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Reboot the Revolution: A New Democratic Alliance between Civil Society & Indie Media in Ukraine

25 November 2016 - 21:22 810
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Host Marko Suprun gets three perspectives from US expert Adrian Karatnycky, Ukrainian MP Svitlana Zalishchuk, and Ukrainian journalist Andriy Kulykov

Welcome to Ukraine Calling where we try to find harmony hidden within the cacophony of stories, news and views about Ukraine. I’m Marko Suprun for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv and here’s a look at some of the notes making headlines this week.

HEADLINES

FOCUS INTERVIEW: Host Marko Suprun gets three perspectives from US expert Adrian Karatnycky, Ukrainian MP Svitlana Zalishchuk, and Ukrainian journalist Andriy Kulykov.

CULTURE and MUSIC

LOOKING FORWARD

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FOCUS INTERVIEW: EuroMaidan Three Years Later, Three Perspectives

Host Marko Suprun gets three perspectives from US expert Adrian Karatnycky, Ukrainian MP Svitlana Zalishchuk, and Ukrainian journalist Andriy Kulykov.

Adrian Karatnycky is the founder and managing partner of the Myrmidon Group that works with investors and corporations seeking entry into complex markets in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. For over a decade he was the president and CEO of Freedom House, a pro-democracy and economic reform non-governmental organization. In the 1980s he played a leading role in offering assistance to and building support for Poland’s Solidarity movement. He writes frequently for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal. He also co-founded the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, and is a Senior Scholar at the Atlantic Council.

Svitlana Zalishchuk is a Member of Parliament and journalist. She was elected to parliament in 2014 on President Poroshenko’s party bloc. She has experience in and out of government. In 2005 she was press secretary to Oleh Rybachuk, then Deputy Prime Minister for European integration. After the collapse of Orange coalition, she continued her efforts and co-founded an NGO called “Chesno” that acts as a watchdog on Members of Parliament. She was up until recently, the representative from Ukraine to the European Council.

Andriy Kulykov is the CEO of Hromadske Radio. He was senior producer for the BBC’s Ukrainian service in London. He has worked on TV and Radio for over 20 years. He is an author of several books and has translated other works from Russian into Ukrainian from Ukrainian into English. He also teaches journalism at the Kyiv Journalism Institute and the Mariupol State University. We all owe a big thank you to his grandmother who was his inspiration to go into radio.

Andriy, I would like to start with you. You were out on the Maidan as it started, as a lot of Hromadske Radio correspondents were there at that time, because the station had just opened in the summer of that year. Hromadske Radio collected a series of interviews when the Maidan started. On the third anniversary of Maidan, a few days ago, there was a group of radically minded people who ended up smashing the façade of SbirBank, a Russian owned bank. Do you think Ukrainian society is more radicalized three years after the Euromaidan or is this a small group of people that act out or portray a certain picture for friends of ours to the north that then gets translated into other news agencies in order to promote the idea that Ukraine is a failed state?

Kulykov: Frankly speaking I would say that the Ukrainian society has become less radicalized. If we compare the state of things today with what was there 3 years ago because people like those whom you mentioned were on Maidan as well. They were quite numerous, and they threw Molotov cocktails at law enforcers, and they engaged in clashes with law enforces. They smashed some windows in that time. Why do we pay more attention to them now? Because they act against the background of a great many people who are silent and who are passive? In contrast to what was there on Maidan.

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Andriy Kulykov, Svitlana Zalishchuk and Adrian Karatnycky //
Andriy Kulykov, Svitlana Zalishchuk and Adrian Karatnycky

Suprun: When you say silent, do you mean the concept in US politics about the silent majority? Is that what you are referring to?

Kulykov: Probably. But I would not like to refer to American concepts here. We have enough of ours.

Suprun: Very true. What do you think were some of the main accomplishments of the Euromaidan? What are some of the challenges that stand in the way of Ukraine’s aspirations for European integration? One of the things that recently came out was that Yuri Lutsenko [Interior Minister] said that 35 people have been sentenced, and 152 people are currently being prosecuted for crimes committed against activists during the Euromaidan.

Kulykov: One of the problems with these figures is that none of the most senior officials were sentenced. If you ask the average Ukrainian to name those people who have got their just deserts, they probably will be at a loss. The former president is still at large, in Russia, many of his ministers and closest allies are free, and some of them walk the streets of Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. So, yes, maybe they punished a colonel or captain and some privates, and maybe they punished some judges who ruled against the law during those times, but until they show that they are really after the big bad guys, I think most of the people will remain disappointed.

