KIEV – One month ago, kidnappers pulled Dmytro Bulatov from anti-government protests, beat him and cut off a piece of his ear. On Thursday, he became his nation’s new youth minister. The protesters’ chief medic is health minister. The master of ceremonies is culture minister.
Top figures in Ukraine’s three-month protest are taking up powerful posts in the new Cabinet, underscoring the powerful and unpredictable force of the revolt. But while few doubt the leaders’ resolve, the nominations have raised questions about their skills and expertise — especially given the enormous challenges the new government faces.
For many of these leaders, the government posts represent a political and personal victory. But they also present an enormous responsibility as the nation seeks to heal and rebuild after over 80 people were killed in the protests.
Bulatov’s kidnapping in January shocked Ukrainians and added further energy to the protests. It helped to turn demonstrations calling for closer ties with the West into a broader movement for human rights and the ouster of President Viktor Yanukvoych.
Bulatov, 35, a leader of a group of angry motorists, spent more than a week in captivity. He said he was beaten and nailed to a door, and that he begged his attackers to kill him to spare him of the pain. On Thursday, parliament voted to approve Bulatov as sports and youth minister.
“We are building a civilized society. There is no desire to grab a seat or a portfolio,” he told a Ukrainian television channel. “The system will have to be rebuilt from the ground up.”
Oleh Musiy, a top medic in the protesters’ volunteer medical team, spent three months treating hundreds of demonstrators injured in the clashes in makeshift clinics set up in a city library, a church and other locations. Many activists were kidnapped and detained in government-run hospitals so they preferred to be treated by protesters’ medics. As Musiy prepared to assume the post of health minister, he admitted he was nervous about his job.
“I think it will get even harder now because the health care system is in a horrible state and has to be reformed very seriously and be made friendly to the people,” Musiy said in a telephone interview.
As he dressed activists’ wounds and counted the dead, he never imagined that he would end up in government.
“Of course, I never planned this. And even now, I have my doubts as to whether I need this,” he said. “They didn’t really ask me. If it is necessary and if I have the people’ trust, then I think that with the help of my team, chances are high that changes will happen.”
For months, actor Yevhen Nishchuk was one of the most recognizable faces and voices of the protest, introducing opposition speakers on a giant stage on Kiev’s Independence Square, or the Maidan, singing the national anthem along with crowds of tens and hundreds of thousands and instructing protesters to remain calm when police tried to storm the camp.
Appearing in the Ukrainian parliament before the vote on Thursday, he sought to allay concerns that he was not up to the job of culture minister.
“Some say that it’s a negative thing I am just an actor and all the rest of it, that I am not an administrator, not a manager. But a lot was achieved over this period thanks also to my organizational skills,” Nishchuk said. “For the past 20 years, the Culture Ministry only worked to make sure that a president’s visit is accompanied by a basket of flowers. This is horrible, this must be changed.”
The photos of Tetyana Chernovil’s disfigured face made international headlines in December after the investigative journalist and activist was beaten by a group of unknown assailants outside Kiev as she was returning home from the Maidan. This week, Chernovil, 34, who also took part in storming several government buildings during the protests, was tapped as head of an anti-corruption committee in the new government.
Outside the parliament chamber on Thursday, she expressed joy at Maidan’s victory but also acknowledged that she faced a hard job stamping out Ukraine’s endemic corruption.
“This job is completely new to me. It’s is one thing to be a journalist, it is a different thing to be a person who must stop this corruption,” Chernovil said, her face still showing scars and bruises. “I thought that victory would prevail, but I didn’t think it would come so soon. I thought this would take several years. I was absolutely convinced that I would not live to see that. So for me, this is something surreal.”