Welcome to Ukraine Calling! Your weekly roundup of what’s been happening in Ukraine focusing on a main story. I’m Marko Suprun for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv, and here’s a look at some of the stories that were in the news this week.
FOCUS – Marko Suprun asks experts what Trump’s victory means for Ukraine
CULTURE and MUSIC
Presidents to President Elect
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko congratulated Donald Trump on winning the US election. Poroshenko met with the US Ambassador in Kyiv, Marie Yovanovitch and invited the president-elect to visit Ukraine. He also expressed gratitude that sanctions against Russia would be continued in December, and the new U.S. Administration would remain a reliable partner in the struggle for democracy. President Vladimir Putin on the other hand, sent president-elect Donald Trump a “telegram”—that’s right, in the age of electronic communication, apparently the telegram trumps Twitter in Moscow. Later in the show, we’ll be talking about what changes, if any, will a President Trump bring to American foreign policy with Ukraine.
This week, Ukraine’s Parliament adopted several laws that are expected to promote Ukraine’s economy. First of all, the parliament voted to limit state inspections of businesses to one inspection every two years for businesses categroized as “high-risk”, one inspection every three years for medium sized businesses and one inspection every five years for all other businesses. This is supposed to increase business efficiency by saving time – and money – they used to be wasted by responding to what the business community has called “excessive governmental queries.” Ukraine was recently ranked by the World Bank’s “Doing Business” metric with an eighty improving its position by 4 points compared to the last year. Is that good or bad you might be wondering. Well, the same metric ranks the United States an 8, Canada gets a 22, Poland got 24 and Russia was ranked 40. A score of 1 equals the most business friendly regulations. We’ll include a link to the World Bank site on our page: http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/ukraineThe Parliament also adopted a law facilitating the export of freelance services, and it’s expected to be pretty good for Ukraine’s IT industry. Cross-border contracts can now be signed digitally, and Ukrainian banks will not request translation of documents from English to Ukrainian for financial monitoring purposes anymore. The authors of the law estimated the annual value of exported services by freelancers at 350 million USD.
Another development aimed at promoting Ukrainian export is an educational project for businessmen called ‘How to enter EU markets’, which was announced by a website called Education Era. This online course explains how to find international partners, conduct market research, how to meet European standards of quality, and is available for a preliminary subscription now. Time will tell if these developments will help to improve the economic situation in Ukraine.
Domestic Policy Changes
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s government has adopted a new list of recommended goods and services which supposed to help determine the minimum cost of living in the country. The list, or the basket of goods, has not been updated for over 15 years. The newly amended list recommends Ukrainians should consume more meat, cereals and fruits. Ukrainians apparently should have 145 grams of meat per day (that comes to about 53 kg per year) and 19 grams of fish. However, the consumer goods list still appears outdated: for example, it assumes that a person will use just one pillow for 15 years, and will not need the Internet or a mobile phone. And finally, the minimum wage is expected to be increased to an equivalent of around 124 USD per month in 2017.
Medications used to treat cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and bronchial asthma might become on average two time less expensive than it is now for Ukrainians starting on January 1st as a result of the government’s effort to reform healthcare in Ukraine. The government plans to fix what they believe are “fair prices” for such drugs and medications, and start reimbursing the full price of these drugs beginning in April of 2017. Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman explained on his Facebook page, that the prices for medications in Ukraine have been significantly higher than in neighboring countries because of monopolies on the pharmaceutical market, and this kind of “referencing” in prices will make medications less expensive for Ukrainians.
Another important health-related social development is that Ukraine is about to establish inclusive education for children with physical or mental health problems. Ukraine’s First Lady Maryna Poroshenko has secured 200,000 USD of funding from the Silk Road Chamber of International Commerce in China. Mrs. Poroshenko said that only 10% of over 700,000 children with special needs are currently studying in inclusive schools, whereas the rest are either home-schoooled or live in specialized boarding schools, which can often negatively impact a child’s full social adaptation. The Chinese grant is supposed to contribute to the development of a roadmap for an inclusive educational system in Ukraine. A few weeks ago Ukraine’s government adopted a decision that requires regular schools to provide inclusive classes for children with special needs starting next September. Children with special needs will study at special preparatory classes at first and will be then transferred to inclusive classes in regular schools, which will supposedly allow for better socialization.