Suprun: Svitlana, you are inside the Parliament almost every day. Is that possible?

Zalishchuk: You mean the progress? When you are asking about the accomplishments, I have two answers in my mind. First of all, it’s justice that you had referred to. Second, it’s a progress with reforming of the country. I agree here that there is a silent majority. I think mostly people are silent because there is a lot of disappointment and disillusionment because of high expectations that were there and because of high public demand for the reforms and for real changes. But at the same time we have to say that during the last two years, nevertheless, a lot of things have been done. Probably more than in previous 23 years when it comes for example for a adopting of the new legislation and building the institutions. Probably it’s one of the most crucial things what we started is to establish the institutions like Anti-Corruption Bureau and Agency of Preventing the Corruption, electronic declarations, public broadcasting system and so on. Regardless of the names, regardless of the parties these institutions will bring us further on the path of the reforms.

Suprun: Do you think that the group of the Euro-optimists who entered Parliament in 2014 are fighting and the losing battle against creating these institutions and then manning them at the same time?

Zalishchuk: Euro-optimists still have the status of troublemakers rather than decision makers in the Parliament. It applies to a new generation in the government and on the local level as well. What I’m trying to say is that we have been invitees by the old forces who took us on board to Parliament, and now, at the moment we managed to block a number of initiatives, or push forward number the initiatives,and came to some better results. At the same time, when time comes and elections will knock on the door, we would find ourselves in the same shoes that we still have no institutions that have a chance to offer the society an alternative proposal.

Suprun: Adrian, you’ve been involved in a lot of work in Eastern Europe beginning in the 80s with the Solidarity movement. What are some of the things that hromadske suspilstvo, civil society, can actually do to ensure some of these irreversible changes?

Karatnycky: Let’s talk about how different this is. When President Poroshenko was elected, he was a part of the Maidan, but he came with a very different profile than the typical activist who was on the Maidan. He was a billionaire who was hired by the Ukrainians to manage the country. I did not think they came with expectations of a revolution. They came with expectations of some kind of gradual but quick shift in their economic conditions and someone who could establish order at a time when security was looking out of control. He had a very mixed record in managing all of the kinds of things. Some were accomplishments, and some not. However, I don’t think that there was a revolutionary expectation. If we look at who was on the Maidan- hundreds of thousands of people around the country, but that’s still only a very small proportion of the society. I think there were expectations about European integration, expectations of stopping corruption and stopping Yanukovych in a basic sense, and, secondly, getting the economy to rise. I think that’s the main motivator for the public. Anti-corruption has support because the public sees it as a deterrent or as a drag on economic growth and on their wellbeing. It’s a sort of an attitude that these people are stealing and we have less. The economy is a much more complicated organism and that corruption is only part of it. Rule of law is another part. The main interest of the public is economic wellbeing and maybe for a while they were diverted by the slogans of European integration but I don’t think that was the main motivator. I think they were diverted also because of the security threat, and the mobilization and the consolidation of the nation around the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation] and so on. But when things came to a sort of a low intensity conflict, and a long term conflict waged by Russia against Ukraine, the economic priorities moved to the floor as they have for the last 25 years. There is not a single successful political leader who did not see within a year or two their ratings go all the down the hill. Maybe Mr. Kuchma maneuvered a little, but he had a very special circumstance. In his second election he had very favourable opportunities, because the candidates who were against him were very weak, and the strongest candidate died in a questionable accident. I think that historically the Ukrainian voters are economically driven rather than politically driven.

Suprun: Last week on the show we mentioned a new document developed by The Atlantic Council with a foreword by Radislaw Sikorski, former foreign minister of Poland. The authors say that the Kremlin has opaque connections with business and political parties and these connections “facilitate corruption and quid pro quo relationships” and their aim is to move policies in Europe away from integration and toward Russia using “coercion and corruption.” Svitlana, you represented Ukraine at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, do agree with this assessment and if so, what do you think can be done to change the way things work in the EU?

