Last week, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko was the headline guest, together with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at a special reception in Toronto for the Ukrainian team participating at the Invictus Games, an international sporting competition for wounded and injured military personnel. The games are a commendable event originally created and organized by Britain’s Prince Harry in 2014.
I think it would be safe to say that the Ukrainian community in Canada is virtually unanimous in its support of the Ukrainian team, and no one would argue with the purpose and benefit of such games for the participants involved. Yet, the reception event itself did generate no small amount of controversy.
The primary reason for this was the presence of President Poroshenko. There were many Ukrainians who are active in the community that had serious qualms about attending the reception because of his attendance. President Poroshenko’s standing has plummeted in the eyes many of those who participated in the Maidan revolution and who had held such great hopes when he was elected President. They have become more than a little disenchanted with his failure to curb corruption in Ukraine and to dismantle the stranglehold that the oligarchic system holds on political, economic and judicial power in Ukraine.
While some progress towards reform has been made in some areas of the government, the oligarchs continue to hold onto both their ill-gotten wealth as well as control over most of the levers of power in the country. Despite a lot of rhetoric by Poroshenko and his government over their last three years, kleptocracy is still alive and thriving in Ukraine and there is little sign that this is going to change in the near future. There is growing opinion that President Poroshenko is in reality more interested in preserving the established oligarchic system of control, than in enacting any serious anti-corruption reform.
It was because of this, that a number of dedicated and more idealistically inclined Ukrainian activists in the Toronto area chose to boycott the reception. Although their support of the games and the Ukrainian team was and is unquestionable, they could not, on principle, bear to rub shoulders with a President that they feel is betraying the promises he made during the Maidan and the last Ukrainian Presidential elections. I too, struggled with this dilemma, and in the end also decided to forego attending the reception. I harbor no ill-will nor do I criticize anyone who chose to attend. On matters of principle, each individual must weigh the pros and cons of the issue and let his or her own conscience decide.
There is one other aspect of the event that I take some exception to, and that is the admission price, which amounted to the not insignificant sum of $200 per head. No doubt, the proceeds are going to a most worthy cause. It is also understandable that the organizers would want to maximize the amount raised for charitable purposes. And yet, in doing so, they put the event out of reach of the majority of the Ukrainian community who may have wanted to attend and support their Ukrainian athletes. Instead, the event de facto became restricted to the upper stratum of Ukrainian well to do business people, professionals and millionaires that could afford the excessive ticket price. The average blue collar Ukrainian couple cannot easily afford to spend $400 to attend such an event or even consider bringing their children.
This is becoming an unfortunate practice with Ukrainian fund-raising events, banquets and various do’s. It is rare in Toronto that the admission is under $150 a head. This shuts out most of the lower and middle class Ukrainian families and in particular, the younger generations. In continuing this trend, we are dividing the Ukrainian community into an elite that can afford to attend such events and a proletariat that can’t.
I would suggest that it would have been a much better idea to have organized a more accessible event in a larger venue at a significantly lower price that would have attracted several thousand of Toronto’s Ukrainians, rather than a couple of hundred of the privileged few. One could have raised just as much money while involving a much greater proportion of the Ukrainian community. It is a factor that I would dearly love the organizers of Ukrainian events to lend more weight to when they plan such events in the future. We should strive more to include all members of the Ukrainian community in our organized activities, regardless of where they may find themselves through circumstance on the economic scale.