Foreigners & Visas
Hromadske Radio reported that former President of Georgia and Mikheil Saakashvili resigned from his post as the Head of the Odesa region this week. Mikheil Saakashvili threw in his towel, claiming that he cannot continue working with Ukraine’s authorities whose “sole motivation is to rob Ukraine.” Nevertheless, Saakashvili promised to continue the fight against corruption in Ukraine after his resignation, which has yet to be signed by President Poroshenko.
Is the visa-free regime a reality? Well, Ukrainians can now travel to Albania without a visa. This apparently might be the start of something big. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium Didier Reynders has re-confirmed this week that Ukraine has satisfied all the requirements for visa-free regime with Europe, and claimed that Belgium is ready to support visa-free travel for Ukrainians. We’ll keep an eye on that story as it develops.
A volunteer effort called “Airborne Reconaissance” has documented the movement of Russian proxy forces weapons in the occupied territories of Luhansk. Their drones have shown the location of 152 mm calibre weapons, transport vehicles and other machinery. They work together with the Information Resistance group and make regular posts of their findings online. We’ll include a link to their site so you can see the evidence yourselves.
The Russian occupation army and their proxies continue using large calibre artillery and other heavy weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreement. Since November 4th the press center of the Antiterrorist Operation reported anywhere between twenty to one hundred cases of ceasefire violations, daily. One civilian was killed and three were wounded this week, according to the UNIAN press agency. Three Ukrainian soldiers were killed around Mariupol, Avdiivka, and Marianka, and eighteen more were wounded this week. The Information Resistance group also reported the death of a navy soldier near Mariupol on November 9th, however, this information has not yet been officially confirmed by ATO press center. The Mariupol line of contact was the most dangerous this week, although fighting continues to escalate near the town of Stanytsia Luhanska as well as in the Donetsk region in the towns of Toretsk, Marianka, and Avdiivka.
In an interview with Hromadske Radio, the co-founder of a non governmental organizatinop called ‘Prava Sprava’ (‘Right Deeds’) Dmytro Sniehyriov said the Russian proxy administration in Luhansk continues to use children in military operations as sappers, that is, kids are being exploited to build and repair roads, bridges and clear mines. After this evidence was presented at the negotiations in Minsk and got some media coverage, the Russian proxy administration in Luhansk apparently received instructions from their supervisors, to similarly arrest children who might seem to be participating in military activities that help the Ukrainian side. Since Ukraine does not engage children in military activities, Russian proxies have chosen to arrest teeage football fans of the Luhansk football club ‘Zoria’ known for their pro-Ukrainian views and took them into custody because of subversive activities. Sniehyriov predicts that we’ll have another sham trial, after which the football fans will publicly be given mercy and released. We’ll include a link to the story on our page.
FOCUS – TRUMP AND UKRAINE
Host Marko Suprun spoke to three experts, Kadie Ward, Brian Mefford, and Michael Bociurkiw, about what theTrump victory means for Ukraine.
Suprun: The US elections are over and the American electorate have spoken. The world now has a president-elect Donald Trump. When the results were coming in, and things were turning in Trump’s favour, apparently Canada’s immigration website crashed. Some people are comparing the vote to the referendum in the UK that gave the world Brexit. What does the election of Donald Trump mean for Ukraine?
Well, to hopefully build an answer to that question, we have three guests in studio with us. Kadie Ward has been engaged in international economic and business development. Before moving to Ukraine Kadie worked in Canada and internationally as a business consultant. She is an award-winning multi-media producer and economic developer who has created and activated several international campaigns aimed at attracting foreign direct investment and trade. Currently Kadie is a Senior Governance Advisor for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ international program “Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance” (PLEDDG). She works with sixteen cities across Ukraine to support open governance, economic development and intergovernmental cooperation.
