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Archive for the ‘Defiant Land of Ukraine’ Category

Trudeau promises support for Ukraine in wake of Russian ‘aggression’

Toronto, Canada (AFP)

July 2, 2019

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau promised Tuesday to support Ukraine in the wake of Russian “aggression,” after a meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in Toronto.

The two leaders met while Zelensky was in Toronto on his first visit to North America to participate in a conference on Ukrainian reforms.

“In the wake of Russian aggression and attempts to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty, including the illegal annexation of Crimea, it’s all the more important for countries like Canada to stand alongside its partner,” said Trudeau during a press conference with the newly-inducted Ukrainian president.

“Russia’s actions are not only a threat to Ukraine but to international law,” Trudeau said.

The conference, which ends Thursday, brings together representatives from 30 countries, the European Union, and international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and NATO.

Trudeau added he was “dismayed” that Russia was reinstated in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), after the country was stripped of its voting rights in the pan-European rights body in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea.

Trudeau noted that the reinstatement came despite Russia “having not liberated the Ukrainian sailors” detained in the country since November 2018, as well as three Ukrainian naval vessels, which were seized in the Kerch Strait at the same time.

Zelensky said he was “disappointed” by the Council’s decision. In protest, Ukraine announced Tuesday it was withdrawing its invitation to PACE monitors to observe parliamentary elections to be held on July 21.

Trudeau and Zelensky also discussed Canadian arms sales and Canada’s military training mission in Ukraine.

In March, Ottawa renewed its mission of some 200 Canadian troops deployed to Ukraine until the end of March 2022.

Since 2015, Canada has so far trained nearly 11,000 Ukrainian soldiers.

Regarding Ukrainian reforms, Trudeau said there has been “much improvement” in the last few years, which he believes will continue, particularly in the fight against corruption.

The Canadian leader said he is convinced that with the election of Zelensky, a former comedian who took office in May, there will be “even more positive steps” in Ukraine.

“We will be patient because there is a lot of work to do,” Trudeau said.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland also announced $45 million in additional Canadian assistance to Ukraine in support of its reforms and a proposed national police force.

Since 2014, Canada — the first Western country to recognize Ukraine’s independence in December 1991 and home to a large Ukrainian diaspora — has provided the country more than $785 million in aid.

Freeland also condemned Russia’s decision to issue Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens in the Donbass region, a disputed area in eastern Ukraine that is a hotbed of pro-Russian separatism.

“Starting today, Canada will take action to ensure that these passports cannot be used to travel to Canada. We encourage our partners to do likewise,” she said.

The armed conflict between Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian separatists has claimed 13,000 lives since 2014.

Source: Space War.



UN mission: Ukraine actions after Odessa fire inadequate

May 03, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Five years after 48 people died in clashes in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, a United Nations’ human rights monitoring mission criticized authorities Thursday for delays in investigating and prosecuting people for the violence.

The loss of life on May 2, 2014 started during a confrontation between demonstrators calling for autonomy in eastern Ukraine amid a Russia-backed separatist uprising and supporters of Ukraine’s government. Six people were killed during hours of street fighting.

The worst was yet to come. After pro-autonomy demonstrators retreated to a trade union building, government supporters threw fire bombs into the building; 42 people died inside or after jumping or falling from windows.

In a statement on the bloodshed’s five-year anniversary, the U.N. human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine said “authorities have not done what it takes to ensure prompt, independent and impartial investigations and prosecutions.”

In Odessa, residents marked the anniversary by laying flowers outside the trade union building and attending other events. About 4,500 people took part, according to police.

Putin derides Ukraine’s martial law as political trick

November 28, 2018

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s president donned combat fatigues to implement martial law in much of the country on Wednesday, a move Russia denounced as a cynical political trick as both sides ratcheted up tensions after a weekend standoff in the Black Sea.

Each side blamed the other for the bellicose turn of events, with Ukraine saying Russia is preparing for a full-scale invasion and Moscow calling it a political stunt by an unpopular president facing tough elections.

