In Dnipropetrovsk, Kolomoyskiy's Departure Leaves No One Indifferent
March 27, 2015
by Yulia Ratsybarska and Daisy Sindelar
DNIPROPETROVSK, Ukraine -- Ukrainians have had plenty of practice watching politicians come and go.
Most abrupt exits prompt little more than a shrug of the shoulders. But this week's departure of billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskiy, the governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, has stirred strong emotions on his home turf.
Some are passionately supportive of Kolomoyskiy.
'Never mind that he was an oligarch,' said Svitlana, a resident of the regional capital. 'He protected our region from the military threat. Now I feel really worried.'
And others are not.
'They're cleaning up the country, and our president is insisting that everyone play by the same rules,' said Yaroslav, another Dnipropetrovsk resident. 'Regular citizens and oligarchs alike.'
Kolomoyskiy, who took up the governor's post a year ago, resigned under pressure on March 24 after using private gunmen to occupy two state-controlled oil companies where his influence was waning.
The move was seen by some as a victory for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who has sought to rein in the influence of Ukraine's often-thuggish oligarchs in the pursuit of rule of law.
Many others, however, see a risk. Dnipropetrovsk, a key industrial region, lies directly west of Ukraine's war-torn Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
Kolomoyskiy, 52, has contributed funding to the Ukrainian army and formed paramilitary units to prevent violence from spilling over into his region. Moreover, he is widely seen as spearheading successful efforts in the oblast to organize volunteers, aid, and medical staff to support Ukrainian troops and civilians in the war zone.
Career 'Far From Over'
For now, Kolomoyskiy's team has signaled that security remains a priority. Deputy Governor Svyatoslav Oliynyk, who is departing together with Kolomoyskiy, said the transfer to new regional leadership should not adversely affect the region's stability.
'We'll do everything in our power to pursue that goal,' said Oliynyk. 'Until we're convinced that the new authorities have the situation under control, we'll stay involved in regional security issues.'
Oliynyk also hinted that Kolomoyskiy's political career was far from over, suggesting his Dnipropetrovsk team would soon reemerge as an unspecified 'political entity.'
The rebirth may come as early as March 28, when Kolomoyskiy is due to hold a so-called unity concert and 'public chamber' in downtown Dnipropetrovsk.
Vladyslav Romanov, a regional lawmaker, says Kolomoyskiy's resignation will prompt a welcome 'shakeup' in Ukrainian politics but isn't likely to taint the oligarch himself.
'Kolomoyskiy will probably continue his political activities, not as a public servant but as a businessman and a citizen,' says Romanov, a member of the Poroshenko Bloc. 'He's very popular right now, in terms of public faith and support. So the question is, how's he going to use this popularity?'
If the behavior of his aides is any indication, he may use it to wage an open campaign against his opponents in Kyiv -- including Poroshenko.
Oliynyk noted crisply that by forcing Kolomoyskiy's resignation, the Ukrainian president -- who, after all, is an oligarch himself -- had 'set the bar very high regarding businessmen in office,' and that such standards should be applied equally to 'everyone, beginning with the businessmen in the presidential administration, the cabinet, and the president himself.'
A second outgoing deputy governor, Hennadiy Korban, added, 'Thieves are sitting in Kyiv today, and it's time for these thieves to go.'
Kolomoyskiy, who owns the Unian news agency, the powerful 1+1 television channel, and the country's largest bank, Privatbank, is well-positioned to control his public image, and has already announced that all his statements will be disseminated only by his own media.
Political analyst Viktor Pashchenko says Kolomoyskiy's departure may have little to do with his oil-company standoff with Poroshenko. After a year of successfully keeping war off Dnipropetrovsk's doorstep, Pashchenko says, he's simply ready to capitalize on his political cache.
'Strategically speaking, it seems like it was precisely the right time for him to go,' he says. 'If they want to participate in elections with some sort of bloc of their own, then now they're in a better starting position.'
Moreover, after a year of relative peace, many in Dnipropetrovsk may be looking to authorities to do more than guarantee security -- such as bolstering the region's faltering economy.
Vadym Rublevskyy, a city lawmaker with the Opposition Bloc, says Kolomoyskiy's efforts at protecting Dnipropetrovsk from the worst of the war are to be 'commended.' But beyond that, he says, the oligarch 'didn't manage to do anything.
'They didn't take any ordinary actions aimed at improving the lives of residents,' says Rublevskyy. 'My impression is that the team that came in simply didn't know how to do that. They plunged into security and politics, and handled that well, but they didn't go further than that.'
Valentyn Reznichenko, who since last month has served as governor of neighboring Zaporizhka Oblast, is widely expected to come in as the new acting head of Dnipropetrovsk, but is widely expected to hold only a caretaker role until local elections are held in the fall.
Despite being a Dnipropetrovsk native, Reznichenko is a relative unknown in the region. For now, it appears, many locals are still reeling from the departure of their leader of the past year.
'It's a hard fact,' Yevgeny Gendin, a popular actor and musical director posted on Facebook. 'This is the first team in the entire history of Ukraine whose departure is lamented by tens of thousands of people in Dnipro... and who is respected by hundreds of thousands of people.'
He continued: 'You can respect them or not respect them, but you can't deny that fact. They're the first, in this sense. They're controversial, they're a phenomenon, they're a legend.'
Written in Prague by Daisy Sindelar based on reporting in Dnipropetrovsk by Yulia Ratsybarska
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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