Brian Mefford is a US business and political consultant based in Kyiv, and has worked in East Europe for more than 17 years. The Kyiv Post named him as one of the 20 most influential expats in Ukraine. He was Resident Program Officer of the International Republican Institute for over a decade in Ukraine, and then went on to consult thousands of political activists and government officials in Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, and other countries. He then established the “Committee for Open Democracy,” a non-profit organization that has observed more than 30 elections in 9 countries.
Michael Bociurkiw is a long time Canadian journalist, public relations officer and Ukraine expert. As a journalist, he worked in North America, Asia and Europe. He was a communications consultant for the United Nations, UNICEF and the World Health Organization. Most recently, he was the spokesman for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, during Russia’s war against Ukraine, from 2014 through the end of 2015. He was one of the first neutrals that got access to the crash site of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 back in 2014. AND he’s one of the few people to have been inside the occupied city of Donetsk and has witnessed first-hand and up close what’s been accepted as Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine.
Kadie, Brian, Michael, thank you for sharing your time with us today.
Brian, let me start with you. I know it’s early too tell, but based on your experience, will Trump be able to change US foreign policy toward Ukraine? Should our show begin with Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars?
Mefford: Well, certainly during the campaign Donald Trump’s statements about Ukraine gave the Ukrainian government and people ample reason for alarm. This was a turn of events from the current administration’s policy towards Ukraine, which has been perhaps a little slow in the beginning during the early days of EuroMaidan, but since that time has been quite supportive and quite critical in pushing for reforms. How that will affect the US policy towards Ukraine that remains to be seen. There are three factors to take into consideration. One thing is that candidates say things on the campaign trail, and they do things differently when in office. Will that be the case with Trump? Only Trump knows. Now we have to see if that was merely rhetoric, “I can get along with Putin. I can get along with everybody.” Sometimes you do see candidates say things like that. Nixon said he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. So, at times candidates say things that later are changed. Number two: the other thing to consider is the fact that the State Department, the Department of Defence, as well as the intelligence agencies are on-going organic part of the government, and they do not make plans week to week or month to month. They make plans for 5-10 or 20-year periods towards different countries, particularly for Ukraine. So if you look at Bill Clinton, George W. Bush to the Obama administration the major policies towards Ukraine have not changed that much. We will see if the State Department, Defence Department and intelligence agencies have a way of moderating Trump’s agenda towards Ukraine.
Suprun: Kadie, When Justin Trudeau became PM in Canada, we saw very quickly the signing of a Free Trade Agreement [with Ukraine]. Do you think that that kind of quick move is possible with Trump administration?
Ward: It’s an interesting question for Canada because US is Canada’s largest trading partner and is very important for our economy. But with that said, we’ve been trying to diversify as it’s an important part of our strategy. The Free Trade Agreement between Canada and Ukraine is an important part of that diversification strategy. I don’t think we will lose that as a priority. We have a huge diaspora, 10 members of parliament are coming from Ukrainian heritage, so Ukraine continues to be on the radar. What is interesting happening in Canada right now is a review of what we call the countries of focus for our development work. So right now Canada has a significant amount of development projects here ranging from supporting police reform, education reform, decentralization reform to local economic development. The Trudeau government is reviewing that right now. He came in and said, “Let’s look at our development strategies and review the countries in focus.” We are all waiting to see what will be the focus of the Trudeau government. This is a bigger question, I think, for Ukraine.
Suprun: Governments move slowly. That’s understood. Michael, as a former person who worked inside international organizations, does a change in foreign policy of the US, let’s face it, it is one of the major players, does it throw a wrench into internal dynamics, the work that happens on the inside, or is it simply a pebble in the road?
