Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ukrainian Contribution To Offshore Schemes

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is now among the top twenty countries from which capital is flowing out on a catastrophic scale.


According to the international non-governmental organization Tax Justice Network, 167 billion dollars have fled Ukraine to offshore zones since the 1990s, i.e., the first days of independence.

For comparison’s sake, the 2012 budget of Ukraine is 350 billion hryvnias ($43 billion).

In the opinion of other researchers, the high-profile British publications Ukraine Business Insight and Eurasia Insights, the assets of Ukraine’s richest people make up about 85.2 billion dollars today.

The British research shows that there are about 30,000 people in Ukraine, who have personal quick assets worth more than 100,000 dollars.

Moreover, the number of dollar-possessing millionaires in this country increases by up to six percent, i.e., about 1,500 people, a year.

However, the most affluent individuals keep about 60 percent of their assets in offshore zones in spite of tough restrictions and legal obstacles. Impressive, isn’t it?

What looks very symptomatic against the backdrop of these statistics is the fact that Verkhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn has signed Law No. 9634 which calls for exempting state-run businesses from the bidding procedures envisaged by the law on public purchases.

Has the government been so persistent in cutting public expenditures – closing the “ineffective” rural schools and first-aid stations, increasing the retirement age, and depriving the underprivileged strata of the population of social benefits – in order to share out the saved money “under the blanket”?

Experts estimate that Law No. 9634 exempts about 240 billion budgetary hryvnias, i.e., 2/3 of the entire state budget, from bidding procedures.

The Anticorruption Center forecasts that, in the current no-publicity conditions, at least 70 billion hryvnias ($8.6 billion) will be spent to “improve” the national statistics on the offshore accounts.

This means two Ukrainian budgets of education and six budgets of public health.

Lytvyn so skillfully rode out of the language law situation, only to sign a rather controversial law that had been passed quite unlawfully – only 73 MPs were present in the session room, which CCTV footage clearly shows.

Why did Lytvyn do so?

The opposition also had, in theory, a chance to improve transparency in the distribution of public funds – not only in the session room, incidentally.

It was enough to complain to the Constitutional Court about violations in the procedure of voting on Law No. 9634.

To do so, they needed to collect 150 signatures.

But, as we see, there was not even an attempt to do this. Why?

Now we are pinning hopes on the president, but, in all probability, it is also in vain.

It would look somewhat strange from the political angle if the guarantor of the Constitution vetoed a law railroaded by the pro-governmental majority.

Yet who knows? What if President Yanukovych suddenly chooses to oppose himself to his partners?

Moreover, the president and his family are also interested in the public funds being shared out in the conditions of non-transparency.

As journalists of the TV program “Our Money” managed to find out, the Yanukovych family received every fifth hryvnia at coal-mining industry tenders last year.

“The Yanukovych companies marched in three columns and won tenders worth a total 3.56 billion hryvnias ($0.44 billion),” says the article “Coal Industry Kings” on Ukrainska Pravda’s website.

Naturally, there is one more way to realize a scenario to stem the tide of opaqueness in bidding procedures.

In the spring of last year parliament passed Law No. 7532, which resembles Law No. 9634, but the president vetoed it under the pressure of international financial institutions (in this case the World Bank and the European Commission were taking the same stand).

Yanukovych was forced to make this step because the “creditors” warned: if you sign this law, forget about any kind of technological assistance or loans.

But the chance of a presidential veto seems to be very slim today because we can hear no statements from international financial institutions on changes in the bidding law.

At first glance, they gave it up as hopeless.

But when we turned to some financial institutions for comment, their experts began to persuade us that these changes… have some positive points.

They allege that the changes will revitalize the economy because state-run businesses will have more freedom as far as purchases are concerned and will be able to respond quicker to a bid.

These experts also advised us to fight “kleptomaniac” bureaucrats in the opaque conditions by means of the system of inner audit.

As we have no concrete figures or facts, we can so far be guided by our logic only, but the impression is that some executives of some international organizations that have been working in Ukraine for quite a long time have a personal interest in this.

It is only about the price of the question. This price is very “attractive” as long as the bidding law is being changed.

