Ukraine, Lviv, December 2017
Exam time at Ivano Franko State University Lviv: a classroom where students are divided into two rows and a lecturer who’s making sure that no cheating transpires. This is a familiar sight at many educational institutions.
However, the lecturer surveys the right row only. The left row of students has notes and books ready at hand in plain sight and can copy text at will. What’s going on here? The students on the left have paid a “voluntary” contribution, whereas the ones on the right have not. This is considered “normalna” (normal) at this university.
Professor Andrij Nakoneschnyi was exposed for keeping such practice in the past and was reported to the rectorate as well as the police authorities. Nevertheless, he still continues to work at the same university.
Bohdan Pastukh (heading picture, left), former assistant professor at Ivano Franko State University, decided to report and openly discuss corruption cases at the institution he works at like the one previously described. Motivated by the 2014 Maidan revolution, in which Bogdan and his brother Taras had taken an active part in the demonstrations, he approached the rector of the university directly and wrote a letter to the Minister of Education (action mediated by a member of the Parliament). In 2017, that cost him his job and academic future.
Lviv journalist Antin Borkovskii of Espresso TV, an independent internet news station, compared him to Martin Luther, who publically nailed his convictions to the door, the action itself resulting in similar post-effects. He adds: “It cannot be proven that Bohdan was ousted of the university by a vengeful corrupt system, but it is highly likely”
In June 2017, a committee comprising of 33 representatives conducted a secret vote on the assignment of 2 positions, which 3 eligible candidates applied for. Bohdan was not elected. No motivation was disclosed for such a decision. Though widely acknowledged as the best scholar for the position, he lost his chair and no longer works at Ivano Franko university.
Bohdan: “The more people know about what happened, the better. Soviet tradition and culture of corruption are deeply rooted in the mentality of Ukrainians and, definitely, of those in academia. We believed that Maidan would open a window of opportunity but it proved to be a dirty window. Now, there is a counter-revolution going on which is reinstating such older behavior. Corruption is the main feature of the working nomenclature of officials who are holding the same positions since before 1991.”
Born in a village near Luhansk, now in occupied territory, his grandfather had a massive library of 15000 books in Ukrainian. Reading books fueled his passion for Ukrainian literature and language, so he decided to attend the Ivano Franko University in Lviv (West Ukraine), which had the best reputation in those subjects.
“The friends I grew up with have become strangers to me. They chose to take sides with the Russian invaders, and in their minds, as well. I could not return home for my grandparents’ funeral, fearing I would disappear.”
During his studies, he was confronted with smalltime as well as large scale corruption, varying from such “voluntary” contributions from students for printing papers of their own examinations, “private lessons” given by the professors just prior to the examinations, to actual payments for receiving a doctorate. “The pay rates in such cases can range anywhere from 3000 to 7000 dollars.” How is this done? “Just ask around among the secretaries of the department and ask for assistance. The question will eventually reach the right person and a middle man will then approach you”.
Bohdan tells us about another case he reported on. Professor Andrina Knetsky openly asked for 400 hryvnias for giving a grade 3 (out of 5), 600 hryvnias for a grade 4 and 800 hryvnias for a grade 5. It happened in 2015, at which time the monthly student stipend was 800 hryvnia. Her actions were exposed but she still works at the university. No punitive measures were taken against her at all, even though Bohdan, in person, reported her actions to the rector.
Some of the braver students gave their testimonies for the Espresso TV series Hidden Truth, in support of Bogdan’s efforts to unveil and stop corruption at their university.
“Part of the heritage left from the Soviet system is the phenomenon of “grey cardinals” – people who do the actual work an official such as the rector of the university. Rectorship is just a nominal official post that is well paid and the rector has the ability to make major decisions. He is at the apex of the corruption pyramid”.
Antin adds: “Ivano Franko University is not the worst institution in view of corruption; Lviv Polytechnic is notorious for it, as well. Education in Ukraine is in a very poor state. Exceptions represent those institutions which are based on charity contributions, such as the Catholic University where, at least to his knowledge, no corruption scandals were exposed.
During the interview with Bohdan, my “fixer” received a phone call from a relative studying at the Polytechnic. The relative wanted to borrow 300 hryvnias because she was not sure whether she would pass the upcoming examination and wanted to pay the “contribution” just to be on the safe side.
Bohdan continues: “After Maydan, my brother and I vowed to each other that we would expose corruption wherever we discovered it. Students turned to us with such examples and we discussed them in department meetings. We possessed the hope that we would change something.” His attitude being such, he was confronted with clear resistance which led to a public “hearing”, attended by around 100 officials, as well as the public audience, in classic Soviet-style. He was accused of discrediting the University.
Bohdan could have refused to attend the hearing but hadn’t, neither did he change his mind. He did speak during the hearing, however, to no avail.
His letter to the Minister of Education resulted in an official request from the Ministry to the rector of Lviv University requiring the establishment of an “anti-corruption” committee. The committee was established. “I have spoken to the committee but it was as if we spoke in altogether different languages.” The members of the committee appointed by the rector were the same people who had decided his fate during the June vote.
After he was “outmaneuvered”, an open letter with 500 signatures by the workers and students at IF was composed, and his dismissal from the university was followed by open protests. However, most of the students were too scared. Bohdan remembers walking out of the university building followed by 7 cameras pointed at him and journalists asking him questions. His situation attracted a lot of publicity but he knew that nothing would change.
I would do it again
“Even knowing the outcome in advance, I would still have exposed what was going on. However, I would have directed my efforts directly at the rector since he was the person under whose umbrella it all happened“.
Antin studied philosophy at Ivano Franko University and claims that he himself had never experienced corruption in this department. The payment system mostly works among those departments which provide interesting career paths such as Law, Medicine, etc. Philosophy does not do that.
Antin: “Over the past few years, some things have changed on a small scale in Ukraine. The police are starting to function as they should during their day to day work, and we are fortunate to be able to run small enterprises without too much trouble. However, as soon as there are larger sums of money involved, someone will eventually approach you for a “contribution”. In the case of Ukraine, it is not primarily the mafia who approaches you, but rather state officials who operate in a mostly similar manner”.
“In some cases, corruption is prosecuted. Petro Buriak, the rector of Lviv Financial Academy, was arrested for accepting bribe. Mr. Buriak paid a fine of around 97,5 thousand hryvnia (around 3000 euro) but still holds his position of function.”
“The old Soviet system is still very much alive everywhere, most clearly at state universities. It will disappear only when the top positions in charge are replaced and the attitude and behavior starts changing from the top down. Corruption exists in the people’s minds since Soviet times. In the 90’s Chornovil and his political team managed to gain some influence in the Parliament but they failed to obtain enough power. In his opinion, honest and well-meaning members of parliament exist, but they represent a minority. They do voice their opinions and attitudes but simply “do not have the keys to the prison”.
Bohdan now receives support from his former students and continues writing a book and has become editor in chief at the publishing company Astrolabium
The espresso TV channel was created in the autumn of 2013. Its founders are Mykola Kniazhytsky and former editor-in-chief of the weekly ‘Comments’ Vadym Denysenko. It is owned and financed by Jatseniuk, Avakov, and Kniazhytskyy, members of the Parliament, as well as through advertisement income. The former prime minister of Ukraine Yatsenyuk has recently sold 30% of shares in Espresso.TV to US Atmosphere Entertainment, Inc. (New York) under control of Ivan Zhevaho, son of MP Kostiantyn Zhevaho. Antin is the Lviv correspondent. His articles had never been refused and there is no indication any editorial constraints are imposed on Espresso TV. The latest news on Bohdan they reported could be found here: Skandal at Lviv University