Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ukraine’s Sex Industry Bets On Euro 2012

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s sex industry is banking on pulling in clients and cash during Euro 2012 but campaigners paint stark warnings given that the championship co-host has the highest rate of HIV infection in Eastern Europe.

“Kiev’s prostitutes are preparing actively for Euro 2012,” one Ukrainian sex site said, claiming that some are even studying the history of the 16 nations taking part in the tournament, plus the basics of football, to get a competitive edge.

Ukraine transformed prostitution from a crime to a misdemeanour in 2006, with fines ranging from eight to 20 euros (£6.5-£16, $10-$25), while pimping or running a brothel remains a criminal offense.

The ex-Soviet republic is home to between 52,000 and 83,000 sex workers, with 11,000 in the capital Kiev alone, according to campaign group the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

In the other tournament venues, Donetsk and Kharkiv in the east, the number is put at over 3,000, and Lviv in the west, almost 2,500.

Hundreds of thousands of fans are expected to flood in for Euro 2012, which kicks off on June 8 in Warsaw, capital of co-host Poland, and ends with the final in Kiev on July 1.

Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN — best known for its topless protests — warns that Euro 2012 could see a rise in sex tourism and is campaigning under the slogan “Ukraine is not a brothel”.

Working in a secret brothel set up in an apartment in Kiev, 24-year-old Natasha says she hopes to get enough clients to buy a car, even though she reckons most visitors will be caught up by the football.

“All men are the same and football and beer are more important for them but they aren’t going to spend the whole night drinking,” she told AFP in a telephone interview.

With an influx of fans from richer West European nations, many prostitutes are set to hike their rates, said Olena Tsukerman, who runs sex-workers’ rights organisation Legalife.

So-called VIP prostitutes, who speak foreign languages and currently charge between 100 and 200 euros ($125 and $250) an hour, could double or triple their fees, Tsukerman said.

However, she poured cold water on the idea of being able to rake in the cash.

“At the start, everyone’s going to raise their prices and wait for the influx. But the statistics suggest it won’t happen,” she said, noting that many brothels in 2006 World Cup host Germany made a loss.

International HIV/AIDS Alliance spokesman Kostyantyn Pertsovski echoed that.

“The experience of European countries shows that there’s no point expecting an influx of sex tourists. Foreign fans prefer to drink beer,” he said.

Tsukerman noted, however, that corrupt police officers are hiking the bribes they demand to turn a blind eye to brothels.

Prostitutes speaking on condition of anonymity said the sum was around $1,000 per phone number used by the brothel.

Fans who have sex with prostitutes will be taking an extra risk: Ukraine currently has Eastern Europe and Central Asia’s highest rates of HIV infection, with sexual intercourse having overtaken injecting drug use as the main form of transmission.

According to data from UNAIDS, at least 350,000 people aged 15 and over up in the nation of 46 million are living with the HIV virus that can lead to AIDS.

According to a 2011 study carried by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, prostitutes are among the most-affected groups, with 24 percent HIV positive in Kiev and 38 percent in Donetsk.

While prostitutes and brothels contacted by AFP in Kiev said they were aware of the risks and used condoms, the study indicated that only 60 percent ruled out unprotected sex.

Some are prepared to have sex without a condom in exchange for an extra payment: while the figures for that category are still being processed, a 2010 survey indicated that 22 percent would do so.

On top of that, clients do not help.

“Ninety percent say they don’t want to use a condom,” according to former prostitute Irina.

Mindful of the problem, European football’s governing body UEFA has launched a campaign targeted at fans who have sex — not just with prostitutes — urging them to use condoms.

“Show HIV and AIDS the red card. The HIV virus doesn’t play fair, so you have to,” it says.

Source: AFP

Ukraine Names Tymoshenko As Witness In Murder Case

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's general prosecutor said Wednesday the jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko was cited as a witness in the murder of a deputy, putting fresh pressure on President Viktor Yanukovych's arch-enemy.

Yulia Tymoshenko's image is displayed as her daughter speaks at a rally in Kiev.

Ukrainian parliament member Yevgen Shcherban was gunned down at the airport in Donetsk in 1996 in a crime in which prosecutors have in the past implicated Tymoshenko and her ally Pavlo Lazarenko, who is serving a sentence in the United States for corruption.

"Since an investigation (into Shcherban's murder) is ongoing, she is in the capacity of a witness," general prosecutor Viktor Pshonka told reporters.

"A concrete investigation into the contract-style murder is ongoing," he said.

Pshonka's deputy Renat Kuzmin earlier said that testimony had already been gathered from individuals pointing to Tymoshenko and Lazarenko as "the people who ordered and financed the murder".

Both have denied any involvement.

Tymoshenko, 51, is serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of power and now faces fresh charges that could extend her sentence to 2023.

Her jailing prompted howls of international criticism.

A driving force of Ukraine's pro-Western "Orange Revolution" in 2004, Tymoshenko lost the 2010 presidential race to Yanukovych but remains fiercely ambitious.

Pshonka spoke after Kommersant-Ukraina newspaper reported earlier Wednesday, citing a source in Pshonka's department, that authorities were preparing to bring charges against Tymoshenko for her role in organising Shcherban's murder.

"We have evidence proving Yulia Tymoshenko's direct involvement in Yevgen Shcherban's murder," the high-ranking source told the newspaper.

"The collection of this evidence is continuing. We cannot bring charges against Tymoshenko for now because officially she's ill. As soon as she gets well, the charges will be brought (against her). We expect that to happen at the end of June, beginning of July."

Tymoshenko, who has complained of back pains, has been hospitalised at a public clinic since May 9.

Tymoshenko's lawyer Serhiy Vlasenko told reporters Wednesday that prosecutors are relying on testimony from Shcherban's son Ruslan, who is under pressure from the authorities.

Ruslan Shcherban himself, he added, never publicly accused Tymoshenko of being involved in his father's death.

The European Union and many member countries have threatened their officials will boycott matches in the Euro 2012 football championship that Ukraine co-hosts with Poland from June 8 to July 1.

Source: AFP

London 2012: Ukraine-Born Olga Butkevych May Wrestle For GB

LONDON, England -- Ukraine-born wrestler Olga Butkevych is eligible to compete for Team GB at the London Olympics after receiving a British passport.

Ukraine-born wrestler Olga Butkevych.

The 26-year-old was among a group of Eastern European athletes brought over to train with the GB squad in 2007.

British Wrestling chief executive Colin Nicholson said Ukraine-born Yana Stadnik had failed in her passport bid.

Butkevych could be Team GB's sole Olympic wrestler after the sport failed to meet agreed selection criteria.

On Tuesday the sport was rocked by the news it was losing two of the host-nation berths provisionally awarded by the British Olympic Association (BOA) in April last year.

The Olympic Qualification Standards (OQS) panel, which included Team GB leaders Andy Hunt and Sir Clive Woodward, ruled that British Wrestling would only be allowed to send one athlete to the London Games.

That sole wrestler will come from the female -55kg (121-pound) division in which Butkevych won Olympic test event silver at London's ExCel Centre last year.

"Olga [Butkevych] has been wrestling for Great Britain for five years and it's a great boost," Nicholson told BBC Sport.

"All I can confirm is that Olga has received her passport and that Yana [Stadnick] has not."

In 2010, Stadnik became the first woman to win a European Championship wrestling medal for GB.

Twelve months ago she was considered to be the strongest candidate of the foreign-born wrestlers for a place at the Olympic Games, but there have been issues over her passport application.

British Wrestling would not state which athlete it will be nominating for selection, insisting details were still "confidential" for at least two more weeks.

Performance director Shaun Morley also insisted it was "never" the intension to recruit foreign wrestlers for the Great Britain team, but others have not been convinced.

Nicholson has insisted that the estimated £4m ($6.27 million) of UK Sport funding has been invested well and that even the small representation at London 2012 will still benefit the sport.

"It's great optimism for British Wrestling that we have a place for London, and for our legacy plans going forward it will be fantastic to have someone in the squad who will have Olympic experience," he said.

"Athletes could have been dispersed across Europe and trained with different countries, but had they not made the [Olympic] criteria then we would have been left with nothing.

"I think the money has been invested in a programme and that structure will serve the sport well in the future."

Although the nomination of British wrestlers for London 2012 was believed to take place by 1 June, as outlined in the sport's Olympic qualification criteria, it is now understood the female -55kg athlete will be revealed around the middle of the month.

Source: BBC Sports

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ukraine Coach Names Voronin And Shevchenko In Euro 2012 Squad After Axing Trio

LONDON, England -- Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin omitted goalkeeper Olexandr Bandura, defender Vitaly Mandzyuk and midfielder Taras Stepanenko in finalising his squad for Euro 2012 on Tuesday.

