Clad in a business suit and with her long hair tied back, Vira cuts a more traditionally feminine profile than her sister, Lt. Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot who was captured on June 18 and is currently held in a Moscow prison. She is accused of involvement in the murders of two Russian journalists, charges she denies.
But when Vira Savchenko talks politics she shows the same uncompromising dedication as her sister.
“A revolution is thought up by romantics, carried out by fanatics and taken advantage of by opportunists. Human history has shown that when there is a change in power and new elections, the people who gain power try and eliminate those who made the change possible to begin with. That is what is happening now,” says Savchenko.
She sees the main goals of the EuroMaidan Revolution as unachieved since no real fight against corruption has started, and the law to cleanse politics from the old guard, the lustration law, is “castrated.”
But for her, Ukrainian politicians need to get her sister freed.
“Kyiv did little when, in my inexperienced opinion, they could have done much more,” she says.
When Ukrainians go to the polls at the end of this month, Vira will not be the only Savchenko on the ballot. Her sister Nadiya, despite still being held in Russia, will be number one on the Batkivshchyna party list.
“As soon as election season began there were offers from all political parties, well except the Communist Party of Ukraine and the Party of the Regions,” says Vira Savchenko, adding that some of those included offering apartments in exchange for her sister appearing on their party’s ticket.
Vira Savchenko says Batkivshchyna was not involved in that initial round of offers, but that the understanding between her and her sister was that Nadiya would run and Vira would chose the party.
“When Batkivshchyna contacted us I knew Nadiya was sympathetic to (ex-Prime Minister Yulia) Tymoshenko and that Tymoshenko was of a caliber to be able to deal with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin on equal footing,” says Vira Savchenko. “I chose the party and told Nadiya and she wrote a formal application to join the party.”
Vira Savchenko chose Tymoshenko because she believes that the former prime minister’s connections in Russia could help her free Nadiya Savchenko where Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had failed.
Unlike Nadiya, Vira Savchenko did not officially join Batkivshchyna, but the party is running her campaign, providing financial support, and putting up election posters in her district #98, where she is competing against 18 other candidates.
The district has always been a majority Batkivshchyna district and Batkivshchyna switching its support from the incumbent Serhiy Mishchenko to Vira is significant, says Yuriy But, an expert from the election watchdog Committee of Voters of Ukraine, who is responsible for the Kyiv oblast. Nonetheless he says Vira being a political unknown aside from the connection to her sister makes it difficult to say whether she will win.
Before leaving her job to campaign for the release of her sister she worked as an architect designing private homes and other buildings. She says her sister introduced her to many people from the armed forces on the Maidan and she is in regular contact with people in the anti-terrorist operation, and knows their problems.
In her official program, Vira Savchenko says she would support a bill that would support criminal responsibility against members of parliament who do not vote personally. She also vows “to do everything in my power to stop this war between brothers in Ukraine.”
But despite that point in her program, she is very critical of President Petro Poroshenko’s peace effort. “He is trying to win peace at any price. Peace in quotation marks,” she says. “(Former President Viktor) Yanukovych didn’t sign the EU Association Agreement and the same things is happening all over again. It has been pushed back a year and a half. Then there is the law on special status for Donbas that sees our budget and taxes going to support it. Everything we fought for it being given back to the Kremlin. It is becoming just like Ukraine under Yanukovych, but without Yanukovych and with Poroshenko.”
Vira Savchenko says Ukraine has too much patience. She says that the lack of substantive change was made clear to her during a recent trip to the Polish parliament.
“They said, ‘hey you did a great job with Maidan, but we had the same thing in ’89 and after a week we could feel a difference. And now your Maidan is already over.’ It is our weakness that we tolerate it with people just saying ‘it just happened, how much change can you expect in a year?’”
But her biggest concern, is, of course, her sister who was illegally taken to Russian and is accused of murder of Russian journalists in Ukraine’s east. “It is hard for her,” Vira Savchenko says. “She asks why I don’t write her, but the letters don’t make it through now.”
Nadiya Savchenko was initially held in a Voronezh prison, and then moved to Moscow last month. Vira said previously it was easier to communicate.“I’d write letters under a pseudonym. They wouldn’t appear to be about anything in particular, but since we spent so much time together she knew exactly what I meant. About mushrooms being gathered in eastern in Ukraine.” Nadiya, who is 33, is older the Vira Savchenko by two years.
Vira Savchenko says much of her life is now motivated to do something for her sister. “I always feel like I am doing catastrophically little for her, but it helps that her lawyer buys her warm clothes and medicine,” she says.
Kyviv Post staff writer Ian Bateson can be followed on Twitter @ianbateson
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