Since I arrived in Zaporozhye on February 7th, the day of the news-worthy presidential run-off in Ukraine, I’ve been getting lots of questions about the election and how it relates to my work here as a Kiva Fellow. After my first week at HOPE Ukraine, I’m still struggling to find ways to tie Viktor Yanukovich’s victory to microfinance, HOPE Ukraine, or Kiva.

The connection isn’t apparent yet. Here’s the breakdown of the election, if you’re interested: those who supported Yulia Tymoshenko live in Western Ukraine, speak mostly Ukrainian, and generally support increased ties with the West. Viktor Yanukovich’s supporters live in Eastern Ukraine, speak mostly Russian, and are generally supportive of stronger relations with Russia. If you look at this electoral map posted by the Ukrainian newspaper Pravda, you can see just how divided the election was.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s econmy is struggling. I think this is the bottom line for most of Ukraine’s small business owners and beneficiaries of microfinance. To offer some perspective, a year ago it was leaked that Ukraine’s finance minister Viktor Pynzenyk was fearful of a Ukrainian economic collapse, and posited that Ukraine’s economic situation was “the worst in the world.”

The economic collapse here was not as gradual as it has been in the United States. A year and a half ago, Evie of KF6 blogged about the day in October when Ukraine’s economy literally crashed: ATMs shut down, banks closed, and Ukrainians in the east and west lost their jobs in droves. To cope, small business owners who already had microloans changed or diversified their businesses, like Mariya Roman who added porcelain dishes to her electrical goods business. I plan to meet Mariya when I visit Vinogradovo in April.

I don’t think I’ll have a clear picture of how Kiva borrowers have been affected by Ukraine’s election or the country’s economic instability until I meet the entrepreneurs in person, which starts next week.  I’ll be meeting Kiva borrowers at the enormous Angolenko Market (pictured below), the largest market in Zaporozhye that houses many of HOPE Ukraine’s clients.

A babushka descends the stairs at the enormous Angolenko Market, the largest market in Zaporozhye, Ukraine.

If you, faithful Kiva Fellows blog readers, have any insights, I encourage you to post comments below! I’ve only been here a week and would love to read your more informed viewpoints.

Leah Gage is a KF10 Kiva Fellow serving at HOPE Ukraine in Zaporozyhe, Ukraine. While in Ukraine she looks forward to traveling around this large country to meet the many borrowers who benefit from Kiva loans and learn about the impact the loans have on their personal and professional lives.

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