Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ukraine′s Euro Ends With Foreign Dignitaries, Muted Interest

KIEV, Ukraine -- Kiev residents were quietly going about their business and many seemed not much interested in the biggest sports event seen in their country in decades: the Euro 2012 final between Spain and Italy on Sunday.


"A few more customers than normal, a few more foreigners, but in this kind of beautiful weather any Kievite punts the city if he possibly can," said Nataliya Drach, a saleswoman at Harchuvan'ya, a family-owned grocery store on a Kiev main streets.

"I won't watch the game, but my husband might," she said.

"Once our team (Ukraine) and the Russians left the competition, we really don't have any one to cheer for."

Kiev's three kilometres long fan zone, where an estimated half a million plus fans in yellow and blue had gathered to cheer their side on in a June 19 defeat to England, was almost deserted on Saturday afternoon.

Young men dressed in costumes of Disney movie characters sat on park benches under a bright sun, waiting for someone to walk by and ask for a photo snap with them.

"I wouldn't call this a party atmosphere," said student Volodymyr Myhailik, sweating in a furry panda costume. "Just an average weekend."

Pubs and sidewalks a mere two blocks from Kiev's glittering Olympic Stadium, refurbished for Euro 2012 at an estimated half billion dollar cost to Ukrainian taxpayers, were thinly-attended or even empty on Friday evening.

At the popular Time Out bar only the bartender was actually watching a game, while a waitress, lacking customers, was chatting on a mobile phone and smoking a cigarette.

Ukrainian government spokesmen were, on Saturday, proudly reporting the planned arrival of dozens of international dignitaries to the championship game - a feather in the cap of the former Soviet republic, which prior to Euro was widely criticized as too corrupt and inefficient to host a major football championship successfully.

At Euro 2012's outset, top European officials led by EU president José Manuel Barroso and German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced they would be uncomfortable attending games in Ukraine because of worries about weak rule of law in the country.

However, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rahoy Bray, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and Polish ex-presidents Lech Walesa and Aleksander Kwasniewski, are set to attend the final on Sunday - top politicians from the nations of the finalists and the tournament co-hosts.

Rubbing shoulders with the EU officials in the VIP seating will be Belarus' authoritarian President Aleksandr Lukashenko; the Presidents of Moldova, Tajikistan, Armenia and Georgia; and the Prime Ministers of Hungary and Moldova, Ukrainian news reports said.

More than 7,300 police would be on hand to provide security for the Spain-Italy game, officials at Ukraine's Interior Ministry said.

Crime had been extremely low throughout Euro, they said, and on Friday "no serious Euro-related criminal incidents, of any kind" had even been registered, a ministry statement said.

The final, like all other Euro 2012 matches, was to be aired live on Ukrainian television.

As many as 150 million viewers would watch the final worldwide, Korrespondent magazine reported.

More than 2,000 game tickets were still on sale at a price of some $440 dollars each, an UEFA official said on Saturday.

The price was almost the exact equivalent of the monthly salary for a Kiev factory worker.

Scalpers outside Olympic Stadium, on Saturday afternoon, were accosting strangers and offering handfuls of cheap seat tickets, at face value, in the $20 to $40 dollar range.

Some 36 hours before the final, only a few potential buyers were walking by, a few pushing prams or riding skateboards or bicycles, or just out strolling or shopping.

The scalpers were finding few takers.

Source: DPA

Shame Of Euro 2012 Host Ukraine As Footage Shows Baby Bear Being Tortured To Entertain Tourists In Front Of Its Frantic Mother

LUTSK, Ukraine -- Torn away from his mother, and then shoved screaming into a tiny box which is nailed shut - this is what happened to a bear so it could please tourists in Ukraine.

This heartbreaking picture from Lutsk zoo in Ukraine shows a bear cub being torn away from his mother and shoved screaming into a tiny box which is then nailed shut, has been released to start a campaign to have the two reunited.

The heartbreaking footage was released by an Austrian animal charity trying to get the two bears reunited.

The baby bear Nastasia is seen screaming in terror as she is taken away by a photographer who has been using her to make pictures of tourists in the country co-hosting Euro 2012.

The campaigners from Vier Pfoten (Four paws) released the video and want support to pressure the zoo in Lutsk in Ukraine's northern Volyn region to reunite mother and four-month-old cub.

While the youngster is screaming, the mother bear is shown racing around the cage and throwing herself at the metal mesh in a bid to get back to her cub.

The cub is then pushed down into a wooden box still shrieking - and it is nailed shut with a wire cover.

Four Paws spokesperson for Ukraine Dr Amir Khalil said: "The pictures were shot in May this year and they were the most shocking I have seen in my time covering this region".

A baby bear in the wild usually spends two years with its mother.

Taking it away so young would leave the tiny bear traumatized.

In addition being used as a tourist attraction represents a lifetime in torment for the baby bear.

The sale of baby bears to private individuals is supposed to be illegal in the Ukraine.

[ed note: Shame On Ukraine! US President Ronald Reagan was absolutely right when he referred to Ukraine and Russia as the "Evil Empire". Ukrainians continue to show their barbaric inhumanity, in torturing helpless animals. Ukraine should never be allowed to join the civilized European Union. The Four Paws shocking video can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCjWdCjqLfs]

Source: Mail Online

After The Final Whistle – Ukraine's Dark Future Corruption

KIEV, Ukraine -- As football fans prepare for the final of Euro 2012, allegations of corrupt practices continue to haunt the host nation and its leaders.

UEFA President Michel Platini (top centre), with Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych (top right), at the Donbass Arena stadium in Donetsk.

As Kiev prepares for the last act of Euro 2012 – tonight's final between Italy and Spain – the country is reflecting on a tournament that went a lot better than many expected in terms of organisation and fan experience.

But attention is now turning to corruption allegations surrounding President Viktor Yanukovych and his government.

The government spent around £6 billion ($9.4 billion) on preparations for the Euros according to some estimates.

But having cancelled competitive tenders set for contracts to build stadiums and infrastructure, critics say that up to 40 per cent of the cash could have been pocketed by people in Mr Yanukovych's inner circle.

Kiev's Olympic Stadium, the venue for tomorrow's final, is at the centre of the controversy, with over half a billion euros ($634 million) allegedly spent on its reconstruction, carried out through a series of shell companies with no clear indication of who the final beneficiaries are.

"This government sees its power not as a service for the people but as a resource for profit for its members and their families," said Ostap Semerak, an opposition MP and member of the shadow cabinet of Yulia Tymoshenko.

"The construction projects for the Euros are simply part of a scheme to launder money in cash inside Ukraine."

Ms Tymoshenko, the former prime minister and one of the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution, was jailed last year on charges that most people saw as political revenge by Mr Yanukovych, who narrowly defeated her in a presidential poll in 2010.

Since he came to power, Mr Yanukovych has surrounded himself by businessmen and associates from his home city of Donetsk.

Especially close to him are oligarchs such as Rinat Akhmetov, the president of Shakhtar Donetsk football club, and his right-hand man, Boris Kolesnikov, the Deputy Prime Minister who was in charge of the organisation for Euro 2012.

There are also shadowy figures such as Dmitry Firtash, an oligarch who made millions through an interim company that dealt with Russian gas transit and has been linked with corrupt practices and organised crime figures in Russia, charges he has always denied.

"It's an open secret that there are high-ranking politicians behind these companies," said a Western diplomat in Kiev.

"Something like 30-40 per cent of the state money spent on the tournament has gone into the pockets of politicians. They did everything they could to siphon the money into their pockets."

Mr Kolesnikov, the Deputy Prime Minister, says that such allegations are nonsense.

He denies all claims of corruption around the Euros and says that the real figure spent by the government was around £3 billion ($4.7 billion).

Mr Kolesnikov is thought to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds personally, having accumulated a fortune in Donetsk over the past two decades.

Mr Semerak and others claim that he personally has profited from the infrastructure development around the Euros, charges which he denies vehemently.

He was arrested in 2005 on charges of abuse of office and making a death threat.

He also denied all of those charges, which were later dropped.

"It's in Ukrainian traditions to pour dirt over your opponents," he said in an interview on the balcony of his office, a lavish suite of rooms in a government building in central Kiev.

"If you want to talk about corruption, the first place to look is to the government of Yulia Tymoshenko. When we came in, in March 2010, we only had a year and a half left, and there was not a single project in place."

He says the Olympic Stadium reconstruction cost about €430 million ($545 million), which is a "completely normal amount" for such a project.

"Reconstruction is more expensive than building a new stadium – look at how much Wembley cost," he said.

