After Tetiana Chornovol left her government position as the official responsible for anti-corruption efforts, she accompanied her departure with an emotional blog (“I’m sorry I was not killed during Maidan”) and called her competitors in anti-corruption legislation hyenas. It was then that we decided to meet. The public conflict between anti-corruption theorists, whose version of legislation was adopted by the Verkhovna Rada, and the anti-corruption practitioner, who could illustrate almost every single item of the legislation with an example of a domestic corruption scheme, seemed to us too important to be left to one blog. It should be noted that in Parliament there were two competing anti-corruption laws. The law on the “National Bureau of Anti-Corruption” was developed by Tetiana Chornovol’s group, and the law on the “National Bureau of Anti-Corruption Investigation” was developed by the deputy Viktor Chumak and a group receiving a public grant. One of the reasons for Chornovol’s dramatic departure was the fact that the law presented by her competitors, which she characterized as criminal, was pushed through the Cabinet by the Ministry of Justice and brought to Parliament. This law was adopted.
We were not able to talk at that time. We postponed our discussion for various reasons. First, because of the death of her husband, Mykola Berezovyi, and then because of her voluntary assignment to the front and electoral party matters. But recently we finally met. We met in a café chosen not to be Russian owned. This time she did not radiate optimism and happiness. Her eyes simultaneously revealed firmness, grief, and peace. At the time of our meeting, forty-one days had gone by since she buried her husband.
Love is a gift that was given to me
How are you feeling? I ask as we wait for coffee. She understands that we are speaking about Mykola.
I miss him tremendously. I could not even image it would be like this. For the first time, I see her crying.
During Maidan I understood that they could destroy my children. And now I understand that war is a lottery, but I never thought it would be so difficult. He loved me immensely. And now I realize that when someone loves you, it is a gift. I had received a gift, and now it is gone. He was a very noble human being, and in the world of politics noble-mindedness hardly exists at all.
We were relieved when you wrote the blog after Mykola’s death. We all understood that it was your conscious sacrifice.
I still hurt profoundly from the realization that his time had come. He was not comfortable during the time that existed in Ukraine earlier. Even during the Yanukovych era, I could express myself. In other words, I had chosen a revolutionary path. When a person can express himself, it is much easier. For him, if was more difficult. In addition, I was very comfortable with him because he accepted me as I was. He allowed me to do everything. There was never any conflict between us over the idea that I was doing something unusual. I don’t know if any other man would have found it normal that his wife ran such risks. But he knew that was who I was, that if he kept me from doing what I did it would simply undermine my identity.
He never wanted you to slow down?
Somehow he had this inner faith that I would be alright. He told everyone: “This is Tania. She knows how to behave in extreme situations, and she always manages, no matter what happens.” And I found great pleasure in telling him about my adventures, with all the details. He listened calmly to things that I could never tell my mother. But he broke down when they almost killed me on the Boryspil highway and he began to be really afraid for me. Earlier, he had believed in my lucky star, but after the beating he began to be afraid for me.
I would have been happy if he had been injured. I wouldn’t have left him for a second just to keep him alive. Yesterday some journalist called me to ask for a wedding video with him. But I don’t have a wedding video, I don’t have any video with him. We simply never took videos. I remember seeing a film where the husband is sitting, watching a video of his late wife. I don’t have that possibility. He is simply gone, gone forever.
Right now you’re going to parliament on the party list, not according to district voting. Objectively, it should be easier for you, shouldn’t it? I say, moving to other topics.
I wanted to go to parliament by the district majority. I thought that I would go to the front during the election campaign, but the members of my team said “We need you.” And they assumed that I could lose in the majority districts. But I don’t know if it became easier. You know how they’re fighting with me now? They call me, always from the same number, to ask if I provide sex services.
You became the second name on the Yatseniuk-Turchynov party list. Have you wondered if you were needed on the team or if this was simple decoration on the electoral list?
Yes, I’m needed on the team.
But, why didn’t you go with Tymoshenko?
I had a choice between Tymoshenko and the National Front. I thought about it for a very long time. This was a very difficult decision. I’m going with a team that I’ve been with actually for a long time. Here I could not simply move away, wash my hands and say “I’m white, pure as snow, and they didn’t let me fight corruption.” This really is my problem. What does it mean, they didn’t let me? If you occupy a particular area, then you need to fight tooth and nail. Because we have a shared responsibility, because this team lived through the period before Maidan, which was very terrible. Ordinary people put themselves at risk. National deputies put their families at risk.
