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Ukraine fighting against Russia, corruption simultaneously

Ukraine is waging two wars: one against Russian-backed separatists in the East and one against its own internal corruption. Special correspondent Nick Schifrin, in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, begins his report in Odessa, where there have been efforts to clean up a police force with ties to the mafia.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But first to our series this week on the conflict in eastern Europe.

    Last night, we reported from the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting to join Russia.

    Tonight, we move inside Ukraine, where the government face two fronts, internal corruption and the separatists in the east.

    Special correspondent Nick Schifrin, with the help of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, begins in the Black Sea port city of Odessa.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    On the streets of Odessa, there's a new sheriff in town and the new squad car is a Prius. Their sirens wail when they see a routine traffic violation.

  • MAN (through translator):

    What is that?

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    But these days, nothing about Ukraine is routine.

  • MAN (through translator):

    What are you doing, brother?

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    What are you doing? What are you doing?

  • MAN (through translator):

    What is that?

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    We're with them. Relax.

  • MAN (through translator):

    They're filming me, not you.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    They really don't like our cameras. The police try and calm them down. It doesn't work.

  • MAN (through translator):

    What is that then?

  • MAN (through translator):

    They're filming my work.

  • MAN (through translator):

    So, why are they looking at me?

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Odessa's been compared to Chicago under al Capone, full of a shady underworld, and a former police force in bed with the mafia.

  • LT. OLEKSANDR HRECHANYK, Odessa Police (through translator):

    The old police was an obsolete version of law enforcement. There were some problems, which we're trying to correct.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Twenty-nine-year-old Oleksandr Hrechanyk and his police force are brand-new, clothed and paid for by the West. The old police force was so corrupt, it was entirely replaced.

    You look like a New York City cop. Do you see the New York Police Department as a kind of model for what you're doing?

  • LT. OLEKSANDR HRECHANYK (through translator):

    Yes, we do. What we're trying to do is facilitate people's lives, and help citizens as much as we can.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    But not all citizens agree or welcome the change. This man said officers roughed him and falsely accused him of stealing this bicycle. Alexander Smolianinov rushed to film the cops.

  • ALEXANDER SMOLIANINOV, Odessa Resident (through translator):

    We do not entirely trust the police structure. Some of the old people have remained, so the system hasn't entirely changed.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    But the police accuse Smolianinov of being part of Odessa's decades-old mafia underworld.

  • LT. OLEKSANDR HRECHANYK (through translator):

    These people often perform illegal affairs in buildings and in business. They're trying to use this situation here to throw their weight around.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Do you think that there's an element of this city that resists the change that you and your uniform represents?

  • LT. OLEKSANDR HRECHANYK (through translator):

    There are people who would like to keep the old system.

  • MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI, Odessa Governor:

    This country had had unchanged elite for 25 years. These guys, they miserably failed the country. They turned it into the poorest country in Europe.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    That slightly awkward trainee with the new police is Odessa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili. One year ago, he received Ukrainian citizenship and was appointed to fight corruption.

    He made his name as the president of the former Soviet state Georgia, fighting Russian President Vladimir Putin. Today, he is still a thorn in Russia's side, but his most pointed criticism is for fellow Ukrainians.

  • MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI:

    I don't think Putin can defeat Ukraine. I think Ukraine can snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. It can only defeat itself.

    Oh, what are you doing here? Let's go inside.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Saakashvili likes to give off a laid-back vibe. He and his family have embraced their Ukrainian lives.

    But Ukraine's president hired him to breathe fire. He accuses the politicians who have been running the country of widespread corruption. Last December in a cabinet meeting, he called the interior minister a thief.

  • MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI (through translator):

    I'm not going to let some thief who the country knows is a thief…

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    What he lacks in diplomacy, he makes up for with media stunts. On a poorly built road, he set up a tent, so he could hold cabinet meetings that pressure the national government to pay for road construction.

  • MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI:

    Why it's so important to build this road? Because we — people have not seen any difference. If you in one place show a difference, it's a window of opportunity that will — is going to kill the whole corrupt system.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    And what happens if you fail?

  • MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI:

    Ukraine has no option to fail, because it will lead to the disintegration of the country.

