Just a Border, Not a Barrier

17 June 2017 - 00:40
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Ukraine’s Vice Premier for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, talks to Oksana Smerechuk about visa free travel, gender equality, and more
Just a Border, Not a Barrier / Programs on Hromadske Radio

Hello and welcome to Ukraine Calling, your weekly review of what’s been happening in Ukraine with a focus on a main issue. I’m Oksana Smerechuk for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv, and here’s a look at some of the stories that were in the news this week.




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FOCUS INTERVIEW: Ukraine’s Vice Premier for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, talks to Oksana Smerechuk about visa free travel, gender equality, and more.

Smerechuk: Today we will be talking about the process of European integration and how this has allowed Ukrainians to see the implementation of visa-free travel. We are having a conversation with Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Ukraine’s Vice-Premier for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. Welcome!

Klympush-Tsintsadze: It’s my pleasure to be here.

Smerechuk: Just to recap recent events: Last Sunday, June the 11th, was a rather special day from a Ukrainian perspective. The European Union’s decision to allow Visa-free travel came into force from midnight, which means that Ukrainians can now travel up to 90 days in the Schengen area without a visa, just with a Ukrainian biometric passport. There was a big celebration in central Kyiv, on European Square, with a countdown to midnight. An emotional speech to the crowds by President Poroshenko, who said that Ukraine was saying a final farewell to the Soviet and Russian Empire. How did you spend the first day of visa-free travel?


Oksana Smerechuk and Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze during the interview for Ukraine Calling //
Oksana Smerechuk and Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze during the interview for Ukraine Calling

Klympush-Tsintsadze: I started pretty early, by seeing off one of the trains that was caring passengers with biometric passports. We were trying to double-check how it works. It was a train from Kyiv to Przemyśl, Poland, with a group of forty experts, NGO activists, civil society leaders, some of very known writers like Andriy Kurkov, for example. They got together because over these years they made serious efforts to help the government to carry on the reform efforts that led to this decision of the European Union. They traveled and celebrated in Przemyśl, on Polish territory. This particular day had to stay home because next day I had to go to another trip, to double check how travel to Croatia will work, with a visit by [Ukrainian] Prime-Minister Groysman where we also had a possibility to see a confirmation and to celebrate this historic decision along with our partners.

I totally agree that this is a historic decision, because it takes away those barriers that were formed during Soviet times, during the Cold War. And later after the dissolution of the Soviet Union between Ukraine and our neighbors who joined the European Union, and who have succeeded much faster in their reform progress, in their acceptance into the European Union. I think it is hugely important, because now the border between us and European Union states is just a border and not a barrier. It is a biggest positive change for both – for the youngest representatives of Ukrainian society, who, I am sure, will use all the opportunities to explore Europe, bringing experience from Europe to Ukraine, and obviously, for the more mature group that never had a chance to travel.

Smerechuk: However, The past few years leading up to this day of visa-free has been something of a roller-coaster for Ukrainians. President Poroshenko had promised that EU visa free travel was coming soon to Ukraine, early in his Presidency. Ukrainians were waiting with high expectations, then disappointment that it wasn’t happening. For example in April, Ukrainian were following events with high interest, as in the Netherlands, voters in a referendum rejected an agreement that would bring closer economic ties between Ukraine and the EU. Disappointment. Then just now in May, the Netherlands parliament did vote in an amended agreement. Relief. But still the public mood was a lot of skepticism, and incredulity, that the visa-free regime would ever come into effect. Why do you think there is this intense interest in the issue of visa-free travel to Europe? What does it mean for the average Ukrainian?

Klympush-Tsintsadze: First and foremost we have to understand that Ukraine has found itself in the middle of European internal discussion between Eurosceptics and Eurocentrics. In the Netherlands when this referendum on ratification agreement was taking place a year ago, we were assured by many people, and from our partners form abroad that this, unfortunately, had nothing to do with Ukraine. It is about capability of Europeans to co-op with their internal challenges. The migration wave that European Union experienced in 2015, which we did not contribute to at all, notwithstanding that fact that we do have a part of our territory illegally occupied and annexed by Russian Federation and we have more than 1,700 ,000 internally displaced people who did not go to European Union to find their home but settled down in other regions of Ukraine. It’s important to understand that. Unfortunately, it was just bad timing for us to deliver on our part of the promise and on our internal changes.