Zalishchuk: Fortunately, I have to agree with this analysis. Working in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe council, you see of how sometimes Russian money is efficient in Europe: in different delegations you can see motivated  parliamentarians as well as very efficient work of PR agencies or some consulting firms or some spin doctors that working in Europe in different kinds of institutions. We also know, and it’s as a fact from the investigations, about the money invested in European politics such as support of Marine Le Pen, for example, or there were loans that have been promised to Greek Prime Minister and so on. It’s interesting that only 3 weeks ago from what I remember the EU Parliament started to discuss the role of Russian propaganda in Europe and counteractions the EU should undertake against it. Three years after the aggression, we have witnessed a very efficient growth of Russian propaganda in the whole western civilization. What I’m trying to say is that it’s too late. When it comes to the counteractions, what can be done first of all is unity. Second of all, it’s introduction of pro-active policies not only in information sphere but also in security sphere to counteract Russian efforts in politics, introduction of measures that can efficiently prevent Russia to invest in those parties and NGOs and media and so on.

Suprun: Andriyu, do you see Russian Trojan horses in Ukrainian politics? Especially, in the civil society sector?

Kulykov: I don’t know. It would be very easy and sometimes it is very easy for people to put a stamp on other people to say, “Listen, they are working for another state, they are enemies. Let’s sort of punish them”. However I would like to come back to what Adrian has said about Ukrainians being mostly economically driven to protest. In many cases yes, I agree. In the so-called Revolution of Dignity and the word “so-called” relates to “revolution” and not to “dignity”. It was about dignity and about the desire to have a vote, to have a say in deciding the fate of the country…

Karatnycky:  I fully agree with you. The point that I was making was that the people who took part in the revolution were motivated by values. The people, the broader masses are always primarily motivated by the economy. It was a specific subset. Initially, the middle classes of Kyiv were upset at the violence against the young people, who idealistically came out to defend certain values. I think the hundreds and thousands of people who rose every week, there was a middle class revolution not based on their economic interests. It was the wealthier people in Kyiv and patriotically motivated people, but not economically motivated people. And certainly the people at Maidan who took the bullets were not motivated by money. The broader population gages its attitudes. There is a moment of euphoria when they buy the values of the people who went out on Maidan and the Orange Revolution and so on, but I think it’s still an active minority that has those values that has been pushing the country. The rest of the country, I would say, traditionally has been passive, has been a spectator and has been more driven by the economy, but I fully agree with you that there was a mass movement and it was a political movement, not an economic movement.

Kulykov: I fully agree with your protracted explanation.

Karatnycky: Interestingly, I would make the passivity argument which is the economically motivated people have never mobilized in the history of Ukraine. Despite the hardships there has never been a serious mass movement. There has been a left movement, trade-union movement, anything like that you see in countries like Greece or Spain where economics is driving (to protests). It’s always been driven by politics. But again it’s still in minority.

Kulykov: The only thing that I would like to add to this discussion is about people who are working, supposedly working for Russia. Analyzing the outcome of the Revolution of Dignity we do not take into account the thesis that flight of Yanukovych might have been orchestrated by Russia. It was in Russian interests to throw away a pro-Russian president and use it as a pretext “to defend a Russian speaking population” and to invade Crimea and Donbas area. If they were doing this while Mr. Yanukovych was still in power, no person in the world was going to believe them. When Mr. Yanukovych was replaced by people who might be called “nationalists”, this argument stated to be a factor. 

Karatnycky: I am not sure whether I agree with Andriy’s thesis that this was a directed plan. But it was an opportunity. When they saw an opportunity of  both to take territories and to attempt  to create a failed state, which would give them even more opportunity, it was primarily used as a mobilizing device for Putin’s continuing hold on power. All of Putin’s external manoeuvres, and his violence, are driven by an imperialist imperative. But this imperialist imperative is designed to maintain high ratings and to build up frenzy for  a great power that he has built up among Russian people which, unfortunately, a large portion of Russian people warms to.

Suprun: I think Andriy makes a valid point that the Revolution of Dignity wasn’t necessarily about economics. There was a value aspect to it. And when Ukrainians see these kinds of moves by the oligarchs, it changes the dynamic. Is that something that the Parliament is capable of dealing with?

Zalishchuk: Parliament has done a couple of initiatives that aimed to counteract the influence of oligarchs on politics. But we also have to be honest with ourselves that Parliament is not really a platform where decisions are made. Unfortunately, it did not become the main platform for the decision making process. It’s still in certain cabinets [offices] where people [meet] with oligarchs and together decide on where Ukraine should go, and which decisions should be made. But I’ll have to mention, we adopted this new legislation on state financing of political parties, with establishing alternative on new forces to get some finances from the state, so they don’t have to go to the oligarchs to beg for money. And additionally, the Agency on Prevention of Corruption have to check now, have to scrutinize every single party in this country on how they spend and get their money. But it’s interesting. If I may give you one illustration. During the last year, in the first two quarters of this year actually, the Democratic Alliance was found to be the richest party in the country. This small party, with very low support which is combined of activists. The Petro Poroshenko Bloc and Narodniy Front [National Front] is getting much less, and is spending much less, than the Democratic Alliance, according to the official reports. What I’m trying to say is, the law is very good. The implementation is not working.