The fractious nature of Ukrainian politics, where fist fights frequently erupt in parliament and opposing sides hurl vitriol at each other on a regular basis, makes it hard to dissect the mutual allegations and accusations from a neutral perspective.

But most Western observers agree that things have taken a turn for the worse under the Yanukovych administration.

"Tymoshenko was certainly no white swan, and there were real issues about corruption within her government as well" said the Western diplomat in Kiev.

"But in the past two years there has been a real deterioration."

Mr Semerak points to several instances of what he claims amounts to corruption and mis-spending, such as the infamous case of wooden benches purchased for the metro system in the city of Kharkov which cost several thousand pounds each, with most of the money presumably disappearing into someone's pocket.

He also mentions a helicopter port built with money earmarked for Euro 2012 near a popular hunting spot in central Ukraine, with the justification being that teams may want to stop off for a rest there if they were flying between venues by helicopter.

Most troubling, however, is the role of companies such as Altkom, a shadowy entity based in Donetsk with a murky ownership structure, that nevertheless won more than half a million pounds ($0.78 million) worth of government contracts for construction projects related to the Euros.

Local reporters tracked down the nominal head of the company, who turned out to be a yoga teacher in Cyprus named Lana Zamba.

Her husband said she was simply paid a nominal sum to sign off on documents saying she is a director of Altkom and a number of other companies.

Nobody knows who the real financial beneficiary is.

Mr Kolesnikov brushed away concerns about Altkom, saying it is "the biggest such construction company in Ukraine".

When confronted about how a yoga teacher from Cyprus could possibly be in charge of such a huge company, he said he did not know who the ultimate beneficiary was.

"They operate within Ukrainian law, and that is what matters," he said.

"The government of Ukraine is not obliged to find out who the owner of the company is, whether they are a yoga teacher or a maths teacher, it doesn't matter."

He denied suggestions, voiced by the opposition, that he himself may have links to the company.

Anti-corruption organisation Transparency International put Ukraine at 152nd place in its most recent global corruption survey, below Nigeria, Togo and Pakistan and some European politicians are demanding that Mr Yanukovych's government explains where the money went.

Two German MEPs have written to UEFA's President, Michel Platini, with a number of questions over the cancellation of tenders and the opaque accounting practices employed by the Ukrainian authorities.

"Not only would it mean a damage to UEFA's image if the cancellation of competitive tendering was tolerated just to ensure the final round could start on time, but UEFA would act against its own assertions if it tolerated such practices by looking the other way," said the letter.

In a written response, Mr Platini essentially said that concerns over corruption were not the business of UEFA.

"We concentrate solely on the sporting domain, and we do not have the authority, the capacity or the mandate to judge or audit the way in which a country manages the construction of tournament or other infrastructure," he wrote.

Mr Kolesnikov says UEFA is "delighted" with Ukraine, and says only one thing went wrong at the tournament.

"The fans loved Ukraine, UEFA are happy, the only thing that was unfortunate was that the Ukrainian football team didn't make it to the later stages."

Power brokers: The men who matter

Viktor Yanukovych

Ukraine's President grew up in the mining town of Donetsk and was jailed twice in his youth for assault.

He won an election in 2004 that observers said was rigged and ushered in the Orange Revolution.

Six years later, he became president again.

He has recently been making headlines over a state-owned country mansion that he has "privatised".

Dmitry Firtash

Firtash owns a number of power and energy businesses but is best known as the co-owner of RosUkrEnergo, an opaque company that acts as a middle-man in gas transit through Ukraine from Russia to Europe.

Cables released by WikiLeaks said that Mr Firtash told US diplomats that he had links to Russian organised crime structures, in particular the notorious Russian mafia overlord, Semyon Mogilevich, who is on the FBI's most wanted list.

Like many other oligarchs, he has made efforts to "go respectable" in recent years, funding a Ukrainian Studies centre at Cambridge University.

Rinat Akhmetov

Akhmetov is Ukraine's biggest oligarch and was always seen as the economic power behind Mr Yanukovych.

Despite allegations linking him to organised crime, Mr Akhmetov has won a number of libel cases against those who have accused him of underhand dealings.

He is the Roman Abramovich of Ukraine, investing hundreds of millions of pounds into Shakhtar Donetsk, the country's best football team.

Source: The Independent

Friday, June 29, 2012

Ukraine Is Falling Behind Moldova, Georgia And Armenia In European Integration

KIEV, Ukraine -- In the European Union’s second Eastern Partnership Integration Index (EPII) report, trends evident already last year are continuing.

Renat Kuzmin, Ukrainian deputy Prosecutor-General.

Ukraine is moving “away from its one-time status as the ENP [European Neighborhood Policy] poster child.”

This report confirms the EU’s assessment of the first year of the new ENP.

“The area of deep and sustainable democracy experienced a further deterioration in 2011,” and “several leading opposition figures, including former Prime Minister Tymoshenko, were subjected to selective justice, characterized by un-transparent judicial processes,” the EPII proclaims.

According to the EPII, Moldova is the “most willing reformer,” with Georgia ranked poor on democracy but good in other reforms.

Ukraine’s democratic and business climate rankings are falling even in comparison with Armenia.

Moldova, Georgia and Armenia are ranked better than Ukraine in market economic reforms, fighting corruption and the independence of the judiciary.

Ukraine is the only Eastern Partnership country where the business climate has declined.

Armenia’s dialogue with the EU is more advanced than Ukraine’s, and in Kiev there is a lack of political will “to bring the country’s norms and standards closer to those of the EU,” according to Brussels.

After being elected to power, Viktor Yanukovych closed the presidential and government bodies, which were responsible for European integration, and there is no longer a single institution tasked with coordinating this process.

This contrasts sharply with the situation in Chisinau and Tbilisi.

Moldova’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration (who is also Deputy Prime Minister) and Georgia’s State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration are senior positions in their respective governments that reflect the Moldovan and Georgian leadership’s prioritization of European integration.

Based on trends in 2011-2012 and undemocratic elections forecast for this upcoming October, the EPII will likely rank Armenia ahead of Ukraine by 2013.

Sources in the EU’s European External Action Service have said, “We have huge doubts about whether the [October parliamentary] elections can be declared free and fair if Yulia Tymoshenko and other opposition leaders will not be able to take part in them. In this case, it will be very difficult to recognize the elections as having taken place in accordance with European standards”.

Deputy Prosecutor-General Renat Kuzmin has categorically stated that imprisoned opposition leaders Tymoshenko and former Minister of Internal Affairs Yuriy Lutsenko cannot participate in this year’s elections.

Kuzmin said, “They are condemned by the Ukrainian courts and their verdicts have entered into force. Under current legislation, individuals cannot participate in elections with outstanding and expunged convictions”.

Only three percent of Ukrainians believe this year’s elections will be democratic, according to a June Razumkov Center poll.

Ukraine began its negotiations for an Association Agreement (AA) with the EU in 2007 and for a Deep Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) a year later.

Negotiations were expected to be finalized in 2012.

Current Eastern Partnership favorites, Moldova (which has successfully closed 23 out of 25 chapters in its AA negotiations) and Georgia, launched negotiations in 2010, and they are expected to be completed by next year.

With Ukraine’s AA “suspended,” according to German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Moldova and Georgia will be integrated closer into Europe before Ukraine.

Disillusionment with Ukraine is deepening in both Brussels and Washington. EU Ambassador to Ukraine Jose M. P. Teixeira was asked if Ukraine had lived up to the EU’s expectations.

He replied, “Of course not! Four years ago we expected completion not only of negotiations by 2012 but, more importantly, implementation of the Association Agreement, and we expected progress in reforms”.

Former NATO Secretary General and EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana said the same: “For myself, Ukraine is one of the biggest frustrations of my life” blaming the “lower than average level” and “underdeveloped and weak” Ukrainian political class.

Head of the Socialist political group in the European Parliament Hannes Swoboda revealed that his party had earlier frozen and was now annulling its 2010 cooperation agreement with the Party of Regions because of undemocratic policies by the Yanukovych administration.

Former European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and former head of Ukraine’s presidential administration Viktor Medvedchuk both see Ukraine as already internationally isolated.

Medvedchuk pointed to the unique situation where Washington, Brussels and Moscow all have poor relations with Kiev.

EU leaders, such as Teixeira and Polish President Bronislaw M. Komorowski, are saying the AA can only be signed if Ukraine’s elections are democratic.

But this will be impossible without the participation of opposition leaders.

Ukraine’s isolation will therefore grow after the elections and, according to former US Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer, “enter a state of “cold war”."

