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Archive for the ‘Defiant Land of Ukraine’ Category

Ukraine’s Roma live in fear amid wave of nationalist attacks

August 06, 2018

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — After attackers charged into a Roma encampment on the outskirts of Kiev, beating the residents and chasing them away, a leader of an ultranationalist group posted photos of his colleagues clearing the site and burning tents left behind.

The camp’s former dwellers took off “after persuasive legal arguments,” Serhiy Mazur, an activist with the C14 organization, wrote on Facebook. Mazur added: “Further raids are planned.” The April attack was the first of 11 forced removals that ultranationalists in Ukraine have carried out this year at settlements of Roma. Radical nationalist groups claimed responsibility for all of the raids and asserted they acted in concert with police. Police deny involvement.

“We were called garbage and dirt, kicked and driven off,” Aza Rustik, who fled during the first raid, said. “I just managed to grab the children and a bag with documents.” During an especially vicious assault in a wooded area in western Ukraine, a gang armed with chains and pieces of metal pipe killed a 23-year-old man and injured four others outside the city of Lviv.

After the April camp invasion, C14’s Mazur was charged with hooliganism. Two lawmakers spoke on his behalf, and he was released to await trial under house arrest. “I would like to hear from the police and the neighborhood administrative officials, who many times asked us for help,” he said when he appeared in court last month.

The attacks and the prospect of more violence are terrifying to Ukraine’s estimated 100,000 Roma. “They threw stones at us, and when we jumped out of the tent, they beat us indiscriminately,” recalled Klara Gaga, a survivor of the fatal attack outside Lviv.

Four suspects were detained in the Lviv attack. Twelve people also were detained after Roma had guns fired at them in Ternopil; the suspects subsequently were released. “Not a single person has been sentenced in attacks on the Roma in Ukraine. That illustrates better than any words the attitude of the authorities,” Zola Kondur, a leader of Roma organization Chiricli, said.

Representatives of extremist groups justify the actions by saying they liquidate illegal Roma settlements because authorities have not. Right-wing nationalist groups such as C14 have seen their popularity and power grow in recent years amid Ukraine’s confrontations with Russia and corruption-riddled domestic politics.

“State institutions are weak, the police are ineffective and the government is forced to resort more and more to the services of right-wing groups, giving them a carte blanche in return,” said Vadim Karasev, director of independent Kiev-based think tank Institute of Global Strategies.

Arthur Sokolov, who is the lead investigator in the Mazur case, rejected the C14 member’s claim that asked the group for help. He said he didn’t know anything about C14 ties with local authorities and police.

“There were no preliminary agreements between the police and other formations,” Sokolov he said in response to a question from The Associated Press about Mazur’s assertion. But Eugene Savvateev, who for several years was involved in the training and integration of Roma children, alleged that police and the nationalists work together.

Savvateev said he heard from Roma that police drove them away when they returned to the former camp site to retrieve remaining belongings. They also recalled that C14 members accompanied local officials who visited the camp before it was destroyed, Savvateev said.

“The authorities do not want to dirty their hands, so they use C14,” he said. “Police came to the settlement after the attack to drive Roma away, and after that Roma certainly don’t trust police and believe they work in sync with the attackers.”

Animosity toward Roma — an ethnic group, also known as Gypsies, that faces discrimination and disdain in much of Europe — is high in Ukraine. Many residents say they resent messy Roma encampments and unsightly fixed settlements such as the Radvanka district in Uzhhorod, where houses made of stones, plywood and polystyrene resemble sheds and children play in piles of garbage.

“Roma remain the most impoverished and unprotected part of Ukrainian society,” Roma activist Myroslav Horvat, of the World Roma Organization in Uzhhorod, said. “The state declares in words the programs of integration and training of the Roma, but there is no money for it, and everything remains only on paper.”

Hunger, poverty and unemployment drive hundreds of Roma to try to earn money in the richer center of the country. During the warm months of the year, the work might consist of searching for scrap metal, trading goods and telling fortunes on the street.

“Gypsies in the cities — this is theft, robbery, drug trafficking and dirty dens,” read leaflets bearing the symbols of nationalist groups Natskorpus and Natsdruzhiny that have appeared in Ukraine’s major cities.

Western governments and international human rights groups have called on Ukrainian authorities to prosecute the perpetrators and stop turning a blind eye to violence against Roma. “Most of the crimes committed by radical groups have not been properly investigated by law enforcement agencies that do not want or cannot conduct effective investigations, even if certain groups publicly take responsibility for crimes,” said Mariya Guryeva, an Amnesty International spokeswoman in Ukraine.

