16:10 Jun. 2, 2016
Now Savchenko is not only a symbol of Ukrainian fortitude
Few Ukrainian citizens have endured as much as the helicopter pilot, and recently released POW, Nadiya Savchenko. Captured by Donbass separatists in the early days of the war and delivered into Russian custody, Savchenko was imprisoned for 708 days, subjected to a Kafkaesque show-trial and sentenced to 22 years in prison.
When Savchenko was released in a prisoner exchange on May 25, speculation about her political future began before her plane even touched the ground. Her defiance during her imprisonment turned her into a symbol of national resistance. Now she is no longer just a symbol, but a political actor with unrivalled popular support and moral authority, with the potential to become the most consequential political leader in Ukraine's history.
So far the indicators are that Savchenko is preparing to do just that—in a press conference she declared she "could" run for president "if Ukrainians wanted it." But the next election is three years away. For the moment Savchenko will sit on the parliament's defense committee and has pledged to focus on returning other Ukrainians in Russian captivity.
This is a shrewd move, one that plays to her strengths and allows her to maintain her profile through popular, uncontroversial causes and gives her a grounding in the day to day business of politics.
If and when Savchenko does reach for the brass ring, her biggest opponent will not be any individual politician, but the structure of Ukrainian politics itself. Despite the high hopes of the Euromaidan revolutionaries, Ukraine's sistema—the corrupt patterns of governance and business that have blighted the state since independence—has proven to be highly resilient.
Following the collapse of the Yatsenyuk government in April, reformists were purged from positions of influence, seemingly with President Poroshenko's blessing, signaling a return to business as usual.