Ter­estchenko: Why I Want To Be Pres­i­dent Of Ukraine


Sup­port­ers at­tend­ing an Oct. 1 press con­fer­ence of Michel Ter­estchenko greeted with ap­plause and con­grat­u­la­tions his an­nounce­ment that he is a can­di­date for the Ukrainian pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in March.

Some Ukraini­ans see Ter­estchenko, a 64-yearold French busi­ness­man turned politi­cian, as a breath of fresh air in the coun­try’s oli­garch-in­fected po­lit­i­cal scene.

Even so, this fresh face has long fam­ily con­nec­tions to the coun­try: the Paris-born Ter­estchenko is a de­scen­dant of a Ukrainian in­dus­trial dy­nasty of sugar pro­duc­ers. The Ter­estchenkos were the coun­try’s rich­est fam­ily in 19th cen­tury Ukraine dur­ing the Rus­sian Em­pire and one of its most gen­er­ous, build­ing schools, hos­pi­tals, or­phan­ages and churches.

His grand­fa­ther, Mikhail, was forced to flee to France when the Sovi­ets came to power in Ukraine af­ter the 1917 Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion.

Michel Tereshchenko, who re­turned to Ukraine at the turn of the mil­len­nium, ven­tured into pol­i­tics in 2015, when he won the may­oral race in his an­ces­tral home­town of Hlukhiv in Sumy Oblast.

But on Sept. 27, Ter­estchenko re­signed as mayor, say­ing he was un­able to make a dif­fer­ence in Hlukhiv, a city of 34,000 peo­ple ly­ing 300 kilo­me­ters north­east of Kyiv, be­cause of Ukraine’s “klep­to­cratic and oli­garchi­cal” po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

The only way to change the na­tion is from the top, he said.

“Only some­one who is to­tally out of this sys­tem, maybe a bit atyp­i­cal, could re­ally change things and give peo­ple some hope,” he told the Kyiv Post in an in­ter­view af­ter his press con­fer­ence on Oct. 1.

Crit­ics and skep­tics say, how­ever, that Ter­estchenko’s chances of win­ning are non-ex­is­tent be­cause of his lack of a team, money and me­dia.

Ter­estchenko is bet­ting that val­ues mat­ter more to Ukrainian vot­ers than money and said that peo­ple are fed up with the same old cor­rupt politi­cians. He counts Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko, who gave him Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship in 2015, among them.

He said he spent only 1,000 eu­ros on his may­oral cam­paign in Hlukhiv be­cause the peo­ple of the city be­lieved in him — and he won 65 per­cent of the vote.

“Money is not ev­ery­thing. The most im­por­tant thing is whether you can be­lieve the guy,” he said.

No one else to trust

Ter­estchenko said de­cided to run for pres­i­dent be­cause he sees no can­di­date that Ukraini­ans can trust.

About 66 per­cent of Ukraini­ans think the coun­try needs new po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, ac­cord­ing to a poll con­ducted by the Demo­cratic Ini­tia­tives Foun­da­tion and Razumkov Cen­ter in late Au­gust.

At the same time, 27 per­cent of Ukraini­ans have yet to de­cide who they will vote for as pres­i­dent, an­other poll by the Kyiv In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of So­ci­ol­ogy found in Septem­ber.

Those num­bers are higher than the com­bined rat­ings of the two top can­di­dates — for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Yu­lia Ty­moshenko with 11 per­cent sup­port, and in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko with 7 per­cent.

Ter­estchenko shook hands with Poroshenko when re­ceiv­ing his Ukrainian pass­port back in 2015. But he's no longer a fan. “I like what Poroshenko is say­ing — army, lan­guage, and faith. But he’s for­get­ting cor­rup­tion,” Ter­estchenko said. “And the three in­stru­ments that he men­tions will be ab­so­lutely sense­less with­out a fight against cor­rup­tion.”

He la­beled both Poroshenko and Ty­moshenko serve as “in­stru­ments of (Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir) Putin” by al­low­ing the cur­rent cor­rupt sys­tem to con­tinue.

Ter­estchenko also be­lieves he has an ad­van­tage over mu­si­cian Svy­atoslav Vakarchuk, whom many see as a po­ten­tial new leader, de­spite the fact that he is yet to an­nounce his can­di­dacy.

“I’m a lot dif­fer­ent from Vakarchuk be­cause he’s fi­nanced by oli­garchs, in­clud­ing (Vic­tor) Pinchuk and some other peo­ple,” Ter­estchenko said. “My cam­paign will not be fi­nanced by any oli­garch.”