The new corruption law
Tetiana, did you end the dispute with your opponents on the anti-corruption law? Why not come to an agreement with them?
Their people really needed for their law to pass in the Verkhovna Rada in order to get a new grant. This motivation took precedence over all reasonable arguments. Their desire to have the law passed became ridiculous. The law contained some terrible rules when they pushed it through the government and the presidential administration. There were provisions that allowed for the destruction of businesses. However, managers of state enterprises, who in our country are traditionally the ones carrying out the powerful corruption schemes, were not treated as suspects in this bill. But the most ridiculous part was when I wrote a blog after this law had already gone through the Cabinet. They paid attention to the criticism and began changing the law at the last minute.
During the period when they were negotiating with the deputies on the voting, the law was completely toothless regarding corruption. And when it was finally presented for voting, they cancelled the rule that allowed the bureau to interfere in the private sector. However, they still had the terrible rule that prohibited people who had worked in law enforcement to work in the anti-corruption bureau. This was a real insanity. Then who would bring some experience to this bureau, who would provide instruction on how to investigate cases? The people who are the most committed and devoted to their country are the people who stood on Maidan, who are fighting in ATO as members of the volunteer battalions. They will return from ATO after the war and I am sure they will want to engage in the fight against corruption. Many of them have experience in investigation. And if they are bypassed simply because of their service in the volunteer battalions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), that will be a real shock. I, for one, would not be able to work there because right now I’m a private in the Azov battalion, which is subordinated to the MIA.
They also made amendments to this article. Instead of this article they pushed through a new one that, if a person worked in the anti-corruption agencies in law enforcement, he could no longer hold a position in that service. This is really stupid. After it was amended, the law ceased being criminally destructive, but it remained useless for the state. That is, if an anti-corruption agency is created on the basis of this law, we will not win the fight against corruption. On the other hand, the Verkhovna Rada could vote only for the draft that ensured that their corruption schemes would not threatened by this law. And that’s why it was possible to pass only the compromise version that was written by people with no experience in investigation and absolutely no experience fighting corruption.
So it is completely useless?
If you read their law, the focus is on bribery. It is the notion, for example, that we will fight bribery and will create an agency to fight the top corruption schemes. Well, we don’t have top-corruption bribery schemes. Bribery is present, but the bribes are given to police officers, traffic officers, in educational institutions, in hospitals. People bring their 50 hryvnias. This is not the kind of top-corruption scheme that should be investigated by this agency. Ministers here do not take cash bribes. And even at the level of deputy ministers and department heads, there are practically no bribes given. Instead, there are legal schemes that allow for the legal receipt of bribes, and they’re not even called bribes.
Bribery schemes in Ukraine
I encountered a situation (in my anti-corruption work) where an official was involved with bribery that did not qualify as bribery. I was investigating activity having to do with the inspection of price controls. The new director of this inspection bureau forced her subordinates in the regions to collect certain sums once a month and pass them up. But they didn’t take the bribes personally. They sent the contractors (who had problems or violations) to so-called consulting companies that they created themselves. The consulting companies took money for their services on a strictly official level. And when they were paid for their so-called “consulting,” they phoned the central office of the State Inspectorate and said that all had been decided with that company. Contractors got the chance to work, having paid for the consultation. And everything was official. Actually bribery in Ukraine on such high levels is still taking place now, following similar schemes.
Let me give you a simple example. My late husband headed up the management of the Horlivka municipal tramway-trolleybus company in 2011-12. He was not able to pay salaries to people because there was no money in the company. The company accounts were empty. This was because the trams and trolleys of the city of Horlivka were used mostly by retirees, and retirees have free transportation. This subsidized transportation should have been reimbursed by the state, but the state did not do it. For the state company to be reimbursed for this transportation, its director had to negotiate with the government. And my Mykola would come to the Ministry of Transportation, which was the Azarov government then. He went to his deputy, a certain Petukhov, and said, “it’s been a month that we’re still without pay and this is the second year that you are not reimbursing us for the subsidized transportation.” And then Petukhov would take a piece of paper and write “5 percent.” And what’s the joke? Petukhov wouldn’t handle this 5 percent. That meant that Mykola was supposed to organize some scheme to withdraw this money as part of some overpriced tenders. Mykola refused to do this then, but a criminal case was opened for failure to pay wages.
