Ukraine’s high level of corruption has made it possible for the rich and influential to get away with murder, literally. In 2010 Transparency International ranked the country as “Highly Corrupt” and noted that even though since the 2005 revolution the fight against corruption has been at the top of the government’s agenda, not very much progress has been made. As a result those who are wealthy and well-connected to authorities and ruling party members more often than not get a free pass after committing a variety of crimes. Most recently a young woman named Oksana Makar made international news when it was reported that she had been raped, strangled, dumped at a building site and set on fire by a group of young men who are related to the local area’s top officials. Since she refused to walk away from the incident without notifying the police of the callous rape, her attackers decided that silencing her would yield the best outcome for them. Incredibly she survived the macabre evening long enough to identify the perpetrators and caused a public outcry against the criminal excesses of Ukraine’s elite.
Unfortunately, incidents like Makar’s aren’t rare in the Ukraine where on a regular basis those with money and connections get away with being the perpetrators in assaults and fatal car accidents. This particular case seems to have been the final blow to a society fed up with a lack of consequences for those who clearly see themselves as above the law. The men who Oksana Makar identified, after originally having been let go following a police questioning, were re-arrested and now await trial behind bars due to the public’s protests about their original luxury treatment. Since then the young woman has died and her reputation now seems to be under examination as well. Ukraine is a rather traditional society that engages in a fair dose of victim blaming when it comes to sexual assaults, which also happens quite often in all societies throughout the world, but in this post-Soviet nation it may work too well in the favor of the men who brutally violated Makar and left her for dead with little visible remorse.
Violent sexual assaults and other unacceptable crimes take place all too often in every region of the world but in places where certain individuals view themselves as being beyond the reach of law the crimes committed against those less powerful almost amount to a systematic violation of human rights. When the elite can get away with anything, this leaves everyone else basically at their mercy without recourse or anyone to turn to for justice. Hopefully the Makar case will change the tide in Ukraine but if a young woman has to suffer and lose her life to awaken true outrage it is already too late. If tabloid media outlets begin to engage in character assassination, as a result of a statement by a bartender of an establishment she frequented saying that she seemed easy; and her own mother’s criminal record, this doesn’t bode well for a future where rule of law applies to every single member of society. Dubious perceptions about Makar’s character and behavior are irrelevant and shift focus from what must change if all Ukrainians wish to stop living in a weakened, by years of neglect and special allowances for the elites, justice system. While similar crimes may be identified worldwide, what makes this awful situation even more unacceptable is the way one of the alleged attackers re-told it in an interrogation video. Calmly recounting the horrendous attack, as if nothing significant had taken place, he even used the excuse that parents would be coming home soon, thus they had to act fast and get rid of her any way possible.
It is understandable that average Ukrainians have felt almost helpless in changing the prevalence of corruption in their own country but this incident proves that a horrific situation has the power to embolden the media and everyday citizens to demand change. Whether authorities really do something about the crime committed against Makar and other crimes that result in no or little punishment for the elite is questionable as they themselves likely benefit from the current corrupt system. What is imperative is that the media and concerned citizens keep standing up for her and others hurt by the system. It is not promising that her character’s credibility, including her mother’s previous actions, is already up for debate. If victim blaming takes over completely, not only does Makar not receive justice for her perpetrators, but other women and men, who are victimized by those who pay off their crimes with large amounts of cash, also lose the battle for justice. Women’s credibility and sexual character shouldn’t be on trial in cases like this because no woman asks for this by enjoying the company of men. Oksana Makar ended up the way she did because she was a young woman of no great financial means, living in a system that allows wealthy and influential individuals to do as they please and defy justice. As such her case is a cautionary tale, which shows how quickly societies with little respect or deference to the rule of law can devolve towards a survival of the fittest system. In this unfair, Darwinian landscape, Ukrainian women, who still face a long, uphill battle against traditionalism and prejudices, are especially at risk and will hopefully be able to now lead the country, in memory of Oksana Makar, to lasting change.