There is, how­ever, no ev­i­dence that Vakarchuk has any con­nec­tion to oli­garchs, other than his par­tic­i­pa­tion as a speaker at the an­nual Yalta Eu­ro­pean Strat­egy con­fer­ence, or­ga­nized by Pinchuk.

Af­ter Ter­estchenko’s an­nounce­ment, po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors and jour­nal­ists im­me­di­ately started to weigh his chances.

“For me, Ter­estchenko is bet­ter than any other can­di­date. I hope he wins,” Ivan Yakovyna, a jour­nal­ist work­ing at weekly cur­rent af­fairs mag­a­zine Novoye Vre­mya wrote on Face­book.

Oth­ers doubt that Ter­estchenko, hav­ing failed to bring change to a small city, can be suc­cess­ful as pres­i­dent.

But Ter­estchenko doesn’t see his three years in charge of Hlukhiv as be­ing a fail­ure.

Hlukhiv story

Ter­estchenko ar­gues that he achieved a lot in Hlukhiv, the city where his an­ces­tors made their for­tune in the 19th cen­tury.

Be­fore be­com­ing mayor, he was known in the city as the head of the foun­da­tion pre­serv­ing the his­tor­i­cal her­itage of the Ter­estchenko fam­ily and the co-owner of a lo­cal com­pany grow­ing and pro­cess­ing linen and hemp.

Ter­estchenko said he en­sured that all the city’s pro­cure­ments were con- ducted through the Pro­zorro pub­lic pro­cure­ment sys­tem, and that city land was al­lo­cated trans­par­ently, thus block­ing the main chan­nels for cor­rup­tion.

“We demon­strated in Hlukhiv that we can work with­out cor­rup­tion,” he said. “But the prob­lems of Hlukhiv can­not be solved in Hlukhiv.”

He boasted that dur­ing his time as mayor, from 2015 to 2017, city bud­get rev­enues tripled. How­ever, this growth is at least partly ex­plained by Ukraine’s de­cen­tral­iza­tion re­form, which changed the way tax rev­enues are shared be­tween lo­cal bud­gets and the state bud­get. That had the ef­fect of in­creas­ing the city bud­gets’ rev­enues with­out the mayor hav­ing to do a thing.

Trou­ble started brew­ing in Novem­ber 2017, when Ter­estchenko sent Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Yuriy Lut­senko ev­i­dence that his pre­de­ces­sor had stolen Hr 40 mil­lion ($1.4 mil­lion) from the city and bought a Mer­cedes car and a house in Slove­nia. A month later, he re­ceived a for­mal re­sponse say­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his pre­de­ces­sor had been closed.

Pros­e­cu­tors seem much more in­ter­ested in Ter­estchenko.

They have opened nine crim­i­nal cases against him since he ran for mayor in 2015, in­ves­ti­gat­ing him for al­legedly ly­ing on his in­come dec­la­ra­tion, mak­ing li­belous state­ments and other of­fenses.

Ter­estchenko says the cases, all of which are still open, are a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated re­sponse to his ef­forts to stop cor­rup­tion in Hlukhiv.

In Hlukhiv, Ter­estchenko tried to give a boost to the lo­cal civil so­ci­ety, reg­u­larly meet­ing with ac­tivists at a spe­cial work­shop and seek­ing their pro­pos­als for de­vel­op­ing Hlukhiv.

In 2017, he was rec­og­nized as one of the four most in­no­va­tive Ukrainian may­ors, ac­cord­ing to the rat­ing by the In­ter­na­tional Sum­mit of May­ors and the Ukrain­ska Pravda news web­site.

But while be­ing liked by city res­i­dents, Ter­estchenko was in con­flict with the lo­cal elites, the most prom­i­nent mem­ber of which is in­de­pen­dent law­maker An­driy Derkach. Derkach won the seat of the par­lia­men­tary con­stituency that in­cludes Hlukhiv at the last elec­tions to the Rada.

Ter­estchenko said that Derkach, who al­legedly sup­ports his po­lit­i­cal ri­val, ex-mayor Yuriy Burlaka, had started a cam­paign to un­der­mine him.

Derkach said in a writ­ten re­sponse that Tereshchenko's ac­cu­sa­tions "have noth­ing to do with re­al­ity."

Ac­cord­ing to Ter­estchenko, Derkach, who is a mem­ber of the bud­get com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment, blocked all state sub­si­dies to Hlukhiv, with the in­ten­tion of squeez­ing the mayor out of of­fice. Ter­estechenko also claimed that Derkach had bribed mem­bers of the city coun­cil to block key votes on the mayor’s so­cial and eco­nomic pro­grams.

“Even with­out fund­ing from the state, we were ready to change the city with our own ef­forts. It would have been pos­si­ble if Derkach hadn’t de­cided to buy the deputies and de­prive us of all city funds,” Ter­estchenko said.

