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Ukraine is fighting a war — and an internal battle against corruption

Ukraine, battling Russian-backed separatists, is the only European country at war. The conflict has killed 13,000 people, displaced millions and pushed tensions between Russia and the West close to Cold War levels. It has also strained a society and government already fighting corruption. Nick Schifrin talks to Ukrainian journalist Nastya Stanko about why Ukraine looks to the U.S. for support.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The Eastern European nation of Ukraine has featured in much of the coverage of the U.S. House impeachment probe.

    At home, Ukraine is consumed with its war against Russia. They have been fighting for control of Ukraine's eastern flank. It's the biggest challenge for newly elected President Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian.

    Nick Schifrin talks to a journalist on the front lines, but first looks at the situation on the ground.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ukraine is the only country in Europe at war. For the last five years, Ukrainian soldiers have faced off against Russian-backed separatists.

    They have fought in farmland and in muddy trenches that are throwbacks to wars of 100 years ago; 13,000 people have been killed, their loved ones still mourning. Millions have fled their homes, families separated across the front lines, in what's known as the Donbass, in Ukraine's east along the Russian border.

    But now Ukrainian soldiers are showing their weapons to international inspectors, then pulling back from one and possibly two spots along the front lines. It's an effort by Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to conclude a war that's challenged the core of his government, already fighting a second war against corruption.

    Journalist Nastya Stanko has covered both wars, and last week received the International Women's Media Foundation's Courage in Journalism Award for enduring threats while exposing government corruption.

    Welcome.

    As you have noticed, here in the U.S., we have been very focused on the impeachment process. Certainly, Washington is focused on the impeachment process. Is Ukraine at all focused on the U.S. impeachment process?

  • Nastya Stanko:

    No, in Ukraine, this is not the main topic for the journalism.

    The main topic now, this is war in eastern part of Ukraine, in Donbass. This is — like, the main topic of this withdrawal of troops in the contact line in one of the hot spots, that troops should to step back for one kilometers.

    Like, pro-Russian separatists should step back for one kilometer, and the Ukrainian soldiers should also step back for one kilometer. And not all the people in Ukraine accept this. But this is like the one reason for the meeting with Ukrainian president, Mr. Zelensky, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, and the president of France, Mr. Macron.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, President Zelensky is trying to find a peace process solution for the war in the east.

    But, meanwhile, the war rages on. How hot are things on the front lines there?

  • Nastya Stanko:

    This is like hot conflict. This is not frozen conflict, of course.

    And, also, we have many problems with, like, how people can cross checkpoints between the occupation territory and Donbass and territory which are controlled by Ukrainian government and Ukrainian army, because many people have, like, relatives on one side or another side.

    And, like, maybe 100,000 people cross this line every day.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Ukrainian government is not only, of course, dealing with the war in the east, but also a war on corruption.

    How endemic is corruption in Ukraine?

  • Nastya Stanko:

    Actually, he became the president because people of Ukraine decided that they don't want to see these old politicians who were corrupted and who are corrupted. And that's why they decided, OK, like — we decided, the Ukrainian people decided that, OK, let it be this new guy from nowhere, from comedy, but not someone who was in politics already.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There is so much corruption in Ukraine. Obviously, so many people don't want it to be reported, don't want you to report on corruption.

    What challenges have you faced in reporting on corruption?

  • Nastya Stanko:

    You know, once, I here covered this story about secret compound in the east part of Ukraine, and Secret Service called me, like, the enemy.

    And they called me that, I shouldn't, like, cover these stories. And also, many like trolls, they wrote me, like, messages that I should be in this secret compound, in this secret prison also, because I do wrong things.

    And some comments was even worse about, like, someone should kill me or something like this.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Of course, we can't talk about corruption in Ukraine without talking about some of the politics here.

    President Trump alleges that his possible opponent in the 2020 election, Joe Biden, when he was vice president, was running Ukraine policy under the Obama administration, his role and Hunter Biden's role in Ukraine during 2016.

    What has the Ukrainian government looked into those allegations by President Trump?

  • Nastya Stanko:

    We don't have any cases against former Vice President Joe Biden. And we don't have any cases against Hunter Biden, no.

    Some politicians want and they ask the general prosecutor to reopen this cases. But now general prosecutor don't do this.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And can you explain the connection that many people in Ukraine have to the West and how they see the U.S., contrasted to Russia?

  • Nastya Stanko:

    Nobody believes Putin, of course, in Ukraine. And even, I think, Ukrainian President Zelensky doesn't believe Putin.

    And we need this support to protect ourselves in this war against Russia. And that's why we need this military aid from U.S.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Nastya Stanko, deputy editor in chief, public television Hromadske.

    Thank you very much.

  • Nastya Stanko:

    Thank you.

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