Soldiers present at the round table. Image: Mihal Domakhovsky
One of the key demands of the Euromaidan revolution was ridding Ukraine of pervasive corruption. Just how big this challenge is for Ukraine’s society becomes apparent a year later. Foreigners without previous links to the system invited to key positions in the Ministry are hoped to get Ukraine’s reform process moving. However, a certain form of corruption is more pressing than others: as war rages on in the country’s East, thousands of Ukrainian conscripts and volunteer soldiers struggle to make the government deliver its promises to the people fighting off the Russian invasion, still called the “Anti-terrorist operation” (ATO) often with the cost of their lives. The Open Dialog foundation addressed the most pressing issues of corruption in the army during in the roundtable “The Government and ATO fighters: to win over corruption, ensure protection,” which gathered MPs, civil servants, volunteers providing for the army, and soldiers on 27 April 2015 in Kyiv.
The battle to obtain the status of an ATO participant
A person fighting in Donbas and his/her family is entitled to social benefits upon obtaining the legal status of an ATO participant. Bureaucratic hurdles make this a mission impossible for some soldiers. The following day after the round table, more than 140 soldiers received the status of an ATO participant. They had been waging a “war with bureaucracy” from November 2014, when they had submitted the necessary documents. A procedure that should have taken two weeks stretched into 6 months, with specifications, committee members, and document forms changing each time the combatants paid a visit to the office. Public questions to representatives of the Military Prosecutor during the round table helped to get the issue moving. At the same time, there exist cases when the command grants this status to people that didn’t get close to Donbas – for instance, for alleged visits to inspect military vehicles in the ATO zone that were actually done at the home base far away from the conflict zone.
Bribes to get compensation for treating combat wounds
As one of the coordinators of the Open Dialog foundation revealed in the course of the round table, episodes when the army command demands bribes from combat participants to receive treatment for combat wounds are widespread. In the case of two soldiers from Odesa with serious concussions, the price was 3 000 UAH ($120), which is equal to the monthly pay of the mobilized soldiers. Such cases should be reported to the military prosecution, and, according to colonel Vitaliy Golota, this gives results: many military commissioners had been removed from their posts.
Listing KIA soldiers as MIA as a government policy of saving budget money
Another creative way the government makes money out of its soldiers is denying the deaths of soldiers whose bodies were not recovered, as Oksana Tomchuk, a lawyer present at the conference, noted: “When a person dies, and his colleagues testify to this, but the body is not found, this person is listed as MIA, and this blocks all the possibilities of receiving payments, appeals, etc. As this is happening in mass numbers, it gives reason to fear that this is a government policy that decreases pressure on the budget.”
Legal assistance for ATO soldiers
On a more positive note, during the round table Iryna Sysoienko, an MP from the political faction Samopomich, said that more attention will be paid to both mental and physical rehabilitation of soldiers returning from the conflict zone with the creation of a designated working group in the commission of health protection. Specialists from Israel will share their experience with Ukrainian doctors.
A major problem for soldiers struggling with the labyrinths of bureaucracy is a lack of comprehensive information on what they are entitled to. The brochure “Privileges and guarantees for ATO participants” created by the Open Dialog foundation seeks to fill in the information shortage not only for soldiers, but their families. Another initiative to help soldiers is a legal support card, presented at the round table by a representative of the “Volunteer troops” charity fund Larysa Bezuhla. A holder of this card is entitled to round-the-clock legal support, which will help soldiers receive the status of an ATO participant and the state guarantees they are entitled to. Each Ukrainian has the opportunity to buy such a card and hand it to a soldier.