The Triumph of Ruins

29 August 2011, 12:51

On 22 April 1998 Ukraine was rocked by the news of a heinous murder. Vadym Hetman, one of the most respected politicians and financiers of the time, was shot dead on the doorstep of his home in Kyiv. The alleged killer Serhiy Kuliov, a member of Kushnir gang, the most notorious criminal group of the 90s, was arrested in 2002. A Luhansk court of appeal gave him a life sentence, yet the crime was never properly investigated to find the real truth. Those who ordered the killing never stood trial.


Notably, neither Mr. Hetman’s foes nor ill-wishers ever doubted his great contribution to the benefit of independent Ukraine. When he joined the NBU, Ukraine’s central bank, in March 1992, Mr. Hetman upgraded its organizational structure, computerized its banking processes, including setting up the interbank database which is still considered one of the best in Eastern Europe, initiated the research and design process to establish the Audit Chamber of Ukraine, and launched a complex mechanism for printing hryvnia, the new (at that time) Ukrainian currency. “Hetman was always more innovative than others,” says Oleh Rybachuk, director of the NBU’s external relations department and later the department for international relations over 1992 – 1999. “He decided that Ukraine should print hryvnia when it was basically still part of the Soviet Union. He decided to leave the ruble zone when other politicians didn’t even dare mention it.”  

In 1993 Vadym Hetman left the central bank and focused on establishing the Ukrainian Interbank Currency Exchange (UICE) as a public structure where the controlling stake could not be owned by just one entity and this is how it was for the rest of Mr. Hetman’s life.

“Mr. Hetman was a pioneer in many ways,” says Volodymyr Lanovyi, a National Deputy of the 2nd and 5th parliamentary conventions and Economy Minister in 1992. “He founded new market institutions in Ukraine.” Mr. Hetman was the first to offer ideas about the creation of a secondary stock market, a futures and currency market, and a bank market for precious metals in Ukraine. He participated in drafting all new banking laws which determined the structure and operation of Ukraine’s banking system in compliance with market standards. Even if the bills had different sponsors, Mr. Hetman’s proposals and amendments were often significant enough to critically change the documents’ philosophy.

Vadym Hetman was a 100% true statesman, protecting the interests of the state – not his own – in all his actions, decisions and proposed laws. Unfortunately, this position often made him very inconvenient for the many partly criminal, opaque and mercenary Ukrainian economic and political elite of those times.  

Murder mysteries

The Prosecutor General of Ukraine claimed the now infamous Pavlo Lazarenko was involved in the assassination. However, the one-time prime minister had already been accused of so many crimes that this scenario looked doubtful. What is more, by 1998, the year of the assassination, he had been removed from office and the only political position he still had was as leader of the Hromada (the Community), faction in the Verkhovna Rada. Was it not coincidence that this was at the time of the surge in big-time war against the ex-premier’s business empire, and besides, Hetman had never stood in Lazarenko’s way?

Political scenarios also seem too unbelievable. The first assumption was that Hetman was killed in a struggle for a seat in parliament. Mr. Hetman lost the 1998 election in the 189th constituency in Cherkasy Oblast to Mykhailo Onufriychuk, the then First Deputy Information Minister, falling just 3.87% short of his opponent.  He appealed against the voting results claiming that his opponent had been using illegal political technologies and administrative leverages against him. However, the pursued seat was not worth killing a man for. Another assumption was that those who ordered the assassination were trying to harass Viktor Yushchenko, who treated Vadym Hetman as his mentor, giving him a warning of sorts before the presidential campaign 1999. But they did not need to kill Hetman to discourage Mr. Yushchenko from running in the election – he was virtually pushed into big politics, so there must have been a legitimate way to convince him out of the running. Moreover, Mr. Yushchenko only turned into a threat for the circle of Leonid Kuchma after he resigned from the prime minister’s office.  

Mr. Hetman might have been removed to clear a path to the then public Ukrainian Interbank Currency Exchange. Yet, the change of its owners took eight years, which was too long to be seen a reason for the assassination.

When looking for criminal paymasters the best advice has always been to look for those who would benefit from the crime. None of the popular assumptions answer this question. It makes more sense to look at Mr. Hetman’s role in Ukrainian politics of the time, rather than to analyse individual facts from his life or work.

Everybody who was familiar with Mr. Hetman noted two fundamental things. Firstly, he was a man of principle, reluctant to get involved in obscure deals or the creation of legislation loopholes for the purpose of stealing.  One of many examples was his firm protest against the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers to implement the so-called fixed hryvnia rate which resulted in massive currency outflow abroad and the expansion of the shadow economy, while also undermining the position of Ukrainian exports in the global market. Also, Mr. Hetman used his connections with the movers and shakers in virtually all political groups, supported by his great personal and professional reputation, to make sure that his viewpoint was always taken into account.  He at least had the power to prevent the disbursement of the banking and financial system and crush many scams which damaged the Ukrainian economy.

Secondly, all his colleagues appreciated his skills concerning organizing resources and people. Mr. Hetman was the centre of gravity for many controversial, yet significant figures, such as Viktor Yushchenko, Oleh Andronov, Oleksandr Kireyev, Yuriy Liakh, Oleksandr Veselovsky and Ihor Mitiukov. Through cooperation they could have hidden their weaknesses and shown their strong points, had Vadym Hetman remained their mastermind, restraining their urges for reckless enrichment.  

Mr. Hetman was the key figure in preventing the chaos which once loomed over Ukraine. In the late 90s, as the economy demonstrated some signs of recovery despite the Russian crisis, it was crucial what Ukraine’s financial and economic policy would be in the future. There were two options: Ukraine could have had a well-thought out state strategy implemented through moves which had been tested by other countries, or a cocktail of decisions taken chaotically under the pressure of lobbyists working exclusively for their own benefit.   

The first scenario gave Ukraine a chance to stop lagging behind, for what seemed like forever, and use its resources to get closer to EU standards following Central European states. If Ukraine had chosen this path, it would be much closer to the EU today. The other scenario allowed just a few people to keep generating their wealth quickly and recklessly, while weakening the country. The chaos of shortsighted decisions made to fit a certain situation and corrupt politicians who ignored strategic interests, made Ukraine very vulnerable to the exploitation of its resources internally and unfriendly influences from abroad. Ever since Vadym Hetman died, Ukraine has seen one of the worst models of a tycoon controlled economy unfolding within it.   


Vadym Hetman was born on 12 July 1935 in Snityn, a village in Poltava Oblast, Ukrainian SSR 

1956 – graduated from the Kyiv Financial and Economy Institute and worked at various financial and administrative facilities in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.  

1975 – was appointed First Deputy Chairman, Ukrainian SSR State Price Committee.

1987 – was appointed Board Chairman, Agricultural Bank of Ukrainian SSR (Ukraina bank since 1990), until 1992 when appointed Board Chairman for the National Bank of Ukraine.

1990, 1994 – twice elected to the Verkhovna Rada.

1997 – awarded the title of Best Member of the Parliament 1996 and the Best Financier 1997.

22 April 1998 – shot outside his house. On 11 July 2005, Mr. Hetman was posthumously decorated with the title ‘Hero of Ukraine’.

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