Karatnycky: Can I just make one point? I think the big problem, the big gorilla in the room is the television resource, and I think that that is a huge problem for people who care about press freedom. On the other hand, it’s the problem of how do you reduce oligarchic political influence. It’s the principle instrument. It’s also the principle instrument in this back and forth between government and the media. So we have a very complicated situation, and lovely though Hromadske Radio is, and lovely though a bunch of fringe media initiatives are, it is only a very small portion, regrettably, of the spectrum.

Suprun: You mentioned fringe media, Andriyu…

Karatnycky: I don’t want to call it fringe media. I would say: not the largest, the most powerful media. They’re not fringe, because their values are real media values. So I don’t want to call them fringe.

Suprun: We live in what I would think is a David and Goliath media age. Oligarchs own eighty to ninety percent of the media information ecosystem in Ukraine. You know this very well Svitlana, you were a journalist. Andriy, you’re still a journalist. Adrian you also were a journalist. Everyone here has been around long enough to see the changes and how the news is consumed. Are we, Hromadske Radio, the small David media outlets losing to the oligarchic Goliaths? We just launched a crowd-funding effort recently. Do we stand a chance at winning this information war?

Kulykov:Well I’m absolutely sure, because there are so-called asymmetric ways of dealing with your enemies, if we regard them as enemies, even more so with your competitors.

Karatnycky: So you’re saying Hromadske Radio is a sling-shot, is that what you’re saying?

Kulykov: Definitely, definitely. If we talk about oligarchs owning 80 to 90 percent of the media, well my answer is, they own the wrong media.

Suprun: That’s a good one! Svitlana, what do you think?

Zalishchuk: I think the most important thing is that journalists themselves organize within the media outlets to fight for their rights for the profession and for their rights for the freedom of speech. This is what has happened in 2004. I remember when I was working on Channel Five TV, we wrote a public agreement with our owner, Petro Poroshenko, that he does not have the right to interfere into news [editorial] policies. And if there was an attempt, even, we had a chance to stand for what we believe was right. So we adopt many, many, rules in Parliament, while trying to sort of push it forward, for example, the Media Ownership Transparency Bill. But it won’t help until journalists themselves will start to respect them, respect their profession, respect their right for word and start to fight for it from within. Then those rules and practices within moments will meet and will give a different quality of journalism.

Kulykov: And they have to start to respect their audiences.

Suprun: One last question for everyone: There’s been a lot of chatter on social media and other outlets that 2017 will decide the fate of this new international order: elections in France, Germany and some referendums coming out in several other European countries. The EU is pushing for a fast Brexit, not a slow Brexit. NATO is lining up to protect its eastern flank. Rasmussen, the former General Secretary of NATO, said the entire liberal democratic system is under pressure. His newsletter came out today, and he says that we need a “liberal awakening”. How would you define that? We’ll start with Adrian.

Karatnycky: Well, I think that the problem is deeper, that is to say liberalism in the 19th century and 1848 was identified with the nation. And I think liberalism abandoned nations, and abandoned identity, for larger projects. And it lost some contact with parts of populations and as populations became more vulnerable, they turned back inward.But the liberals were on the outside. So I think that in a sense, liberals were also to blame for this, because they were too disconnected from national identity. Ukraine has an opportunity. Ukraine is in the middle of a war and a conflict, which has consolidated values around a civic nation, but it is a civic nation which has an identity, which has cultural contours and a certain pride. So I think there’s an opportunity for Ukraine to start to push back, to link liberalism again with a form of patriotism or nationalism. And I saw it a little bit with Hilary Clinton and the Democratic Convention, [they] became much more patriotic when they saw which way Trump was going. But their natural predisposition was not to go into that direction, to talk about problems, to avoid this kind of appeal. There was a sort of an uncomfortable relationship between liberalism and nationalism and patriotism. And now I think there’s an opportunity both in Ukraine, in the United States, and in other countries, for liberal voices to understand that sentiment, and to understand that just globalized forces and international standards, and so on, it’s not enough. People have to feel a sense of belonging, they have to feel a sense of a more intimate community.