Ukrainian analyst Olga Shumylo-Tapiola explains that “the Ukrainian leadership does not believe the EU is serious about its values”.

Kuzmin condemned Western criticism of the selective use of justice in Ukraine as “double standards,” a traditional Soviet and current Russian response.

Kuzmin ridiculed “all of these ‘black lists’ and of all of this nonsense, which is discussed in the media,” and, in typically Soviet conspiratorial terms, wondered whether the goal was the removal of Yanukovych from power.

European MEP Pavlo Koval believes the EU will introduce sanctions after the elections and these could take the form of a visa ban, blocking of bank accounts, and freezing of official visits and meetings.

Ukrainian deputy Taras Chornovil, whose former wife and child live in Germany, has revealed that visas have already become more difficult to receive even for official people like himself.

Nevertheless, for Europe to introduce sanctions against Ukraine, the EU would have to close many current avenues for incoming Ukrainian capital.

The EU has never introduced tough regulations on capital flows and money laundering to the same extent as the United States.

Since 2010, when Yanukovych was elected, 400 billion hryvni ($53.4 billion) has been sent offshore by Ukrainian oligarchs and banks to EU countries and British Commonwealth countries, which act as tax havens.

This is more than the 2012 Ukrainian state budget of 367 billion hryvni ($45.4 billion).

In the first two months of this year, another $87 billion was transferred.

EU member Cyprus, which accounts for a third of FDI into Ukraine, received the bulk of these capital flows – $51.5 billion.

Is former Ambassador Pifer therefore correct when he states the US and EU have the same concern for democratic values in Ukraine?

Or are business and stability more important for the EU?

The EPII results point to how the Arab Spring embarrassed the EU because Brussels “favored stability over democracy”.

Yanukovych, meanwhile, does not see problems and continues to recant his devotion to European values.

Answering questions on his country’s troubled relationship with the EU, Yanukovych told Time magazine, “If Europe does not see us as part of Europe, we will build Europe here in Ukraine”

Source: The Jamestown Foundation

Gazprom May Sue Over 2012 Ukraine Contract Violations

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian gas giant Gazprom may sue Ukraine if Kiev reduces imports below the minimum contracted volumes of 41 billion cubic meters for 2012, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said on Friday.


"If the minimum contract volume is not purchased, it may be grounds for sueing Ukraine," Miller told a news conference, adding the contract signed with Ukraine still stipulated Russian gas supplies in 2012 at 52 billion cu m.

Under the contract, Ukraine can accept not less than 80 percent of the contracted sum.

Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko announced in January that Ukraine was seeking to cut Russian gas imports to 27 billion cubic meters, from the 2012 contracted volume of 52 bcm.

Gazprom reacted by stating the current gas supply contract did not envisage unilateral changes in gas purchases.

This week Boyko said Kiev had agreed with Gazprom to import 27 bcm of natural gas from Russia next year, but Gazprom denied this.

Ukraine has long been seeking to alter the terms of the 2009 gas deal, tying the price of gas to oil prices, which have risen strongly since 2009 and boosted Ukraine's gas bill.

Miller also said gas discounts for EU countries were based on huge bilateral projects, while Russia and Ukraine did not have similar deals.

"We don’t have such qualitative cooperation and bilateral mega-projects in gas production and transportation with Ukraine [as we have with Europe]," Miller added.

Ukraine is contracted to pay $416 per cubic meter of Russian gas in 2012. Kiev insists the price and volume of its gas imports should be reduced.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has said $200 per 1,000 cubic meters is a fair gas price for Ukraine, while Gazprom says the company sees no reason to revise the standing contract.

Russia has previously said Ukraine has missed its chance to alter gas purchase volumes for this year as the annual contracted volume has to be changed at least six months before the start of gas supplies.

Source: RIA Novosti

Ukraine: Corruption Blamed For AIDS Non-Treatment

KIEV, Ukraine -- Two years ago, Hryhoriy, a retired police officer from a provincial Ukrainian town, nearly died of AIDS.

Hryhoriy, a retired police officer suffering from AIDS looks at an Orthodox Cathedral near his AIDS clinic in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, June 29, 2012. Advocacy groups are accusing the government of embezzling millions of dollars in corrupt drug tenders and thus depriving patients of vital treatment. They also say that with AIDS deaths up 20 percent since last year as a result of non-treatment, Ukraine can hardly afford to spend billions of dollars on hosting the Euro 2012 football championships ending Sunday.

Yet the ghostly, emaciated father of two considers himself lucky because he eventually got treated at a Kiev clinic and is now slowly recovering.

Unlike the 53-year-old Hryhoriy, tens of thousands of fellow Ukrainians infected with HIV are not getting any treatment at all because the state says it doesn't have enough money.

A day before Elton John and Queen sing in the Ukrainian capital in a charity concert to raise AIDS awareness, advocacy groups are accusing the government of embezzling millions of dollars in corrupt drug tenders and thus depriving patients of vital treatment.

They also say that with AIDS deaths up 20 percent since last year as a result of non-treatment, Ukraine can hardly afford to spend billions of dollars on hosting the Euro 2012 football championships ending Sunday.

Ukraine has one of Europe's biggest AIDS epidemics with about 1 percent of the adult population infected with HIV, the virus the causes AIDS, according to the World Health Organization.

Ukraine is a leading recipient of aid from The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which covers about 10 percent of the country's needs, the rest coming from state coffers.

Of the estimated 450,000 Ukrainians who are HIV-positive, 70,000 require urgent treatment today.

But only 28,000 are receiving it, leaving over 40,000 of patients without anti-retroviral therapy, which could greatly prolong their lives, according to WHO.

In a country where the state has declared its commitment to procuring HIV medication and providing treatment, those patients are left to the mercy of the disease.

"It's alarming. These figures definitely show that the country, the government and international organizations should pay much more attention," said Dr. Igor Pokanevych, head of the WHO Country Office in Ukraine.

"More resources should be allocated to fight against AIDS in this country."

But advocacy groups charge that the government in fact has the necessary funds to treat all of its AIDS patients.

They accuse Health Ministry officials of embezzling money that should be used to treat patients by buying AIDS drugs at hugely inflated prices and then pocketing kickbacks.

Pokanevych said that a complicated system of tenders for drug procurement allows the government to purchase drugs up to 5 times the market price.

Had the drugs been purchased at a fair price, the government would have had the money to treat all those 40,000 patients who are left untreated today, Pokanevych said.

Dmytro Sherembey, an activist with the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV, a leading AIDS advocacy group in Ukraine, said his group recently purchased a package of an anti-retroviral drugs for 3.5 hryvna ($0.43) per tablet, while the government bought 14 million hryvna ($1.8 million or euro 1.4 million) worth of the same drug for 7.80 hryvna ($0.97) per tablet.

He accused the Health Ministry of purchasing AIDS drugs from friendly middlemen companies and then pocketing millions of dollars in kickbacks.

"If a patient is not receiving vital drugs, in the end he dies," Sherembey said.

"Corruption is a bulldozer that is destroying Ukrainians."

Health Ministry officials were not available for comment due to public holidays.

Previously, the Health Ministry has denied accusations of corruption and insisted that major drug buyers like the Global fund, which paid for Sherembey's drug purchase, had better deals because they bought more.

Sherembey, who is now leading a campaign to get the government to earmark 400 million hryvna ($50 million or euro 40 million) for AIDS treatment and prevention for next year, says Ukraine should not have spent $6.4 billion on hosting Euro 2012, when tens of thousands of AIDS patients are at risk of dying without treatment.

"I also love football, I love many things, but I love life more," Sherembey said.

The construction of the Olympic stadium in Kiev, which will proudly host Sunday's final, cost the government $550 million — enough to treat all of the country's patients currently in need of therapy for many years to come, according to Sherembey.

Hryhoriy, the AIDS patient, knows this first hand.

In 2009, after months of feeling exhausted, running a fever and losing weight, he was diagnosed with AIDS, which he believes he contracted while donating blood or at a dentist's office.

He declined to give his last name, out of fear of being stigmatized by society, saying none of his friends or family except for his wife knows his condition.

Hryhoriy spent a year being bounced from one hospital to another where doctors were poorly trained and lacked the necessary drugs; he finally ended up at the Hromashevsky Institute for Epidemiological and Infectious disease in Kiev, one of the country's top AIDS hospitals, where he was finally put on anti-retroviral therapy.

"I was almost gone, I was already ready to meet the angels so to speak," Hryhoriy, clad in a red T-shirt and blue sweat pants, said at the clinic.

Since his disease started, Hryhoriy has had to sell his car and the auto repair shop that he started after retiring from the police.