Why was it and still is important for Ukrainian people that visa-free travel has now become possible? This is about two major things. That means that the country is changing in accordance to the desire and will of people who have chosen during the Revolution of Dignity back in 2013-14, when we fought for the EU Association Agreement to be signed, and when authorities decided to take a wrong and totally unsupported move to keep out of the agreement. So from that time on it was a return of Ukrainian citizens to their roots and to their home, since Europe has been always home for Ukrainians, as Ukraine has always been European country. For us it’s about our dignity, about being seen as partners, being seen as the equals we believe we are. And that we can contribute a lot to the future of the European continent, bringing in this value of protection of basic freedoms that are important for every single European citizen. We believe that we are also entitled to this chance and to this possibility to further implement laws, procedures, rules that prove to bring up and develop the nations on the European continent and Ukraine as well.

Smerechuk: Now what about for Ukrainians who do not want to travel? How does this Association Agreement bring Europe to them?

Klympush-Tsintsadze: That is… let me just also return back just a little bit to the previous question. Because there is also a lot of manipulation, and a lot of attempts to present this as not important for many Ukrainian, because not all of us have the financial capacity to travel. But I think we are underestimating the desire of Ukrainians to learn more about the world, and to also present themselves with all the additional opportunities of travelling by bus, by train, and they are not as expensive as plane travel, for example. I am sure that a lot of people will explore this opportunity. With regard to those who still will decide not to travel, the Association Agreement is a clear and very ambitious, very difficult, we have to understand that set of reforms that we have accepted as our guidance for change here in accordance to the rules that are common for the European Union States. And therefore with bringing different spheres of our lives to the standards that are operational in the European Union, we will make sure that Ukrainians are getting kind of a stamp of quality, of upgraded quality of life here. And upgraded possibilities for not only visa free travel for people, but at some point, I could say, about visa free travel for our products, for our capital, for services. And we will be able to act on same basis as other companies and legal bodies operating in the European Union States. So, therefore, it is about every single standard, starting from the environmental protection and ending to the safety of consumer products that are being sold in our stores. 

Smerechuk: So, just last week the Ukrainian Parliament adopted amendments, which confirm the Ukraine’s foreign policy objective is now joining NATO. So, how realistic do you think is that prospect?

Klympush-Tsintsadze: First and foremost I very much welcome this decision of the Ukrainian Parliament. Bbecause ambiguity and not decidedness in this direction has actually led the Russian Federation to believe that it can attack Ukraine, and basically paved the way for Russian occupation of Ukrainian territories. So, clarity of the goal, and thus importance of every single step of reaching to that goal by setting internally the standards that are common for NATO States both in the Ukrainian defense and security system. But it’s much wider. I mean, you know, in terms of ensuring the work of the rule of law, ensuring the democracy standards of the freedom of speech for that matter, or any other value which is common for NATO nations. This is just part of the same important job, the same direction the EU integration, European integration, Euro-Atlantic integration. So, we are not putting a question forward today that we want to submit a membership… I do not know how you call it.

Smerechuk: Application.

Klympush-Tsintsadze: Yes, a membership application. But it is about knowing the goal, setting a clear timetable for ourselves how can we ensure that within the system of defense, within the system of security. We are following technical, procedural and political standards of operation, starting from the civilian control of armed forces, of the military, of a security architecture in the country, and up to very specific technical requirements to that type of ammunition that we are using in our army, for example. That again requires a lot of internal work. So, I think that it is realistic prospective, once we are ready.

Smerechuk: In all the exited interest in a lead up to visa free travel to the EU on the 11th of June it was easy to overlook the fact that just a week ago The Cabinet of Ministers ratified establishing an office for gender issues. A Vice Premier had been assigned responsibility for the portfolio of gender issues and this is significant, and it is also a first for Ukraine that these issues had been giving such a high profile. So, what are you going to do? What are you going to do next?

Klympush-Tsintsadze: First and foremost I think it is extremely important that gender equality issue is a matter that is uniting the whole Government, and that it is high in the agenda of the Government. And this is reflected in our three year plan of action that we have recently adopted for the Government. I think this means that the gender equality will have to be a part of activities, and part of practice in different Ministries. It is a long road. We have some successes already on this way, but still… I think we are still pretty much at the beginning of an efficient implementation phase.