Bociurkiw: I think Brian set it up very well when he suggested that even though Ukraine has some changes on the top bureaucracies continue to work, diplomats continue to work. Of course right now what were seeing among diplomats working on bringing peace to Ukraine is immense frustration. Almost every diplomatic lever has been pulled and after many, many months of trying, the Minsk Accords are still not working the way there are supposed to. We still have daily violations of the ceasefire, sometimes hundreds of explosions. We haven’t had the pull back of heavy weaponry and pull back of troops. Having said all that I think that what we may see is one of the first hallmarks of Trump’s foreign policy is a kind of reset of relations with Moscow and with Putin. He has many, many times indicated that he’d like to do business with Kremlin and to really change the way things are. So I think its really important for a country like Ukraine to get their people there early and to start giving them policy suggestions. We have very good diaspora organizations, for example, the US-Ukraine Foundation, which has been around for two decades in Washington, is extremely well connected and well placed to influence things. I would also add that in terms of Ukraine-US relations we would be looking for two main things. One of that is of course the continuing support for sanctions. I’m not so sure the Trump administration would be so supportive of them. Secondly, the continued defence co-operation. Ukraine is still waiting to see whether the US will supply lethal weaponry to make a huge difference in the field. So, many things to look out for, but I’d like to think optimistically that relations will remain on a very good level between Ukraine and the US. Again, I can’t overemphasize how important it is for Ukraine to get in there now on the ground level. One more quick thing, if I can. Newt Gingrich who will possibly be the next Secretary of State, was in Ukraine about a month and a half ago at the YES [Yalta European Strategy] conference. I know he had many good meetings and briefings. I had a few words with him, and it seems that he came away with a very good understanding of the conflict in the east, so there could be some positive outcomes from there.
Suprun: Brian, do you think President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Groysman will have to change their tactics? Micheal has a good point that Ukraine needs somebody on the ground working with diaspora organizations. Do you think they have a clear idea, plan to work with GOP majority?
Mefford: One of the things that I’ve criticized the [Ukrainian] government for in my blog is the fact that the Russians are very serious about lobbying in Washington. As recently as two years ago they were spending more than 50 million dollars per year on lobbyists. And not just on Joe-Shmo, they were hiring former senators like Trent Lott, major movers and shakers in Washington. So the Russians were serious about it. To date Ukraine has just lollygagged around the edges and depended on the diaspora. Now I’m not criticizing the diaspora. The diaspora plays a very important role and was instrumental, I’d say, in Euromaidan. They’re very important but there’s a difference between diaspora and full time lobbyists. Any country that is serious about advancing their interests in Washington whether it’s lethal weapon sales, you can’t rely on just on the diplomats or the diaspora. In my opinion, if you’re serious and you want things from Washington you’ve got to pony up for the lobbyist. So that’s one thing I would recommend strongly, especially in light of the current changes in Washington for this current administration to do.
Suprun: Recently the Prime Minister opened up an investment office in the Cabinet of Ministers. Kadie, you are going to be an economics expert today, do you think the Trump presidency will help to build business in Ukraine, or will it pervert business in Ukraine?
Ward: Trump’s business record is very interesting and questionable, and its something that came up over and over again in the election. Obviously it wasn’t important to the electorate that he evaded taxes had several businesses go bankrupt as a specific strategy of developing business. I think that’s not a great example for Ukraine to be looking at as it creates, or tries to create, new economic policy, and searches for investment strategies. But you know on the other side this is a remarkable example to look at because to have somebody boast about taking advantage of the financial system that in the end has sort of negatively impacted the countries economy, and negatively impacted the electorate. Ironically, the people feeling the squeeze of the economic decline in the US are also the people. It’s because of the policies that businessmen like Trump are following and taking advantage of. So it’s a lesson to look at and say that we can’t have financial systems that allow businesses to use bankruptcies as a strategic move to build their businesses. We cannot have policy and investment policies and investment strategies that allow certain types of businesses to come in and completely take advantage of different contexts and different situations.
Suprun: Well, see that’s again, an issue you bring up is basically of sovereignty. American business, Canadian business coming to Ukraine, where’s the balance between Ukraine’s business interest? This brings me to this notion of cooperation and something that you’re talking about which is getting to work and proposing perhaps to their American colleagues a way of working together. Do you think the United States maybe will begin to take the MH17 terrorist act seriously and help with that investigation? Ukrainians have provided a lot of the information. Do you think that there will be the area where they will cooperate on an issue that’s really important. Its basically Lockerbie-2.