He is now surviving on what his wife earns by selling shoes at a local outdoor market.

He spends his entire monthly pension of 1050 hryvna ($130 or euro105) on medications unrelated to AIDS.

"The government should pay the most attention to people like us," Hryhoriy said bitterly.

"Nobody is immune to this, it could happen to them (government officials) as well."

Yaroslava Lopatina, one of the doctors at the Hromashevsky clinic treating Hryhoriy, said his health has now improved and he may live another 10-15 years, reaching the national life expectancy for men of 65.

But Lopatina's heart aches when she sees other frail patients who had not been put on anti-retroviral therapy soon enough, causing the disease to advance and leaving them so ill that they can no longer lead a normal life.

"I feel depressed, I am in despair — why does it have to be this way, why didn't they start treatment earlier? It's a tragedy," Lopatina said.

"I enter the hospital ward and I see four young men with beautiful hands, legs, bodies, who could be living in peace, working, getting married, but instead they lie here sick and miserable."

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Russia Refuses To Let Ukraine Cut Gas Imports

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia insists on sticking to its current gas supply agreement with Ukraine, the head of Russian gas giant Gazprom Alexei Miller said on Wednesday, despite repeated calls for its review by Kiev, which considers the deal unfair.

Gazprom CEO, Alexei Miller says Russia sticking to 2009 agreement.

Gas disputes between Moscow and Kiev worry Gazprom's European consumers, because conflicts over pricing between the two have in the past disrupted Russian gas supplies to Europe, which are mostly sent via pipeline through Ukraine.

After failing to get a price discount from Moscow in prolonged negotiations throughout 2011, Ukraine has sought to cut the volume of its imports of gas, which were set at 52 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year under a 2009 agreement.

But Miller said on Wednesday that Gazprom was against cutting either the volume or the price of supplies.

"We are working strictly in line with the contract, strictly in line with this volume," Miller told reporters after a Russian government delegation led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev held talks with the Ukrainian government in Kiev.

"We see no reasons to review the price," he added.

Ukraine aims to reduce costly gas imports to 27 billion cubic metres this year and cut them further in the future by saving energy, switching to coal, increasing domestic gas production and diversifying its imports.

In line with that plan, Ukrainian gas imports from Russia fell 49 percent year-on-year in January-May to 12.8 billion cubic metres (bcm).

Ukraine imports about two-thirds of the gas it consumes from Russia at a price that has been rising steadily for the last few years.

It has been paying $425 per 1,000 cubic metres in the second quarter, up from $416 in the previous quarter.

Moscow has said it will cut the price for Ukraine only if Gazprom is allowed to buy into Ukrainian gas pipelines.

Ukraine has so far refused to accept the trade-off.

STRETCHED FINANCES

Monthly gas bills, which sometimes reach $1 billion have stretched the finances of Ukraine state energy company Naftogaz and the state in general, prompting them to borrow, sometimes from Gazprom itself.

This month Gazprom agreed to make an advance payment of $2 billion to Naftogaz for gas transit so the company could afford to fill up its storage facilities, which help Russia meet peak European demand in winter.

"If Ukraine needs more money to fill up underground storage facilities in order to live through the next winter without any issues, we will consider providing these additional funds," Miller said on Wednesday.

Russia's refusal to cut the price and volume of gas supplies makes it harder for Ukraine to secure fresh funding from the International Monetary Fund, which wants the Kiev government to hike gas and heating prices for households.

Ukraine heavily subsidises such supplies at a great cost, but eliminating the subsidies would be a politically risky move for the government.

Source: Morningstar

Merkel May Travel To Ukraine For Euro 2012 Final

BERLIN, Germany -- If Germany wins its Euro 2012 semifinal match against Italy on Thursday, Angela Merkel will be put in a tricky situation.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel celebrates Germany's win over Greece in the Euro 2012 quarter final in Gdansk, Poland.

If the German chancellor, a huge soccer fan, attends the final game in co-host country Ukraine, she could risk looking soft following human rights abuses in the country against Yulia Tymoshenko.

Angela Merkel rarely lets football get in the way of politics.

For last Friday's quarterfinal match against Greece, the German chancellor flew straight from Rome, where she held four-way euro crisis talks with European leaders, to Gdansk in co-host country Poland to cheer on her country's team.

But with the final of the European Football Championships looming this weekend in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, Merkel may face a tough decision on Sunday between supporting her beloved national team and holding a firm line against Ukraine, where opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is sitting in prison after her questionable conviction on charges relating to alleged abuse of her position as former prime minister.

In May, Merkel said that people in Ukraine suffer under "dictatorship and repression," during a speech to Germany's federal parliament, the Bundestag.

She had called for a political boycott of the games while Tymoshenko languished in prison and excused herself from the German team's first-round matches in the country.

So far she has only attended the games in Poland in an effort to pressure Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to release Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence following her conviction in a dubious trial of abusing her power in office in negotiating a 2009 gas deal with Russia during her term as prime minister.

She claims that her fierce political rival Yanukovych, who beat her for the presidency in February 2010, is exacting revenge on her.

Tymoshenko also claims she was assaulted by prison guards after she refused treatment from Ukrainian doctors for a chronic back ailment.

Presently, the former prime minister is being treated by physicians from Berlin's Charité Hospital at a hospital in Kharkiv.

So far other German and European politicians have also boycotted the games in Ukraine, leaving Yanukovych's VIP box bereft of international leaders.

About-Face

Now Merkel may be reconsidering her stance.

German news agency DPA is reporting that Merkel told German team manager Oliver Bierhoff that she would attend the final in Kiev, despite her earlier statements that she would only go if Tymoshenko's situation improves.

"She congratulated us and naturally hopes that we have further success, because she would come to the final," said Bierhoff after Germany's quarterfinal win against Greece.

Though she will miss Thursday's semifinal game against Italy in Warsaw, Poland, because of euro crisis talks in Brussels, Merkel's football fandom is well known.

"It was great that she was there again," team captain Philipp Lahm said about Merkel's 10-minute visit to the team locker room after Friday's quarterfinal game.

"She congratulated us and wished us lots of luck for the semifinal," said top player Mesut Özul.

But even as the German team's prospects of making it to the final appear to be improving, Tymoshenko's circumstances are worsening.

A Ukrainian court decided Tuesday that it would delay her appeal hearing to July until after the Euro 2012 final.

Yanukovych has said he would not intervene in the case until the trials and appeals process has ended.

In the meantime, Ukrainian prosecutors continue to lodge fresh charges against Tymoshenko.

Officially the Chancellor's office hasn't released Merkel's football travel plans, saying she would make a decision on whether to go to Kiev for the final on short notice.

"For now the focus of journalists as well as the football players should be entirely on the semifinal match," her spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.

"If it goes as we all hope it does, then we can talk about the next step."

At major football tournaments, the German national team has never prevailed over Italy, so the tensions will be high in the run-up to Thursday's match.

The Wrong Message?

Critics are saying that Merkel's attendance in Kiev at the Euro 2012 finals would fly in the face of efforts to improve the human rights situation in Ukraine.

At earlier matches European Unions politicians unfurled banners that read "Release all political prisoners" and "Fair play in football and politics."

Football fans have been wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Free Yulia."

Even if Merkel first visited Tymoshenko in prison, such a trip would send the "wrong message entirely," Viola von Cramon, spokesperson for sporting issues for the Green Party's group in the German parliament told the daily Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

If Merkel were to sit next to Yanukovych in his VIP box, it would send the message that she supports him and his re-election in October, von Cramon argued.

Finally, even if an official from Euro 2012's organizing body, like UEFA chief Michel Platini, were to sit between Merkel and the Ukrainian president, the meeting could still prove awkward for the chancellor.

"I don't want to see any pictures of the chancellor celebrating with Yanukovych," Green Party politician Tom Königs told DPA, also expressing his anger over Tymoshenko's treatment in prison.

"If (Merkel) wants to be a part of it, she would make a lot more fans happy if she came to the fan mile in Berlin."

Source: Spiegel Online

Outcast Belarus Leader To Attend Euro 2012 Finals

KIEV, Ukraine -- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, a pariah in many European countries, will attend the final of the Euro 2012 soccer championship in Ukraine, a Belarussian diplomat said on Wednesday.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The move makes Lukashenko the only foreign state leader so far set to attend the Ukrainian leg of the championship - with the exception of Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, whose country is co-hosting the event.

Lukashenko will meet Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on July 1 before watching the game later in the day, Interfax news agency quoted Belarussian ambassador Valentin Velichko as saying.

