Byline: Tod Lindberg, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
DONETSK, Ukraine - A year after the Orange Revolution saw millions of Ukrainians take to the frozen streets of Kiev to protest a rigged election, ultimately leading to the nullification of its results and the election of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency, I found myself in a seminar room at Donetsk National University in eastern Ukraine, answering questions students posed in generally excellent English on the future of their country and its place in the Western world.
Donetsk is not Kiev. The Orange Revolution wasn't located here. Eastern Ukraine, which has a large ethnic Russian population, voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Yushchenko's opponent, Viktor Yanukovich, who was heavily backed by the Putin government in Moscow and on whose behalf took place the vote fraud that led to the massive protests.
Donetsk is an old mining and industrial town that used to be named after Stalin. In its own way, it's a tribute to a Ukrainian work ethic that persisted against all economic expectations during the period of Soviet communism. That old communist-era crack about life in the Soviet workers' paradise, "we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us," was a Moscow joke. In Donetsk, people weren't entirely pretending, and one of the things that's striking about Ukraine today is the extent to which industry has been able to build on rather than just toss out its Soviet-era experience. Antonov aircraft are no joke. Neither are Ukrainian rocket launch pads.
Neither is the local Sarmot brewery, one of the many holdings of 39-year-old Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's controversial richest man, one of whose planes picked us up in Kiev. His operations director and our tour guide for the multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art facility, whose software and systems are a product of German engineering at its finest, has been making beer since the Soviet days. He discusses his brewery with enthusiasm rooted in thorough competence through long experience. Except now he wears an Italian suit, and his leather overcoat looks like it came from Ermengildo Zegna or one of the other high-end shops now dominating the storefronts of Donetsk's main boulevard.
The students want to know whether Ukraine really has a future in the West. The European Union has just taken the step of designating it a "market economy," an important step on the way to greater economic integration, but an early one. Ukraine's products find markets not only in Russia but also in the EU, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, but Ukrainian industry isn't yet ready for full-bore competition with Western firms, not least because of the effects of below-market, …