Source: The Day Weekly Digest

EU Citizens: Ukraine Deserves To Join The EU

KIEV, Ukraine -- Almost half of the European guests, who visited Ukraine during EURO 2012 football championship, stated that Ukraine deserved to enter the EU in the near future.


EU citizens were surveyed by GfK Company as a part of the Soft Power of Ukraine in the EU and Beyond project, commissioned by the Institute of World Policy, USA.

The survey results revealed that in general the EU citizens supported Ukraine's European aspirations and thought that Ukraine deserved various components of European integration such as the visa-free regime, reads the study.

52.4 percent of European fans would like to cancel the visa regime between their countries and Ukraine already today, while 4.8 percent did not support the visa-free initiative.

According to the survey, 42.56 percent of respondents wanted to see Ukraine become a member of the 27 nations block within the short term, while 30.92 percent believed that Ukraine could join the EU in the medium term under the condition that the political and economic situation in the country improves.

Notably, only 2.77 percent of surveyed EU citizens said they did not want to see Ukraine a part of the union.

At the same time, 84 percent of Ukraine's guests were happy with the championship taking place in the country.

76.4 percent expressed the desire to visit Ukraine again as tourists.

More than a half (57.25 percent) of the Europeans reported that the organization of the major sports event had improved their perception of Ukraine.

More than half of the surveyed EU citizens stated that upon visiting Ukraine they sympathize with the country.

37.5 percent of respondents expressed respect for Ukraine, while about one third of the respondents displayed eagerness to support the Eastern European country.

Interestingly, 84.64 percent of all the 1,408 surveyed respondents have never been to Ukraine before the championship.

The Institute of World Policy launched the EURO Exit Poll through UNITER program on June 11, 2012.

In the run of the campaign, football fans from different European countries shared their impressions of Ukraine in the contexts of politics and foreign policy.

Europeans staying in Kiev, Kharkiv, Lviv, and Donetsk for the championship (June 8 - July 1, 2012) were questioned at the exits of the stadiums in the Ukrainian host cities.

Source: Worldwide News Ukraine

Language Law Will Split Ukraine, Opposition Warns

KIEV, Ukraine -- Opposition politicians walked out of Ukraine's parliament in protest on Monday after warning that a law making Russian the official language in parts of the former Soviet republic would set citizens at each other's throats.

Ukraine's PM Azarov (bottom right) and other top officials attend an extraordinary session of the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev.

President Viktor Yanukovich's Party of the Regions rushed the bill through parliament earlier this month in what opponents saw as an attempt to rally public support in Russian-speaking regions ahead of an October parliamentary election.

The move led to street protests in the capital Kiev and brawls in parliament.

The chamber went into recess until September, leaving the bill in limbo, but last week parliament said it would reconvene for an extra session on Monday.

Arseny Yatseniuk, leader of the opposition Front of Change party, described the bill as a "crime against Ukraine and the Ukrainian state" during the special session on Monday.

"We regard this as an anti-constitutional maneuver - it does not exist for us as a law," he said.

Ivan Zayats, a deputy of Our Ukraine, another opposition party, said: "This law will set Ukrainians of the left bank against the right, north against south."

Opposition lawmakers then left the special sitting in protest, before parliament - dominated by the Party of the Regions - voted against any changes to the bill, which has passed its second and final reading.

POWER BASE

The way is now clear for parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn to send the bill to Yanukovich for his final signature.

Lytvyn won a vote of confidence from parliament on Monday despite having formally resigned over the language row.

Yanukovich has not yet expressed his view on the bill, but his popularity would take a hard knock in his eastern Ukraine power base if he failed to sign it into law.

About 1,000 opposition protesters attempted to rally near parliament on Monday but were barred from getting close to the main building.

While Ukrainian is the only state language, the bill would make Russian an official regional language in predominantly Russian-speaking areas in the industrialized east and southern regions such as Crimea where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based.

Opponents of the bill, who regard the Ukrainian language as a touchstone of sovereignty and independence from Russia, say it will mean that knowledge and usage of Ukrainian will die out in those areas.

Passions remain high, however, and the law is likely to be a high-profile issue in the October 28 election when Yanukovich's Party of the Regions will have to work hard to maintain its majority after unpopular government policies on pensions, taxation and the cost of home utilities.