The European Union has introduced sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes against Lukashenko and some of his officials, accusing his government of human rights abuses and political repression.

A number of European politicians have boycotted the soccer tournament in protest against Ukraine's treatment of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and key opponent of Yanukovich, was sentenced to seven years in prison on abuse-of-office charges last October in a case the West said smacked of selective justice.

The European Union has since shelved landmark deals on free trade and political association with Kiev over the issue, and urged Tymoshenko's release.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has likened Yanukovich to Lukashenko, saying last month that "in Ukraine and Belarus people are still suffering under dictatorship and repression".

Although they face similar problems in their relations with the West, ties between Yanukovich and Lukashenko are far from friendly.

Berating him as a "lousy" leader, Lukashenko tore into Yanukovich last April after being left out of ceremonies commemorating the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, as Kiev sought to secure attendance by senior EU officials.

This time around, Yanukovich himself has been left isolated and has had to share his VIP boxes at local stadiums mostly with officials from the European soccer governing body UEFA and the Ukrainian government.

Ukrainian courts this week adjourned hearings in Tymoshenko's appeal against last year's conviction and in a new tax evasion case against her until after the Euros, putting off decisions that could further sour EU-Ukraine ties.

Source: Yahoo Sports

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Euro 2012 Brings Ukraine Closer To Europe

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Euro 2012 football tournament is well underway in Poland and Ukraine.

Ukraine's border guards have had a makeover. The host country for the Euro 2012 football championship wants to give visitors a good first impression, so its guards at Borispol airport near Kiev have taken part in hair and make-up 'master classes'. Borispol airport will be the Ukraine's main air hub during the event.

It can take some 20 hours to cross between the two countries - so the co-hosted tournament presents unique challenges on the border as fans follow their teams from one city to the next.

With around 1 million football (soccer) fans expected to cross the Polish and Ukrainian frontier during the European Championship, border authorities on both sides are cooperating in a rare show of unity.

Ukrainian guards check passports on Polish territory.

Special lanes allow fans to bypass the normal traffic.

Guards with the EU’s border agency Frontex are posted here to help out.

Dutch police officer René Hugen is at the Medyka crossing.

“The people are reminded, I think approximately 2 or 3 kilometers before the border, to choose the right lane so the delay for them will be as low as possible," said Hugen.

Border guards are on the look out for human traffickers taking advantage of the simplified controls.

Smuggling from Ukraine and Russia is also big business.

The EU says tobacco contraband costs around $12.5 billion in lost taxes every year.

Smugglers often hide their contraband on trains.

Criminal networks on the Polish side collect the goods and sell them in western Europe, where they can go for 10 times what they cost.

Captain Mariusz Korczynski is head of the local Polish border guard.

“Sometimes we find cell phones hidden underneath the carriages, they are used to lead smugglers to the carriage where the cigarettes are hidden," said Korczynski.

In the north, the Bug River divides the two countries - and smugglers and illegal migrants often try to exploit this unfenced border.

When it’s dry, it is possible to walk across parts of this river.

But in the last few weeks and during the Euro 2012 tournament there have been heavy rains in Poland, so the river levels are swollen.

That means the smugglers are looking to use boats across the river.

Further south, Polish border guards patrol the mountainous frontier on horseback.

This allows them to see over the tall grass.

On the opposite side, Ukrainian border guards use Russian-made vehicles to negotiate the terrain.

Colonel Krook Ivanovich is commander of the local border guard unit.

“We introduced some innovations like this that make border crossing easier without compromising security, as we do not exclude that there might be attempts to smuggle weapons, drugs or cigarettes," said Ivanovich.

Several European leaders have refused to follow their national teams to Ukraine, alleging maltreatment of the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

It’s cast a shadow over a tournament that was meant to give a boost to Ukraine’s European relations.

Still with the traffic flowing freely, many fans who spoke to VOA say Poland and Ukraine are putting on a good competition.

Source: Voice of America

Shevchenko Tough Act To Replace, Bemoans Blokhin

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine have no ready-made replacement for striker Andriy Shevchenko, coach Oleg Blokhin said on Tuesday as he urged clubs to provide fresh blood for him to rebuild the national side.

Andriy Shevchenko: Scored twice as Ukraine came from a goal down to defeat Sweden.

Shevchenko, 35, announced he would retire from international football after co-hosts Ukraine failed to progress from the group stage at Euro 2012.

He has scored a record 48 goals for Ukraine, two of which came in their opening 2-1 defeat of Sweden in the tournament.

"I don't think a second Shevchenko will appear soon," Blokhin, once a star Soviet player himself, told reporters in his trademark deadpan style.

"The young lads who play as strikers (in Ukraine) now lack the intuition and skill that Shevchenko has, that I used to have..., that (Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi have and which sets them apart from others.

"This is a big loss for the national team," he added.

"And we must think how to play attacking football... we cannot play without strikers like Spain do."

Blokhin said it was up to clubs to produce the talent to fill Shevchenko's void.

"We only take accomplished players," he said.

Shevchenko, regarded as the finest player that post-independence Ukraine has produced, has said he is weighing offers from clubs in the United States and at home.

A product of Dynamo Kiev, he went on to a glittering career at AC Milan and later switched to Chelsea where he had a less successful time.

Ukraine's victory over Sweden in Euro 2012 was their only one of the tournament.

They were eliminated from the championship after defeats by France and England.

Source: Chicago Tribune

Ukraine Cuts Natural Gas Import 50 Percent

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine decreased the amount of imported natural gas by 48.77 percent over the first five months of 2012, compared to the respective period of 2011.


The volume of imported gas in January - May 2012 reached 12.8 billion cubic meters.

Ukraine paid USD 416 per thousand cubic meters of imported gas in Q1 2012.

The price increased in the second quarter of 2012 - reaching USD 425.

These price tags include a USD 100 discount, agreed by the parties in 2010.

Average price European countries pay for Russian gas in 2012 amounts to USD 415, according to Neft Rossii.

Ukraine is negotiating the decrease of gas price - to USD 250.

Ukraine will have to spend almost 27 percent of its estimated budget income in 2012 on Russian gas (USD 8-10 billion).

This is more than the country plans to spend on healthcare in the c.y., noted the Prime Minister of Ukraine Mykola Azarov.

The country seeks to agree on lower gas price with Russia, as well as lower its gas consumption and increase domestic energy production.

In June 2012, the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry of Ukraine informed that over the first five months of 2012 Ukraine increased its own production of natural gas by 146.7 million cubic meters compared to the respective period of 2011.

Achieving energy independence has become top priority for the President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, said the Ukrainian Energy and Coal Industry Minister Yuriy Boyko on June 5th.

The State Program on Energy Efficiency 2010-2015 sets the goal for improving Ukraine's energy independence.

According to the program, Ukraine will reduce domestic energy consumption through increasing energy efficiency, developing unconventional gas production, developing domestic gas reserves, introducing green energy production technology, and diversifying gas import.

Importing up to 70 percent of natural gas from Russia, Ukraine is negotiating a number of gas importing deals with Azerbaijan, Germany, Iraq, Norway, Romania, Turkey, etc.

Ukraine plans to finish the construction of its billion cubic meter LNG terminal at the Black Sea by 2014, grasping the opportunity to arrange gas import from a wider range of suppliers.

Additionally, Ukraine sets up its own shale gas production.

"The first license tenders have been awarded to Shell and Chevron," noted Boyko.

Source: Sacramento Bee

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Govt won’t push for amendment on Russian Language

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s government won’t push for a constitutional amendment to make Russian the second state language in Ukraine, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said Monday, reversing an earlier push by the ruling Regions Party.

PM Mykola Azarov

But Azarov insisted on approval of a controversial bill that de-facto introduces Russian as the second state language in many Ukrainian regions.

“We have so far been insisting on approval of the bill,” Azarov told NTV, a Russian television.

“We believe we have to be moving forwards as fast as the situation in the country allows us to.”

The comment is a reversal of the government position from less than a week ago, when Vadym Kolesnichenko, a senior member of the Regions Party, said Ukraine is a bilingual country and this must be reflected in the constitution.

The issue is extremely sensitive and explosive as the proposal would effectively split the country in two big cultural territories: eastern regions where the Russian language dominates, and western regions where the Ukrainian language dominates.

The bill was approved in the first reading in Parliament on June 5, and the second – and the final – reading of the bill is expected either on July 4 or July 5, according to the Regions Party.

Opposition groups have been preparing to disrupt the debate in order to stall its approval indefinitely amid concerns that the Russian language would start to replace Ukrainian in official government documentation in eastern regions.

