DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Fly into Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, and the first thing you see at immigration are signs with the number of a hotline to report bribes. Widespread corruption is one of the things that sparked violent protests in Kiev three years ago. But as NPR's Lucian Kim found, this may finally be changing.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Here in the Maidan, Kiev's central square, where protesters battled with riot police three years ago, corruption is now a tourist attraction.
UNIDENTIFIED TOUR GUIDE: (Foreign language spoken).
KIM: A tour guide invites visitors to take an excursion to the lavish estate of former President Viktor Yanukovych, today a museum of corruption.
Crossing the square, I meet Yevgeniy Bulgakov, a 19-year-old engineering student. I ask him whether the current president, Petro Poroshenko, has been able to change the culture of corruption in Ukraine.
YEVGENIY BULGAKOV: (Foreign language spoken).
KIM: Bulgakov, who supported the Maidan protests, says he hasn't seen any serious changes. "The old guys left. Some new guys came in," he says. "Since independence, we've been fighting corruption without any result. It's how we live."
A three-minute walk from the Maidan, Rostyslav Pavlenko, the deputy head of Poroshenko's administration, acknowledges that public frustration is high.
ROSTYSLAV PAVLENKO: I think now we are probably at the most critical point because all the externalities and collateral damage has happened. Yet the positive results only start to surface.
KIM: Pavlenko lists the tough reforms that have been pushed through - the reorganization of the armed forces, asset declarations for government officials, a new anti-corruption bureau. The European Union, together with the U.S. and International Monetary Fund, has been pushing the government to clean up its act. David Stulik is a spokesman for the EU delegation in Kiev.
DAVID STULIK: Ukraine, in their very short, let's say, post-Soviet history, has never, ever made such a huge progress in the reforms. That must be acknowledged. At the same time, the speed of the reforms could have been and should have been much faster.
KIM: It's not just backroom deals and government contracts that concern ordinary people here. Many Ukrainians complain that when they interact with officials, teachers, even doctors, they are expected to pay bribes to get what they need. Some people are trying to change that.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS RINGING)
KIM: Standing outside St. Michael's Cathedral in Kiev, Yuliya Laktionova, a young mother who works in publishing, says she doesn't pay any bribes.
YULIYA LAKTIONOVA: (Foreign language spoken).
KIM: She says, "it's a personal decision. Either you play by those rules, or you don't. There's always a choice."
A lot is riding on Ukraine's battle with corruption. Ukrainians know that if they are successful, their victory will send a powerful message to neighboring Russia. But activists like Daria Kaleniuk of Kiev's Anti-Corruption Action Center says Americans could also learn from Ukraine's experience.
DARIA KALENIUK: Close ties between politics and business results in abuse of power and large-scale corruption and embezzlement of state funds and abuse of natural resources.
KIM: When business and government are too close, Kaleniuk says, it impoverishes citizens and gives rise to an authoritarian government. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Kiev.
(SOUNDBITE OF KENDRICK LAMAR SONG, "SING ABOUT ME, I'M DYING OF THIRST")
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