I am very happy that Ministers and the Prime Minister have supported the establishment of the governmental envoy position in the Government, which is important for the establishment of practice of inter-agency coordination among the ministries. Because we do have a separate Ministry, the Ministry of Social Policy, that is responsible for producing a gender policy, and setting the agenda. But than it is very difficult to coordinate horizontally between the Ministries and their activities. And that is why you need some kind of the upper-co-ordination role to assemble all the initiative and to control and monitor how the things that we have sat for ourselves are being implemented.

And then you are creating the positive force of pushing, and making sure that we are actually delivering on those plans that we have adopted for ourselves. Because we do have a very good developed national action plan for implementation of the UN resolution 1325, for example, in women peace and security. But then again it is very difficult to ensure that it is being delivered in a coordinated and coherent way by different Ministries, and that everybody is up to speed on implementation that one, or with regard to the plan of ensuring the equal human rights, which also has a separate section on ensuring gender equality, for example.

Or with regard to the plan of ensuring the equal human rights, which also has a separate section on ensuring gender equality for example. So, this just gives you the instrument, gives the government the instrument, how to coordinate more efficiently, and how to monitor and create a new system of monitoring. Which is, again, more adequate to meet today’s challenges and up to modern requirements as well.

And here, we are lucky that we have international partners of ours, happy to help with implementation and we are grateful for the Swedish Government, for the Canadian Government for supporting these efforts and the UN Women, for OAEC on this support here, for the Council of European as well, all international organizations that value, the importance of this matter. I hope with these concrete steps, we will be able to deliver more on equality of women and men.

Smerechuk: You have said that: “Doing away with gender stereotypes is far from easy. In a way, it is a farewell to the colonial inheritance. This is not about women’s issues themselves, but issues of stability and security for the development of society and the state.” What did you mean by that?

Klympush-Tsintsadze: Unfortunately, our society is not yet well aware of the fact that by empowering women, we are empowering the even economic well-being of society. By having women more engaged in decision-making on the higher level, we are creating a more sustainable formula for delivering on, for example, even the peace process. Because that means that you are looking at the problem from a totally different perspective, from a male and female perspective, and then you are creating a much more encompassing way of dealing with the problem. Including the settling of peace, or the reintegration of territories, including the reintegration of people, for example.

Also, we are not well aware of the statistics that show the success of different (other) countries. When we have more engagement of women in politics, in social life, in active role of society, this produces a clear, positive trend in GDP growth, in ensuring the well-being of people. And this is something that is totally underestimated in society here.

Also, we did have years ago, or rather centuries ago, we did have a society where men and women were standing on much more equal footing. Unfortunately, with the presence of the Russian Empire on our territory, and then the Soviet state on our territory, we lost quite a lot of those traditions. So we are coming back to very old traditions of Ukrainian society. And we can see that, even right now, in Parliament, we have 12 per cent of women. It is still a very low representation percentage, but it’s the highest we’ve ever had. And we can see how efficiently and actively women are using this mandate that they received in representing people in Parliament. And someone might even think there are more woman than 12 per cent in the Ukrainian Parliament because they are so engaged, and so active, and so caring for every single issue they are dealing with.

So, I think I would like to see us having at least 150 mandates [seats] or one-third of the Ukrainian Parliament being represented by women – highly professional, highly skilled women – that are capable of taking care of the tasks that are set before parliamentarians. And also it would be good to have more representation of women in the Ukrainian Government. At this point, we have (a few 80 percentage-wise, otherwise, you would have) 80 percent of women in the government. But if you think of the whole civil service, then 75 per cent of women are working in civil service, so this is total underrepresentation. On the basic, ground level, you have most women working, then when it comes to decision-making, you only have a few. I think this balance has to be brought [changed] to adequately represent society.

Smerechuk: You have been listening to a conversation with Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Vice Premier for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. Thank you. 

Klympush-Tsintsadze: Thank you.

Smerechuk: And thank you. It’s been a pleasure to have you with us.

Klympush-Tsintsadze: Thank you very much.