Gamble: Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin.

The trio were dropped following the 4-0 friendly win over Estonia on Monday.

Co-hosts Ukraine will now go into the tournament with a shortage of experienced keepers.

First-choice Olexandr Shovkovsky sustained a shoulder injury to miss out on the tournament, Andrey Dykan suffered head and facial injuries in a Russian Premier League match and Oleksandr Rybka was suspended for using a banned diuretic.

Shakhtar Donetsk goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov, who has 24 caps, is considered to be the first-choice stopper.

Premier League flops Andriy Shevchenko and Andriy Voronin were among the five forwards in the 23-man squad.

Ukraine take on Austria in another friendly on June 1 before a final warm-up against Turkey on June 5.

They open their Euro 2012 campaign against Sweden on June 11.

England and France are also in Group D.

Ukraine Squad

Goalkeepers: Andriy Pyatov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Olexandr Horyainov (FC Metalist Kharkiv), Maxym Koval (FC Dynamo Kiev).
Defenders: Olexandr Kucher (Shakhtar Donetsk), Yaroslav Rakitskiy (Shakhtar Donetsk), Vyacheslav Shevchuk (Shakhtar Donetsk), Evhen Khacheridi (Dynamo Kiev), Taras Mykhalyk (Dynamo Kiev), Evhen Selin (Vorskla), Bogdan Butko (Illichivets).

Midfielders: Olexandr Aliev (Dynamo Kiev), Denys Garmash (Dynamo Kiev), Oleh Gusiev (Dynamo Kiev), Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kiev), Evhen Konoplyanka (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Ruslan Rotan (Dnipro), Serhiy Nazarenko (Tavriya), Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (Bayern Munich).

Forwards: Artem Milevskiy (Dynamo Kiev), Andriy Shevchenko (Dynamo Kiev), Marco Devic (FC Metalist Kharkiv), Andriy Voronin (Dynamo Moscow), Evhen Seleznyov (Shakhtar Donetsk).

Source: Mail Online

Amendments To Boost Presidential Powers

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s new constitutional amendments will ensure the president has strong powers and is elected by popular vote, Leonid Kravchuk, a former president and the chief of a body working on the draft, said.

Leonid Kravchuk, first president of independent Ukraine.

Kravchuk, who was appointed to the body by President Viktor Yanukovych, responded to criticism from opposition groups that the amendments may allow Parliament to elect the president, letting Yanukovych skip the popular vote in March 2015.

“No way,” Kravchuk said in an interview with LigabiznesInform. “The president must be elected by the popular vote. Twenty years of independence show us that the nationally elected president is a necessary political and state figure.”

“We are not ready to change anything in this respect, and I think we will not be ready for many years to come,” Kravchuk said.

Kravchuk was appointed in January to lead the Constitutional Assembly, a 100-member body representing political parties and academics, to draft the new amendments.

The opposition groups across the board have refused to join the body amid concerns that the Constitutional Assembly will be manipulated by the Yanukovych administration to give him unfair advantages in 2015.

The appointment of Kravchuk, who openly supported then-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s main political rival, at the presidential election in February 2010, was surprising.

Kravchuk said that Yanukovych had never asked him to make any specific changes to any amendments currently debated within the Constitutional Assembly.

“We had several meetings with Yanukovych, but I had never heard any suggestions from him,” Kravchuk said.

Ukraine’s constitution was changed drastically back and forth over the past seven years, raising much criticism among political groups.

Ukraine’s presidency had strong powers after 1996 constitutional amendments, capable of appointing and dismissing all ministries in the Cabinet.

The president could nominate the prime minister and the nomination has to be approved by Parliament.

But the president could dismiss the prime minister anytime.

That constitution was changed in December 2004 towards weakening the presidency and giving more powers to Parliament, whose groups could nominate and approve the ministers.

These amendments led to many clashes between then President Viktor Yushchenko and political leaders, including Viktor Yanukovych and Yulia Tymoshenko.

But after defeating Tymoshenko in popular vote in February 2010, Yanukovych in a highly controversial move – through the Constitutioal Court he is thought to control - cancelled the 2004 amendments to return super powers to the presidency.

“The Constitutional Court exceeded its authority by returning the 1996 amendments,” Kravchuk said.

“The Constitutioanl Court does not have such powers. It can only submit proposals to Parliament to approve amendments.”

“So, that means we live today under illegitimate constitution,” Kravchuk said, adding that the assembly will suggest the new amendments that will be submitted to Parliament.

“Everything will be decided in Parliament,” Kravchuk said.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Ukraine, Poland Protest Euro 2012 Racism Accusations; Call Report ‘Outrageous’ And ‘Biased’

KIEV, Ukraine -- European Championship co-hosts Ukraine and Poland denounced a BBC report that portrayed their fans as racist, and European soccer’s governing body reiterated that all foreign guests will be safe.

The BBC Panaroma documentary, titled “Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate,” showed fans in the two nations giving the Nazi salute and taunting black players with monkey noises.

Asian students were also shown being attacked at Metalis Stadium in Kharkiv, one of the host venues.

Former England captain Sol Campbell said in the program broadcast Monday in Britain that fans should not travel to those countries because “you could end up coming back in a coffin.”

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Voloshyn said the program was unjust and smacked of arrogance and xenophobia, portraying “Eastern Europe as mentally not equal to the rest of Europe.”

“We believe this report is outrageous, done in the best traditions of Soviet journalism,” Voloshyn said.

“Ukraine is one the leaders in Europe in terms of religious and racial tolerance.

“Nazi symbols can be seen at ... any match in England, but does it mean that fans should not come to London for the Olympics?”

Markian Lubkivsky, UEFA’s Euro 2012 director in Ukraine, said foreign fans coming to Ukraine would be safe.

“From UEFA’s point of view, I see no threats for citizens of various nationalities to stay in Ukraine,” Lubkivsky was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

He added Campbell’s statement was “vexing” for Ukraine.

In Poland, the government body that is organizing Euro 2012 called the accusations of racism “unjust,” stressing that Poland has zero tolerance for racism and xenophobia.

“The problem of stadium pathologies, such as xenophobia or racism, is a problem specific to the whole of Europe and not only to Poland,” said Mikolaj Piotrowski, a spokesman for the body.

“As in every European country, it affects a small minority of those present at the stadiums — unfortunately, a minority that is usually loud and visible in the media.”

Referring to Campbell, he said, “Dear Sol, feel invited — feel like at home; in Poland, at our common Euro 2012. Get to know us as we really are.”

Poland’s Interior Ministry said in statement it would complain to the BBC because its report contained “unjust,” biased and unverified opinions.

Ministry spokeswoman Malgorzata Wozniak said Polish police were ready to ensure security during the tournament.

Commenting on the program, Campbell urged fans to not go to Poland and Ukraine for Euro 2012, which starts next week.

“Stay at home, watch it on TV. Don’t even risk it,” said Campbell, who was black.

He added that UEFA was wrong to award the tournament to Poland and Ukraine.

“What they should say is, ‘If you want this tournament, you sort your problems out. Until we see a massive improvement ... you do not deserve these prestigious tournaments in your country,’” he said.

Ukraine finds itself under increasing scrutiny and pressure as it prepares to host the championship.

Besides the racism accusations, President Viktor Yanukovych is under harsh criticism for the politically tainted jailing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Some critics say Euro 2012 has turned into a public relations disaster for Ukraine.

Source: The Washington Post

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ukraine, US Working Out Schedule Of Work At Joint Facility For Disposal Of Solid Rocket Fuel From SS-24s

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine and the United States are working out a schedule of work at a joint facility being built at the Pavlohrad Chemical Plant in Dnipropetrovsk region as part of the program to dispose of solid rocket fuel from SS-24 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

"Today the U.S. side, as part of the commitments it assumed, has mostly completed the delivery of special equipment for a plant for the disposal of solid rocket fuel and the empty shells of ICBM motors. Its installation has begun. It is planned to complete the working out of the schedule of work at the facility by June," a source familiar with the implementation of the project told Interfax-Ukraine.

According to preliminary estimates, the commissioning of a joint facility for the disposal of solid rocket fuel and the empty shells of ICBM engines is slated for this autumn.

According to the Space Agency of Ukraine, in 2011, the program for the disposal of solid rocket fuel from SS-24 intercontinental ballistic missiles was 68% financed: UAH 103.97 million ($12.9 million) out of UAH 152.58 million ($18.9 million) planned was allocated. In 2012, the budget financing foresees UAH 229.68 million ($28.5 million) for the purpose.