In Sunday’s confrontation, three Ukrainian naval vessels were heading from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov when they were blocked by the Russian coast guard near the Kerch Strait between Russia’s mainland and the Crimean Peninsula it annexed from Ukraine. After many tense hours of maneuvering, the Russians opened fire and seized the Ukrainian vessels and crew.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko responded by ordering martial law in much of the country, a move that went into effect with parliamentary approval. Poroshenko toured a military training center Wednesday in the Chernihiv region bordering Russia, one of the areas where martial law was imposed. Speaking to reporters as smoke billowed from a nearby shooting range, the camouflage-clad president pledged “not to allow the enemy to attack Ukraine” and announced a hike in salaries for servicemen.

Poroshenko initially sought to impose martial law for two months, a move that would have meant presidential elections scheduled for March would have to be scrapped due to election rules. Facing criticism in parliament, he halved the martial law time frame to a month, which would allow the election to go ahead as planned.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin bluntly accused his Ukrainian counterpart of provoking the naval incident in order to shore up his sagging popularity and sideline competitors ahead of the March election.

“The Black Sea incident certainly was a provocation organized by the sitting government, including the incumbent president ahead of the presidential vote in March,” Putin said, alleging that Poroshenko wanted to “exacerbate the situation and create obstacles for his rivals.”

Ukraine has insisted that its vessels were operating in line with international maritime rules, while Russia claimed they had failed to get permission to pass through a Russia-controlled area. A 2003 treaty between the two countries designated the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters, but Russia claimed the strait in its entirety after annexing Crimea in 2014 and has sought to assert greater control over the passage.

On Wednesday, Ukraine released what it said was the exact location where its ships were fired on by Russia, saying they were in international waters west of the Kerch Strait. Putin, meanwhile, insisted the Ukrainian vessels were in Russia’s territorial waters and refused to communicate with the Russian coast guard or accept a Russian pilot to guide them through the narrow strait.

“What were the border guards supposed to do?” the Russian leader said Wednesday. “They fulfilled their duty to protect the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. If they had done something differently, they should have been put on trial for that.”

Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy on Ukraine, told reporters in Berlin that Washington sees no reason to doubt the information from Kiev that its vessels were operating in line with international maritime rules. “There’s no conceivable justification that we can think of for the use of force in this scenario,” he said.

Ukraine, which insists its seamen are prisoners of war, has asked the International Red Cross to arrange a visit to see them. It said six of the sailors were wounded by Russian fire, while Russia said three Ukrainian crewmen were slightly injured.

A court in Crimea’s regional capital, Simferopol, has ordered all 24 Ukrainian crewmen to be held in custody for two months on charges of violating the Russian border pending trial. They face up to six years in prison if convicted.

The incident marked the first overt collision between Russian and Ukrainian militaries since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. It has fueled fears of a wider conflict and has drawn strong criticism of Russia by the U.S. and its allies.

U.S. President Donald Trump, in an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, said he might cancel a sit-down with Putin during the G20 summit in Argentina over the Russian action. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that the meeting is on and that Russia has not received “any other information from our U.S. counterparts.”

Amid the tensions, the Russian military announced Wednesday that it would beef up its forces in Crimea with another batch of the long-range S-400 air defense missile systems to Crimea. The showdown came amid the long-simmering conflict between the two countries, in which Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and supported separatists in Ukraine’s east with clandestine dispatches of troops and weapons. That fighting has killed at least 10,000 people since 2014 but eased somewhat with a 2015 truce.

Vasilyeva reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

Ukraine’s Hungarian minority threatened by new education law

November 14, 2018

CHOP, Ukraine (AP) — The Hungarian minority in western Ukraine is feeling besieged. A new education law that could practically eliminate the use of Hungarian and other minority languages in schools after the 4th grade is just one of several issues threatening this community of 120,000 people in Transcarpathia, a Ukrainian region that in the past century has been part of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.

In February, the headquarters of the minority’s biggest political organization, the Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association, or KMKSZ, was firebombed. More recently, mysterious billboards have appeared in the region accusing its politicians of separatism. And a dispute has erupted over the legality of the community acquiring dual Hungarian citizenship.

The incidents have left many worried that even as Ukraine strives to bring its laws and practices closer to European Union standards, its policies for minorities seem to be heading in a far more restrictive direction.

