Two years after angry Ukrainians deposed Viktor Yanukovych and broke into his vast, opulent residential compound outside Kiev, revelations thrown up by a new system that requires government officials to declare their wealth and property online have led many to suspect the new elite are no better.
The declarations, which all officials were required to file by Sunday evening, have made public many curiosities, including politicians who own multiple luxury watches, Fabergé eggs and large collections of weapons. One politician declared that he owned a personal church.
The prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, declared $1.2m (£980,000) and €460,000 (£410,000) in cash, as well as a collection of luxury watches. Many other officials declared hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cash.
Observers have pointed out that when the head of the national bank keeps his savings in dollars, it can hardly fill the population with confidence about the prospects for the hryvnia, Ukraine’s national currency.
The current president, Petro Poroshenko, is a billionaire tycoon, but promised a new, more transparent kind of politics. Critics say reform efforts have stalled and that despite impressive rhetoric, the government has done little to transform the fundamental nature of Ukrainian business and politics.
Setting up the electronic declaration system was one of a number of conditions laid down by the EU as requirements to ensure a visa liberalisation deal for Ukrainians. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former secretary general of Nato, who is an adviser to Poroshenko, said: “Ukraine has taken a crucial step to break with corruption and ensure a clean and efficient public administration. The e-declaration is of paramount importance and all of Europe should take notice and applaud this important step.”
However, inside the country, the response was far from enthusiastic. One columnist referred to Ukrainian officials as “moral degenerates”. In a society where the average wage is under £200 per month, the lavish wealth on the declarations only underscored the vast gulf between the political elite and average Ukrainians who are largely impoverished.
There was also anger at such vast displays of wealth while thousands of Ukrainians in the army receive low salaries to risk their lives on the frontline of a war with Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country.
Berdynskykh said: “It’s amazing how much information we have now, as a journalist I couldn’t have dreamed of this before. Some MPs have released the names of offshore companies they are linked to, and it will be interesting if the anti-corruption bureau will actually follow up with real questions now.