Bociurkiw: The United States is one of the so called grieving nations, connected to MH17, so of course they’ve had a lot of input, they’ve provided legal assistance, forensic experts. But the investigation itself is really in the hands of the Dutch. It’s a Dutch led investigation that involves about 20 countries including Ukraine. Things are on a pretty clear path right now. What will happen next is the Dutch have vindicated that they have a lot of evidence that they are prepared to name about 100 suspects. Now there are two key things…
Suprun: 100 suspects?
Bociurkiw: Yes, that’s correct. That was a surprise, by the way, on September 28  when they made their most recent findings public. As I was saying, there are two things they are looking for. Number one is, one assumes, that most of these suspects are in the Russian Federation. Can they be located? Number two: will they be extradited for a trial? My understanding is that Russia does not extradite for foreign trials, so that may not happen. And secondly, as I said in a talk in Toronto recently to the Ukrainian American Bar Association is that there’s no kind of legal form to try such a big case. So what’s being proposed right now is perhaps a Lockerbie type of trial where a special court will be located in the Netherlands or some other jurisdiction to try this or perhaps a domestic kind of prosecution, giving the Netherlands very strong powers including powers to ask for extradition. It’s a very long road ahead. I know that many families are very eager to see justice done, but there is going to be a lot of patience required for this to happen. Justice needs to be served as 298 innocent souls perished in that crash. A lot of work has been done, a lot of progress has been made since, but it’s very important that all these grieving countries provide that kind of political will for justice to be served.
Suprun: How is that going to impact anything that the Trump administration wants to re-set relations with Russia, if there’s this potential point of disconnect between Putin and Trump?
Bociurkiw: Well, that’s true. That could be a very big source of friction, and maybe the administration may not want to push that. Similarly, the same thing is with sanctions. A lot of political will be needed there. When I was here last time, a little over a month ago for the YES conference, there were French politicians here that started to voice quite a bit of doubt about continuing sanctions. Their feeling was, “Look, our farmers are really hurt because they can’t do business with Russia. They can’t export their goods.” I’m starting to get the feeling that there is a weakness amongst some of the European allies for continuing sanctions, and that would be very damaging for Ukraine.
Suprun: A lot of that is quid pro quo, extradite Russian nationals in exchange for a reduction in sanctions, or something that could potentially throw a big wrench into the system. Now that there is a Republican in the White House. Apparently, the Senate is in the hands of Republicans and the House of Representatives stays in the hands of the Republicans. Do you think, Brian, that it’s likely that Ukraine will get lethal weapons, or will that be used as one of those bargaining chips for Russia to come into line?
Mefford: Obviously it would be more likely under a Hillary Clinton administration rather than under Trump’s position regarding Russia and Ukraine. However, the initiator of lethal weapons sale has always been the US Congress. In fact, in early days of Euromaidan when the White House was silent, it was the Congress and various Congressman from John McCain to Tom Cotton and different representatives who were on a forefront leading the charge to support Euromaidan, support Ukraine and then ultimately support lethal weapon sales. This is one of the silver lining of the elections for Ukraine. We can base Trump’s victory on statements he made Ukraine which have not been encouraging. However, one of the upsides of the Republican Senate victory is that three out of four members are strongly pro-Ukrainian and for lethal weapons. John McCain will be around for six years, Marco Rubio of Florida another six years and then of course in a surprise Rob Johnson from Wisconsin who has been also a good friend and supporter of Ukraine.
Suprun: Hold on. Sorry to interrupt. Given what Kadie is saying, if there is a reset in the Canadian policy and Trump may have a similar reset of what Michael was talking about. Are Western powers are going to collude the way they did when the Suez Crisis happened, when there was an exchange of Eastern Europe for the Suez Canal? Do you see this happening?
