Glimmer of hope in Ukraine

Economy: Despite serious political turmoil, former Soviet republic may have ended decline.

April 09, 2001

BECAUSE IT IS as big as France, adjoins Russia and stretches from Poland to the Black Sea, Ukraine holds a pivotal position on the European continent.

Ten years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is still not clear whether Ukraine will be a force of stability or a source of tensions.

The discovery of the headless body of a journalist critical of President Leonid Kuchma threw Ukraine into fierce turmoil in November.

Because tapes surfaced that ostensibly had the president discussing various ways of getting rid of the troublesome journalist, the opposition mobilized against Mr. Kuchma and demanded that he resign.

He refused, saying he was elected to serve until November 2004.

President Kuchma may have weathered the worst. But he is clearly an embarrassment and liability for his country.

Fortunately, Ukraine has a capable prime minister, Viktor Yushchenko, whose integrity and reformist inclinations have not been damaged in the past months' turmoil.

Thanks to Mr. Yushchenko's policies, Ukraine has reported a 17.4 percent jump in industrial growth over the first three months of 2001, compared with the same period last year. Lumber and wood products, light manufacturing and the food sector reported even better figures.

Some of this growth may be illusory.

Ukraine faces several probes because many foreign countries suspect it is dumping steel and other metal products, which account for roughly 40 percent of its total exports.

Nevertheless, the growth figures are good news because Ukraine's economy suffered severe decline after it gained independence in 1991.

Because of its central geographic location, promising agriculture and relatively high degree of industrialization, an independent Ukraine held much hope a decade ago.

If the growth figures indeed signal a trend, Ukraine could at long last be on the way to recovery. In such a situation, even the political power crisis involving the discredited President Kuchma might be easier to resolve.

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