Government officials try to shift blame to Russia, alleging that it has sought to foment violence to destabilize Ukraine amid a tug-of-war between the two ex-Soviet neighbors. “We understand that the Russians always try to play with so-called interethnic problems,” Security Service of Ukraine head Vasily Hrytsak said.

“The murders of the Roma were inspired by Russia,” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said after the fatal Lviv attack. Those who accuse Russia of organizing the raids have yet to present supporting evidence for their claims.

Yuras Karmanau reported from Minsk, Belarus.


Ukrainian lawmaker arrested on alleged coup plot charges

March 23, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — A Ukrainian court on Friday sanctioned the arrest of a celebrated former military pilot accused of plotting an attack on parliament with grenades and automatic weapons. Nadiya Savchenko, who has declared presidential ambitions, described the charges against her as an attempt by President Petro Poroshenko’s government to get rid of a powerful challenger ahead of the next year’s presidential vote.

The Shevchenko District Court in the Ukrainian capital on Friday ordered that she be kept behind bars for two months pending an official probe. The ruling followed parliament’s vote to strip her of her immunity as a lawmaker.

Prosecutors have accused Savchenko of plotting a coup in collusion with Russia-backed rebels — a plan to attack parliament with hand grenades, automatic weapons and even heavy mortars. Savchenko said she talked about attacking parliament as a “surrealist political provocation” to mock the government because she knew she was being wiretapped.

Savchenko told the court Friday that her case was politically motivated. “When I said I would run for president I became dangerous for the authorities, and they sought to cast me in a negative light,” she told the court.

She said she’s going on a hunger strike to let the public realize that “the Ukrainian government is just as criminal as the Russian one.” Savchenko became a national hero in Ukraine after spending years in a Russian prison. She was elected in absentia to parliament in 2014, months after she was captured by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine while serving in a volunteer battalion. She then landed in a Russian prison.

In March 2016, a Russian court sentenced her to 22 years in prison, saying she acted as a spotter for mortar fire that killed two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine. During her trial she sang the national anthem and raised her middle finger in a show of contempt for Russian authorities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned her shortly afterward amid international outrage at her sentence, but after her return home, Savchenko quickly fell out with Poroshenko, whose government she has accused of corruption and incompetence.

Ukrainian lawmaker stripped of immunity on coup charges

March 22, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — The Ukrainian parliament on Thursday stripped a celebrated former military pilot and presidential hopeful of her immunity as a lawmaker, sanctioning her arrest on charges of plotting an attack on parliament with grenades and automatic weapons.

Nadiya Savchenko was served a summons minutes after the parliamentary session, where she denounced the Ukrainian government for “killing and dividing” the Ukrainian people. A court was to consider putting her in custody later in the day.

Critics say the dramatic charges against Savchenko were part of authorities’ efforts to get rid of a powerful challenger ahead of the next year’s presidential vote. In Thursday’s speech to lawmakers, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko accused Savchenko of plotting an attack on parliament with hand grenades, automatic weapons and even heavy mortars. Lutsenko claimed Savchenko was acting in cahoots with Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine to stage a “terrorist coup in the interests of Ukraine’s enemies.”

He presented wiretapped recordings in which Savchenko discussed smuggling weapons from the east and went over plans for the attacks. Savchenko said she was aware of being wiretapped, and that she talked about the attacks as a “surrealist political provocation” to mock the government that she said failed the public after Ukrainians staged huge protests that led to the ouster of its former Russia-friendly president in February 2014.

Russia responded to those developments by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula a month later and has supported a separatist insurgency fighting the government in eastern Ukraine since then. Savchenko, who has declared plans to run for president in the March 2019 election, is regarded by many as a national hero and a symbol of resistance against Russia.

She was elected in absentia to parliament in 2014, months after she was captured by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine while serving in a volunteer battalion. She then landed in a Russian prison.

In March 2016, a Russian court sentenced her to 22 years in prison, saying she acted as a spotter for mortar fire that killed two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine. During her trial she sang the national anthem and raised her middle finger in a show of contempt for Russian authorities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned her shortly afterward amid international outrage at her sentence. She remains popular despite falling out with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s government, accusing it of corruption and incompetence.

