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Serhiy Leshchenko: The oligarchs should pay the price, not throw crumbs to EuroMaidan

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Feb. 23, 2014, 8:04 p.m. | Op-ed — by Serhiy Leshchenko

People light candles on makeshift memorials to anti-government protesters killed in the past weeks' clashes with riot police on Kiev's Independence Square on February 23, 2014. A new era dawned in Ukraine on February 23 as parliament appointed a pro-Western interim leader after ousted president Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev to escape retribution for a week of deadly carnage, and lawmakers approved the release from her seven-year jail sentence of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko - a star of the 2004 Orange Revolution who was thrown behind bars less than a year after Yanukovych came to power in 2010 AFP PHOTO/ LOUISA GOULIAMAKI
© AFP

Serhiy Leshchenko

Serhiy Leshchenko is deputy chief editor of Ukrainska Pravda.

 The fact that parliament voted on Feb. 21 to weaken now ex-President Viktor Yanukovych’s authority by returning to the 2004 constitution, and that Yanukovych had agreed to early elections in December, was on the agenda of the anti-government EuroMaidan demonstrations more than a month ago – until the first casualties in January.

Yanukovych was too slow with understanding the situation. So were the opposition leader.

After the casualties, people demanded Yanukovych’s head. The one who brings it to Maidan Nezalezhnosit will be declared a national hero. There will tens of thousands of people who will chip in to reward that person. Maybe they will name streets in his honor. Uncivilized, you may say?

But Yanukovych has created a hell in their state himself.

In this situation, negotiations for another year in Yanukovych's presidency became nonsense. He had to go - and the only guarantee would be to let his plane freely leave the airspace of Ukraine within 24 hours.

Yanukovych killed more than 100 people. These citizens have friends and families. And those people have weapons.

So if Yanukovych continues living in Ukraine, he will be accompanied by a lifetime fear of being shot or burned alive in Mezhyhirya. I have serious doubts whether the new government will pursue the avengers.

The only alternative for Yanukovych was to flee the country.

The only question is who will be willing to host him. I am not sure that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to associate with a loser who, twice in 10 years, made himself look like a fool in front of the international community. Also I am not sure either whether Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko wants to host Yanukovych if you consider the humiliating comments he made about Ukraine’s former leader. Yanukovych may flee to Africa, where he is unfamiliar, or to Venezuela or to Syria. The choice is not wide.

This is what I can advise bereaved families: sue Ukraine in the European Court of Human Rights and demand financial compensation. The process may take a long time. But the reward can be measured in the hundreds of thousands of euros. It will also legitimize confiscation of the Yanukovych gang’s property in the eyes of society.

One more thing.

Yanukovych’s oligarchs had a chance to save their hide a month ago, before bloodshed. Now it’s too late.

Yanukovych and his son, Oleksandr. Rinat Akhmetov. Vadim Novinsky. Yuriy Ivanyushchenko. Vasily Khmelnitsky. Dmytro Firtash, Serhiy Liovochkin. Andriy and Serhiy Klyuyev. Viktor Pshonka --- all should be deprived of assets that were taken out of state or pseudo-state ownership since February 2010, when Yanukovych took power.

Mezhyhirya, numerous residences, hunting reserves, power companies, regional gas companies, electricity generators Zakhidenergo Dneprenergo, Donbasenergo, Ukrtelecom, Illich Iron & Steel Works , concentrating mines, titanium assets, solar power station – all of these were "privatized" during fake contests with straw participants or even as a result of raider schemes.

And it should be returned to state ownership by the scheme of the Krivorizhstal reprivatization in 2005 with the repayment of the sum paid by oligarchs after re-sale at public auction.

Akhmetov has to be aware that Arseniy Yatseniuk, the Batkivshchyna Party leader, is not authorized by EuroMaidan to give him any guarantees.

Moreover, the privatization of Cherkasy Oblenergo, which is ongoing, should be stopped. The Firtash scheme of taking control over Titan Ukraine, which is in full swing now, should be stopped. The country is filled with blood, while they are preparing to pick up another batch of ownership under the curtain of EuroMaidan smoke. 

Oligarchs should be deprived of any influence on policy. The new politicians must understand that if they repeat the mistakes of predecessors, they will be punished even more because they betrayed not Yanukovych, but the people who died in the name of the better Ukraine.

All current security officials and judges should resign as well as all Communists and members of the Party of Regions members, including those who believe that their escape from a burning ship is a noble act.

The country has changed. And in this country they do not have a choice to pursue a political career.

Do not believe the stories that re-privatization would result in irreparable loss to the country. The oligarchs will lose only part of the assets they gained during the criminal Yanukovych regime. 

Perhaps Akhmetov will sell his apartment in London for $200 million to buy something more modest. Maybe he will sell one of his two private jets and several football players. 

But these people who are identified with three months of genocide have to pay a price.

And these are not my words, but the words of former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, who represents the country where private property is inviolable: “The problem is that the most influential people in Ukraine are still motivated by their personal narrow interests. Ukrainian society is not strong enough to seek punishment for those ‘influential people’ who go too far.” 

It’s time to prove that Ukrainian society has accumulated enough power to put these people in their place. 

Serhiy Leshchenko is the deputy chief editor of Ukrainska Pravda. The original opinion piece can be found here.

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