Bociurkiw: Hard to say. International politics are very dynamic. As Kadie pointed out, we have this [Canadian] Free Trade Agreement with Ukraine, and one of his campaign’s themes or songs, if you will, is Tramp tearing up these agreements. He says it is very costly to jobs and so on. Things work very dynamically and, as Brian said earlier, one thing is what is said on the campaign and another what is implemented when one is in the office. A lot will depend on the people he surrounds himself with in the office. It will be very interesting to see who has his ear, and I wonder if Paul Manaffort will be rehabilitated to be in one of the wings of the White House. [Manafort is a US lobbyist and PR consultant, who has worked for Russian oligarchs, was Trump’s campaign chair for a time.] People know that he has had very strong links with Ukraine’s former president Yanukovych. He was very well remunerated for that. So whether it will happen, it will be something to look out for.
Ward: But the global political dynamic is shifting. Ironically, the Immigration Canada website crashed during the elections, indicating that many people were looking into how to get to Canada. Canada’s reputation is rising and this raises the expectations from the Trudeau government. On how they react to Ukraine, especially to the war, because we are supporting the war with defence and the military…
Suprun: Exactly. The Americans, the British, and Canadians provide the training. Do you see those programs are expending now or do you see them fizzling out?
Mefford: This is really a million dollar question. A multimillion dollar question in this case. One of the things that Trump said, that actually resonated, was that NATO allies need to pay more for defence. We [the US] are paying for defence and the Cold War is over. Why do we pay? They should pay their fair share. It is a great rhetorical point, but not a practical point. There are reasons for that. The reasons why the US is always going to pay the lion share of the bills in NATO. If you are thinking along those lines, we are talking about Canadian and British military training, or even weapon sales, that might be actually in line with Trump’s comments, but what did Trump really mean by that and what actually be implemented are two different things.
Suprun: Right. I want to share one of the Trump’s comments and have your take on them. BBC came up with the list of comments he has made. At the CPAC conference back in 2014 he talks about Putin. “WHEN HE GOES IN AND TAKES CRIMEA, HE’S TAKING THE HEART AND SOUL, BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE ALL THE MONEY IS. I WAS SURPRISED. I HEARD THAT THE OTHER DAY, THEY WERE SAYING MOST OF THE WEALTH COMES RIGHT FROM THAT AREA. THAT’S THE AREA WITH THE WEALTH. SO THAT MEANS THE REST OF UKRAINE WILL FALL AND IT’S PREDICTED TO FALL FAIRLY QUICKLY.” Michael?
Bociurkiw: Let me answer this way. For doing business with somebody like that you have to get influence there, and I think Ukraine has to upscale that game. What I mean diplomatically is it’s really appalling how few resources are allocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Did you know, for example, that for the Ukrainian Ambassador in Ottawa to travel to where I live in British Columbia, he has to turn to the Ukrainian community or find funding somewhere else to make that flight. Ukraine had major diplomatic posts vacant for about a year in London, Ottawa, Washington, and Canbrerra. That is not acceptable in today’s world. Kadie is more an expert than I am, but when I look on my province of British Columbia, a wealthy province, we have a trade promotion offices for places like Taiwan, Hong Hong. I actually suggested this Ukrainian government. On the one hand, they like to say, “Ukraine’s got talent and has a lot of potential.” But you have to promote these things. One more point, I just came back from Turkey and there was a Trade Promotion Office showing us. It was absolutely amazing the money they spent, in terms of videos they have. One of the smart things they are doing is getting surrogates to speak on behalf of Turkey. They are getting CEOs of major companies doing business for Turkey, going on camera and saying, “Turkey is a great place to do business. Come and try us.”
Whatever happens in Washington under Trump, it is not going to be an excuse for Ukraine to stop on the path to reforms. Especially to stop on the anti-corruption reforms. It will be interesting to see at the high level whether Trump appoints somebody like Joe Biden as Vice President. He came to Ukraine, waved his finger very strongly in Verkhovna Rada and said, “ You have to clean things up.” What will happen now is that Ukraine has to look more to Europe for assistance and support. Even more important is that this fight against corruption continues on a very strong path. We are seeing some worrisome signs right now. It’s very difficult to see through the tea leaves and see what happened in Odesa. The departure of Saakashvili is not a good sign on the international arena. [Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was Governor of Odesa until he resigned this week.]