“There is a sort of purposeful policy, which besides narrowing the rights of all minorities, tries to portray the Hungarian minority as the enemy in Ukrainian public opinion,” said Laszlo Brenzovics, the only ethnic Hungarian in the Ukrainian parliament. He called the separatism charges “extraordinarily absurd” and a means to distract from Ukraine’s domestic problems.

Brenzovics’ party, the KMKSZ, has launched its own campaign with bilingual billboards reading “Let’s not allow peace to be destroyed in Transcarpathia!” “This is a peace campaign to calm the mood,” said Livia Balogh, a party official in Chop, a once-booming railroad city of 9,000 people on the border with Hungary. “Hungarians here are mostly surprised and tense but also angry that the minority card is being played.”

With a presidential election expected in March, Ukraine is also facing an ongoing armed conflict on its eastern borders with Russian-backed separatists. Officials say the new language rules in education, to be implemented over several years, serve a unifying purpose.

“Education is the fundament to social cohesion, which is also the fundament of security in the country,” said Anna Novosad, a senior official at Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science. She attributed Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 partly to the disintegration and linguistic isolation of the local, mainly Russian-speaking population from the rest of Ukraine.

“This is something that we would like not to repeat in the western part of our country,” Novosad said. Vasyl Filipchuk, a Ukrainian diplomat and chair of the board of the International Center For Policy Studies in the capital Kiev, said the anti-Hungarian campaign was being used to distract voters.

“It’s artificial, manipulative technology” to overshadow the real problems of the people — corruption, lack of jobs and lack of economic prospects, Filipchuk said, adding that the use of patriotic, nationalistic rhetoric is “very dangerous.”

Some of the issues have triggered a diplomatic dispute between Ukraine and Hungary, with Hungary blocking Ukraine’s talks on integration with the European Union and NATO until the language stipulations in the education law are revised. In early October, Ukraine expelled a Hungarian consul after a secret video surfaced of Ukrainian Hungarians taking the oath of Hungarian citizenship. In response, Hungary expelled a Ukrainian consul.

Almost all members of Ukraine’s Hungarian minority live in Transcarpathia — called Zakarpattia Oblast in Ukrainian and Karpatalja in Hungarian. The last census, from 2001, counted 151,000 Hungarians, but unofficial estimates now see around 120,000.

Scores have emigrated to Hungary and western Europe, driven in part by Ukraine’s economic crisis and facilitated by the possibility of acquiring dual Hungarian citizenship, which comes with a European Union passport.

It’s a community that is still strongly tied to Hungary — everyone seems to set their watches to Hungary’s time zone, an hour behind Ukraine’s. Jozsef Kantor, principal of a high school with some 700 students in Velyka Dobron, a village near Chop with a majority Hungarian population, acknowledged that a more modern education law was needed. Still, he lamented the “much harsher and unfavorable education law” now proposed.

At Kantor’s school, which is undergoing renovations paid mostly by subsidies from the Hungarian government, Ukrainian language and literature are the only classes not taught in Hungarian. National authorities seem open to developing Ukrainian language textbooks which would take into account the fact that many Hungarian children enter school without speaking much, if any, Ukrainian.

Many of the school’s graduates are taking advantage of having an EU passport to get their higher education in Hungary or elsewhere abroad. “What affects us negatively is that many of them don’t come back,” Kantor said. “Ultimately, if this continues for 20 or 30 years, there’s a risk that the intellectual class among Hungarians in Transcarpathia will shrink significantly.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has made a name for himself in Europe through his unrelenting anti-immigration and nationalist policies, has made supporting the estimated 2.2 million Hungarians living in neighboring countries — lands that Hungary lost after World War I and the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire — a key objective.

Subsidies totaling some $60.1 million have been given to institutions, businesses and families abroad since 2017, and Brenzovics, the lawmaker, said the payments have helped establish 3,000 new businesses.

Officials have simplified steps for Hungarians abroad to acquire dual Hungarian citizenship. An initial goal of adding 1 million dual citizens — on top of Hungary’s population of some 10 million — was achieved nearly a year ago.

Orban’s efforts have created a political windfall. In April’s elections, over 95 percent of voters casting ballots by mail — mostly from neighboring countries — backed Orban’s coalition led by his Fidesz party, helping him to a third consecutive term.

