Sol­diers en­ter pol­i­tics to seek big changes

Kyiv Post - - News - BY ALYONA ZHUK AND AL­LI­SON QUINN [email protected] [email protected]

With lo­cal elec­tions com­ing on Oct. 25, more war vet­er­ans are mov­ing into pol­i­tics. Ex­perts are di­vided about whether the trend will bring pos­i­tive changes or just good PR for po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Yev­gen Shevchenko, a vol­un­teer fighter who served mainly with the Don­bas Bat­tal­ion dur­ing Rus­sia’s war, has an­nounced plans to run for of­fice in Kyiv af­ter gain­ing fame from his so­cial media dis­patches on the war.

Shevchenko told the Kyiv Post he de­cided to get in­volved in pol­i­tics be­cause “we have two fronts – one in Kyiv and one in the east.”

“The sys­tem of (ousted pro-Krem­lin Pres­i­dent Vik­tor) Yanukovych still re­mains, un­for­tu­nately, and has even got­ten stronger. The same peo­ple have come into power, they’re just hold­ing dif­fer­ent flags now. There’s no point in wait­ing for new so­lu­tions from them,” he said.

His de­ci­sion to get in­volved in pol­i­tics was prompted by what he de­scribed as a chance to “build a new coun­try” with the Samopomich party.

But Vladimir Shere­dega of the Dnipro-1 Bat­tal­ion, another fighter pop­u­lar on so­cial media, is more skep­ti­cal. .

Af­ter post­ing on his Face­book page that he’d give per­mis­sion to his friends to “spit in his face” if he ever de­cided to run for of­fice, he ex­plained his think­ing to the Kyiv Post.

“If you want to do things hon­estly (in pol­i­tics), then there’s no ben­e­fit to do­ing it at all. And even if you go into pol­i­tics to make money in some illegal way, I don’t see the point,” Shere­dega said, adding that his friends warned him that some par­ties wanted to try to re­cruit him.

But the en­tire elec­tion cam­paign, he said, is “like a sale.”

“Vol­un­teers do things that are re­ally help­ful, and then later it de­vel­ops into a pre-elec­tion cam­paign,” he said, not­ing that the truly good deeds get hi­jacked for PR cam­paigns.

“There are some, of course, who have been in­volved for a long time, and I trust them. But when right be­fore elec­tions ev­ery­body starts to wear tra­di­tional em­broi­dered Ukrainian shirts and be­come pa­tri­ots, help­ing the fam­i­lies of sol­diers killed out east, that ir­ri­tates me. A lot of peo­ple just play on the rhetoric of the war­zone, us­ing the mem­ory of the dead,” Shere­dega said.

Late last year, when elec­tions to the Verkhov­naya Rada were in full swing with many war vet­er­ans, po­lit­i­cal ex­pert Alexan­der Paliy warned that po­lit­i­cal par­ties en­list­ing sol­diers may have more to gain from the sol­diers them­selves.

While say­ing vet­er­ans could prove to be great law­mak­ers, Paliy told the Obozre­va­tel news web­site that the trend could prove to be pos­i­tive only if sea­soned politi­cians “don’t try to block (the vet­er­ans) from mak­ing the re­ally im­por­tant de­ci­sions.”

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Vi­taly Bala of the Sit­u­a­tions Mod­el­ing Agency ex­pressed sup­port for the move when it hap­pens at the lo­cal level, but said he’d rather see sol­diers cre­at­ing new par­ties in­stead of join­ing old ones.

“It’s the right move for the most part, es­pe­cially for those who have ex­pe­ri­ence from the east. But the real is­sue is that they al­ways join old, long-es­tab­lished po­lit­i­cal par­ties, when re­ally they should be cre­at­ing new po­lit­i­cal par­ties,” Bala said.

“I hope that new par­ties with new out­looks will be cre­ated by the next elec­tions,” he said, adding that he was highly crit­i­cal of those sol­diers who run for par­lia­ment.

“For me, it’s as­ton­ish­ing when a per­son who has never worked in the sphere of leg­is­la­tion or de­vel­op­ing com­plex so­lu­tions to so­cial is­sues joins the par­lia­ment only to com­plain that he needs a bunch of as­sis­tants to help him,” he said.

So­ci­ol­o­gist Irina Bekeshk­ina said the move could prove to be pos­i­tive for so­ci­ety – if the sol­diers-turned-politi­cians boast strong, use­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It de­pends on each in­di­vid­ual. There are some who can re­ally help turn things around, but there will al­ways be oth­ers who put their am­bi­tions first and are re­ally do­ing it to cre­ate a po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, and in that case they may be ex­ploited,” she said, not­ing that the trend was wan­ing now that the con­flict in the east has died down.

Olga Ai­va­zovska of the OPORA elec­tion watchdog told the Kyiv Post that it’s too early to tell how many sol­diers who have re­turned from fight­ing in the Don­bas had de­cided to join the race, since the reg­is­tra­tion process runs un­til the end of the month.

Hanna Stet­sko, who served out east as a ma­chine-gun­ner and

Yuri Bereza (L) of the Dnipro-1 reg­i­ment, who now rep­re­sents the Peo­ple’s Front party in par­lia­ment, hugs Pavlo Kyshkar (R), a Don­bas Bat­tal­ion mem­ber who joined the Samopomich Party, as Volodymyr Para­siuk looks on. Para­siuk is a for­mer Euro­Maidan...

Vol­un­teer fighter Yev­gen Shevchenko, known on so­cial media for his dis­patches from the war front, plans to run for of­fice in Kyiv. “We have two fronts – one in Kyiv and one in the east,” he said. (Cour­tesy)

Vladimir Shere­dega , a vol­un­teer fighter with the Dnipro-1 Bat­tal­ion, known for his war re­ports on so­cial media, says his friends can “spit in his face” if he ever de­cides to go into pol­i­tics (Cour­tesy).

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