What’s the cost?

My Ukrainian friend’s son was called up yesterday.

He’s twenty-two. We went with him to the military recruitment office in Kiev, where he was assigned a unit and location to report to in the case of – well, they didn’t specify exactly what or when or whether that call would happen. There’s way too much confusion around for that.

There had been a bit of confusion over his call-up too, which meant he might be fined for arriving late. In the traditional Ukraine of course, no one exactly pays fines. On our way to the office his dad joked, ‘Have you got a bottle of cognac with you?’

Welcome to the new Ukraine. The country that rose up in such utter disgust at the endemic corruption on every level that in the space of a week it kicked out its president and replaced him with a whole new parliament, with constitutional change, with entire judicial and law enforcement reform.

The whole point of this uprising was to dig out and uproot corruption. Everyone here in Kiev is talking about the new Ukraine that is starting again from the ground up, altering everything to make it freer, fairer, more open, more just.

But while they wait for that, the result I think no one saw coming was possible war. Crimea is rapidly becoming a closed military zone: roads closed on Sunday, trains halted on Monday, today flights are turning back from Simferopol airport. Kids all over the rest of Ukraine are being called up. You start off fighting against corruption and before you know where you are you’re fighting some incredible, artificially constructed war of outright lies and fake outrage and deliberately provoked baseless hatred that everyone is afraid is going move very soon from words and fists to guns and serious organised bloodshed.

And meanwhile, the corruption that started it is so deep-seated, so hard to shake off. My friend’s son did not take a bottle of cognac with him into the enlistment office to smooth his way and wriggle out of possible trouble or a fine. But neither he nor his father straight off saw the irony of these old habits – of even joking about it.


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