Soldiers enter politics to seek big changes
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).