Suprun: Andriy?

Kulykov: Marko, when you enumerated the coming elections, I say that you should have probably mentioned the possible early elections in Ukraine. And as much as I would like to be back in the ranks of public activists or journalists, in this case I say,“Run for Parliament and take other people like you to Parliament.” Then people like me, who do not want to run for Parliament, will support you and together we will have a chance.

Zalishchuk: I appreciate it a lot and I agree with you a lot. This is the probably main challenge for the whole generation, whether they are up to the mission in front of them. And this mission is actually to propose to society that they have a future, and we don’t have to rely on old forces, and we have to build institutions in the moment. I have to say when you ask about this, your question. I think that integration processes that started after World War II, can be described with a pendulum movement and it looks like this pendulum has started moving back. And we as Ukraine, which embraced this integration process, unfortunately, we find ourselves in very unfavourable external conditions: US, Brexit, elections in Moldova, Bulgaria, the situation in Hungary, Austria, and so on, Greece, you name it. So, I think that the challenges facing Ukraine are those open questions for the whole western democratic world: how do we deal with that. And Ukraine is not able to answer that question alone. It’s up to us, these progressive, democratic forces in the whole of Europe to answer this question.

Suprun: Well if ever there was an opportunity to use the phrase that “the gauntlet has been thrown,” I think this is it. I hope that we’re all ready to pick it up. Adrian, Andriy, Svitlana, thank you for joining us today.

Zalishchuk: Thank you so much.

Kulykov: Thank you.

HEADLINES

Three Years after the Revolution

Let’s remember what started three years ago this week. Students decided to protest against then President Yanukovych’s decision to abandon Ukraine’s plans for joining the European Union.  Many of them saw this as the decision that sealed their futures and signalled a return to a kind of Soviet feudalism, or business as usual. Overnight, from November 29th to the 30th, the Ministry of the Interior sent in a special operations unit called the “Berkut” or “Golden Eagle” to break up the protest. A lot of the students were severely beaten. Some of them were arrested while others wound up in hospital. Several of the students escaped to St. Michael’s Monastery where the church provided them with care and safety. Then on November 30th, mass protests started on the square outside of St. Michael’s Monastery. The protests grew from several hundred to several thousands that day, and on December first, over a million people took to the streets to protest the return to Soviet style repression. Three months later it ended with the death of over 100 students and adults from all walks of life from all over Ukraine. They were killed by snipers from Ukraine’s Ministry of the Interior as well as what is now understood as having been directed by Russia’s FSB. And Yanukovych fled to Russia. Those three months are now known as the “Revolution of Dignity.” The EuroMaidan had all the markings of a national uprising, from January 19th,2014, Ukraine’s parliament voted in draconian dictatorship rules that was the spark for battles on Hrushevsky Street [in central Kyiv].

Before the last of the murdered were laid to rest, Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula.And tried to create a series of “People’s Republics” by arming locals and activating a network of FSB, Russian Secret Service agents in southern Ukraine to break up the country, and reconstitute the parts into the state of ‘Novorossiya.’ The medals that were given to Russian soldiers for their work in securing the occupation of Crimea have a date on them that mark the start of operations. That date is February 20th, 2014. The same day that over 100 people were shot down on the streets of Kyiv’s Independence Square.

With Russia’s invasion serving as a background and the threat of losing their state, Ukrainians moved forward to elect a new president after Yanukovych fled to Russia. Several months later, Ukrainians returned to the polls to elect a new parliament. The economy was in turmoil, after all, Ukraine found itself the target of a hybrid war designed by Russia. Taking stock of the achievements of the Revolution of Dignity seems, well, it seems pointless.

But, it really isn’t. Because when the war started, governmental institutions, like the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of the Interior, were ill equipped to respond to the invasion. A massive volunteer movement started. Some volunteered and went to fight to defend their country. Others fed and clothed, helped to provide them with weapons, and medical aid after they were wounded. That same volunteer movement created new organizations, non-governmental ones, to address the needs of over 2 million internally displaced people from Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk. The last years of the Yanukovych regime were nothing less than an attempt to turn Ukraine into something less than a Russian province. Billions of dollars were stolen by oligarchic schemes, and there was little evidence of a “national interest” in the central government. Civil society, however, organically filled the void, and took to representing and acting in the country’s national interest. And they stopped the Russian invasion.