Good News

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Slovak president Andrej Kiska and Petro Poroshenko during a symbolic ceremony of 'opening' visa free travel regime //
Slovak president Andrej Kiska and Petro Poroshenko during a symbolic ceremony of ‘opening’ visa free travel regime

“A Good Spring for Ukraine,” was a headline in Canada’s newspaper, The National Post recently. Diane Francis listed all the positive developments in Ukraine in recent months. She’s one of the paper’s editors, and also a Fellow at the Atlantic Council and Distinguished Professor at Toronto’s Ryerson University. 

The week definitely began on a positive note. At midnight of Sunday June 11th, the EU’s borders opened to Ukrainians for visa free travel. The country’s President, Petro Poroshenko, called the moment as a ‘final break’ with the Russian Empire. Standing in front of a crowd in Kyiv’s European Square, he called it a historic moment, a final break with the Russian Empire. Then, with a smile on his face and a little wave, he quoted the 19th century Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov, saying ‘Farеwell, unwashed Russia.’ We’ll post a video of the speech and the wave on our website. 

Not Good News

But Russia continues to wage war against Ukraine. In many ways. In Moscow, a court convicted former head of the Ukrainian Library, Natalia Sharina, of extremism and embezzlement, and gave the librarian a four-year suspended sentence. She had been charged back in 2015, for having books, in storage, which incited “interethnic enmity and hatred.” Sharina’s defence lawyer said the incriminating books were planted by police. BBC reported that Ms Sharina plans to appeal the court’s decision, and that after the trial she said, “A librarian is such a good, peaceful profession. You sit there, reading books. So the fact that this is happening in the 21st century will probably be remembered in decades to come — like we remember the Doctors Plot and 1937,” referring to the Stalin era. Amnesty International called the case ‘a travesty of justice.’ 

A Ukrainian journalist has gone missing in Donets’k. Former MP and Donetsk Automaidan activist Yehor Firsov notified Ukrainian authorities about the disappearance. The Ukrainian journalist has lived in Donetsk since the occupation and has been writing under the pseudonym Stanislav Vasin for Ukrainian and international media outlets, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. According to his relatives, the man failed to show up for a meeting in Avdiivka on 2 June, and his apartment in Donets’k has signs of a break-in. The Ukraine Crisis Media Center reported that authorities of the self-proclaimed ‘Donets’k People’s Republic’ did not provide any information about the journalists’ whereabouts.


The past week was bloody and deadly in the war zone in eastern Ukraine. OSCE reported a 75% increase in explosions. Civilians continue to be targets. Ukrainian authorities reported that the town of Avdiivkia was left without gas supplies when their infrastructure was bombed. Over the past week 9 Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 41 sustained injuries. The United Nations Mission in Ukraine expressed concern that things would continue to escalate with the warmer weather arriving, since this has been the pattern of the war for the past 3 years.

New American Sanctions against Russia

Meanwhile, back in the US, Congress voted almost unanimously for new sanctions against Russia, targeting energy, mining, metals, railways. And individuals involved in cyber-attacks or weapons procurement to the Syrian government. This comes the same week as Trump and his allies are under the microscope for alleged collaboration with the Kremlin during the 2016 election campaign. Congress also voted to limit President Trump’s ability to ease any existing sanctions against Russia that were imposed during the Obama presidency. 


For our cultural segment this week, we will be sharing some writing inspired by the start of visa-free travel to the EU. The writer and poet Katerina Babkina wrote on what this change means to Ukrainians. Here is an excerpt:

And with my passports it’s all different — these are my little fetishes. They have a lot of visas and stamps. Three and five year European multiple entry visas, USA and Canada for 10 years, for a Full House I guess I’m lacking visas to Great Britain and Australia, but for the time being I don’t need to go there. There are also various strange Asian visas. Some of those I received through sustained correspondence with various Asian ministries over several months, others through bank confirmations of having certain sums of money, with which you’d be able to live  for a couple of years in the country of destination. Without this amount, they will not stick the coloured piece of paper in your passport. Your passport gets full from all the stamps and visas considerably faster than its actual expiry date, and I acquire new passports and I cut the visas out of the old ones. I have a whole box full of these visas.

