Interview: Olena Shostko

Posted: October 15, 2014 at 5:39 pm, Last Updated: October 15, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Olena Shostko is Professor of Criminology at the Yaroslav the Wise National Law University (Kharkiv, Ukraine), and is a 2013-2014 Visiting

Olena HeadshotFulbright Scholar at TraCCC. She is an expert in organized crime, anticorruption, and comparative criminal justice. Since 2005, she has been working with the European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics, serving as National Correspondent for Ukraine. She has more than 90 scholarly publications, including the monograph Counteracting Organized Crime in European Countries (Pravo, 2009).

TraCCC interviewed 2013-2014 Ukrainian Fulbright Scholar, Olena  Shostko on her work at TraCCC and her views about the current struggle in Ukraine.

First, a little bit about yourself.  Where are you from?  What is your nationality? Native language?  Why did you decide to specialize in criminology?

OS:  I am a native of Kharkiv, and have lived there all my life.  I was educated in music (piano) and law, and I decided to become a lawyer.  My career choice was probably influenced by my father, who was a judge for more than 35 years.

My family is Ukrainian, although my father is half Russian.  At home we speak Russian and Ukrainian.  In Kharkiv the majority of the population consider themselves to be Ukrainian, although their native language is Russian.  In my teaching career I decided to teach in Ukrainian rather than in Russian because I felt that the Ukrainian language needed to be revived and developed after more than 300 years of oppression and prohibition.  In earlier years, language was sometimes a problem for my students, but in recent years it hasn’t been.

My specialty at the university is comparative criminology, organized crime and anti-corruption policy.

What are you working on here in the U.S.?

OS:  My research focus here is on developing an effective anti-corruption policy in Ukraine by learning from the U.S. experience.  Corruption in Ukraine is a huge problem.  Unless it is curbed, it will have a ruinous effect on the democratic foundations of the country’s political system, as well as social and political stability and development.   Unfortunately, the most dangerous type of corruption –political corruption — flourished in all spheres of political life under the Yanukovych regime.

I understand that the U.S. and Ukraine are at different levels of development and it is impossible to copy the measures of another country blindly.  However, there are areas in which cooperation and the sharing of experience is possible.  In particular the U.S. was the first country to criminalize international bribery through the enactment of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977.  Also, the U.S. cooperates closely with foreign authorities, including law enforcement, which increases the chances of corrupt public servants being caught and punished, and deprives them of opportunities to use the proceeds of their criminal activities.  It is clear that a lot of the transnational aspects of corruption require an international response, rather than simply a national effort to apprehend and punish those involved.

Tell us about the Euromaidan Revolution.  Why did it start?  Was it just about signing the agreement with the EU or were there other issues?

 OS:  The EU agreement was the catalyst.  For six months before the Vilnius summit (November 2013) our politicians had promised that they were moving towards Europe, and then in one week, without warning, they changed direction.  People could not accept this lie.  So, in December 2013, a new demand arose that Yanukovych should stop “the usurpation of power and the Constitution.”  People had had enough, and after the violence on January 16, they came out in mass protests.  I should also point out that these protests were not the first ones:  since 2011 there were growing protests in Ukraine about Yanukovich’s policy in different spheres.

How does the Euromaidan differ from the Orange Revolution?

OS:  There is much similarity because the Orange Revolution was also a peaceful protest.  The Orange Revolution began because of the falsification of the presidential election. The participants came to the capital’s Independence Square to prevent Viktor Yanukovich from unlawfully occupying the President’s post.   However, there was a big difference in the attitude of the authorities.  During the Orange Revolution, President Kuchma, under Western pressure, decided to pursue a peaceful conclusion.  But in 2013, Yanukovich, as Putin’s muppet, decided instead to escalate the situation.

Another difference is that the Orange Revolution had leaders:  first Yushchenko and then Tymoshenko.  In Euromaidan  – 2013 – people are demonstrating for values, not individuals.  There is a higher level of civic maturity today.

The main motivator now is corruption.   Everyone is fed up with the corruption.  People have lost their livelihood to it or been unfairly convicted because powerful corrupt officials want their property.  Even before Yanukovich there was  rampant corruption, led by  the oligarchs, many of whom started out as bandits.  They were  living a lavish lifestyle, far better than in the West.  But under Yanukovich, “the Family” came in and started taking over everything with no limits to their kleptocracy.

The “clan-oligarch” model of society that was built in Ukraine, is closely linked to organized crime.  As new evidence is being uncovered, this linkage is becoming clearer, along with the enormity of the money involved.  It is encouraging that Dmytro Firtash, one of Ukraine’s most influential oligarchs, who has close links to Russia and organized crime through his gas interests, was arrested in Austria at the request of FBI.

What is the mood in Kiev now?

 OS:  A new Ukrainian nation was born on the Euromaidan.  People have become united in defense of Ukraine and the territorial integrity of the state.  Even many who were passive before, are now against Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea. People have become more patriotic and more interested in the history of Ukraine. Ukrainians now believe in their power and ability to change the country for the better.

What is the situation in Kharkiv?  Are people divided?

 OS:  In Kharkiv itself, people are more united around Ukraine now than earlier.  The organizers and active participants of pro Russian meetings are mostly people who are being in from Belgorod and elsewhere in Russia to destabilize things and push for separatism.  In Luhansk and Donestsk also, most of the extremists come from outside.

What should the U.S. do?  The Europeans? What would have the most impact in your view?

 OS:  Now they are doing the right thing, but they should have started to do it earlier.  They waited a long time before taking action.  They should freeze the assets of Putin’s cronies and oligarchs, and expand and strengthen economic sanctions.  NATO needs to quickly hold military training in Ukraine. And in the future, membership in NATO is very desirable for our country. We have to fully integrate into the EU, implementing appropriate legal standards.

Write to traccc at