Later, the Ukrainian state created a National Anti-corruption Bureau, which has been at the forefront of the fight against corruption in government. A new system of procurement was set up to make the tender process open and transparent, saving the country millions. A new National Police was created to supplant the old soviet Militsiya which was part of the Ministry of the Interior. More importantly, new training protocols were brought in with help from the US Department of Justice. Canada, Australia, and Japan have made deep commitments to help reform Ukraine’s police force. Yuri Lutsenko, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, has prepared over a hundred cases and has sentenced almost 40 people for crimes committed against EuroMaidan activists. Ukraine is very close to getting a visa-free regime with the European Union. The Ministry of Defence is going through a tough time, executing a war while at the same time reforming the system to bring them in line with NATO. New media outlets were launched, including Hromadske Radio, Stop Fake, EuroMadian Press, Ukrainian Media Network, and others in response to the Russian propaganda that was and continues to pollute Ukraine’s information ecosystem. Still, the KyivPost.com reminded us a few weeks ago that the “law enforcement and justice system have proven to be impotent. No high-profile murders have been solved. And high-level corruption which by some estimates took $40 billion out of Ukraine from 2010 to 2014 remains unpunished.” But, the International Criminal Court in The Hague will consider the “Maidan Crimes” with new evidence having been presented this week.

The big thing that the Revolution of Dignity did achieve, is this: it was a national uprising that saved Ukraine from a repeat of history, when the people lost their state and were subsumed byRussian communist totalitarianism.

The War

Russian military personnel artillery specialist Vladimir Marchukov from Murmansk claims to have been fired from the Russian army last week because of his refusal to serve in Ukraine’s Donbas, according to Dozhd, a Russian news site at tvrain.ru. The outlet also reported that Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko said in 2015 that there were approximately 200 000 Russian soldiers in Ukraine’s Donbas. Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed that there were indeed some ‘individuals’ tackling some ‘specific issues’ in the Donbas, however, Russia still denies its military invasion of Ukraine. The good news is that Russia’s claims don’t seem to persuading the international community anymore. The OSCE monitoring mission representative Daniel Baer told Radio Liberty that approximately 30,000  soldiers in military uniform came from Russian territory to the Ukrainian Donbas which is temporally occupied by Russia, through the checkpoints Hukovo and Donetsk this week. He urged stakeholders to consider how many Russian soldiers could have passed through the border in the places where there are no OSCE monitoring mission representatives.

The volunteer community InformNapalm released the results of their investigation this week. They managed to identify 75 Russian units, which crossed the border to take part in the occupation and the war in the Donbas. The full report with the database of the incidents, Russian military units mapped on Ukraine’s Donbas and grouped by service and command will be available on our site.

The intelligence service of Ukraine’s Marine Corps claim Russian soldiers brought to Ukraine some previously unseen weapons. It’s a type of flash-bang shell that burrows into the ground and then shoots out like a firework. This was reported by TSN news on Channel 1+1. The Russian occupation proxy forces coordinated by Russian professional soldiers are using this new weapon in near Mariupol, which remains the hottest point in terms of shelling. The Anti-Terrorist Operation Press Center reported that the week started with an 8-hour-long shelling of Ukrainian positions in the direction of Donetsk.

Overall, the OSCE monitoring mission noted the escalation of conflict on the occupied territories of the Donbass this week, and recorded numerous violations of the Minsk cease-fire agreement. Theyrecorded 460 explosions in the Donetsk region (versus 118 explosions at the time of the previous OSCE report) and 47 in the Luhansk region. The OSCE representatives reported seeing school children leaving their school to go to a bomb shelter in Marianka (in the Donetsk oblast) because of the nearby explosions. Russian proxy forces continue to use the ‘Grad’ weapon system, forbidden by Minsk agreement, in the Russian occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk, namely near the town of Krasnohorivka.

The ATO Press Center also reported that pro-Russia Militants launched 48 attacks on Ukrainian Armed Forces positions in the Donbas over the past day. Two particularly heavy shelling incidents were reported next to Mariupol, in the towns of Shchastia and Avdiivka. It was in Avdiivka, where the 8-hour-long shelling occurred this week.

From the 18th of November, three Ukrainian soldiers died and 3 more were wounded. Four more soldiers died as a result of a car accident near Mykolaiv this week, the reasons of the accident are still under investigation.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is strengthening its military production. The first test launch of a new missile system was held last week, while new mortars were tested this week. Ukraine also signed a contract worth 600 million USD to modernize tanks from Pakistan according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence.

