Ukraine is undertaking the ambitious task of totally overhauling its police–a force that, prior to the Maidan, was one of the most notoriously corrupt in the post-Soviet world. The idea is that a force so corrupt can be reformed only by being ripped down and remade entirely from scratch: new training, new officers, new uniforms, a new self-concept.

The government in Kiev has brought in the former deputy interior minister from Georgia, who rebuilt the police force there in 2006, to lead the effort. The stakes are as high as could be: rule of law and the people's trust in the new regime–their sense that last winter's protests meant something–hang in the balance.

The police force is one of many institutions Ukraine's new leaders realize they must remake. It is institutions that carry on the legacies, traditions, habits of political systems. Russia looms as an example of what happens to a country if it decides not to reform its institutions at all: they come back and swallow it up. Transition becomes stagnation, and corruption reigns supreme.

This is a story of remaking a state, told through the lens of the police, an institution that has daily contact with citizens. If Ukraine’s police can be remade as uncorrupt, productive, trustworthy – in other words, completely different – they just might usher in the new Ukrainian era. And if they fail, all hope for a new Ukraine may be lost.

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Masha Gessen's picture
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Masha Gessen is a Russian-American journalist. She is a contributing opinion writer to the New York Times and a frequent contributor to New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Vanity...
Misha Friedman's picture
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Misha Friedman is a documentary photographer with a background in international relations and economics. His recent long-term projects deal with patriotism and corruption in Russia and the...

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