On September 19, 2016, the acting rector of the National University of Aviation, Volodymyr Kharchenko, was placed under partial house arrest by Shevchenko District Court in Kiev, Ukraine. He was ordered confined to his home for 18 hours from afternoon until morning and required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. In late August, right before the start of the new academic year, Rector Kharchenko had been arrested by the joint team of State Security Services, National Anti-Corruption Bureau, and Prosecutor’s Office in his office for extorting a bribe of 170,000 Euros and receiving the first installment of 100,000 Euros. Kharchenko’s lawyer was also arrested that day for his alleged role as the mediator in arranging the bribe. The “downpayment” of 100,000 Euro, equal to approximately USD $112,000, is impressive in a country where a university professor typically earns $3,000 a year. Both the rector and his lawyer were taken to the hospital due to high blood pressure, a trick used often by high ranking officials in order to avoid immediate detention.
During the search of Kharchenko’s apartment, detectives seized $50,635 in US dollars, 69,382 Euros, 3,170 British Pounds, 10 Canadian dollars, 50 Hong Kong dollars, 2,329 Chinese Yuan, 1,270 Polish zloty, 3,990 Russian rubles, local currency valued at around USD $60,000, ten banking cards, and nine gold bars of two to twenty grams. Shevchenko District Court in Kiev arrested the rector, seized his apartment (and cash contents), two houses, and a garage. To put this in perspective, in the Soviet era, Kharchenko would have faced a firing squad based on the evidence discovered. During the Joseph Stalin era, he would be executed as a foreign spy, given the amount and variety of foreign currency in his possession. During Leonid Brezhnev’s Cold War and Yuri Andropov’s purges, Kharchenko would also have been subject to capital punishment for dealings with foreign currency. In all of these eras, he would have been executed for grand corruption. But Petro Poroshenko’s ruling regime is much more humane toward accused, high-ranking bribe-takers. This approach to corrupt state bureaucrats is hard to explain, especially to western donors.
The National University of Aviation is one of Ukraine’s flagship technical universities. Kharchenko took the position of acting rector to replace another acting rector, who had been removed by the then Minister of Education and Science for alleged misconduct. The struggle for the right to lead the university has been going on for years, with numerous dismissals and reinstatements, along with allegations of corruption, misappropriation of funds, misuse of university property (including planes), inflated salaries, and land speculation. In this most recent incident, the bribe was allegedly extorted from a professor in order to be rehired at this institution. The police did not name the person in question, but the rector did while commenting on the case and denying any wrongdoing on his part. The now ex-Rector Kharchenko mentioned Irina Zarubinskaya, professor of pedagogy, who had previously served as the Provost for International Relations. The Provost for International Relations deals with foreign partners and international students. International students are considered cash cows, both in terms of the tuition and fees they pay and the bribes collected from them. Maybe the importance of foreign sources for “bread-and-butter” income justifies the bribes.
The State Security Services, National Anti-Corruption Bureau, and Prosecutor’s Office insist that Rector Kharchenko demanded more than $250,000 for the reinstatements of several employees. The Ministry of Education and Science fired Kharchenko, relieving him from duties a few days prior to his arrest. The Ministry appointed a new acting rector, Tamara Ivanova. Ivanova, who previously served as First Provost for Academic Affairs, a position second to the university rector. Three days after the court’s decision to impose house arrest on Kharchenko, the new Minister of Education and Science, Liliya Hrynevych, appointed yet another acting rector, this time Volodymyr Isayenko, Doctor of Biological Sciences, who had worked for the University previously.
Final charges have not been brought yet and the criminal investigation continues. Kharchenko is suspected under Article 368, part 4, of the Criminal Code of Ukraine that could result in eight to twelve years in prison, confiscation of all property, and a ban on occupying any managerial or leadership positions for three years after the prison term is served. At this point, the status of the case remains unclear and despite seriousness of the alleged crime, Kharchenko should not worry much. Most likely, the case will fall apart before it even reaches the court. Kharchenko is not a pioneer in terms of bribery and bracelets. The experiences of his predecessors—university rectors guilty of bribery—show that neither the term in prison nor confiscation of property is likely. Moreover, Kharchenko is now listed as the University’s Provost for Research. Apparently, he goes to work from eight in the morning until his lunch break, and then reports home with his electronic bracelet.
As the number of university rectors arrested for taking bribes grows, there may be more university leaders joining the ranks of “rectors in bracelets.” How can this country with mind-boggling academic corruption continue to claim it has international caliber higher education? Why can’t Ukraine declare academic bankruptcy along with financial default? Should the country continue to fund its corrupt public universities? Will electronic bracelets fix the problem of university corruption? This failing nation has lost a decent level higher education due to impoverishment of the sector and endemic corruption. These two issues do not—and will not—allow the nation to re-create higher education at a respectable level.
At this point, the only solution may be to abolish state funding to corrupt universities — why feed crooked academics with public tax money? Alternatively, the authorities could declare bribery in academia legitimate— legalize it and stop disturbing the academic community and the general public with the news of more arrests. These arrests and charges have yet to result in anyone going to prison. Simply put, let profiteers profit, if they can, but without state support. As Ukraine no longer produces any credible and internationally reputable research and scholarship, perhaps the country’s academics should be allowed to do what they do best — harvesting bribes.
Ararat L. Osipian holds a Ph.D. in Education and Human Development from Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University. He is a Pontica Magna Fellow at New Europe Foundation, Bucharest. Presently, he conducts fieldwork on corruption, hybrid war, and the failed state in Ukraine.
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