The European Union finally seems to have awakened to the necessity to strengthen their military forces after Russia claimed they are ready to shell NATO forces if necessary. According to The Guardian, Member of the European Parliament Urmas Paet, former Foreign Minister of Estonia, said that “Our Union is not equipped to face overwhelming defence challenges. Europe continues to rely heavily on NATO capabilities and on US solidarity.” Remember that the Russian military has reportedly stationed Bastion anti-ship missiles in Kaliningrad, a piece of Russian territory between Poland and Lithuania, while member of the Russia’s Federation Council, Viktor Ozerov, said on Monday that Russia would deploy Iskander ballistic missiles and S-400 missile-defence systems in Kaliningrad.

The Trilateral Contact Group met on November 23 to discuss the issue of hostages or people kept against their will according to Darka Olifer press secretary of Ukraine’s representative in the group, former president Leonid Kuchma. The news agency Ukrinform reported that according to the latest official data provided by the Security Service of Ukraine, the SBU, 109 Ukrainian citizens are held captive on the Russian occupied territories of the Donbas. The whereabouts of only 57 Ukrainians is known.

Meanwhile, over half a million of people living in the Luhansk region are at risk of losing their water supply, becoming ‘captives’ of the Russian occupation administration, the Luhansk People’s Republic. The LNR has not paid for the water supply despite taking in money for the ‘utility bills’ paid by the local population. Since the same enterprise supplies water to both Ukrainian controlled territory and territory under Russian occupationthe bankruptcy of this enterprise is looming because of the debt the LNR. And that will leave Ukrainians on both controlled and occupied territories of the Luhansk oblast, without water according to the UNIAN press agency.

The Economy

Ukraine’s government abolished 367 regulations and restrictions,in line with a new deregulation policy ofthis week. According to Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Maksym Nefiodov, most of these norms were seriously outdated given they were introduced in the Soviet era and have little to do with today. Others are ‘junk laws,’ which force entrepreneurs to conduct monitoring according to Soviet standards even though the standards have been abolished, according to LB.ua.

Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman noted that cancelling these regulations, Ukraine would be able to improve its performance in the World Bank ranking ‘Ease of Doing Business,” by several dozen points and attract more foreign investors. However, the government’s primary concern is ‘to ensure each Ukrainian businessman feel more freedom than before’, according to the Cabinet of Minister’s website. 

This development might be particularly timely since President Petro Poroshenko signed a law toratify the Free Trade Zone agreement with Canada this week, according to the president’s press service. [Ukraine Calling listeners will remember we reported on the signing of this Agreement back in July, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Ukraine.] The agreement will allow producers to benefit from duty-free access to the Canadian market. Canada will abolish import duties for 98% of Ukrainian goods, which is crucial because 30% of Ukrainian goods exported to Canada were subjected to taxes. However, Ukraine will not get any upside to selling meat and dairy products, which traditionally play a crucial role in the Ukrainian export structure, according to Espresso.tv. The downside to the agreement is that Canada exports about 6 times as much more goods to Ukraine than the other way around and Espresso.tv said that for the moment, Canada stands to benefit from the agreement more than Ukraine.

Nevertheless, according to Prime-Minister Groysman, the Free Trade Zone Agreement opens a 500 billion USD market for Ukrainian producers. The real impact of the agreement will be on Ukrainian businesses, because they will be motivated to invest in development and modernization of their production in order to improve their competitiveness in new markets, and by doing so create new jobs in Ukraine.And following in Canada’s footsteps, Israel has also announced that it hopes to sign a Free Trade Zone with Ukraine in 2017.

Another decision aimed at boosting development of Ukrainian financial markets was taken this week. The National Bank of Ukraine simplified the process of investment into external debt instruments with high individual credit ratings without obtaining individual licenses, according to the Bank’s press service.

The first open auction selling stakes in bankrupt banks was held this week on the digital platform ProZorro.Sales. The manager of ProZorro Oleksiy Soboliev explained to hromadske.ua that currently, Ukrainian individual investors can receive only about the equivalent of 7000 USD as compensation in case of a bank’s bankruptcy, no matter what amount they had in their savings accounts in the bank. However, people might be able to get back the entire amount held on their accounts if the state manages to sell the bank’s debtand shares and use that money to compensation to account holders. This was the reason for holding the auction on ProZorro.Sales. On this digital platform, participants raise their bids openly so that people can watch the bids rise in real time and this is supposed to minimize the risk of the auction manipulation. Ukraine Calling listeners will remember that last year,when the public procurement system ProZorro was launched, it helped Ukraine save over 4 billion of Hrynia (approximately 154 million USD), according the site, epravda.com.ua.