In April 2011 equipment for the hydraulic washing out of solid rocket fuel was launched at Pavlohrad Chemical Plant.

The U.S. Department of Defense in 2010 agreed to increase funding for the program to $24 million to complete the program in 2013.

Ukraine is obliged to dispose of solid rocket fuel from SS-22 ballistic missiles at Pavlohrad Chemical Plant under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1) and state programs on the elimination of SS-22 ballistic missiles and solid fuel from these missiles.

Under the program, it is planned to dispose of all of the solid rocket propellant in Ukraine, of which there is about 5,000 tonnes, by late 2013.

Source: Interfax-Ukraine

IMF Presses Ukraine To Raise Gas Prices

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine needs to hike gas prices for domestic consumers and let its currency trade more flexibly if it wants to get funds flowing again under its suspended International Monetary Fund bailout, the head of a visiting Fund mission said on Monday.

With a parliamentary election in October, the Kiev government has baulked at taking IMF advice to raise gas and heating prices for Ukrainian households by 30 to 50 percent, which economists say is needed to put public finances on a more sustainable track.

The government hopes to re-negotiate a cheaper price for deliveries of natural gas from Russia to circumvent the problem, though a compromise with Moscow has to far proved elusive and it has forfeited $6 billion in tranches of IMF money in the meantime.

Asked what Ukraine would have to do for the Fund to resume its aid programme, IMF mission chief Christopher Jarvis said: "We recommend significant upfront (gas) tariff increases and regular increases thereafter as part of a time-bound plan to eliminate subsidies."

On the national currency, the hryvnia, Jarvis told reporters: "We continue to believe that greater exchange rate flexibility can better serve Ukraine in adapting to changing economic circumstances and can provide a buffer for external shocks."

The Central Bank's policy has been to maintain the hryvnia at close to 8 hryvnias per dollar through regular interventions on the interbank market.

Jarvis warned, however, that this policy would lead to a widening of the current account deficit which was around 5.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011.

"We expect the current account deficit to widen to 6.5 percent on current policy though if policies are tightened the deficit could be lower," he said, adding: "Ukraine still needs to resolve a range of important issues and deal with external and internal challenges."

The IMF is Ukraine's main international lender.

The ex-Soviet republic has also been helped to plug holes in its budget with a $2 billion loan from Russia's state-controlled VTB, which was due to be repaid next month.

Ukraine has said it would seek to raise $1 billion through government bonds to repay part of the VTB loan, and on Friday IFR Markets, a Thomson Reuters news and analysis service, said a group of Russian banks were likely to refinance the rest.

Jarvis said the Kiev government had to act on energy policy and especially gas prices to meet its budget deficit target of 1.8 percent of gross domestic product.

"When the government is ready to take action in this area the IMF would be ready to resume discussion on the next stage of the (bail-out) programme", he said.

Analysts say there may also be pressure for Ukraine to release opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko, jailed on abuse-of-office allegations that the European Union says were politically motivated, before IMF funding resumes.

"After the election I think the chances of a deal are quite high, albeit this might still require evidence of a significantly free/fair election, and/or the opposition are co-opted one way or another into government," said Timothy Ash at RBS.

"I would also tend to think that Tymoshenko will need to be freed for key IMF shareholders to back a new program me."

Source: CNBC

Ukraine Faces Fresh EU Condemnation Over Tymoshenko

LONDON, England -- Pressure is mounting for England's football fixtures in the European championship to be switched to venues in Poland in protest over the Ukraine government's "deteriorating" record of political persecution.

British ECR MEP Charles Tannock said it was important that the "clearest and most direct message" should be sent to Kiev that its actions were "beyond the pale and would not be tolerated" by the international community.

Ukraine is due to host the June championships jointly with Poland, but has attracted widespread condemnation for its imprisonment and alleged physical mistreatment of ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko, as well as the targeting of other political opponents of the government.

Senior EU political figures including commission president José Manual Barroso and foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton have said they will boycott the Ukraine leg of the championship.

Pressure has mounted on Kiev in recent days after it emerged that Tymoshenko may now face a murder charge and that the country's chief prosecutor has been given direct political orders to pursue the former premier and other government opponents.

England are due to play their three group matches in the former soviet state - including a fixture against the hosts.

Tannock, the UK Conservative foreign affairs spokesman in parliament, said, "In my opinion England should be seeking to play in Poland instead of a country whose government is behaving in a way that is insupportable by anyone with a care for human rights and open democracy.

"I believe the stance of politicians who are boycotting Ukraine will have an effect.

"If politicians wish to attend their countries' matches there they should go as private citizens. That will send a message to Kiev: that we want them to grow into a modern European state and ultimately to join the EU - but that will require much higher standards of political behaviour than we have seen of late."

Meanwhile, MEPs have endorsed a resolution on the current situation in the Ukraine, highlighting alleged problems with human rights and political repression in the country.

It comes in the wake of growing concern about the treatment of Tymoshenko and other leading opposition political figures.

Deputies voiced concern about the Ukraine regime in a debate and vote in parliament.

Greens/EFA co-president Rebecca Harms said that in adopting the resolution parliament had "strongly criticised" the Ukrainian president and his government.

The German MEP declared, "The EU cannot support a regime that is leading its country away from freedom and democracy and towards isolation.

She added, "The coming European football championships should be used by all those involved to send a clear message to the Yanukovich regime against political repression and the treatment of politically held prisoners like Yulia Tymoshenko and other opposition politicians.

"Hosting the tournament in Ukraine was supposed to bring the country closer to Europe and to recognise its efforts towards democratic transformation.

"UEFA chief Michel Platini should finally take a clear stance and speak out against political repression, rather than sniping at concerned sportspeople who do so."

Her comments were broadly echoed by her party colleague, the Greens foreign affairs spokesperson Werner Schulz.

He said, "The opposition politicians who were responsible for bringing the European championships to Ukraine will be languishing behind bars, while the current regime will be sitting in the stands and basking in the glow of the tournament.

"It is high time to show this regime the red card for its persistent abuse of human rights and political repression. The EU needs to do far more to counter the emergence of a new dictatorship in its eastern neighbourhood.

"The association agreement cannot be signed so long as there are political prisoners. There will be no free elections while key opposition politicians sit in jail."

Source: The Parliament

Monday, May 28, 2012

Analysis: Ukraine's $13.4 Billion Soccer Spend Might Become Debt Burden

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine may never recover all of the billions of dollars it has spent to co-host next month's European soccer championship and the outlay might complicate its chances of servicing its debt.

An ice sculpture of the European Soccer Championship trophy sits on display outside the Palace of Arts prior to the Euro 2012 final draw in Kiev.

The staging of the month-long Euro 2012 tournament - absorbing a total of $13.4 billion including $6.6 billion from state coffers - is unlikely to make the former Soviet republic any more inviting for foreign investment, analysts say.

And despite the hopes of tour operators and the authorities themselves, once the competition - taking place in four Ukrainian cities - is over and the fans have gone home, it is by no means certain that Ukraine will have registered itself as a new European tourist destination.

The mathematics of financing Euro 2012, being co-hosted with Poland, are crucial for a country which faces $11.9 billion in debt obligations this year, $5.3 billion of which is denominated in foreign currencies - making it sensitive to movements on foreign exchange markets.

The issue looms large as in June, the government has to repay a $2 billion loan to Russia's VTB Capital and $500 million in outstanding Eurobonds.

Kiev has failed to agree on a new credit line with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and has for more than a year been unable to issue Eurobonds to help cover state spending, which has spiked ahead of October's parliamentary election.

The jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, sentenced to seven years in October for abuse of office, has hurt confidence in Ukraine's creditworthiness and led to a boycott of the sporting event by some of top European politicians.

"Ukraine will not receive any financial income or significant economic impact from co-hosting the Euro 2012 championship," Andriy Kolpakov, managing partner at analytical group Da Vinci AG, said.

"And any possible improvement in image has run up against internal politics and the European Union's reaction to it."

Ukraine's high level of corruption has scared off some foreign investors, while skyrocketing hotel prices have made many soccer fans either cut short their stay or skip it altogether and opt to follow their team's fortunes on television.

Based on the government's program, the state has spent some $6.6 billion from its budget on Euro 2012 preparations - a total which rises to $13.4 billion once input from state companies and private investors are included.

"In effect, the (state) budget took on the additional debt burden and taxpayers for many years to come will be paying for the Euro soccer holiday," said Erik Nayman at brokerage Capital Times.

Analysts at Da Vinci forecast financial losses suffered from hosting the championship could total between $6 billion and $8 billion.

