Deryban (Ukraine and Russia)

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Deryban 🇺🇦 🇷🇺
Crimea crisis map (alternate color for Russia).PNG
Location: Ukraine and Russia
Definition: The expropriation and informal sharing of state property among private actors
Keywords: Ukraine Russia FSU Europe Property Expropriation Elite
Clusters: Market Functional ambivalence Gaming the system Camouflage Free-riding
Author: Olga Kesarchuk
Affiliation: Olga Kesarchuk, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto, Canada
Website: Profile page at UT

By Olga Kesarchuk, Olga Kesarchuk, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto, Canada

Deryban denotes the process of distributing public or state-owned resources among a narrow circle of the elite, serving their private interests at the expense of the public interest. It is closely associated with corruption. Deryban often occurs by formally legal means, without violations of laws and procedures that are themselves designed in a way that creates opportunities for deryban (Datsyuk). The term has been used widely in Ukrainian and Russian. It takes various forms – derybanyty (verb), derybanivshiy (participle), derybanshchyk (noun referring to the one who loots) and deryban-team (noun referring to a team of looters) (Chepurnyy 2015)[1].

No one English term fully captures the meaning of deryban, but looting, asset-stripping, embezzlement or (political) corruption come closest. In Ukrainian, prikhvatizatsiia (literally, grabbing of state-owned resources, which is a play on the Russian word privatizatsiia, meaning privatisation) comes closest to deryban. The difference between the two terms is that prikhvatizatsiia refers to the corrupt nature of a specific process – privatisation of former state assets – whereas deryban has a broader meaning, even though it also refers to the misappropriation of state resources. In the private sphere, the term reiderstvo (raiding) comes closest to deryban. Reiderstvo refers to a sudden, illegal change of ownership of privately-owned assets, usually by use of force. Delyozh or raspil (Russian), which mean distribution, sharing, partition, also come close in meaning to deryban, which tends to be used more often in the Ukrainian media.

Deryban is used across all sectors of the economy, but refers most frequently to corruption in the distribution of land. For example, a Facebook group (‘No to deryban’) was set up, and a website with the same name, which aimed to identify cases of unlawful land distribution in Crimea (Sereda 2012)[2]. Deryban may also refer to the misappropriation of budget resources. For example, it is used to describe corruption during the state purchase of goods and services, when a government official informally privileges a supplier who charges a higher price than others. In return, the official receives personal favours or money (vidkat in Ukrainain and otkat in Russian, meaning ‘kickback’). Privileged individuals may also obtain opportunities for deryban by exploiting their control of state property to serve their private interests. In an article published in mid-2015, for example, Serhiy Kuyun discussed the potential implications of the changes in management of Ukraine’s largest oil-extracting company, Ukrnafta. The state owns 50 per cent plus one share, yet the company is controlled by Ihor Kolomoyskyy, one of Ukraine’s richest oligarchs and head of the Pryvat business group. Under its previous head, Ukrnafta accumulated substantial debts to the state. Kuyun predicts that deryban will continue under Ukrnaftas’s new management, since the new head has close ties to Pryvat (Kuyun 2015)[3].

A representation of deryban as greedy hands’Source: Pyrozhyk, O. ‘Yakyy “deryban” zadumaly novi “volyns’ki lozyns’ki”?’ Pid Prytsilom, 5 March 2012 [1]

Deryban became widespread following the collapse of communism, when the post-Soviet states inherited significant resource endowments from the Soviet era yet were too weak to enforce their power. The state’s poor control over its property was the main driver that created opportunities for deryban. In many cases, indeed, the state deliberately dismantled its own control mechanisms (Ganev 2007:47)[4] in order to enrich certain societal actors. By this means, the state was able to buy loyalty and political support and to maintain its own power (Darden 2008)[5].

The scale of deryban differs from case to case and different levels of government may be involved; in all instances, however, access to state resources is granted with the permission and compliance of the state authorities. This exemplifies the neo-patrimonial nature of many post-Soviet states, where the boundaries between private and public interests are blurred (Van Zon 2001)[6]. In the words of Chrystia Freeland, the tragedy of the post-Soviet states was that ‘the best opportunity [for self-enrichment] was ripping off the decaying state’ (Freeland 2000:180)[7]. Charles Tilly famously argued that west European elites agree to certain constraints in exchange for the right to extract resources from the population (Tilly 1985)[8]. In the post-Communist states, by contrast, the fact that the bulk of resources was initially located in the hands of the state made the state a target for predation by former managers of state enterprises and members of the Soviet nomenklatura; this in turn undermined the building of efficient state institutions (Ganev 2007:180-188)[9]. Moreover, certain individuals who in the Soviet period had been on the margins of the society, or even outside the law, had connections to state officials which they were able to use to grab state assets. The practice which is now known as deryban was a common way of so doing.