Remembering the Holodomor

On November 26th, Ukrainians will be commemorating the memory of millions of Ukrainians, many of them children, who died from an artificial famine that was engineered to bring about the Genocide of Ukrainians. Ukrainians call it the Holodomor. Officially, it is called the Day of Remembrance for the victims of communist totalitarianism and genocide against the Ukrainian people during the Holodomor of 1932-33, 1921-22, and from 1946-47. Stalin’s Soviet regime engineered an artificial famine to retain control over Ukraine. Because without Ukraine, there would be no Soviet Union. Ukrainians across the country are asked to light a candle in memory of those who were murdered. Consider lighting a candle on Saturday night, wherever you are, in memory of those who died in the genocide.

At the same time, remember that the Holodomor did not break the Ukrainian nation. Ukrainians survived. Ukrainian historian and director of Ukraine’s Institute of National Memory, Volodymyr Viatrovich published an op-ed on the RadioLiberty website, where he wrote: “The Holodomor did not break them (the survivors) and it did not force them to betray their individual and national self.” The Holodomor was deliberately organized by Stalin in order to suppress any possible libertarian movement in Ukraine by killing millions of people and demoralize the survivors. Viatrovych asserts that the Holodomor was a tool for converting the Ukrainian nation into an ‘impersonal Soviet nation’. However, some people managed to preserve the memory of these events and communicate them through art. 

As if to support ideas of Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance director, Canadian director Ian Ignatovich is about to release a new Canadian film about the Holodomor called “Bitter Harvest” scheduled to be released in the beginning of 2017. The film is a love story set in the background of an uprising against collectivization.

CULTURE and MUSIC

This week, a new film called “Alive” by director Taras Khymich, premieres in theatres around Ukraine. The film is a historical drama about 1950s Ukraine set in the Carpathian Mountains and tells the story of a young woman named Anna Popovych, who was being chased by the then Soviet Government’s Ministry of State Security and ends up in a camp of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. The film is based on real live events, and the real Anna Popovych consulted on the film. Although WWII officially ended in 1945, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army continued fighting the Soviet occupation up until the mid-1950s. Khymich even filmed the interrogation scenes in the Prison on Lontskoho Street in L’viv,which is now a national museum dedicated to the victims of occupation regimes. The musuem’s director, Ruslan Zabiliy, also consulted on the film. This prison is a unique symbol for Ukraine. It was used by three occupation governments: Polish, Russian-Soviet, German and then back to Russian-Soviet. A lot of people, including Ukrainians, Jews, and anyone who opposed the occupation, were interrogated there before they were sent on to Auschwitz during World War II.  The film was financed in part by the L’viv State Administration and we’ll include a link to the film on our site. 

Our song this week is from the soundtrack to the movie “Alive” called “I feel you.” The song is by Bria Blessing, originally from Sugar Land, Texas but moved to Ukraine with her parents when she was only 13. Trust me, I know what you’re asking and the answer is yes, I will try and get heron the show as soon as possible.  Enjoy. 

 

 

Next Thursday will be December the 1st. Twenty five years ago on that day Ukrainians were given a peaceful opportunity to decide their future. For the first time in modern history. They were asked to go to the polls and vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to independence, and elect a president. Over 90% voted yes for independence, and shortly afterwards the Soviet Union fell apart. Leonid Kravchuk was elected Ukraine’s first modern president with almost 62% of the vote. The country’s fourth president, now fugitive Victor Yanukovych, is due to testify via skype from Russia at a trial this week. And Saturday will be the Holodomor Remembrance Day. When Ukrainians and the world remember the man-made famine Stalin and his regime caused in Soviet Ukraine in 1932-33, which caused millions of death.As always, we’ll continue to watch these and other stories about Ukraine and try and offer you a little different perspective. I’m Marko Suprun in Kyiv. Thanks for listening.

Headlines by Marko Suprun and MariIa Terentieva, Interview by Marko Suprun, transcribed by Larysa Iarovenko, Alexander Konovalov, and Oksana Smerechuk. Culture and Music, Looking Forward by Marko Suprun and Marta Dyczok, Sound engineers Andriy Izdryk &Anna Kyrychevska. 

 

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