Drop In The Ocean

The National Bank of Ukraine sees $1 billion in capital flowing into the country from visitors who will spend on restaurants, hotels and souvenirs during the month-long championship in Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lviv.

But some see lesser benefits and Da Vinci estimates the influx at no more than $800 million.

Ukraine's authorities argue much of the spending was necessary anyway.

"Without international airports and transport infrastructure the country will not receive any foreign investment," Deputy Prime Minister Borys Kolesnikov, charged with preparing for the championship, said.

But not all agree.

"There is no direct correlation - foreign direct investment (FDI) will increase only by improving the investment climate, that is, with less bureaucracy," said Alexander Valchishen at brokerage Investment Capital Ukraine.

[Editor's Note: See previous story on how corporate raids are hurting Ukraine's FDI.]

Source: Chicago Tribune

Ukraine Corporate Raids Stifle Foreign Investment

KIEV, Ukraine -- Yuri Leshchinsky spent more than a decade transforming an ailing Soviet-era factory into a leading candy maker.

SBU security guards (formerly known as KGB), like these shown, are used in corporate raids.

When a board meeting drew him to the plant from his New York home, he was in for a shock: Black-clad security guards armed with rubber batons were there to meet him, blocking his way.

In the coming months, the purchase of 95 percent of the plant's shares by Leshchinsky and his U.S. partners was declared illegal through a series of court rulings.

A new owner was installed, leaving the Americans out of tens of millions of dollars.

The 2010 seizure of the Zhytomyr Sweets factory is one of the most prominent in a phenomenon known as corporate raiding, the alleged forced takeover of dozens of foreign and domestic companies in recent years that critics claim has the backing of Ukrainian officialdom.

Investors and officials say the corporate seizures are eroding Ukraine's tottering economy by sapping badly needed overseas investment.

And it is hampering Kiev's efforts to forge deeper economic and political ties with the European Union.

Even the government acknowledges the gravity of the problem, calling it a "cancerous tumor on the economy" and vowing in March to fight it.

But experts and opposition lawmakers dismiss those statements, saying both national and regional officials are themselves involved in the takeovers.

Ukrainian-born Leshchinsky, now an American citizen, is convinced the new owner of Zhytomyr Sweets has high-level backing within the office of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, because his opponents' lawyers were employed by firms associated with the president's legal adviser.

Yanukovych's office refused to comment on the claim.

"The plant ... was taken away from me with the help of corrupt judges," Leshchinsky said.

"Today bandits prevail among Ukrainian law enforcement who can do anything they want against the law."

The new owner, former Leshchinsky employee Ihor Boiko, insists that he carried out the ouster legally and acted in the interests of the plant - accusing Leshchinsky of siphoning money from Zhytomyr Sweets.

Andriy Semididko, head of the Ukrainian Enterpreneurs' Anti-Raiding Union, a Kiev-based watchdog, says that the number of forced corporate takeovers has risen since Yanukovych came to power two years ago despite his vow to stamp out the problem.

"He who tamed the dragon has himself become the dragon," Semidiko said, referring to Ukrainian authorities.

Ukraine dropped 21 points over the past two years to 118th out of 130 countries on the International Property Rights index compiled by the Washington-based watchdog Property Rights Alliance, which monitors property rights protection around the world.

While foreign direct investment rose from $5.8 billion in 2010 to $6.9 billion in 2011 largely on the back of the global economic recovery, portfolio investment fell from $30 million worth of securities traded on Ukraine's stock exchange daily a year ago to some $6 million today, according to Kiev-based Dragon Asset Management.

Natalia Korolevska, an opposition parliament member who campaigns against corporate takeovers, has likened them to modern-day piracy - the seizure of a company from lawful owners through illegal court rulings issued by judges susceptible to bribes or political pressure.

A takeover usually starts when a suit is brought against a company based on a technical or even fabricated legal violation.

A judge may then order the company's assets frozen and ownership transferred to the plaintiff in compensation for the alleged damages, or the company may then be resold.

In another scenario, law enforcement bodies initiate criminal proceedings against a company's owner and then close the investigation in exchange for a share of the company, or even all of it.

Sending investors packing is the last thing Ukraine needs as it tries to unfreeze a $15.6 billion rescue loan from the International Monetary Fund, money that has kept its economy afloat.

Kiev is also facing harsh Western pressure and increasing isolation over the politically tainted jailing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Leshchinsky, 61, a former wrestler who emigrated to the United States in the late 1970s, deeply regrets his decision to invest in the Ukrainian confectionary plant.

In the mid-1990s, Trilini International, a Brooklyn-based firm co-owned by Leshchinsky, supplied cocoa beans, sugar and fats to Zhytomyr Sweets, based in the city of Zhytomyr, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) west of Kiev.

But the Ukrainian economy was in a deep crisis and the crumbling plant needed investment.

In 1999, Leshchinsky and his partners founded an investment firm called Cobisco, which bought 45 percent of the plant's stock.

By 2010, the firm, which was reorganized into a Swiss-based company called Delta Capital, had acquired 95 percent of the shares, with the rest belonging to workers.

Leshchinsky estimates the investment in the plant totaled some $25 million.

Over 10 years, the workforce doubled to about 2,300 and annual output rose from 16,000 tons of candy and cookies to about 59,000 tons in 2009.

The factory became a top taxpayer in the region and one of Ukraine's leading confectionary factories, its chocolate, candy and raisin cookies a staple of supermarkets across the country.

Leshchinsky estimates that the plant was worth $120 million in 2010.

All that ended in June 2010.

Boiko, a top manager whom Leshchinsky had hired and brought into Delta Capital, had orchestrated his ouster.

Boiko hired scores of security guards to keep Leshchinsky and his partners away from the factory.

He then secured a court ruling declaring that the purchase of the plant's stock over the years had been illegal and thus Leshchinsky and his partners had no ownership rights.

That decision also applied to Boiko's 25 percent shareholding at Delta.

But he called a shareholders' meeting of Zhytomyr Sweets and succeeded in merging it with another firm he owned to form a new company called ZhL, an acronym for the plant's Ukrainian name - Zhytomyrski Lasoshchi.

Boiko now owns 71 percent of ZhL.

Even though a regional commission charged with investigating corporate takeovers in Zhytomyr declared that the ownership change appeared unfair, Leshchinsky has lost more than 50 appeals trying to win back the plant.

Some 50 workers are also suing Boiko over the ownership change.

Leshchinsky now warns other foreign investors against putting their money into Ukraine.

"Who would do such a thing? Only somebody who is suicidal," he told the AP in a telephone interview from New York.

Since the ownership change, production has fallen about 20 percent and the company slid from the fifth largest confectionary plant in 2010 to sixth largest in 2011, according to the Industrial News Agency, which monitors the food market in Ukraine.

Some 350 workers have been laid off over the past two years, and many employees complain of reduced work shifts and salary cuts.

Boiko accuses Leshchinsky of bleeding money from the plant by supplying raw materials and equipment at inflated prices and by failing to pay shareholders any dividends.

He claims that in 2008-2009 alone Leshchinsky pocketed over $1 million by supplying cocoa oil and powder through Trilini, his commodities firm, at nearly twice the market price.

"The plant was tortured for 11 years," Boiko said.

"Such investors should be chased away with a stick."

Boiko says he offered Leshchinsky and his partners $1 million in compensation for their initial investment into the plant, but Leshchinsky denies being offered anything.

According to Boiko, the recent decline in output was due to Leshchinsky's efforts to win the company back, which have hurt its image, and import duties imposed by major foreign buyers, while the layoffs resulted from the introduction of new automated equipment.

Leshchinsky says he sold raw materials at fair prices and maintains that profits had to be reinvested in order for the company to grow.

He alleges that the takeover involved bribing numerous judges and government officials.

He accuses Andriy Portnov, the legal adviser to Yanukovych, of implementing the raid, saying that his opponents' lawyers were connected to Portnov.

Boiko denies the charges.

Yanukovych's office and Portnov declined to comment on the allegations of their involvement in the plant's takeover, only saying that the case should be handled by courts and law enforcement bodies.

The government has set up a commission to fight corporate takeovers, but Korolevska, the opposition lawmaker, compares the government's efforts to bees fighting with honey.

"How are they going to fight it if they are themselves the main organizers of this process?" Korolevska asked.

Source: The Seattle Times

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ukraine's Tymoshenko To Bring Case To European Rights Court

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Ukraine's ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko is weak yet combative and will turn to the European Court of Human Rights to rule on her case, Belgium's former prime minister Guy Verhofstadt said Friday.

Yulia Tymoshenko shows her bruises.