My passports are like my school diary, where the marks are all excellent and good. It’s like a report card that says that you are the third, no, maybe the fifth best in your class. I always offer them proudly and ceremoniously to the passport officers at passport control. Let them see how many places I have visited. Let them know how many countries have regarded me as worthy of granting me admission.****

***I was once invited to a cinema festival in New York in order to do a poetry reading. I came to the embassy with my splendid passport, which gave evidence of how many places I had travelled to successfully and legally and from which I returned. And with 100% genuine invitations, with stamps and signatures, from Columbia University and from the cinema festival. It took the visa officer at the window all of 40 seconds to tell me to go home. Maybe he had a toothache. Perhaps the festival had not published the full program yet, and they didn’t see my name and my photo, which appeared later. Maybe they had issued too many visas that day. I will never know.***

****After that incident, which happened and was forgotten about quite long ago, I changed my attitude to people who had decided not to travel anywhere. Because they had a blank passport; because they had no reference from work; because they didn’t know how to fill in the form; because they were afraid that they had the wrong tickets, and not the right sort of hotel bookings; because they wanted to visit relatives or friends, and that was suspect; because they were unmarried; because they thought that everybody in the consulate would be speaking to them in a foreign language which they don’t understand; and in the visa centre they won’t let them in because there will be a problem in going through the metal detector; or the security guard won’t like their face. But actually, it’s simply because they don’t want to be not admitted. They don’t want to be told, and possibly, have this confirmed with a document, that they are worse than they should be. That they’re not the sort of people that we want to see. That they are not suitable.

I remembered this expedition to the American consulate, and the attempts of people to avoid similar adventures — whether consciously or unconsciously, seemed quite rational to me. Held up against the background of this negative emotional experience, the opportunity to explore and learn, investigate a new reality, and broaden one’s worldview did not seem enough of a motivation to trouble oneself in order to obtain a sticker in one’s passport.

Visa-free travel to the EU, actually, does not take away our borders and limitations. Tickets and hotels are still expensive. The proof that you will return and the proof that you have the means to pay for your stay in your destination country, can still be needed. And foreign languages have not become any more comprehensible. But you do not have to prove to anyone in advance that you are OK — and that is very important.

According to published data, on the first day of visa-free travel, 52 thousand people left Ukraine for Schengen zone countries, and only 20 percent of them were really without visas and with those scary, blank, absolutely new passports. But the number of people in visa centres indicates that soon everybody will have those blank new passports. And they will be proud of them, that is, of the passports of their own country, and not what the consulates of other countries have decided to glue in them.

I flew out of Boryspil that same Sunday morning, and it seemed to me, that all 52 thousand of those people were there. Approximately half of them held balloons. And absolutely all of them were happy. Because they were admitted. We were all admitted. They gave us a good mark. They told us, that we were no worse than anybody else. And this inspires and stimulates and takes away our fear and our stress. Takes away those stones which build the scariest and most insurmountable borders, inside of us.

Here’s the Ukrainian original.


In case you were wondering if there’s a country sound in Ukrainian music, check out this number by a band called Nebraska, from Drohobych/Ivano-Frankivs’k in western Ukraine. It’s called, ‘Ей, брате, все в нас добре буде.’ It means “Hey brother all’s gonna be fine with us.” In July they’ll be performing live at a music festival in a town called Dubno, which is in the Rivne oblast. The festival is called “Taras Bul’ba.” He was a legendary Ukrainian Cossack leader. Some of you might remember the 1962 Hollywood film about him, starring Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis, loosely based on the novel by Nikolai Gogol, or, in the Ukrainian pronunciation, Mykola Hohol’. But back to Nebraska. Here’s Hey brother. Enjoy!


Next week Bohdan Nahaylo will be hosting the show and bringing you an overview of the news in Ukraine, international issues, and a feature interview. Tune in for a new episode. And we’d love to hear from you. Write to us at [email protected]. I’m Oksana Smerechuk for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv. Thanks for listening.

Interview transcribed by Larysa Iarovenko, Nykole King, Ilona Szieventseva, Max Sviezhentsev. Headlines by Marta Dyczok, Culture, by Oksana Smerechuk. Music selected by Marta Dyczok. Sound engineer Anna Kirishun. Web support Kyrylo Loukerenko.


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