Now they are emphasizing bribery in the fight against corruption, but I can see that if it is accepted, it will lead to a similar situation. There will be yet another trap — bribery for closing bribery cases. Right now, I have lots of examples where bribes are really staged. It’s easy to arrange a set-up. You bring and leave a bag with cash and you falsify several flimsy claims from people, and that’s it, there is a criminal case. You want to close it? Then pay the bribe. Therefore, the bribery article in the anti-corruption law is really terrible; it provides great opportunities for manipulation. In my opinion, we need to break up the corruption schemes and prevent them from being created.
Tania, but in the Verkhovna Rada you will be fighting corruption together with people with whom you had a conflict. How do imagine it?
I’m trying to learn not to react to individuals. I even think that well, OK, let them receive this grant. And then their law will have to be changed 80%. It’s probably worth taking their law and simply filling it up with (my own) articles. I realize now that whatever the situation, I want to continue to break up these schemes. That’s why I think I will continue to be engaged in anti-corruption. Deputies have fairly significant powers. They can come to a meeting of the Cabinet, they can come and lobby for some resolution directly at a Cabinet meeting, and a Cabinet meeting is a formal event. It is recorded. The deputy has no less authority than a government official.
Ukraine’s heart beats in Mariupol
What do you think of the current political situation?
As for me — and I mean this very sincerely — I’m optimistic, even despite my enormous personal tragedy. In my view, there is reason to be optimistic about the situation because the issue does not consist simply of the fact that Putin has presently occupied a certain part of Ukraine. It depends on your perspective. From a different perspective, it is not Putin who occupied it; it is Ukrainians who have liberated it. They have liberated a vast territory of Ukraine from Putin, from the “sovok” (disparaging term for soviet). Because until very recently, Ukraine’s border divided it in half. Actually half of Ukraine was Ukraine and half of Ukraine was something not quite clear. It was “sovok,” it was “ruskie,” it was under Putin. Now this border has moved very very far and actually these territories are now limited to these districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Look at a map. This is not a huge territory that they are controlling now, and Crimea, of course. But everything else is Ukraine. Until recently it was Russia, not even Russia but some version of “ruskie sovok.” Now it has become Ukraine. You can feel it when you talk with people.
For me, Mariupol was a revelation. A Ukrainian heart is beating there. In 2012, I went to campaign in the Lviv Oblast. I wanted to find Ukrainians there. I wanted to be a deputy who represented Ukrainians. But what I saw there was indifference and resignation. Now what I was looking for in the Lviv Oblast I’m finding in Mariupol. There, for example, Ukrainian armored vehicles with flags come and go and people come out in the street, bring their children, and throw flowers. You stop and people run up to you, bring you food, water, ask for souvenir cartridges. Right now the process is really positive. I always talked about it with my husband.
Will you still go to the front?
Yes, but now I’m paying much more attention to my safety than before. In the evenings I wear the body armor for two hours to get used to its weight. Mykola pleaded with me to do it. Do you know why I feel comfortable there, on the front? Because he is present there — not here. Here I constantly remember, remember that he’s not here. There, the living and the dead do not exist at all. They are the relatively living or the relatively dead.
In the beginning of September, when we stood there with the Azov battalion on the border of Mariupol and waited for our turn to be sent to battle, I talked with people and understood that I was talking to someone who could be gone in several hours. And that’s why this person is relatively alive, really. The same way my that Mykola is relatively dead over there. I have the impression that over there he’s simply preoccupied with his affairs. When I visited him there he was always very preoccupied. He had a whole unit under him and he always had a huge number of things to take care of. But I knew he was present and that I felt good. There you can laugh and not feel guilty for laughing; here you feel guilty. Here you feel guilty for experiencing some joy because he can’t. And there he’s almost present. I remember my friend Ihor Lutsenko called me there and I told him “Ihor I can’t speak. I’m so happy I’m afraid of wasting even a moment.
The last time I went to the ATO zone it was already after Mykola’s death. When I arrived near Mariupol it was already night. I understood that it was better not to go any further. There was a checkpoint and I didn’t want to wake my people at night. Because I knew if I came to the battalion, everyone would get up and begin talking. I thought it would be better for them to get some sleep. I stopped in the forest to sleep before Mariupol. In the morning, I heard something beating against the glass. I opened my eyes and saw that a bird was knocking against the glass — a titmouse. For some reason she kept knocking like that for a long time. She would fly away and then come back. It was like some kind of good sign.