"Physically she is very weak. She has back pain and was lying down throughout the visit," Verhofstadt told AFP after a meeting with the fiery Orange Revolution leader that lasted over an hour.

"But she is in high spirits and remains very combative," said Verhofstadt, who leads the liberals and democrats in the European Parliament.

Tymoshenko, 51, is serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of power and now faces fresh charges that could extend her sentence to 2023.

"For her, the only objective authority capable of treating her case is the European Court of Human Rights and she wishes to bring her case there as quickly as possible," Verhofstadt said.

A Ukrainian court on Monday once more adjourned a tax evasion trial of Tymoshenko due to her absence in hospital with debilitating back pains and set the next hearing for late June.

With the delay, Tymoshenko believes Ukraine's leaders have found a way to "eliminate a political adversary for legislative elections on October 29", Verhofstadt said.

Her latest trial began on April 19 but has been adjourned twice already because the opposition leader complained that her severe back pains forced her to lie down.

She has been hospitalised at a public clinic since May 9.

Last week the Ukrainian appeals court also decided to postpone until June 26 its consideration of Tymoshenko's appeal against her sentence for abuse of power.

Her jailing prompted howls of international criticism.

The European Union and many member countries have threatened their officials will boycott matches in the Euro 2012 that Ukraine co-hosts with Poland from June 8 to July 1.

Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine is one of the four Ukrainian cities to host the tournament, but the last match will be held in the city on June 17, before Tymoshenko's next hearing.

Source: EU Business

Ukraine, Seeking To Access A $15.6 Billion IMF Bailout

NEW YORK, USA -- Ukraine, seeking to access a $15.6 billion International Monetary Fund bailout frozen because of government unwillingness to raise household natural-gas prices, is considering higher tariffs from 2013, a minister said.

Kostyantyn Gryshchenko

The former Soviet republic, which faces parliamentary elections in October, may be willing to raise costs in stages starting next year, Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko said yesterday in an interview.

The Washington-based lender has demanded the increases to narrow the budget deficit by trimming losses at state-run energy company NAK Naftogaz.

“We aren’t ready for any steep rise,” Gryshchenko said in the interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York.

Ukraine wants the IMF lending to resume “as soon as possible,” he said.

“We’ve met all the conditions except the increase in natural-gas prices.”

The IMF halted Ukraine’s latest bailout, which it approved in 2010, last March after the government refused to raise gas tariffs.

Efforts to placate the lender by reducing the price paid to Russia for the fuel by a third have so far failed.

IMF officials are in Kiev May 21-28 for talks with the government.

The hryvnia fell 0.6 percent to 8.0638 per dollar as of 11:06 a.m. in New York, the biggest drop since Jan. 21, 2011.

Ukraine stocks declined to their lowest in almost three years after German confidence fell more than economists forecast.

‘Overpaying Billions’

Ukraine’s government will continue to seek a discount on Russian energy imports, which it deems too expensive, according to Gryshchenko.

“We’re overpaying billions of dollars for Russian gas supplies and that creates pressure on our financial system,” Gryshchenko said.

“These days, it’s cheaper to buy Russian gas that was shipped to Germany than what we pay for direct supplies from Russia. This is ridiculous -- the deal isn’t sustainable.”

It’s in Russia’s interests to change the gas accord as demand weakens when prices rise, Gryshchenko said.

Vladimir Putin’s return this month for a third term as Russia’s president increases the chances of negotiating a discount, he added, without elaborating.

Ukraine receives fees from Russia for gas that transits its territory en route to Europe and generates exports revenue by selling commodities such as grain, steel, chemicals and machinery.

Economic growth will slow to 3 percent this year in 2012, less than the government’s 3.7 percent forecast and last year’s 5.2 percent expansion, because of weakening export demand, the IMF said April 17 in its World Economic Outlook report.

Source: Bloomberg

Art Becomes An Agent Of Disruption In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Never on the map of the contemporary art world, Ukraine is experiencing an unusually high level of activity in this realm with a new solo exhibition by British sculptor Anish Kapoor, the first international Bienalle of Contemporary Arts in Kiev and the emergence of the Future Generation Art Prize.

Anish Kapoor

This trend was started by the Pinchuk Art Center and is developing into something much larger than just an exhibition by contemporary art masters for a small creative community.

The Ukrainian public, as well as Ukrainian artists – still fresh and curious – are delving deeper and deeper into the world of the conceptual and abstract.

More galleries and art auctions are opening in various cities within the country; contemporary art has become a very popular subject for Ukrainian media and artists are experimenting with social and public art more then ever.

Arts and creativity are known to influence minds and society, explained Richard Armstrong, the Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

This concept, for instance, was behind the creation of the Guggenheim Museum in the 1930th, he said.

In the entire post-Soviet territory, access to anything modern and contemporary was forbidden for many decades.

Contemporary art, for many not the easiest aspect of culture to understand – and also one of the most expensive — only recently made its way into Ukraine and was met with great enthusiasm.

The Pinchuk Art Center, the pioneer center in that region, continues to bring the most interesting artists to Kiev.

Kapoor, the Mumbai-born British sculptor, has brought a selection of about thirty works to Kiev.

According to Armstrong, the Pinchuk Art Center’s strategy is not typical for post-Soviet territory.

“In the place like that the idea would be to make a very broad subject,” he said.

But the Center explores an artist in depth through a comprehensive exhibition.

In addition to showing Demian Hurst, Olafur Eliason, Takashi Murakami, Andreas Gursky, the Center always has room for Ukrainian artists like Boris Mikhailov and Pavel Makov.

When Pinchuk Art Center was first founded by a Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk and his foundation, there was plenty of skepticism:

“Even I had some doubts”, Pinchuk admitted in an interview during Kapoor’s opening. “Who knows, people would think he’s a little bit crazy, contemporary art…”

But the experiment has proved to be a success.

The center allows thousands of visitors, most of whom have grown up without seeing the original works of Pollock and Warhol, an opportunity to see something new, and little by little extends the boundaries of their perception of beauty and art.

The cultural experiment has grown to such an extent that even Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture decided to catch up with the rest of the world and organized the First Kiev International Biennale called “Arsenale”.

The event is hosted in Art Arsenal, another center in Ukraine focusing on modern art, with the mission of conceptualizing the country’s culture and present its historical and artistic heritage in a global context.

The Biennale started on May 24th and will continue through July 31st.

Works by more than 100 artists will be presented in Kiev, including Ai Wei Wei, Louise Bourgeouis and Jake and Dinos Chapman.

Has anyone ever seen anything by Ai Wei Wei in Kiev before?

Another subject that brings attention to Ukraine among artists is the international Future Generation Art prize for artists under the age of 35.

The $100,000 prize was established by Pinchuk’s foundation in 2010 to support young artists.

It is given to one international winner, and to one Ukrainian winner. Brazilian artist Cinthia Marcelle won the first edition of the prize.

Artem Volokitin, the local winner, accepted an apprenticeship at the studio of British sculptor Antony Gormley as part of his award.

It’s interesting and exciting that internationally acclaimed artists are showing their work in Ukraine.

“What was important for me, is to show my art there and share it with people of my own generation and younger,” said Olafur Eliasson, a Danish-Icelandic artist known for his large-scale installations, who had a solo exhibition in the country.

“Art is the voice that is contributing into Ukrainian society.”

Let’s not forget that the Soviets were afraid of Western culture.

Who knows, maybe disco had a hand in all of that social change and perestroika?

If Ukrainian politics and economics can’t speed up the process of creating a more progressive and innovative mindset, maybe Art will.

Source: Forbes

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ukraine Soccer Costs Soar As Graft Increases: Chart Of The Day

LONDON, England -- New stadiums for the Euro 2012 soccer tournament in Ukraine cost double those in co-host Poland as the former Soviet republic overtook Togo, Uganda and Tajikistan in a ranking of corruption.

The CHART OF THE DAY compares Transparency International’s gauge of perceived corruption with the cost per seat of building and renovating venues for the June competition in the two countries.

It also shows measures for South Africa, site of the 2010 World Cup, and Brazil, host of the 2014 competition.

“It’s not surprising to expect significant abuse of power, embezzlement and corruption in public procurement, which can include financing of public infrastructure, such as stadiums,” Olga Savran, manager of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Anti-Corruption Network for eastern Europe, said in a May 16 e-mail.

“The government doesn’t have real political will to act against corruption.”

Since Viktor Yanukovych took over as Ukraine’s president in 2010, the country has slipped to 152nd from 134th in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index where a lower rank indicates higher perceived corruption.

Yuriy Hromnytskyi, a spokesman for Borys Kolesnikov, the deputy prime minister responsible for Euro 2012 preparations, didn’t answer five calls to his office and mobile phones or a written request for comment.