Mefford: If they are serious, they need to get a full time lobby in to help. That’s number one.
Suprun: You think they should take dollars the Members of Parliament talked at Verkhovna Rada and put them towards their foreign policy?
Mefford: They obviously have enough cash to do it. They have the money. Typically, in the past, they did not want to show it. They show it now, at least a fraction of it. I think the best way they can make both – the diplomatic representation as well as the diaspora — all work together in an effective triangle is to have a full time lobby and help in Washington. Especially now with a new administration.
Suprun: I certainly hope that they get the message and Ukraine starts to put its resources to work. Kadie, Mike, Brian, thank you very much for sharing your time with us today.
CULTURE and MUSIC
Ukraine’s first human rights organization the Ukrainian Helsinki Group is celebrating its 40 th anniversary. The group was founded in 1976 by Mykola Rudenko in order to educate people about the Universal Declration of Human Rights that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly back in 1948 and to monitor the then Soviet Government’s compliance with the Helsinki Accords on human rights. The Helsinki Accords was the final act of the 1975 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe that had ten principles aimed to improve relations between the Communist block and the west. This laid the foundation for today’s Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe that continues to monitor Russia’s war against Ukraine. Many members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group were subsequently arrested and sent to various prisons in Russia’s Gulag or exiled from Ukraine. And still, some people in the world believe that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the worst geopolitical moment in history.
On November 9th Ukrainians marked National Language and Literacy Day. The tradition was started by the country’s second president, Leonid Kuchma, back in 1997. The day honours Nestor the Chronicler, a Monk of Kyiv’s Monastery of the Caves, who is considered the author of the Primary Chronicle, believed to be one of the earliest written documents in an East Slavic language. Many in Ukraine consider that written Ukrainian language began with Nestor. Today’s president Poroshenko marked the day by quoting a famous contemporary Ukrainian poet, Lina Kostenko, “Nations do not die of heart attacks. First they are deprived of language.”
Ukrainian content comes into effect this week. Ukrainian music radio stations must play a quarter of songs in Ukrainian during prime-time and have at least 50% of their programming in Ukrainian as of this past Tuesday. In the next two years, the quota for songs and programming in Ukrainian will gradually be increased to 35% and 65% respectively. The opponents of this law mainly question whether or not there is a sufficient amount of high-quality music material in the Ukrainian language to fill the quota and some fear that they’ll lose audiences because of this state regulation. To challenge these views, one of the authors of the law and the Head of the parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information Policy Viktoria Siumar launched a viral campaign on Facebook asking people to post their favorite song in Ukrainian. She shared the song by Telniuk sisters and Kozak system ‘Come Back Alive’ alluding to Russian aggression in Ukraine and by doing so adding additional political context to the law implementation. As of Wednesday evening, there were 36 Facebook posts under the hashtag #слухайукраїнське or “Listen to Ukrainian”. A lot of people in politics got on board with the effort and President Poroshenko also posted a song of Okean Elzy ‘Веселі, брате, часи настали’ (Happy Times are Ahead of Us, Brother) while Prime Minister Groysman posted a song called “Love Ukraine” by the Ukrainian group, TIK. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwz8J0Tyk3Q
This week we have a song by Kateryna Nyz’kopoklonna. She’s originally from Donetsk, but Russia’s invasion and war displaced her to Kyiv, where she continues to compose and perform her music. The song is called “Там де” which means “There, where.” Enjoy.
We’ll continue to watch these and more stories as they unfold. Next week is the lead up to the third anniversary of the Euromaidan Revolution, and if you have any suggestions or comments, feel free to write the show at: [email protected]. I’m Marko Suprun in Kyiv. Thanks for listening.
Headlines by Marko Suprun and Maria 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 engineer Andriy Izdryk.