals rather than civic organizations. Thus, instead of increasing public scrutiny of the NGO sector, it serves as a retaliation measure through which vested interests can harass activists. In one example, ANTAC, a leading anti-corruption group, faced a well-funded and coordinated smear campaign against one of its leaders.
The lack of effective platforms for citizens to express constructive discontent and contribute ideas could lead to a backlash against reforms and a resumption of the ‘politics of the square’
Growing popular dissatisfaction with inadequate public service provision, and the lack of effective platforms for citizens to express constructive discontent and contribute ideas, could eventually lead to a backlash against reforms and even a resumption of the ‘politics of the square’. Public trust in government remains critically low. Public protests offered a means of last resort for correcting the trajectory of Ukraine in 1990, 2004 and 2013 – the same could happen again if current reform efforts falter. Another major Euromaidan-style protest, but with increased availability of arms as a result of the conflict in the east, would likely turn into violent confrontation with the authorities.
The risks of populism and radicalization remain real. The mobilization of several veterans’ groups by political parties to block coal supplies from the occupied Donbas region, despite the clear economic damage to Ukraine, offers a warning that some elements within the country’s emerging civil society could choose a more confrontational and radical path. The Azov Battalion, which started as a voluntary self-defence unit and later became part of the National Guard, united many radical nationalists from all over Ukraine. It promotes a radical agenda of ceasing all economic, cultural and political bilateral relations with Russia and has an anti-EU agenda. The Azov Battalion developed a new nationalist movement, Civic Corp Azov, that boasted a membership of 10,000. In October 2016 the Corp transformed into a new political party, Nationalist Corp. The party is gaining visibility and mobilizing capacity among young people to hold radical protests, which most recently caused disruption at the Kyiv offices of Sberbank, a Russian bank. Freedom House’s Nations in Transit project has recently downgraded Ukraine’s score for civil society ‘due to the growing impact and visibility of intolerant, extremist organized groups in the public space’.
Populist parties in Ukraine are now scoring higher in voter preference polls than most parties of the ruling coalition. With simple messages and promises of easy solutions, these parties appeal to constituencies disaffected with mainstream politics, and their rise threatens the broader reform process. Activists from a pro-Russia group called Ukrainian Choice are further contributing to internal destabilization. The group is affiliated to Viktor Medvedchuk, a friend of Vladimir Putin and the Russian president’s key ally in Ukraine. Ukrainian Choice has sought to hijack decentralization, recruiting local activists to mobilize communities into declaring fiscal independence from Kyiv, and into forming illegal ‘people’s territorial communities’. The ultimate goal of this network is the federalization of Ukraine and closer political and economic relations with Russia.
In addition, regional differences in thinking about how Ukraine should develop, and ambivalence towards reform, continue to threaten policy progress. This is revealed in attitudes towards privatization, decentralization and land reform. Weak public awareness of reforms, poor communication by the national government and an active Russian disinformation campaign are all aggravating these trends and nurturing a popular sense of disfranchisement. Only 5 per cent of Ukrainians believe government information to be of good quality and available in sufficient quantity. The reporting of reforms by national and regional media is patchy, superficial and lacks ‘human stories’.
Steps to strengthen the impact of reforms
In the aftermath of the Euromaidan, the ruling elite felt highly accountable to civil society because the new government had been brought to power by social mobilization. This allowed civil society to exercise unprecedented leverage over the political process. Over time this link weakened and civil society became marginalized, with new legislative changes discriminating against anti-corruption CSOs. With less appetite for reform among the ruling class and in light of the above-mentioned risks, there is an increasingly urgent need for CSOs to broaden their social base. Prospects for a more inclusive approach are helped, at least, by the fact that Ukrainians are less fearful of speaking out than ever before, and more determined to participate in decision-making.