The government agency managing the tournament project didn’t respond to a written inquiry.

Officials, including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, have pledged to skip matches in protest at the imprisonment of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Source: Bloomberg

Chicago Summit: NATO Remains AWOL From Europe’s East

CHICAGO, USA -- With the salient exception of Georgia, NATO basically ignored its own immediate eastern neighborhood at NATO’ Chicago summit (May 20-21).

NATO Chicago Summit, May 21, 2012.

Europe’s East – a “gray zone” of six countries bordering on NATO and the EU – faces a deepening security vacuum and Russian re-expansion.

This region is the arena of protracted conflicts (Russia-Moldova, Russia-Georgia on two fronts, Armenia-Azerbaijan), territorial occupations, ethnic cleansing, massive Russian military bases (prolonged in Ukraine and Armenia since 2010 for decades to come), and failing tests of NATO’s open-door and partnership policies.

NATO seems to treat Europe’s East with benign neglect, which deepens from one summit cycle to the next; NATO’s policy from Lisbon to Chicago has confirmed the pattern.

NATO/US disengagement and Russian sphere-of-influence rebuilding are concurrent processes, mutually reinforcing in this region.

Benign neglect tends to grow deeper and even becomes institutionalized with the passage of time.

In this region, it takes the form of conceding primary authority on peacekeeping and conflict-mediation to Russia, which acts within institutional formats that constrain the West and exclude NATO outright.

Except for a fleeting moment in 2002, NATO has recused itself from a peacekeeping role in its eastern neighborhood.

At the Chicago summit, NATO again urged all parties to the protracted conflicts to respect those same institutional formats (meaning: 5+2 in Moldova, the Geneva format in the case of Georgia, the “Minsk Group” in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict) despite their ineffectiveness.

This summit’s communiqué called on “all parties to engage constructively and with reinforced political will in peaceful conflict resolution.”

Repeating a phrase from earlier communiqués, it declared that “the persistence of protracted conflicts in [the] South Caucasus and Moldova continues to be a matter of great concern for the Alliance.”

But the concern seems to remain at the declaratory level (Chicago Summit Declaration, May 20).

Overcommitted to failed expeditionary operations in distant theaters, NATO has no security solution to offer in its eastern neighborhood; and – as the Chicago summit confirmed – NATO lacks the collective inclination to provide one.

While some NATO partners become security providers in the region, the Alliance itself has missed the chance to become an effective security actor in Europe’s East.

Again, with the singular exception of Georgia, others are scaling down their erstwhile ambitions for closer cooperation with NATO.

The Ukrainian government has regressed from membership aspirant during Viktor Yanukovych’s first premiership (2002-2004) to staunchly “non-bloc” under Yanukovych’s presidency.

At the Chicago summit, Yanukovych limited his role to seeking business opportunities for Ukraine in the context of NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He offered to lease Ukraine’s Soviet-era, heavy-duty transport aircraft for NATO’s reverse transit, and to repair Soviet-made military equipment in Ukraine for the Afghan army’s use.

For its part, Azerbaijan joined the non-aligned movement in 2011 – a move that precludes NATO membership aspirations, though still allowing other forms of Azerbaijan-NATO cooperation.

In the Karabakh conflict, Russian-backed Armenia occupies territories of Western-oriented Azerbaijan.

Amid Western indifference to this situation, Azerbaijan seeks political support among the non-aligned countries.

Baku continues to seek an upgraded individual partnership agreement with NATO, but the Alliance procrastinates.

Azerbaijan is a troop contributor and a crucial way station for NATO forces operating in Afghanistan.

President Ilham Aliyev attended the Chicago summit in that context.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisyan, on the other hand, followed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s example and declined to attend the summit.

Azerbaijan obtained a degree of satisfaction when the Chicago summit’s communiqué endorsed Azerbaijan’s “territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty” along with those of Georgia and Moldova (Chicago Summit Declaration, May 20).

This basically restates the formulation from NATO’s 2010 Lisbon summit communiqué; but the restatement was in doubt until the last moment, as diplomats involved in the anachronistic “Minsk process” sought to change the Lisbon formula to Azerbaijan’s detriment.

Turkey defended Azerbaijan’s interests in the drafting process.

Presidents Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania and Traian Basescu of Romania expressed concern over arms sales by certain Western European countries to Russia.

In their speeches at the Chicago summit, Grybauskaite and Basescu noted that such arms sales can generate security risks to NATO allies and partners.

Basescu urged NATO to introduce controls over arms sales by NATO member countries to non-members (meaning essentially Russia).

Such procedures should involve advance notice to the Alliance and a certification that the arms sales would not pose additional risks to allies and partners in the region.

France is going ahead with the sale of Mistral-class amphibious assault warships to Russia.

On the eve of the Chicago summit, Italy delivered samples of Centauro tanks and Iveco armored vehicles to Russia for testing and possible procurement.

History’s most successful alliance seems painfully irrelevant to the security of its own eastern neighborhood, from Ukraine to the South Caucasus.

Yet, this neighborhood sits astride the Alliance’s vital energy supply routes to Europe and logistical corridors to Asia.

“Relevance” is a particularly sensitive word in the NATO lexicon.

From the 1990s onward, NATO leaders serially insisted that NATO remained “relevant” and had to prove it.

That proof, however, has yet to materialize in Europe’s East.

Source: The Jamestown Foundation

Fight In Ukraine's Parliament Over Language Bill

KIEV, Ukraine -- A violent scuffle erupted in Ukraine's parliament Thursday evening over a bill that would allow the use of the Russian language in courts, hospitals and other institutions in the Russian-speaking regions of the country.

Lawmakers from pro-presidential and oppositional factions in the parliament session hall in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, May 24, 2012. A violent scuffle erupted in Ukraine's parliament over a bill that would allow the use of the Russian language in courts, hospitals and other institutions in the Russian-speaking regions of the country.

The fight broke out between members of the pro-Western opposition who want to take Ukraine out of Russia's shadow and lawmakers from President Viktor Yanukovych's party, which bases its support in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east.

At least one legislator, opposition lawmaker Mykola Petruk, suffered an apparent blow to the head and was taken to the hospital with blood streaming down his face.

Lawmakers have frequently scuffled in the Ukrainian parliament.

A fierce fight in December 2010, which sent at least six lawmakers to the hospital, started when members of Yanukovych's party threw chairs and punched opposition lawmakers who had been blocking legislative work all day.

During a fight in April 2010, the parliament speaker hid behind an umbrella as opposition lawmakers threw eggs and smoke bombs to protest a naval pact with Russia.

Ukraine is deeply divided into the Russian-speaking east and south, which favors close ties with Moscow, and the Ukrainian-speaking west, which wants Ukraine to join the Western club.

The opposition demanded an investigation into Thursday's scuffle.

Source: AP

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ukraine Plays Down Euro 2012 Snubs Over Tymoshenko

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's president has played down plans by some European leaders to boycott Euro 2012 matches in Ukraine over the imprisonment of ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko, saying the event will be a success, according to an interview published Thursday.

Policemen walk past a toy mocking Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych as they guard a camp of Yulia Tymoshenko supporters in central Kiev.

"Why do you think nobody is coming?" Viktor Yanukovych was quoted as saying.

"All the tickets have been sold, the excitement is incredible... Euro 2012 will take place and there will be fans!"

Yanukovych also suggested in the interview with the Segodnya daily newspaper that Tymoshenko, who is suffering from a severe spinal condition, will not be allowed to be treated abroad despite an offer to treat her in Germany.

Tymoshenko, 51, is serving a seven-year term on charges of abuse of office, a case condemned as politically motivated by the West.

Allegations she was beaten by prison officials in April have prompted top EU officials to announce a boycott of the football (soccer) championship games hosted in Ukraine during the June 8 - July 1 event.

Brussels stepped up pressure on Kiev on Thursday, as the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the "unconditional immediate release of all prisoners sentenced on politically motivated grounds, including leaders of the opposition."

Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Valery Khoroshkovsky said the government would take the resolution into consideration, the Interfax news agency reported.

Yanukovych said he was in favor of letting Tymoshenko be treated abroad, but claimed that he had no chance of pushing the necessary legislation through Parliament, despite the fact that pro-government parties hold the majority of votes in the Ukrainian legislature.

On Wednesday, lawmakers loyal to Yanukovych shot down a motion to consider a bill that would allow Tymoshenko to undergo treatment in a foreign country.

"I am often advised, 'Why don't you send Tymoshenko abroad to get treated?'" Yanukovych said.

"If this depended on me, I would have done it long ago. But this is not allowed by the law, there needs to be appropriate legislative changes" for this.