  • YULIA MARUSHEVSKA, Odessa Customs:

    If you have a will from the top, then it is possible to fight the corruption.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Twenty-six-year-old Yulia Marushevska is one of Saakashvili's lieutenants. She's a political novice, with Odessa's hardest job, cleaning up a notoriously corrupt customs house.

  • YULIA MARUSHEVSKA:

    The Odessa customs was the most corrupt customs. The intelligence forces, the police, the prosecutors, they were just using the possibility to ask for money.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    So, arms of law enforcement were becoming tools of corruption?

  • YULIA MARUSHEVSKA:

    Yes.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Tools of the corrupt society.

  • YULIA MARUSHEVSKA:

    Yes.

    I am the Ukrainian, a native of Kiev. And I am now on Maidan.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Two years ago, she and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians filled Independence Square, known as the Maidan, to protest that old, corrupt society. Her anti-corruption call to arms was viewed almost nine million times.

  • YULIA MARUSHEVSKA:

    We want to be free from the politicians who work only for themselves.

    On Maidan, I thought that everything can be done only with your will and wish to change. And now I understood that it is a huge work, a huge job to do.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    A huge job because of the scale of corruption. This is Ukraine's largest port. About $40 million per month was being stolen by local mafia, local officials, and national politicians.

    This is going to be the open customs?

  • YULIA MARUSHEVSKA:

    Yes, the new attitude to business.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    To try and fix that, Marushevska will soon inaugurate a new customs terminal with more automation and streamlined procedures. But when you fight corruption, corruption fights back.

  • YULIA MARUSHEVSKA:

    The simplification of the procedures faced great resistance, and even persecution from the central government. It's war of past and future. We want future to happen, and they want to live in the past. I think we are fighting two wars, one war inside the country, and the other war in the east of the country.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    So, you have got enemy forces this way and right about that way. So you're fighting kind of on two sides.

  • LT. YAN FIDRYA, Ukraine Army:

    Yes.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Twenty-two-year-old Lieutenant Yan Fidrea is a platoon commander in Ukraine's other war, on the front lines near Donetsk. We are 350 miles east of Odessa. They fight in trenches against an enemy 1,500 feet away.

  • LT. YAN FIDRYA (through translator):

    Those woods in front of us, they're shooting at us from there.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Their enemy are Ukrainians who want to separate from Ukraine and join Russia. But they don't call this a civil war.

  • LT. YAN FIDRYA (through translator):

    This is not a civil war. This is like a war between Ukraine and Russia. It's my country. I'm defending my country.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Just a few miles away, the area known as the Industrial Zone is the hottest front. Ukrainian soldiers hide in a basement from mortars.

  • MAN (through translator):

    They're aiming directly at us.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    The next morning, all that's left of this former industrial company is used as cover from bullets. This front hasn't moved in more than a year. And that's left soldier Masi Nayyam frustrated.

  • MASI NAYYAM, Ukrainian Soldier (through translator):

    Our guys here are being wounded. For what? Since we're being ordered not to advance.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Those orders are from Ukraine and Russia's political negotiations known as the Minsk Agreement. They prevent Ukraine from advancing, but on the front, that lack of progress perpetuates the war.

  • MASI NAYYAM (through translator):

    I don't see any strategy or planning about what happens next. The people don't understand what we're doing.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Just a few miles away, the town of Avdiivka looks bombed out. It was seized by the separatists, and then taken back by the Ukrainian military.

    Nearby, locals try and maintain some normalcy. And the Dikhtyaryov family shows their support for Ukraine, and desire to ally with the West, on the children's clothes. But this war has taken a heavy toll on 9-year-old Diana and her mother, Nataliya.

    When you hear the bangs and the noises at night, are you scared?

  • NATALIYA DIKHTYARYOVA, Avdiivka Resident (through translator):

    If I'm awake, I'm scared, yes.

    I think that they don't have any future here. I know it sounds really sad. But the only major city around here was Donetsk, which had all the universities. Now there's nowhere to go.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    For more than two years, this region has been at war. Ukraine believes it has no choice. It has to fight Russia and corruption simultaneously. But wars do not discriminate. They steal soldiers and children's futures.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin in Avdiivka, Ukraine.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Tomorrow night, the series continues with a report from Estonia, the NATO nation most vulnerable to Russian aggression.

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