Video Duration 47 minutes 32 seconds
From: Witness

Ukraine: State of Chaos

Has the eastern European country been returned to the grips of the powerful oligarchs and neighbouring Russia?

The biggest country in Eastern Europe, Ukraine is divided between Russia and the West.

Despite being a vital player in the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), it wasn’t until mass protests in 2004 that Russia’s dominance ended and a Western-leaning government was brought to power.

But six years after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine has returned to the grips of its powerful neighbour and oligarchs.

Ukraine: State of Chaos examines Kiev’s relationship with powerful businessman and Moscow, and how democracy under President Viktor Yanukovich has not brought the country the rule of law.

Editor’s note: This film first aired in 2012.


By Jill Emery and Jean Michel Carre

It’s terrible to lie in chains and rot in dungy deep,
But it’s still worse when you are free,
To sleep and sleep and sleep.

(Taras Chevchenko, 1814-1861, a famous Ukrainian poet and author of the national anthem)

I visited Ukraine for the first time in 1963 on a school trip to Russia for pupils studying Russian in the UK. Ukrainian Nikita Kruschev had replaced Joseph Stalin at the head of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Ukraine, at the western extremity, was not like Russia – it seemed sunnier.

In the streets, young people gave us shy glances filled with curiosity, before lowering their eyes and hastening their pace. Talking to us meant danger for them. To them, we were from outer space – the enemy. But we soon found they were ready to take risks.

During our visit we were strictly controlled by our tourist guides. But at night we managed to escape their guard to meet two boys who had earlier thrown us a discrete ball of screwed up paper, which seemed to suggest a meeting place.

They were proficient in English, keen to know about the other side, rebellious, intelligent and curious. But they disappeared as soon as they heard the familiar sound of OGPU (secret police) officers nearby.

Unfortunately, Ukraine was another planet then, and to me it still is.

Ukraine has been shaped by centuries of invasion and today people of many different ethnic origins make up the population. The Ukrainians are an explosive, colourful, joyous people despite centuries of repression by big brother Russia. But the Orange Revolution was proof of what the people were capable of.

By the end of 2004, I returned to Ukraine with Jean-Michel Carre to start work on a film.

It was during this period that the revolution was fully underway in Ukraine. In the capital, Kiev, people thronged the streets, night and day, old and young, together, talking in groups about their revolution, their democracy. How proud and optimistic they were.

We felt that our own democracies had a bitter flavour, but these people were so positive, so sure. Why had the Orange Revolution taken place? What had led up to it? How was history responsible for the present? A film had to be made.

We continued to film over the next six years at parliamentary election times, meeting people in different towns and villages. Crossing the country on bumpy roads, we followed the relentless and glamorous Yulia Tymoshenko as she campaigned in Siberian weather, opened blocks of council flats or visited modest shops.

People threw themselves at her feet. She was the Ukrainian Evita Peron. President Viktor Yushchenko remained more discreet, patriotic but inefficient and – to most minds – seriously, physically and psychologically diminished by his infamous poisoning during the Orange Revolution.

In the interviews we obtained, he makes damning accusations against Russian President Vladimir Putin and speaks frankly of his hatred for Tymoshenko.

For the Ukrainian people, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko’s “political divorce” after only months in office was the end of a soap opera dream and the beginning of the end.

It became clear that the country was still corrupt, the political infrastructure a mess, individual personalities too important and basic essentials still Soviet.

Today, Ukraine still seems so different from Russia. The “bandit state” created by serving President Viktor Yanukovich and his oligarch cronies is even worse than the one that preceded the Orange Revolution.

Since filming, one of our journalist’s assistants became councillor for her village on the outskirts of Kiev. She created a petition to protect Kiev Forest from building developers affiliated with Yanukovich. But she has had to hire bodyguards to protect her and her family from the oligarch police.

Meanwhile, our co-producer, who is now campaigning in the elections, is under investigation for his role in our film.

I have also personally received an official legal summons in Ukraine to reveal how much money Tymoshenko’s party allegedly paid me to make a film against the regime.

My only hope is that the new regime has gone too far this time and that the people will revolt once again.