Tymoshenko is suffering from intense pain and partial paralysis caused by a herniated spinal disk.

After months of Western pressure, she was moved last month to a local clinic in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where her prison is located.

Tymoshenko is being treated there under the supervision of German doctors, because she says she doesn't trust Ukrainian health authorities.

The top opposition leader is also recovering from a nearly three-week long hunger strike launched to protest the alleged beating.

Photographs of bruises on her stomach and arm caused international outrage, and led to a number of EU officials and governments refusing to attend games played in Ukraine.

One of the German doctors treating her, Dr. Anett Reisshauer from Germany's Charite clinic said Tymoshenko's health was improving, but she was still seriously ill.

"There is progress, the patient is already eating normally, but other than that it is still a serious illness," Dr. Reisshauer was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Tymoshenko was sentenced in October for abusing her office powers while negotiating natural gas imports with Russia in 2009.

She denies the charges and says that Yanukovych, who narrowly defeated her in the 2010 presidential vote, put her in jail to bar her from the fall parliamentary election.

Source: AP

Ukrainian Club Owner Draws 36 Months In E. European Stripper Trafficking Scheme

DETROIT, USA -- It took five years to hunt him down, and about five hours to sentence him.

Veniamin Gonikman

But as of today, the federal government is done chasing Ukrainian nightclub owner Veniamin Gonikman, who was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in an operation that smuggled Eastern European women into the U.S. and forced them to work in local strip clubs.

He is the ninth and last defendant to be convicted in the human trafficking case.

Gonikman, who led the government on an international manhunt for years, only admitted to money laundering, and insisted there were no "vulnerable victims," that he was never on the run, and that he lived openly in Ukraine.

He was pushing for a 10-month sentence.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts gave him 36 months instead, still shy of the 51-month prison sentence that prosecutors sought.

"From the beginning, it appeared that Mr. Gonikman was involved in the plan to get the women into the U.S.," Roberts said during the unusually long sentencing hearing, which was more like a mini-trial without witnesses.

In court records, Gonikman had portrayed himself as a father who was tricked by his co-defendant son, and is now paying the price for “the sins of the child.”

Prosecutors scoffed at Gonikman's claims.

“It is difficult to imagine him being fooled by (his son) … The fact of the matter is that Gonikman was not indifferent to the idea of recruiting women from his club to work in the United States … He was an integral part of the operation because he saw it as an opportunity to make an enormous profit off of 'his Ukrainian dancers,’ “ Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow wrote in his sentencing memo.

Chutkow listed several other reasons for a stiffer sentence, among them:

• Gonikman, who was once on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, fled the country in 2005 to avoid prosecution in a case in which his son, ex-wife, daughter-in-law and business partner all were charged and convicted.

• He threatened the families of the dancers, telling the mothers of two women that “there would be bloodshed if their daughters talked.”

• He tried to change his identity and get a fake Ukrainian passport to avoid capture.

• And when he was ultimately arrested in January 2011 in Ukraine, he tried to bribe officials to let him go.

Gonikman became a fugitive in 2005 following the arrests of his co-conspirators, his son, Aleksandr Maksimenko, and business associate Michael Aronov, both of whom were convicted and sentenced to prison.

Gonikman was not apprehended until 2010 in Ukraine, where he was arrested on an immigration violation.

In September 2011, nine months after his capture, Gonikman pleaded guilty, but only to money laundering.

In court today, Gonikman’s lawyer Walter Piszczatowski disputed claims that his client was the ringleader, saying Gonikman never controlled any of the money, and that he never physically hurt anyone or recruited anyone to come here against their will.

"Yes, he's a businessman. And the court may despise that business, and I may despise that business," Piszczatowski said, noting he has daughters. But his client, he said, "was not a leader," and "he didn't have control over the money."

"At best, he's a participant," Piszczatowski argued, saying Gonikman's codefendants ran the show.

"These guys are controlling all the dough," Piszczatowski said.

During his plea hearing, Gonikman admitted that his son, who was convicted of running the smuggling operation known as Beauty Search and sentenced to 14 years in prison, wired him money in Ukraine.

He said that he received more than $160,000 in wages the women earned.

Gonikman came to the attention of authorities in Detroit in 2005, when one of his alleged victims escaped.

Authorities said that the women were forced to work 12 hours a day and turn over their earnings -- more than $1 million -- to Gonikman.

“This sentence brings the final member of this human trafficking ring to justice,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said.

“These defendants treated human beings like a commodity, enticing Eastern European women to come to the United States illegally and then exploiting them for commercial advantage.”

Added Brian Moskowitz, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations:

"These women were brought to America with promises of education and travel, and instead forced to work in seedy strip clubs ... After more than seven years ... we are able to formally end this horrific chapter in the lives of the victims and allow them to now move on knowing that justice has prevailed."

One victim testified before Congress in 2007 about her treatment.

"I could not refuse to go to work or I would be beaten," the woman testified.

"I was often yelled at for not making enough money, or had a gun put to my face.

"Every week, I handed over around $3,000 to $4,000. I was their slave."

Source: Detroit Free Press

Barry Pring Ukraine Death Reclassified As Murder

DEVON, England -- The death of a wealthy Devon businessman in Ukraine four years ago has been upgraded to a murder inquiry, his family has said.

Barry Pring married his Ukrainian wife a year after meeting her on the internet.

Barry Pring, 47, was visiting his Ukrainian wife when he was killed by a speeding car in February 2008.

Police initially treated his death as a hit-and-run accident, but his family have always believed he was murdered.

Foreign Secretary William Hague raised the matter with the Ukrainian authorities last month.

Mr Pring was in the Ukraine to celebrate his first wedding anniversary with his 29-year-old wife Hanna Zuizina at a restaurant near Kiev.

He was hit by a car as he waited for a taxi on the hard shoulder of a dual carriageway.

Mr Pring's family, who live near Cullompton in east Devon, claim that moments before he was hit, his wife left him to retrieve a pair of gloves she had left in the restaurant.

Ms Zuizina, a former stripper, met Mr Pring on the internet in 2006 and the couple married a year later.

But Mr Pring's family described the wedding as a "sham", claiming the couple had spent most of their marriage in separate countries.

Mr Pring's widow and her family have always denied any involvement in Mr Pring's death.

'Hopeful of justice'

Witnesses said when Mr Pring left the restaurant, he was "staggering" and barely able to support himself, although post-mortem tests found "relatively low" levels of alcohol.

His brother, Shaughan Pring, received an email from his solicitor in Ukraine confirming the death had been reclassified from accidental to intentional killing.

"We've been battling for nearly four-and-a-half years for this," he told BBC News.

"Most people would've given up, but we knew Barry was murdered."

He believes the reclassification decision was made because of the "combined effort and pressure" from local MP Neil Parish, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), William Hague and the Pring family.

"I'd say we're more hopeful of justice now, although there's still a doubt in the back of my mind about the effort they'll make four years down the line," said Mr Pring.

The FCO confirmed Mr Hague had raised the case with his Ukrainian counterpart in April.

In a statement, a spokesman said the FCO "would continue to provide consular assistance to Mr Pring's family in what must be very difficult circumstances".

Source: BBC News

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Opposition Uproar Over Budget Guidelines

KIEV, Ukraine -- Parliament voted Tuesday to approve guidelines for drafting Ukraine’s 2013 budget, stipulating that it must be based on President Viktor Yanukovych’s initiatives and the government’s five-year economic reform program.

Ukraine's Parliament

Critics said the guidelines were tailored to restrict future lawmakers that will be elected in October parliamentary elections and that may be won by opposition groups.

“Our position is clear,” Mykola Tomenko, deputy speaker of Parliament and a member of the opposition Batkivshchyna party, said.

“We haven’t seen more unprofessional, unprepared and anti-people budgetary guidelines.”

The government is supposed to submit the 2013 budget draft to Parliament in early September, and lawmakers have to approve the final draft before the end of December to make sure the government’s spending is uninterrupted in January 2013.

What makes the 2013 budget drafting process unusual is that the budget – and economic policies it will shape - may be finally approved by a new Parliament that will be elected in October.

Opposition groups may well win the elections and may start opposing Yanukovych’s economic and domestic policies, making it more difficult for the government to control the economy, opinion polls suggested.

Batkivshchyna, the largest opposition party, is likely to score 25.6% of the vote, followed by the governing Regions Party’s 22%, according to the poll released Tuesday by Rating, an independent sociology group.

Vitaliy Klishchko’s UDAR party, the second largest opposition group, would score 9.2%, followed by the Communist Party’s 7.6% and nationalist Svoboda party’s 4.4%, according to the poll.