Several steps can be taken to build public pressure for reforms and empower citizens. First, CSOs should widen popular participation in reform by promoting existing methods of direct civic action, such as ProZorro, participatory budgeting, civic oversight mechanisms and self-organization. E-democracy and wider civic education could mobilize citizens who are currently focused on supporting and volunteering for the military sector. Western donors could aid this process by integrating requirements for wider civic participation into their grant-making. They should fund projects that build civic support networks and promote action-based rather than adversarial revolutionary activism. Donors have to ensure funds flow beyond Kyiv to Ukraine’s regions. Regional CSOs need more assistance to build their confidence and capacity, especially in view of decentralization. The expansion of housing associations, farmers’ unions, credit unions, community foundations, and teachers’ and business associations would make decentralization of power more effective and local government accountable.
Organized civil society needs to work from the ‘bottom up’ so that citizens can better assess and provide feedback on policies
Second, building public trust is of critical importance. In part, civil society could do this ‘from the top’, by sustaining cooperation with reformers in legislative and executive offices. It could increase the credibility of reforms by endorsing them, and by participating in projects that modernize governance and social services or boost economic growth. However, most importantly, organized civil society needs to work from the ‘bottom up’ to create more safe, inclusive ‘public spaces’ for the discussion of reforms, so that citizens can better assess and provide feedback on policies. This would help CSOs – sometimes perceived as out of touch with the public – to respond better to citizens’ concerns. It is already known that an overemphasis on top-down communication, in addition to the repeated flooding of the information space with facts, fails to produce desired outcomes for liberals and reform-minded groups globally.
Such stakeholder consultations could shape representative public opinion, which CSOs would then be well positioned to communicate to power-holders – thus increasing public pressure for reforms on particular issues. One example of stakeholder consultation that other CSOs could emulate is that adopted by the Centre UA in respect of electoral reform. After the Euromaidan, this experienced CSO reached out beyond Kyiv to hold multiple discussions in the regions of Ukraine on the strengths and weaknesses of the electoral system, and why electoral reform matters for further democratization. This enabled a consolidated public position on the direction of reform to develop, which was publicly presented in a paper known as the ‘green book’. Such forums or initiatives could provide an antidote to populism and disillusionment, and help to establish a larger and more active reformist political class in the future.
The third way in which CSOs and self-organized groups can strengthen the impact of reforms is by prioritizing more effectively, especially when it comes to advocacy campaigns at the national level. Civil society cannot fight too many battles at once. Ukraine’s unreformed political system and shadow economy, and the prevalence of informal institutions, remain powerful impediments to clean and responsive government. By concentrating on a few key issues – such as the need for fair courts, electoral reform and professional public administration – CSOs could have a positive structural impact across other sectors. Local groups need to be better connected to national advocacy coalitions to be able to feed information back to Ukraine’s regions. CSOs should engage more with political parties, especially the emerging ones, to ensure important issues enter the political debate and to narrow the disconnect between politics and citizens.
Finally, better interaction between CSOs and the commercial sector could help to identify innovative technological solutions for effective governance. The success of ProZorro has already demonstrated that partnership between business, the state and civil society can produce rapid structural change. The private sector – especially small and medium-sized enterprises and the technology industry – often shares the same aspirations for accountability as the non-profit sector. Given the low trust in official channels, partnerships between CSOs and private business could help reinforce social innovation in order to develop effective solutions to Ukraine’s myriad social and economic problems.
Survey infographics: comparing Kyiv-based and regional CSOs
The Chatham House online survey of 162 CSOs conducted for this report covered both Kyiv-based and regional organizations. The graphics in this section show some of the key differences between the two cohorts.
123 Onuch, O. (2014), ‘Social networks and social media in Ukrainian “Euromaidan” protests’, Washington Post, 2 January 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2014/01/02/social-networks-and-social-media-in-ukrainian-euromaidan-protests-2/?utm_term=.f08e3d309ec0.
124 The term ‘little green men’ is often used to describe Russian soldiers without insignia who carried out the operation to annex Crimea, a tactic later replicated in Donbas.
126 ‘Heavenly Hundred’ is a Ukrainian reference to protesters killed in Kyiv on 18–20 February 2014.
127 Kulyk, V. (2016), ‘Ukrainian Identity under Euromaidan and the War’, Europe-Asia Studies, 68:4, pp. 588–608, doi: 10.1080/09668136.2016.1174980.