Deryban has had negative implications for the economies of the post-Soviet states since it has deprived the state of the key resources needed to maintain state capacity. Deryban shapes but also reflects the nature of relations between business and the political elite since it involves the distribution of public resources according to private interests at the expense of the broader public good. Deryban is focused on short-term gain: assets taken from the state are consumed immediately, with no regard for their potential future value. Often, therefore, assets simply disappear or are wasted. If, for example, a forest is privatised, its trees may be chopped down and the land on which it stood distributed among a number of privileged individuals, who will use it to build their ‘cottages’ (often mansions); as a result, the forest is lost as a public good. In the case of reiderstvo, by contrast, the expropriated assets may continue to function. For example, a factory may continue production, even though ownership has shifted illegally and by use of force.

Deryban has important political and social implications. In the majority of cases, it occurs with the approval of a state bureaucrat who not only profits materially from the transaction but also gains power through patronage. As a result, deryban undermines state legitimacy since the population comes to view the bureaucracy and the political elite as corrupt. The social implications of deryban can therefore be severe. For example, a few privileged pharmaceutical suppliers in Ukraine, intent on creating opportunities for deryban, deliberately undermined public trust in imported vaccines. According to Ukraine’s Security Service, up to 40 per cent of the cost of medicaments purchased by the state disappeared into the pockets of these companies (Tsentr Protydii 2015)[10].

Deryban is difficult to measure given its informal nature. Independent media that expose cases of corruption are the most helpful in identifying the frequency and scale of deryban (see Holmes 2015 for a discussion of potential ways to measure corruption)[11].

Deryban could be prevented or diminished if there were political will to change the nature of business-state relations and to eradicate corruption. So far, such will has been missing in Ukraine and much of the rest of the post-Soviet space. There are, however, public initiatives aimed at eliminating deryban. The popular website Nashi Hroshi (‘Our Money’ )was created in 2010 to combat the abuse of budgetary funds in the course of official tenders. The site aims to raise social awareness of the misuse of taxpayers’ money and to draw attention to specific cases of the misappropriation of funds. The website also covers cases of land deryban. For example, it speculated that the Suprun family, closely related to Ukraine’s former president Victor Yanukovych, might be the owners of 17 plots of land in Kyiv’s elite Feofaniia park (Nashi Hroshi, 23 April 2015)[12]. Similarly, Ukraine’s Anticorruption Action Centre ( works to expose instances of corruption and identify those involved in it. Deryban has also been offset by means of symbolic gestures, such as the erection of a monument in protest against construction in downtown Kyiv that destroyed ancient monuments (see image 2).

The author thanks Ivan Presnyakov, Halyna Tytysh, Myroslava Petsa, and Olena Bagno-Moldavsky for their help in the preparation of this entry.


  1. Chepurnyy, Y. 2015. ‘Deryban-Komanda.’ Hromadske TV, 21 October
  2. Sereda, E. 2012. ‘Krymchane otmechayut v Internete na karte nezakonno vydannye zemli.’, 3 May
  3. Kuyun, S. 2015. ‘”Ukrnafta”: Reforma chy deryban?’ Dzerkalo Tyzhnya, 24 July
  4. Ganev, V. 2007. Preying on the State. The Transformation of Bulgaria after 1989. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press
  5. Darden, K. 2008. ‘The Integrity of Corrupt States: Graft as an Informal State Institution.’ Politics and Society 36(1): 35-60
  6. Van Zon, H. 2001. ‘Neo-Patrimonialism as an Impediment to Economic Development: The Case of Ukraine,’ Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 17(3): 71-95
  7. Freeland, C. 2000. Sale of the Century. The Inside Story of the Second Russian Revolution. London: Little, Brown
  8. Tilly, C. 1985. ‘War Making and State Making As Organized Crime,’ in P. B. Evans et al., Bringing the State Back In, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 169-191
  9. Ganev, V. 2007. Preying on the State. The Transformation of Bulgaria after 1989. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press
  10. Tsentr Protydii Koruptsii, ‘1,2 mlrd. koshtiv na liky u 2014 vytracheni neefektyvno – eksperty,’ 26 May 2015
  11. Holmes, L. 2015. Corruption. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  12. Nashi Hroshi, ‘Hektary Parku “Feofaniia” Vyjavylys Vlasnistu Otochennya Rodyny Suprun,’ 23 April 2015