He added that Derkach is just “a sym­bol of the cor­rupt sys­tem” that he now pledges to de­stroy.

“There is a Derkach in ev­ery city in Ukraine,” Ter­estchenko said.

Derkach, in his turn, heav­ily crit­i­cized the ex-mayor’s per­for­mance and ac­cused him of fail­ing to ful­fill his prom­ises to con­struct new roads and add jobs.

"Peo­ple are wait­ing for him in Hlukhiv to look him in the eyes,” Derkach told the Kyiv Post in a writ­ten state­ment. “But it seems that he is busy with other things in Kyiv.” To­day the now un­em­ployed Ter­estchenko shut­tles be­tween meet­ings and in­ter­views in his mod­est Ford Fi­esta car. He is ac­com­pa­nied by his preg­nant wife, Olena, who acts as his press sec­re­tary.

De­spite hav­ing lived in Ukraine since 2003, he says he has never adopted the lav­ish life­style of

Ukraine’s elite.

“We have the poor­est coun­try in Eu­rope with the rich­est pres­i­dent in Eu­rope,” he said. “In Hlukhiv only 3 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion have cars. But look at the car park near the Verkhovna Rada.”

Ter­estchenko’s dec­la­ra­tion shows two apart­ments in Kyiv and one house and a land plot in Hlukhiv. In 2018, he earned about $57,000 from sell­ing shares in his as­sets in ad­di­tion to the $8,000 he and his wife earned in 2017 in salaries.

Ter­estchenko said he would fund his cam­paign through the crowd­fund­ing, and an­nounced a “broad, anti-oli­garchic plat­form of po­lit­i­cal par­ties, civic or­ga­ni­za­tions, and con­cerned cit­i­zens.” He promised to an­nounce the mem­bers of his team soon.

Ter­estchenko said he fa­vors the poli­cies of French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, and sup­ports free mar­ket eco­nom­ics, so­cially re­spon­si­ble busi­ness, and prison terms for the coun­try’s many cor­rupt of­fi­cials, who “could be im­pris­oned in the U.S. for 300 or even 500 years.”

An­a­lysts say that while Ter­estchenko’s ide­al­ism will def­i­nitely im­prove the tenor of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, his main prob­lem is that many Ukraini­ans don't know him, and he lacks the me­dia re­sources to be­come known.

“In or­der to be­come a pres­i­dent a per­son has to be rec­og­niz­able to at least 60 per­cent of vot­ers,” ac­tivist and po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant Olek­siy Kovzhun told the Kyiv Post.

Mykhailo Mi­nakov, the Ken­nan In­sti­tute’s prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor on Ukraine, said Ter­estchenko’s cam­paign “is an at­tempt by an hon­est per­son to change the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try,” but he has no chance of win­ning.

Kovzhun wouldn’t com­ment on Ter­estchenko’s chances, but said that with a clear mes­sage and the right team, the ide­al­ist could at­tract many of those look­ing for a per­son “un­tainted by the sys­tem.”

He also noted that Macron wasn’t well known by the pub­lic be­fore he started his suc­cess­ful run for the pres­i­dency in France in 2017.

“The beauty of Ukraine’s pol­i­tics is that it’s un­pre­dictable,” Kovzhun said.

Kyiv Post chief ed­i­tor Brian Bon­ner and video ed­i­tor Anna Yakutenko con­trib­uted to this story.

Michel Ter­estchenko, the for­mer mayor of Hlukhiv in Sumy Oblast, is run­ning for pres­i­dent of Ukraine in the March elec­tions. He is the de­scen­dant of one of Ukraine's most prom­i­nent fam­i­lies in im­pe­rial Rus­sia. His pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther fled the Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion for France. Ter­estchenko says Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko and other can­di­dates are per­pet­u­at­ing Ukraine's cor­rup­tion, not solv­ing it. (Volodymyr Petrov)

Mykhailo Ter­estchenko, the grand­fa­ther of Michel Ter­estchenko, was a sugar beet grower, phi­lan­thropist and one of the rich­est peo­ple in im­pe­rial Rus­sia. (Cour­tesy)

Michel Ter­estchenko speaks to vol­un­teers on Dec. 5, 2015, in Hlukhiv. (Volodymyr Petrov)

French-born Michel Ter­estchenko holds his Ukrainian in­ter­nal pass­port on March 21, 2015. Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko pre­sented Ter­estchenko the doc­u­ment sig­ni­fy­ing cit­i­zen­ship to the for­mer French cit­i­zen and grand­son of Ukrainian phi­lan­thropist Mykhailo Ter­estchenko. (Mykola Lazarenko)

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