That may hurt the Ukrainian culture and even undermine the country’s political independence from Moscow, opposition lawmakers have said.

Analysts see the bill, and the suggested constitutional amendment, as a way of energizing voters in eastern parts of Ukraine ahead of October 2012 parliamentary elections.

The party is battling declining popular support due to stalled economic reforms and rampant corruption.

The bill is seen by many as a tool to spark a new wave of support for the party in eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, where many people use the Russian language for everyday communication.

The Constitutional Council, a panel of politicians mostly representing pro-government groups, is currently working on amendments to the constitution that President Viktor Yanukovych wanted to be approved within the next few years.

At least 9,000 protesters turned out in front of Parliament on June 5 when Parliament, led by the Regions Party, voted to approve the bill in the first reading.

The bill would almost automatically make the Russian language the second state language in Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Odessa, Mykolayiv, Kherson, Chernihiv and some other Ukrainian regions.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Ukraine Court Upholds Exoneration Of Ex-President Kuchma

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s Higher Special Court for Civil and Criminal Cases upheld on Tuesday the legality of dropping murder charges against ex-President Leonid Kuchma.

Ex-president Leonid Kuchma

The court turned down on Tuesday an appeal from the Prosecutor General’s Office and upheld the legality of an Appeals Court decision in January to throw out a criminal case against former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on suspicion of involvement in organizing the killing of journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000.

Gongadze, who was a staunch critic of Kuchma, was killed in 2000.

The main evidence of the ex-president’s guilt was a tape recording made by Mykola Melnychenko, a former security officer who claims to have secretly recorded conversations allegedly featuring Kuchma giving the order "to take care of" the journalist.

The tape however was dismissed as evidence since it had been gathered illegally.

Gongadze’s widow Miroslava Gongadze will appeal to the European Court on Human Rights to demand a fair trial into her husband’s murder, the widow’s lawyer Valentina Telichenko said.

“Miroslava Gongadze will appeal to the European Court on Human Rights concerning the violation of the right for fair trial,” Telichenko said.

Ukrainian prosecutors on Tuesday opened a criminal case against Kuchma, the president of Ukraine in 1994-2005, on suspicion of involvement in Gongadze's murder.

Gongadze's decapitated body was found in a forest near Kiev in November 2000.

Kuchma has denied any involvement.

In June 2008, three former employees of the Interior Ministry's criminal investigations department were found guilty of murdering Gongadze.

The officers said they killed the journalist on orders from the former head of the ministry's criminal investigations department, Lt. Gen. Oleksiy Pukach.

Pukach was arrested in the summer of 2009 and is now awaiting trial.

In September, prosecutors accused Yuriy Kravchenko, the interior minister in 2000, of ordering the murder.

Kravchenko died of an apparent suicide in 2005, with two bullet wounds to the head.

Source: RIA Novosti

Kissinger Endorses Ukraine's EU Membership During Visit To Kiev

KIEV, Ukraine -- During a meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Monday, former U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, praised Ukraine's preparations in hosting the European Football Championship and expressed his support for the country to join the European Union.

Dr. Henry Kissinger

Yanukovych and Kissinger discussed Ukraine's advances in the context of global challenges and the world economic crisis.

Both agreed that Ukraine's future lies in Europe, while stressing the importance of preserving its good relationship with Russia.

"I am a strong advocate of an independent Ukraine," Kissinger said, adding, "I believe Ukraine should be in the EU while maintaining good relations with Russia."

However, Kissinger pointed out that he doesn't "support Ukraine's NATO membership," a notion which was echoed by Yanukovych.

Over the course of the meeting Yanukovych and Kissinger further discussed relations between the United States and Ukraine as well as the raft of reforms implemented by Ukraine within the framework of European integration.

Ukraine has expressed its commitment to building a future as part of the European family.

The signing of the Association Agreement with the EU would help liberalise Ukraine's economic relations with the bloc, but requires Kiev to adopt further legislation to comply with EU rules.

Progress has been made, including recent election reforms, which were approved in parliament by MPs representing both the government and the opposition.

The reforms were praised by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, which acts as the Council's advisory body on constitutional matters.

Intent on strengthening its democracy and ensuring respect for the rule of law, the country is also reviewing its legal and judicial system in an effort to modernise it and bring the system up to European and international standards.

Kissinger travelled to Ukraine as part of the Euro 2012 football tournament and highlighted the country's rich history and vast potential during his visit.

"A country with such a big history deserves a dignified future," Kissinger said.

Source: Sacramento Bee

Monday, June 25, 2012

Shevchenko To Decide Future, Weighs Overseas Offers

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko, who retired from international football following his country's exit from Euro 2012, said on Monday he was weighing club offers from abroad but could still quit as a player altogether.

Andriy Shevchenko

The 35-year-old's deal with Dynamo Kiev, the club where he began his career before moving to AC Milan, is due to expire in July and he has expressed interest in a move to North America's Major League Soccer.

He said he needed time to think hard about his next step and would make a decision "in a week or two".

"At the moment, I have not made a decision about my future - whether to continue playing football or retire, whether to stay in Ukraine or leave the country," he said during a visit to his old school in Kiev where he was mobbed by well-wishers.

"I have offers from clubs abroad and from Dynamo Kiev. Let me take a breather after the Euros and make a decision. I will certainly stay in football ... Football is a bit more than a game for me. It is what I live for," he added.

Shevchenko, regarded as the finest player that post-independence Ukraine has produced, was a record marksman for his country scoring 48 goals in 111 appearances.

The former Chelsea forward crowned his international career with two headed goals in the co-host's 2-1 victory over Sweden this month, though Ukraine failed to progress out of the group stage.

Shevchenko has chronic problems with his back and left knee and said that the state of his health would be an important factor in any final decision about his future.

After Sunday's quarter-final between England and Italy, which Italy won on penalties after a 0-0 draw, he congratulated his old AC Milan team mate Andrea Pirlo - who had a great game and scored with a cheeky dinked penalty.

"I think yesterday the stronger side won. Italy showed more quality than England and had more chances to score. That's why Italy deserved some luck in a penalty shootout," he said.

He declined to say who he thought would carry off the Henri Delaunay trophy after the final in Kiev on July 1.

"It is really hard to predict. Four of the strongest teams have made their way to the semi-final," he said of holders Spain, Portugal, Germany and Italy.

"They are all well prepared physically and psychologically. We can expect very interesting semi-finals and great entertainment in these games."

Source: The New York Times

Ukraine Punts On Tymoshenko Trial

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine has postponed the latest trial of jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko until after the Euro 2012 final.

Waiting game: Former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko will have to wait until after the EURO 2012 final to defend herself against tax charges.

The decision to move the trial to July came yesterday as pressure mounted on the tournament co-hosts to drop the controversial case.

The presiding judge set the next hearing for July 10 - more than a week after some of the attention fades off Ukraine with the completion this weekend of European soccer's premier international event.

Several thousand of Ms Tymoshenko's supporters and foes held rival rallies outside the courtroom in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where the fiery opposition leader is serving a seven-year sentence on abuse-of-power charges.

"Freedom for Yulia," Ms Tymoshenko's supporters chanted while those on the other side of a line of riot police held up signs saying "The country suffered and she just kept talking" in reference to her 2007-2010 term as premier.

Ms Tymoshenko herself was absent from the hearing - this one focused on her tax dealings dating back to the 1990s - after being granted permission to continue recuperating in a Kharkiv hospital from her persistent back problems.

The court yesterday agreed with a prosecution request to order Ms Tymoshenko to undergo a health examination by authorised doctors who could determine her fitness to stand trial.

"We have to get this issued resolved," prosecutor Marina Kapinos told reporters.

That ruling threatens to create another confrontation following an earlier claim by Ms Tymoshenko - distrustful of local doctors and now treated by a German medical team - of being beaten by guards who tried taking her to a state-mandated clinic.

But rules also allow a judgment on Ms Tymoshenko's health to be issued based on a review of her medical records rather than an actual examination.

Ms Tymoshenko's lawyer called the medical examination ruling a "crude violation" of the defence team's rights.

EU states have been watching the case closely for months and were formally represented in court by former Polish president Alexander Kwasniewski and Ireland's one-time European Parliament leader Pat Cox.

They had both visited Ms Tymoshenko in hospital on Sunday, the latest in a host of European dignitaries to go through the gates of a small clinic run by the Ukrainian railways.

The case of the 51-year-old 2004 Orange Revolution leader has set Ukraine on a collision course with the European Union that has delayed the signature of an agreement that could pave the way for Kiev's future membership in the bloc.

