Sasha is a 56-year-old taxi driver. He lives on a monthly pension of 1,250 UAH or $60 USD, and so must also drive a taxi to support himself and to help his children and grandchildren. “There are too many cars, too many people,” he explains as we make our way through the crowded streets of Kiev. “Yanukovych stole money from all of his people, but only a little. Now these people, this government, Poroshenko and his, they take everything from us for this war and they still ask for your money. Money, money, money. It is all these people really care about.” Sasha’s perspective is shared by many of the Ukrainian citizens who took the time to speak with me, and they all repeated this phrase or a close variation of it: “Money, money, money. It’s all they care for.” This is often followed up with, “They don’t care for the people, only themselves.”
Unfortunately, this situation can be continually witnessed throughout Ukraine. Sasha tells me that he must make no less than 1,000 UAH or $50 USD a day to contribute to the combined incomes of his family. “Rent takes most of our money, then fees and taxes and the costs to operate my taxi. My grandchildren must eat and be safe.” He continued, “Maybe if they did not take everything from us as soon as we make it, things could work, but they will not and it does not.” Sasha does not show defeat in his voice. He holds up a book on the instruction of English. “I must be better at new things. I am an old man but I will not be stopped.”
In relative terms, Sasha is doing well for himself and his family in a country where the monthly median income is 10,000 UAH or $500 USD. Sasha, like many of the Ukrainians I spoke with, refuses to be filmed or photographed while speaking negatively about the situation in Ukraine. I spent many hours over a series of days walking around Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square, a popular tourist spot and scene of the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution in Kiev.
Camera in hand, I walked the square and nearby historical streets, and stopped into a local cafe for a refreshing Americano coffee, where I spoke with whoever I could about Ukraine, the war, Russia, America, Europe, the future of Ukraine, and corruption. While many of these topics provoked only a lukewarm response, the topic of corruption fueled an often personal and heartfelt conversation laced with concern about the individual’s future and the future of Ukraine. Their concerns and their anti-corruption stances meant most of the people I spoke with shied away from the camera.