Rating polled 2,000 respondents between May 5 and May 14 with margin of error not exceeding 2%, according to the poll.

The guidelines stipulate the 2013 budget must be drafted only by using the outline of economic and foreign policies contained in Yanukovych’s address to Parliament earlier this year, and the government’s 2010-2014 economic reform program.

Tomenko said the guidelines suggest that the 2013 budget will be drafted exclusively by the presidential administration and the government, without involvement of lawmakers.

“The authorities are trying to hedge themselves against the victory of the opposition groups at the upcoming elections,” Tomenko said.

The guidelines forecast Ukraine’s 2013 economic growth forecast at 4.5% on the year, which is somewhat more optimistic than 4% growth forecast by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Ukraine’s consumer inflation is forecast at 5.9% in 2012, while producer prices are expected to increase 6.3%.

Budget deficit target is set at 0.8% to 1% of the gross domestic product in 2013, according to the guidelines.

The pro-Yanukovych majority in Parliament earlier this year approved 2012 budget amendments that increase spending by 33.4 billion hryvnias ($4.14 billion) this year, mostly increasing payouts to poor people ahead of the October elections.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Ukraine Plans Euro Crowd Control, Prostitution A Problem

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will use fighters and helicopters to guard its air space and put security and health services on full alert during the European soccer championship, but officials said on Tuesday they could do little to stem a likely flood of prostitutes.

The country's top security and defense official, Andriy Klyuev, told security chiefs that the world would judge Ukraine by how it dealt with the security challenges posed by the month-long Euro-2012 tournament in June.

The leadership of President Viktor Yanukovich is under fire over the jailing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko for abuse of office in what Western governments say is a politically-motivated prosecution.

Several Western politicians have said they will stay away from Euro-2012 matches in protest.

The former Soviet republic, co-host of Euro-2012 with Poland, expects about one million fans for the 16 matches to be played in four Ukrainian cities - the biggest single influx of foreign visitors since it became independent 20 years ago.

Ukraine says it will have about 23,000 police on duty for the tournament which opens in Poland on June 8 and climaxes with the final in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on July 1.

Anti-terrorism measures include having 10 surface-to-air missile units on standby.

Four air fighters and two military helicopters will be deployed to protect air space over the host cities, the Defence Ministry said.

"We will be permanently monitoring the air space of the match cities. All security and emergency institutions and services will be on 24-hour duty from the beginning of June. Medical services and the emergencies ministry will be on heightened alert," said Klyuev, who is secretary of Ukraine's security and defense council.

"Courts will work under an emergency schedule which will allow them to deal quickly with administrative offences by foreigners," he said.

Klyuev said Ukraine was working with the police and intelligence services of some Western countries and Interpol to head off crowd trouble, particularly from "professional" hooligans.

Trouble could range from clashes between rival supporter groups to "outbreaks of xenophobia and racism", he was quoted as saying by his press service.

"The main thing is that we know what the possible threats are and we must be ready to react adequately to handle them. We have to put the time left before the Euros start to the best possible use," he said.


While possible crowd trouble is a concern for authorities, police are at the same time under pressure to improve the poor image they have at home for heavy-handedness and corruption.

The national Euro-2012 organizers on Monday urged police to be on their best behavior and be "service-oriented and tolerant" in handling foreigners.

Authorities signaled on Tuesday that, despite pressure from social and feminist watchdog groups like the Kiev-based Femen, an expected surge in prostitution at the Euros is beyond their ability to control.

Some of these groups say the Euro soccer tournament will only give a spurt to the already booming sex industry in Ukraine which demeans the international image of Ukrainian women.

"Tourists are coming with money, and girls from outside Kiev will try to be here. We are seeing a worsening of the criminal situation," said Vasyl Poshtak, the head of department on combating human trafficking of Ukraine's Interior Ministry.

"We have drawn up a plan to carry out checks at hotels, night clubs, massage parlors and streets where prostitutes work ... we will follow the situation," he said.

But he added: "We will do our best, but this is like tilting at windmills."

Femen, whose female activists strip to the waist in public to dramatize their cause, have carried out topless protests against the Euro tournament by trying to seize the Euro soccer cup which is being taken on a tour of the Ukrainian provinces.

Prostitution was decriminalized in Ukraine in 2005 and is punishable now by a light fine. This was a "serious mistake", he said.

According to Ukrainian social organizations, about 1.5 million Ukrainians are involved in the sex industry and 20 percent of them are under 18, the legal age for sexual contact in Ukraine.

In the eyes of many foreigners, Ukraine is a country of available and cheap woman and many social groups say indifference by police - and even connivance by them in prostitution rackets - is the main problem.

"Ukraine now is looked on as a shopwindow of erotic or sexual products," said Vasyl Kostytsky, head of Ukraine's national commission for public morality.

"Prostitution is dangerous for foreigners. Their property can get stolen, they can get AIDS. If problems arise, the only loser in all this will be the image of the state," he said.

Source: Yahoo News

Ukraine’s Hryvnia Drops To Two-Year Low On Europe Crisis Concern

KIEV, Ukraine -- The hryvnia depreciated for a seventh day against the dollar, poised for its longest losing streak since December 2008, on speculation uncertainty about Europe’s debt crisis is damping demand for the country’s debt.

500 Hryvnia ~ $62.00

The Ukrainian currency lost 0.7 percent to 8.11 per dollar as of 10:46 a.m. in the capital, Kiev, heading for the weakest closing level since February 2010.

The former Soviet republic’s $1 billion of dollar-denominated debt due November 2016 fell for the first time in three days, increasing the yield by three basis points, or 0.03 percentage point, to 9.47 percent.

European leaders are meeting in Brussels today to discuss the region’s debt crisis that has wiped more than $4 trillion from equity markets worldwide this month.

The yield spread on Ukrainian bonds over the emerging-market average has jumped 10 basis points this month to 466 basis points.

“Non-residents cut their share in Ukraine’s treasury bills last week from 4.2 billion hryvnia ($0.52 billion) to 3.2 billion hryvnia ($0.40 billion) as the government repaid some debt,” Vladislav Sochinsky, treasurer at Citigroup Inc.’s Ukrainian unit, said by phone.

“They did not reinvest, but converted the hryvnia into dollars because concerns over the euro-zone crisis strengthened while expectations for global economic growth worsened.”

Sochinsky predicts the hryvnia will rally over the next few days.

Source: Bloomberg

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ukraine Gets Slapped Down At NATO Summit

CHICAGO, USA -- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), at a summit in Chicago, expressed concern about selective justice and politically motivated prosecutions in Ukraine, sending a strong message to President Viktor Yanukovych.

NATO meeting in Chicago.

The declaration is embarrassing for Yanukovych, who is one of about 60 world leaders invited to attend the summit.

His political allies hoped the gathering would be a breakthrough overcoming his growing international isolation over democracy.

"We are concerned at the selective application of justice and what appear to be politically motivated prosecutions, including of leading members of the opposition, as well as the conditions of their detention," said the declaration approved by the NATO summit on Sunday.

NATO also encouraged Ukraine to address the existing problems of its judicial system to ensure full compliance with the rule of law and the international agreements to which it is a party.

"We also encourage Ukraine to ensure free, fair and inclusive parliamentary elections this autumn," the declaration said.

Yanukovych had three scheduled bilateral meetings at the summit, with presidents of Poland, Romania and Afghanistan.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and Romania President Traian Basescu urged Ukraine to improve democracy and to ease the pressure on the opposition leader, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, amid concerns this would worsen prospects of closer relations with the European Union.

Yanukovych’s meeting with Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan was aimed at improving economic cooperation with Ukraine.

Yanukovych was invited to the summit for the role that Ukraine plays at international peace-keeping operations, including in Afghanistan.

Boris Tarasiuk, Ukraine’s former foreign minister and the leader of an opposition Rukh party, said the bilateral meetings in Chicago underscore the growing isolation that Yanukovych is facing in the world over the treatment of the opposition politicians.

“These three meetings that have been scheduled show that few leaders actually want to deal with the president of Ukraine,” Tarasiuk said. “This is an indicator.”

But Yanukovychy’s allies see his invitation to the summit – and the declaration – as a proof that the Ukrainian president has managed to break the possible isolation.

“The invitation to such an important summit is a good sign for Ukraine,” Volodymyr Oliynyk, a lawmaker from the Regions Party, told Channel 5.

“The declaration also highly praises Ukraine for cooperation with NATO.”

“After reading the declaration I see that it is much softer” than it could be and is “focusing on changes in legislation and judicial system, and calls for honest elections,” Oliynyk said.

Source: Ukrainian Journal