EU leaders support Ms Tymoshenko's claims that her prosecution is a part of the current authorities' vendetta and some have boycotted soccer matches that Ukraine is hosting in four cities - including Kharkiv - alongside co-hosts Poland.

The two Euro 2012 semi-finals will be played Thursday and Friday AEST while the final will be held in Kiev on Monday AEST.

The latest Tymoshenko hearings began in April and have already been adjourned twice on account of her health.

A two-metre glass wall was set up inside the courtroom that enclosed a special space for Ms Tymoshenko with a chair and table and even some potted plants in case of her future attendance.

Officials had initially ordered her presence before agreeing on Sunday to excuse her in the face of likely protests from both her Ukrainian supporters and the West.

But Ms Tymoshenko will also be in the news later today when a judge hears her appeal against last year's abuse-of-power conviction.

Source: Herald Sun

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ukraine Goes Topless Again, In Protest

KIEV, Ukraine -- While fears of unpreparedness, violence, and other possible problems in Ukraine during the Euro 2012 games proved unwarranted, one was realized: topless girls from a scandalous Ukrainian activist group called Femen.


Showing up blouseless throughout the duration of the championship, with anti-Euro slogans, the organization even managed to get one of it’s operatives into the cage of a psychic pig, Funtik, and flash him in front of the fans.

As Femen explained in its blog, the group was outraged by the ghetto of soccer fans and alcohol in the center of Kiev, as well as by UEFA’s feeding fans beer and prostitutes, thus turning them into pigs.

The girls have been the most visible and controversial activist group in Ukraine since 2008 – protesting, mostly against sexism, attempting to empower women by showing their boobs in public.

The group has staged many loud protests throughout the years and their presence during the European Cup is its most recent.

While the male population seems to like some aspects of their protests, Femen hasn’t proved popular among Ukrainians.

Is there any point in Femen’s actions or are they just an annoying, topless sore that keeps popping up here and there, disturbing the public and angering officials?

The first protest organized by Femen took place in the summer of 2008 and was called “ Ukraine is Not a Brothel”, an attempt to bring global and local attention to the problem of sex-tourism and prostitution in Ukraine.

After that there were protests to uncover the unhealthy relationships between college teachers and students — trading sex for grades.

Femen protested a beauty contest for casting models as sex-toys.

It even flashed its breasts at the political processes in Ukraine, such as the presidential elections in 2010, among others.

Notorious protesters undress even in the cold Ukrainian winter, when the temperature sometimes drops below negative twenty five degrees, Celsius (-13F)

According to Femen’s Wikipedia page, some financial backing comes from individuals, including creative professionals and businessmen.

Jed Sunden, the publisher of the Kyiv Post, an English-language newspaper in Ukraine, is mentioned as one of the main supporters of the group.

The movement is often called tasteless or incoherent, and some even doubt the motivation behind it, but in a society where disappointment and passivity have been the general mood over the past years, having such a bold activist group seems to be a positive thing.

In Ukraine, human rights, and women’s rights in particular, need support and attention.

The Ukrainian Institute of Social Studies estimated that in 2011 about 50,000 women were involved in prostitution and, of those, one in six is a minor.

Ukrainian mail-order brides often end up in dangerous situations abroad, facing physical and emotional abuse.

For years there have existed various forms of human trafficking, leading to young girls being sex workers abroad, without documents and no way out.

Women’s role is still sidelined in politics and business while gender issues receive very limited attention.

Femen attempts to raise the awareness of these issues and whether they get their point across or not, the girls stir things up a little bit.

It’s too bad that during the organization’s Euro 2012 protests the government seemed to be getting harsh, attempting to get Femen under control – showing the girls their place, as it’s supposed to be in a male-dominated environment.

At a soccer game in Donetsk, Ukrainian police arrested a few members of the group, and according to Femen’s blog posts, mistreated them in jail, as a photo of a bruised back shows.

It seems that in order for Femen to get more positive reaction and gain the respect of the Ukrainian public, their actions should become less aggressive and more coherent.

Otherwise, if they, like the Russian girls from the punk band Pussy Riot, end up behind bars and are added to the prisoners of conscience list, it will be hard to raise funds for legal fees without public support, always useful when using public nudity to change the world.

Source: Forbes

World War II Soccer Match Echoes Through Time

KIEV, Ukraine -- There are few striking features about Start Stadium except its disrepair. Wooden planks in the grandstand, like neglected teeth, are mostly loose or missing.

A monument honoring F.C. Start players who faced a Nazi team in Kiev nearly 70 years ago.

Behind the tiny seating area, though, a sturdy column rises and supports a statue.

It depicts a muscular, naked man heroically kicking a soccer ball into the beak of a trampled eagle.

Seventy years ago, on Aug. 9, 1942, the stadium became the site of one of soccer’s most infamous and disputed games, the so-called Death Match.

With Kiev under Nazi occupation during World War II, a group of Ukrainian players defeated a military team of Germans thought to be from artillery and perhaps Luftwaffe units.

According to legend, the Germans warned the local team beforehand or at halftime that it had better lose the match, and when the Ukrainians ignored the threat and prevailed, key members of the team were killed in retribution.

The final score was 5-3. That much seems widely agreed upon.

And four or five Ukrainian players did die within six months of the game, according to various accounts.

Were they killed because they won a soccer match?

All the participants are believed to be dead. The truth remains elusive.

One player who popularized the legend seemed to tell as many versions of the story as there were goals in the match, both burnishing the myth and betraying it.

That long-ago game is gaining renewed attention as Ukraine serves as a co-host for Euro 2012.

The match has grown far beyond a sporting contest into myth and folklore, immortalized in landmarks around Kiev and in articles, books, documentaries and movies, even a version featuring Sylvester Stallone.

The latest film, called “Match” and made by Russians, was released before Euro 2012 and raised an outcry for portraying Ukrainians as Nazi sympathizers.

Some believe the 1942 game was, or could have been, a death match.

Many academics and journalists dismiss the legend as Soviet-era propaganda and have sought to refute it.

Still others seem unconcerned with the truth.

They embrace the myth as an enduring symbol of Ukrainian patriotism and defiance in a country where 8 million to 10 million citizens died during the war, a country where starvation diets included tree bark and cow dung, a country whose national World War II museum displays a machine used by the Nazis to grind human bones into fertilizer.

“The facts say the match took place, but there was no death match as such,” said Marina Shevchenko, a historian who works at Kiev’s National Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War, as World War II is known in the former Soviet Union.

“People want their legends, like Robin Hood.”

If the game and its legend did not exist, Alexander Dovzhenko, a pioneering Ukrainian film director of the first half of the 20th century, once said, “We would have had to invent it.”

Under Occupation

On Sept. 19, 1941, the Nazis occupied Kiev.

Days later, more than 33,000 Jews were killed at Babi Yar, a ravine on the outskirts of the battered capital.

In a footnote to the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian soccer season was abandoned.

But by June 1942, a kind of soccer tournament was apparently organized, featuring two Ukrainian teams and garrisons representing Germany, Hungary and Romania.

The best team, F.C. Start, went undefeated.

It was composed of Ukrainian bakery workers, most of whom had played or were to play for the powerful Kiev club Dynamo, which would later win 13 Soviet league championships.

As the story goes, the owner of the bakery, also described as a bread factory, had been a big fan of Dynamo.

He came up with the idea of forming an amateur team, providing extra food rations to the players and time to train.

On Aug. 6, 1942, Start is said to have routed a German Flakelf team by 5-1.

Flakelf translates to Flak 11, suggesting the German team was composed mainly of those who manned antiaircraft guns around Kiev.

A rematch against a reinforced German team was held in late afternoon three days later.

A copy of a poster announcing the Aug. 9 game is displayed at the World War II museum.

An estimated 2,000 spectators, paying five rubles apiece, were said to have attended the rematch at Start Stadium, then known as Zenit Stadium.

By some accounts, the stadium was ringed with soldiers, SS officers and police dogs, though others discount this.

Makar Honcharenko, a star wing for Start, said in a 1985 oral history that some unnamed people warned it could be risky playing against and defeating the Germans in a rematch.

“Everyone told us: ‘What are you doing? It’s a real danger,’ ” Honcharenko said in the oral history, taped by the staff of the World War II museum, which also translated that interview from the Russian for this article.

The Start players listened, but ultimately decided to proceed with the match.

“Sport is sport,” Honcharenko said. “We didn’t want to lose.”

He also said that a Gestapo officer visited the team before the match, introduced himself as the referee and told the players they should raise their right arms and make the Nazi salute on the field in a pregame greeting.