“The Ukrainian government is the main evil in Ukraine,” Savchenko told booing lawmakers Thursday. “The entire people of Ukraine think so.” She accused Ukrainian authorities of profiting from the fighting in the east, saying that “Ukrainians on both sides want peace.”

She also mocked lawmakers for making an about turn and casting her as an enemy, displaying her Hero of Ukraine’s media, the nation’s highest award. Shortly after the vote, Poroshenko thanked law-enforcement agencies in a Facebook statement for “preventing terror attacks and exposing the Russian special operation against Ukraine.”

Volodymyr Fesenko, a Kiev-based independent political analyst, noted that Savchenko’s arrest came amid exacerbating political tensions. “Savchenko is very charismatic and unmanageable, and it just so happened that she was isolated ahead of the start of the presidential campaign in which she could challenge many politicians,” Fesenko said.

“The story of her plot is a clear symbol of the current anarchy which reflects our political tradition,” he added.

Ukraine eyes new Spaceport downunder

Moscow (Sputnik)

Mar 13, 2018

The Ukrainian Space Agency has reportedly come up with an ambitious proposal to establish a spaceport some 11,500 km from home.

According to The West Australian newspaper, Kiev has been lobbying both Canberra and the northwestern Australian state government of Kimberley for two years now, with its proposals falling on deaf ears.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia, Nikolai Kulinich, assured the newspaper that the proposal was “very realistic,” adding that “Ukraine could launch tomorrow morning if we had a site. We offer our people and our expertise if Australia has land for use.”

According to the Ukrainian Space Agency, it would require between 5,000 and 7,000 square kilometers of territory on a commercial lease. It would like to establish its space port near the Curtain Air Base, a Royal Australian Air Force airbase and civilian airport. A preliminary study could be completed for about half a million dollars, The West Australian says, with a study on construction and feasibility possible within two years.

The Ukrainian Space Agency envisions its Australian spaceport venture becoming Asia’s key spaceport, with launches sponsored by Australian, Japanese, Singaporean, South Korean and Indonesian partners.

Private investments, as well as contributions from Australia’s neighbors and allies, are expected to fund the construction of the spaceport, including its launch pads, hangars and support facilities.

Commenting on the ambitious plan, observers have pointed out that Ukraine’s once-proud space industry is but a shadow of its former self following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine’s space enterprises, including legendary enterprises like the Yuzhmash rocket plant and the Yuzhnoye design bureau have fallen on particularly hard times after the severing of space and rocketry industry cooperation with Russia in 2014, with many rocket scientists leaving Ukraine in pursuit of better opportunities elsewhere.

As to the potential costs of Ukraine’s proposed space port idea, Moscow’s experience with the construction of its Vostochny Cosmodrome has given some indication of the tremendous price tag attached to building a spaceport from scratch. Vostochny, expected to be completed later this year, has been estimated to cost upwards of $7.5 billion US.

Expert opinion aside, social media users aren’t too thrilled about the idea either, hatching a series of memes about the lack of realism in Kiev’s plan.

Source: Space Daily.


Saakashvili supporters march to demand Poroshenko step down

February 18, 2018

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Several thousand supporters of deported Ukrainian opposition figure Mikheil Saakashvili marched through the center of Kiev on Sunday, demanding the resignation of President Petro Poroshenko.

The protest included a nationalist faction, and some of its members broke windows at two Russian-owned banks and a Russian overseas agency after the march. Saakashvili, who was Georgia’s president during 2004-2013, later became governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region. He resigned in a dispute with Poroshenko and was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship last year.

He also lost his Georgian citizenship and is wanted in Georgia to face abuse of power charges. Saakashvili was abroad when he lost Ukrainian citizenship, but forced his way back into the country in September.

On Monday, he was detained at a Kiev restaurant and deported to Poland.

Abramenko’s aerials win gives Ukraine rare Olympic gold

February 18, 2018

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Growing up in Ukraine, Oleksandr Abramenko’s father pushed him toward sports. Well, one sport actually. Soccer. The problem? His son wasn’t feeling it. “I felt like extreme sports were my thing,” Abramenko said.

Good call. The 29-year-old made history on Sunday night, becoming the first man to win an individual Winter Olympic medal for Ukraine when he edged China’s Jia Zongyang in a tight aerials final. Abramenko and Jia both attempted the same jump in the last round, a back full, double full. Both of them executed it with precision. Both of them left Abramenko and Jia believing they had won.

