Ukraine awaits new government to fulfill promises of Maidan

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Swept into office by the mass protests that deposed the Russia-friendly president two years ago, Ukraine's new leaders promised that the country would soon be welcomed into Europe as a thriving new democracy.

Instead, Ukraine lost the Crimean Peninsula to Russia and found itself at war with Russia-backed separatists in the east. The new, pro-Western government failed to show that it was serious about taking on corruption or enacting the promised reforms. The economy and living standards tanked.

Disillusioned and angry, Ukrainians now await the arrival of a new government that will be under immediate pressure to win back their trust and restore the confidence of the West.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, one of the leaders of the protests on Independence Square — known as the Maidan — announced Sunday that he would submit his resignation to Parliament on Tuesday. This cleared the way for the Parliament speaker, Volodymyr Groysman, to replace him and form a new government.

The parties led by Yatsenyuk and President Petro Poroshenko will still dominate the governing coalition, but the choice of Groysman, a member of Poroshenko's party, is seen as strengthening the hand of the president.

"Time is running out and the patience of Ukrainians is fading. And that can be dangerous," said Pyotr Shevchenko, a 46-year-old driver who took part in the Maidan protests. He later joined sporadic pickets outside the presidential administration, where tires were set on fire as a reminder of the protests and the promises that were made.

The protests were set off in November 2013 when President Viktor Yanukovych abruptly decided to abandon a free-trade agreement with the European Union and seek closer cooperation with Moscow instead. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets of Kiev. The protests later turned violent, with more than 100 people killed, many of them by sniper fire.

After Yanukovych fled to Russia in February 2014, the new pro-Western leadership of Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk promised to enact reforms and fight the corruption that had flourished under the previous government. But most Ukrainians have seen little progress, while life has only grown harder.

"Every day we hear beautiful words about reforms, but we don't see any beautiful results," said Oksana Nichiporuk, 42. After losing her job last year as an economist at a Kiev plastics factory, she now sells knitted scarves with European symbols on the Maidan.

Last week's referendum in the Netherlands rejecting the EU's free-trade agreement with Ukraine was another blow, serving as a reminder to Ukrainians that the promises of closer ties with Europe and visa-free travel remain largely unfulfilled two years after the agreement was finally signed.

"Of course it's shameful that our dreams of Europe were so quickly crushed by the endless Ukrainian scandals, the corruption and lack of reforms," said Galina Rudenko, 30, who works for an IT company. "When you sit down at the table with Europeans, you first need to learn how to wash your hands."

Many Ukrainians blamed the failure of the referendum on Poroshenko, who figured in the recent reports about offshore accounts based on documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. The reports showed that Poroshenko had moved his candy business offshore under a holding company, rather than selling it as he had promised.

Much of the dissatisfaction, however, has been directed at Yatsenyuk and his government.

"The mandate of Maidan that was given to Yatsenyuk in February 2014 was poorly spent during these two years, while his friends have significantly improved their financial situation," said Sergei Leshchenko, a parliament deputy and one of the organizers of the Maidan protests.

Poroshenko two months ago called on Yatsenyuk to step down. He survived a no-confidence vote in parliament, but the failure to oust Yatsenyuk threatened to cause the collapse of the pro-European governing coalition and force new parliamentary elections.

The immediate political crisis was overcome when Yatsenyuk announced his resignation and said his and Poroshenko's party had won the support of a sufficient number of other parliament members to hold on to their majority in parliament.

Among the challenges facing the new prime minister will be reviving an economy that fell by more than 10 percent in 2015 after a 6.8 percent contraction the year before. He also will need to persuade Western donors to unfreeze the transfer of $10 billion in badly needed loans.

Groysman, 38, began his political career in his 20s in his hometown of Vinnytsia, a city of 400,000 in western Ukraine, where he served two terms as mayor. After the Maidan revolution, he joined the new leaders in Kiev, first as minister for regional development and later as speaker of parliament.

"Groysman is Poroshenko's man," said Yuri Yakimenko of the Razumkov Center. He said the appointment will allow the president to consolidate his power and implement reforms "without wasting his energy on political struggles."

The West was so rattled by the prospect of early parliamentary elections and another political explosion in Ukraine that the resolution of the crisis is expected to be perceived positively.

But Groysman will be under immediate pressure to deliver on reforms.

"The prime minister will have to face not only the disappointment of impoverished Ukrainians, but also the cooling-off of donors, who for various reasons are tired of pouring water into the Ukrainian sand," said political analyst Vadim Karasev.