The players agreed without intending to comply, Honcharenko said.

Ultimately, they refused the order, he said, and instead gave a popular sportsman’s yell, “Fitness, culture, hoorah.”

According to this 1985 account, the game began roughly and the Start goalkeeper, Nikolai Trusevich, was knocked out.

Water was poured on the goalkeeper to revive him, but while he was still dazed, the Germans scored three goals.

Trailing at halftime, the Start team decided to play for a tie, believing the referee would never allow the Ukrainians to win.

But competitive instincts prevailed.

And after the match was tied at 3-3, Honcharenko said he scored the final two goals to give Start a 5-3 victory.

In a 1992 interview with a Kiev radio station, Honcharenko gave another version of the match, which is the most romanticized account.

In this version, Start drew inspiration from its goalkeeper being kicked in the head and made woozy, taking a 3-1 lead by halftime.

This is when an SS officer entered the locker room and complimented the skill of the Start players.

But, in a tone both polite and resolute, the officer also said they should consider the consequences of victory, suggesting they throw the match to the Flakelf team.

Such a warning seems plausible, said Andy Dougan, a lecturer at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, an arts university in Glasgow, and the author of a book about the game, “Dynamo: Triumph and Tragedy in Nazi-Occupied Kiev.”

The Germans must have by then regretted the rematch, Dougan said.

“It did turn out to be a nightmare because they had given the local people something to rally around,” Dougan said.

“I’m pretty certain there would have been a warning, that they had had their fun.”

Yet Start apparently did not succumb.

One eyewitness account in Dougan’s book said that a Ukrainian player, Alexei Klimenko, dribbled through the Germans near the end, then kicked the ball upfield rather than scoring in a final act of humiliating the occupiers.

The most extreme myth says that the Start players were shot immediately after the match, lined up and killed on the field or put against a wall.

This is clearly not true.

Honcharenko said in 1985 that the Start players were “a little nervous,” but showered and went home.

According to a widely disseminated photograph, players from both teams stood together for a postgame snapshot, some of them smiling.

Although, as with much of this tale, even the photograph is in dispute; some believe it was taken just before the match or at another game a month earlier.

It is also not true that the Start players escaped en masse, as portrayed in the 1981 movie “Victory,” reset in Germany and France with Allied prisoners of war and starring Stallone, Michael Caine, Pelé and a collection of professional players.

“Hollywood,” Sergey Mikhaylenko, the president of the Dynamo Kiev fan club, said with a laugh. “Happy ending.”

Aftermath

What actually happened after the match remains as murky in many aspects as what happened during it.

By many accounts, F.C. Start played again on Aug. 16, trouncing another Ukrainian team, Rukh, 8-0.

But in his 1985 oral history, Honcharenko said the Start players were arrested by the Gestapo at the bakery where they worked on Aug. 10, the day after the rematch with the Flakelf team.

Gestapo agents carried a poster or flier with names of other players from Dynamo — the pre-occupation team for many Start players — and wanted to know where they were, Honcharenko said.

He did not elaborate, but Dynamo was sponsored by the police.

Perhaps the Gestapo suspected players of being members of the N.K.V.D., the police and state security precursor to the K.G.B.

The players were separated and tortured for more than three weeks, Honcharenko said, before being taken to the Syrets concentration camp on the edge of Kiev, near the Babi Yar ravine.

Other accounts have the Start players being arrested on Aug. 18, shortly after the match with Rukh.

There are a number of possible reasons given for their arrest:

They may have irritated a new occupation regime in Kiev and undermined the idea of German superiority by winning all their matches.

They may have been betrayed by Georgi Shvetsov, the player-manager of Rukh, who was said by some to be jealous of Start’s success.

They may have been suspected at the bakery of putting ground glass into bread to be eaten by Germans.

They may have been suspected of ties to the N.K.V.D.

One player, Mykola Korotkikh, is reported to have been killed several weeks after the match on suspicion of serving in Stalin’s internal security force.

Some accounts say that a photograph was found of him in an N.K.V.D. uniform and that he was turned in under duress by his sister.

Six and a half months after the match, on Feb. 24, 1943, three Start players were reportedly shot to death: Trusevich, Klimenko and Ivan Kuzmenko.

On Feb. 23, a Kiev plant where the Germans repaired motorized sleighs was said to have been sabotaged in an arson attack by partisans.

Around that time, a work brigade from the Syrets camp was also said to have been caught trying to smuggle in sausage; one of the workers may have tried to attack the camp commander or his German shepherd upon being caught.

In retaliation, the Germans are reported to have shot one of every three prisoners in the work brigade.

Dougan, the Scottish author, said he believed the Start players were killed deliberately.

“It may well have been sheer chance, but these were not just three players, but three very good players,” he said.

“I think the odds are just way too long.”

Prosecutors in Hamburg, Germany, investigated the episode.

But they closed the case in 2005, saying they found a lack of any evidence that the Start players were purposely killed for defeating the Flakelf team on that late afternoon in 1942.

A Twisted Legend

That has hardly kept fact from becoming embroidered with legend.

By late 1943 and early 1944, once Kiev was liberated by the Soviets, newspaper articles began appearing, describing details that would fit into a jigsaw myth known as the Death Match.

Initially, Soviet authorities were hesitant to promote the legend, concerned that the players might have been Nazi collaborators for participating in that series of games in 1942, according to Tetiana Bykova, a historian at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences who has studied the so-called Death Match.

But articles had been published and “the genie was out of the bottle,” Bykova said.

“If you can’t silence the story, then you have to tell it so that it’s going to get maximum political advantage.”

The Soviet solution was to pretend the other matches had not taken place and to embellish the idea of a death match, Bykova said.

Beginning in the late 1950s, with publication of a Kiev newspaper article and book called “The Final Duel,” and subsequent movies released in the Soviet Union and Hungary, the match came to serve both as a source of Ukrainian pride and useful Soviet propaganda.

“It’s like in ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,’ ” Dougan said.

“When the legend is better than the truth, print the legend.”

Initially, the Start players had been reluctant to discuss the match.

A key reason was fear, Dougan and others said.

Fear of being seen as Nazi collaborators.

Fear of being resented for living under less harsh circumstances than others and for shirking their war duty.

Fear of contradicting a tale of Soviet heroism amid Nazi atrocities.

This helps explain why Honcharenko gave conflicting versions through the years.

And why, in his 1985 account, Honcharenko said that before Trusevich, the goalkeeper, was shot to death six and a half months after the match, his final words were, “Long live Stalin, long live Soviet sport.”

According to Dougan, Honcharenko “had been very scared.”

As the Soviet Union collapsed, more prosaic accounts of the match were given.

Georgi Kuzmin, a Ukrainian journalist who has covered soccer for more than 40 years, said that Honcharenko told him in 1991 that no one asked the Start players to throw the match and that Honcharenko did not believe the players were deliberately killed for winning.

Honcharenko gave a similar account of an ordinary match to a Ukrainian newspaper in 1996.

He has since died.

When the former Start players were awarded medals some two decades after the match, one of them, Mikhail Putistin, declined his, saying later he could not participate in a lie, Kuzmin said.

Bykova, the historian, said evidence indicates the Germans played fairly and did not injure the Start goalkeeper, at least not on purpose.

It was the Ukrainian players who became the more aggressive team as the match progressed, she said.

She also believes a straightforward recounting of the game might have become even more powerful than the myth.

“It takes more perseverance and courage to survive on a daily basis, to come home and see the hungry eyes of your children, than to pull yourself together for two hours for a game,” Bykova said.

Today, Start Stadium hosts summer matches by amateur and semiprofessional teams, whose players do not always wait until the final whistle to fortify their fitness with beer and cigarettes.

Children ride bikes and roller-blade on an asphalt track around the well-kept field.

And the statue behind the crumbling grandstand helps perpetuate the legend of the Death Match.

“It was propaganda,” said Kuzmin, whose history of Ukrainian soccer, “What Did and Didn’t Happen,” was published in 2010.

“The Soviets could show that people would go to their death for the sake of Soviet ideology. And the people of Kiev like the story. It’s a good fairy tale. But everyone should know the truth.”

For some, truth is beside the point.

At the Dynamo stadium in Kiev, there is a monument honoring the four Start players who died in the weeks and months after that 1942 match.

The players are shirtless, holding hands, boldly resistant.

Tours of the stadium and the monument are not burdened by debate.

They are celebrations, not investigations.

“Not one document can prove any of these things,” said Kirill Boyko, the manager of the Dynamo fan club.

“We are patriots for our country and our team. We believe in the legend.”

Source: The New York Times