In Chop, teacher Zsuzsanna Dzjapko, a Hungarian whose husband’s family is Russian-Ukrainian, has accepted the fact that the best educational prospects for their 11-year-old daughter Rebeka — who speaks all three languages and is a talented singer and musician — are across the border.

“I don’t have hopes that she’ll come back, because as a Hungarian folk singer in this country, she wouldn’t have much of a future,” Dzjapko said in a small apartment shared by three generations. “We hope the times will change, the winds will change and the laws will change, as well.”

Ukraine rebel regions vote in ballot that West calls bogus

November 11, 2018

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Residents of the eastern Ukraine regions controlled by Russia-backed separatist rebels voted Sunday for local governments in elections denounced by Kiev and the West. The elections were to choose heads of government and legislature members in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, where separatists have fought Ukrainian forces since the spring of 2014 in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people.

Although a 2015 accord on ending the war calls for local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk, critics including Ukraine’s president, the U.S. and the European Union say the vote is illegitimate because it is conducted where Ukraine has no control.

But the separatists say the vote is a key step toward establishing full-fledged democracy in the regions. “It’s another exam for the civic position, political position for the whole Donetsk Republic,” said Denis Pushilin, who became acting head of the Donetsk separatist regime since predecessor Alexander Zakharchenko was killed in a restaurant bombing in August.

His Luhansk counterpart, Leonid Pasechnik, said Sunday that “we are a free republic, a free country” and denied that the voting was being held contrary to the 2015 agreement signed in Minsk. The leaders of Germany and France, which helped negotiate that accord, dismissed “the illegal and illegitimate elections … held today despite numerous appeals by the international community.”

“These are elections for entities that have no legitimacy under the Ukrainian constitution,” Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy for Ukraine, said last week. “The people in eastern Ukraine will be better off within a unified Ukraine at peace rather than in a second-rate police state run by crooks and thugs, all subsidized by Russian taxpayers,” he said Sunday on Twitter.

Both regions reported voter turnout of more than 70 percent as of two hours before the polls closed at 8 p.m. (1700 GMT). Later Sunday, the spokesman for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he discussed the elections with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron amid ceremonies in Paris commemorating the end of World War I Sunday.

In a statement after the meeting, Merkel and Macron said that holding “so-called” elections undermines Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and urged all sides to respect the ceasefire and release political prisoners.

Germany, France and Ukraine are part of the so-called “Normandy format” countries seeking a resolution to the conflict. Russia is the fourth country in the format, which has not held talks in two years.

Andrei Yermolaev, an analyst at the New Ukraine think-tank in Kiev, said “conducting the elections despite the opinions of Kiev and the West means that the Kremlin completely controls the situation in the region and intends to use this ‘frozen conflict’ as a lever of pressure on the Ukrainian authorities.”

Jim Heintz in Moscow and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this story.

Ukraine’s president meets Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul

November 03, 2018

ISTANBUL (AP) — Ukraine’s president has met the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, as some Ukrainian clerics prepare to break ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. President Petro Poroshenko and Patriarch Bartholomew I spoke in Istanbul on Saturday, weeks after the patriarchate’s Oct. 11 decision to recognize the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Russia in turn broke off ties with the Constantinople Patriarchate.

Poroshenko thanked the patriarch, who is the “first among equals” in the Orthodox world, for supporting the Ukrainian church’s independence. The Ukrainian church had been under the Russian Orthodox Church since 1686. Ukrainian clerics are now being forced to pick sides, to join the independent Ukraine Orthodox church or remain within Russian influence, as the fighting persists in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed rebels.

Birth of a new Ukrainian church brings fears of violence

October 21, 2018

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Tensions are escalating in Ukraine as it prepares to establish a full-fledged Orthodox church of its own. The planned religious rupture from the Russian Orthodox Church is a potent — possibly explosive — mix of politics, religious faith and national identity.

The imminent creation of the new Ukrainian church raises deep concerns about what will happen to the approximately 12,000 churches in Ukraine that are now under the Moscow Patriarchate. Since the late 1600s, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine had been a wing of the Russian Orthodox Church rather than ecclesiastically independent. Many Ukrainians chafed at that arrangement.

The Istanbul-based Orthodox patriarchate has now removed an anathema against Ukrainian church leaders, a major step toward granting full recognition to a Ukrainian church that does not answer to the Moscow Patriarchate.

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