128 National Democratic Institute (2016), ‘Opportunities and Challenges Facing Ukraine’s Democratic Transition’
130 Anheier, H. K. (2004), Civil Society: Measurement, Evaluation, Policy, London: Routledge.
131 Hrytsak, Y. (2015), ‘Tsinnosti ukrayintsiv: pro et contra reform v Ukrayini’ [Values of Ukrainians: Pro et Contra Reform in Ukraine], Zbruc.eu, 17 June 2015, .
134 Interview with government official, Kyiv, February 2017.
136 The Party of Regions, originally from Donetsk, had a political and economic monopoly in the southeast of Ukraine.
143 Online questionnaire conducted via Survey Monkey from February to May 2017. Of 162 respondents, 43 per cent were Kyiv-based and 56 per cent were from the regions.
153 Presentation about ProZorro provided by Oleksandr Starodubtsev, March 2017.
154 ProZorro is also a play on the word ‘Zorro’, the name of a popular fictional hero who defends common people against tyrannical officials and other villains.
155 Author’s interview with Yuri Husyev, April 2017.
157 ‘ProZorro: How did a Dream Become True?’, Transparency International publication, March 2017.
164 Public Partnership ‘On Transparent Local Budgets!’, Odessa Regional Organization of the NGO ‘Committee of Voters of Ukraine’ and Open Society Foundation (2016), Indeks Prozorosti-Uchasti-Dobrochesnosti Mistsevykh Byudzhetiv 2016 [Transparency, Participation and Integrity Index of Local Budgets 2016], .
166 Yurasov, S. (2017), ‘Méry otdayut denʹhy: kak pervye horoda vnedryayut Byudzhet uchastyya’ [Mayors allocate money: how the first cities are implementing the Participation Budget], Liga.net, 26 January 2017, .
167 World Bank (2017), World Governance Indicators, (accessed 23 Jul. 2017).
168 Chatham House online survey of 162 Ukrainian CSOs, conducted via Survey Monkey from February to May 2017. Forty-three per cent of respondents were Kyiv-based, and 56 per cent were from the regions.
170 The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade is leading the way in this area with its public consultations on deregulation and the government’s export promotion strategy. Better Regulation Delivery Office (2017), Publichnyy dialoh yak chastyna efektyvnoho rehulyuvannya [Public dialogue as part of effective regulation], 9 March 2017, .
171 See Volosevych (2016), ‘Ukrayina: pidsumky Revolyutsiyi Hidnosti. Yak zminylasya krayina i narod’.
173 Reanimation Package of Reforms (2016), Annual report 2015, http://rpr.org.ua/richni-zvity/.
176 Chatham House online survey of 162 Ukrainian CSOs, February to May 2017.
177 Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (2015), ‘Stan koruptsii v Ukraini’ [A State of Corruption in Ukraine], http://kiis.com.ua/materials/pr/20161602_corruption/Corruption%20in%20Ukraine%202015%20UKR.pdf.
178 Tilly, C. (2007), Democracy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. See ‘Chapter 4: Democracy and Trust’.
179 Novoe Vremya (2017), ‘Informatsyonnaya y ne tolʹko ataka na Tsentr protyvodeystvyya korruptsyy: chto proyzoshlo y kto za étym stoyt’ [A (not only) information attack on the Center for combating corruption: what happened and who is behind it], 9 June 2017, nv.ua/ukraine/events/informatsionnaja-i-ne-tolko-ataka-na-tsentr-protivodejstvija-korruptsii-chto-proizoshlo-i-kto-za-etim-stoit-1286993.html.
180 National Democratic Institute (2016), ‘Opportunities and Challenges Facing Ukraine’s Democratic Transition: Nationwide Survey with eight local oversamples’.
183 Velichko, L. (2016), ‘Separatystsʹkyy proekt Medvedchuka. Pid vyhlyadom “terytorialʹnykh hromad” po vsiy Ukrayini stvoryuyutʹsya “L-DNRy”’ [Medvedchuk’s separatist project. ‘L-DNRi’ are created under the guise of ‘territorial communities’ throughout Ukraine], Texty.org.ua, 5 July 2016,