The Ukrainians would very much like their country to prosper. You can see the thirst for success in many of their eyes. But as I met with my with my niece Aleksandra (24) and nephew Vladislav (18) last week in Kiev, I realised that it will take decades rather than years for Ukraine to rid itself of corruption and distrust. The air of distrust is all-consuming. Expectations are greater than the reality. 

The reputation of Ukraine among the Western states is much better than in the eyes of the country’s own citizens. The Western states see the supporting of Ukraine as a “war” against Russia, but the citizens of Ukraine are witnessing a collapse of economy, insane inflation of the Hryvnia and actual destruction.

People need work

A Ukrainian would rather not join the fight, which is one thing they are criticized for by the West. Many buy themselves free of conscription duty – 400 US dollars is more than enough, but nevertheless a mystical amount considering the 200-dollar salaries. But human life is more valuable. This is why a draft act which might legalise payments for freedom from mobilisation duty has been registered with the Verkhovna Rada.

The war is not perceivable in Kiev. Life is rather peaceful. But the stress level is high. Low salaries force people to work on multiple jobs. Unofficial work is ordinary, self-explanatory – with no tax collected by the state. Otherwise, people would starve for a different reason. It is possible to make do, but the prices that have gone up several times with salaries remaining the same depress instantly.

It is essential for a state to be able to create a culture for a society to collectively operate in. The Ukrainian decision makers’ ability to do that has been put under question, but understandably so: long-term or even longer-term measures do not help when life is racing downhill with an insane speed. Although a change in policies (how to organise something) will help a country back on its feet faster, it is a painful process.

The Ukrainian defence costs exceed 5% of the state budget – 3% of this are defence costs and 2% is the so-called security budget – a total of 83 billion Hryvnias (this however is not sufficient, considering the fallen exchange rate). It is impossible to raise taxes, because people would stop paying the little they are paying now. Cost reduction is painful and unreasonable. If you take away the little money people get now, then the created frustration would lead to an emotional starvation.

The most essential think is to end the war, which will take self-denying political effort and will not only serve the interests of Ukraine, but also Europe and even Russia. This is the main support that Ukraine now needs. Instead of shiploads of money, the Ukrainians need jobs they can sell consistently and for a long term.

The country needs good ideas

Ukrainians still have options that many other states don’t. Ukraine has a bigger area than the biggest EU state France, and with its 45 million people, it has a market with great potential.

The important question is how to stabilise the currency, how to pay people salaries with purchasing power. Fair and reasonable salaries will help a great deal against corruption.

Politically, Ukraine is in need of ideas that would make the people believe in their state. The positive trend in difficult situations is more dependent on attitudes with the whole society set on a goal to pursue.

There definitely is no one remedy that would make Ukraine the country its most diligent citizens are dreaming of, but doing a lot of clever things would certainly help to achieve this. The Ukrainians must do all this together, not thinking only about one’s personal gain. Otherwise, this country will never prosper.