Abramenko turned a Ukrainian flag into a cape and raced around when his score of 128.51 was posted. The score stood after Canada’s Olivier Rochon and Stanislau Hladchenko of Belarus both washed out in their last attempts, leaving only Jia.

Jumping last, Jia drilled his attempt and turned toward the landing hill with his arms raised in triumph. Abramenko seemed to cede he’d been beat, scooting over a bit toward the silver-medal position while waiting for Jia’s score to flash.

There was no need. Jia’s score of 128.05 was just short of gold and just enough for Abramenko to celebrate a milestone achievement. “I still can’t believe that I actually earned a gold medal,” Abramenko said. “I was hoping for any medal really.”

The only other gold medals won by the Ukraine at the Winter Games came in 1994, when Oksana Baiul captured the title in women’s figure skating, and in 2014, when the women’s biathlon team earned the top spot in a relay. Ukraine is a force at the Summer Games, capturing 11 medals in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 in sports ranging from fencing to wrestling to canoeing to gymnastics.

Success in the Winter Olympics has been more difficult to come by, which made Abramenko’s breakthrough all the more stunning. Maybe it shouldn’t have been. Sunday night marked a slow, steady climb to the podium. He was 27th in Turin in 2006, 24th in Vancouver in 2010 and sixth in Sochi four years ago.

“This is historic for me and I am actually writing the history of Ukrainian sport and the history of my sport as well,” Abramenko said. Jia initially seemed less than thrilled with silver. He stuck his index finger out while on the medal stand, seeming to signal he was No. 1. He downplayed it afterward, saying the score indicated there’s still a little bit of room for improvement.

“For me myself, I’m quite satisfied but for my country and my team there is still a bit of pity,” Jia said. The silver gave China three medals in aerials in Pyeongchang after Zhang Xin and Kong Fanyu took silver and bronze in the women’s event on Friday night. Still, it also continued a weird trend for the Chinese, one of the strongest aerial teams in the world. The Chinese women have seven Olympic medals but no gold. The men’s program has four Olympic medals, but just one gold, something Jia hopes will change when the Games head to Beijing in 2022.

Ilia Burov, an Olympic athlete from Russia, earned bronze. The Russian contingent remains without a gold in South Korea after winning 13 in Sochi four years ago, though that number has dropped to 11 after two were stripped due to doping.

American Jon Lillis topped qualifying on Saturday and advanced to the second round of elimination but ran into form issues in the semifinals. Belarus, which had won at least one medal in every men’s aerials competition since 1998, failed to reach the podium when Hladchenko’s final jump ended with a spectacular wipeout.

More AP Olympic coverage:

Ukraine deports opposition leader Saakashvili to Poland

February 12, 2018

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili was deported from Ukraine to Poland on Monday after being detained by armed, masked men at a restaurant in Kiev and rushed to the airport, Ukrainian officials and his supporters said.

Ukraine’s border guard agency had to use force to counter Saakashvili’s supporters at the Kiev airport, Oleh Slobodyan, a spokesman for the agency, said on Facebook. He confirmed the deportation of the former Georgian president-turned-Ukrainian opposition leader, citing rulings by Ukrainian courts that said Saakashvili was staying in the country illegally.

Saakashvili called the move “a kidnapping.” Saakashvili was stripped of Ukrainian citizenship while he was abroad last year, but he forced his way back into the country from Poland in September. Since then, he has led repeated protests against Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the official corruption that still plagues the country.

Poland’s border guards said on the agency’s website that Saakashvili was admitted to Polish territory Monday at the request of Ukrainian immigration authorities. He was permitted into Poland as the spouse of a European Union citizen, the Polish guards said. Saakashvili’s wife is Dutch, and both the Netherlands and Poland are EU nations.

Upon his arrival in Poland, Saakashvili said his deportation showed Poroshenko’s weakness. He denounced the Ukrainian president as a “sneaky speculator who wants to destroy Ukraine” in a Facebook statement.

Saakashvili, Georgia’s president from 2004-13, came to Ukraine after his presidency ended as an ally of Poroshenko, who appointed him governor of the southern Odessa region. He resigned from that post in 2016 and harshly criticized Poroshenko for failing to stem corruption.

“I was very nicely met by Polish side, and Ukrainian side was absolutely outrageous, total lawlessness — it was a kidnapping, illegal one. But Poles are very good and I am very grateful,” Saakashvili told Polish Radio RMF FM as he left Warsaw Airport.

Vanessa Gera and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.

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