With former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko still in jail on a charge of abuse of office, Yatseniuk, whose party has united with her Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party, has effectively become head of the opposition.

Source: Chicago Tribune

Monday, July 30, 2012

Tymoshenko Heads List In Ukraine Polls Campaign

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine on Monday kicked off campaigning for October parliamentary polls with the opposition's list symbolically headed by its leader Yulia Tymoshenko, whose controversial imprisonment bars her from running.

Ukraine's former premier Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced last October to seven years in prison for abuse of power.

The polls, the first major vote since the election of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, are expected to be closely followed by the West, where anger is running high over the treatment of Tymoshenko.

The outspoken former prime minister was sentenced last October to seven years in prison for abuse of power while in office, in a case taken up months after she lost a close presidential election to Yanukovych in 2010.

Many believe her imprisonment to be an attempt by the current president to bar a hugely popular rival from running in the legislative elections which are slated for October 28.

In a symbolic move, Ukraine's opposition coalition that also includes former parliament speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk put Tymoshenko at the top of its list even though the fiery politician is legally barred from running.

Also on the list is Tymoshenko ally and former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko, who was sentenced to four years in prison in late February for abuse of office and embezzlement.

Yanykovych's ruling Regions Party is expected to announce its list later Monday.

Two big sporting stars, boxing champion Vitali Klitschko and footballer Andriy Shevchenko, who announced Saturday he was joining pro-business political party Ukraine Forward!, are also expected to run.

According to opinion polls, Klitschko's Democratic Alliance for Reform and the Communists will make it to parliament along with frontrunners the Regions Party and the opposition alliance.

Two other parties, nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) and Ukraine Forward!, stand a chance of breaking through the five-percent threshold required to claim seats.

For the first time since 2002, voting will be according to the mixed electoral system, with 225 candidates elected on party lists and another 225 in electoral constituencies.

Source: AFP

Russia Using Natgas Leverage To Boost Black Sea Fleet

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russia is seeking to add new battleships and submarines to its Black Sea Fleet based in Ukraine and may use natural gas leverage to impose a respective agreement.

Russian Black Sea fleet

Ukraine has resisted for the past 10 years Russia’s pressure to replace its aging fleet with the new battleships, but the parties have now entered the final stage of negotiations.

“The formulation of this agreement has entered the final stage,” Aleksandr Fedotenkov, the commander of the Black Sea Fleet, said, quoted by BBC Ukraine.

“We expect to sign the agreement by the end of the year. It will give us an opportunity to add new battleships.”

Russia has been seeking to upgrade its BSF by increasing its firepower as a response to NATO’s expansion to former Communist countries in Eastern Europe, such as Bulgaria and Romania.

Russia views NATO as a military threat.

Russia hopes to add the first new battleship to the fleet in 2014, including frigate Admiral Kasatonov and a new diesel-powered submarine, according to Russian officials.

A deal between Russia and Ukraine, signed in 1997, allowed the stationing of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol for 25 years, but had not anticipated a legal way for Russia to replace the aging battleships.

That led to the number of battleships stationed in Ukraine shrinking to less than 100 compared with about 300 in early 1990s, reducing the importance and firepower of Russia’s navy in the region.

Ukraine has so far objected to the massive increase in BSF firepower and has suggested a gradual replacement of aging Russian battleships with battleships that have similar capacities.

Konstantin Zatulin, a former Russian nationalist lawmaker and an outspoken supporter of Russian interests in Ukraine, said Moscow will use its dominance in the natural gas sector to force the new agreement.

“Russia’s influence on the Ukrainian economy is a major negotiating argument that will finally force the Ukrainian party to speed up the agreement on upgrading to the aging Black Sea Fleet,” BBC Ukraine reported, citing Zatulin.

Ukraine has unsuccessfully for the past two years tried to renegotiate a 10-year gas agreement with Russia, seeking lower gas prices.

Ukraine seeks to cut the prices to $230-250 per 1,000 cu m compared with $425/1,000 cu m it currently pays.

But the most recent round of talks between President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Vladimir Putin have failed to reach any agreement, with Moscow reportedly demanding political concessions from Kiev.

Russia already used its natural gas sector monopoly in April 2010 to extend the stationing of its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol for another 25 years through 2042.

Russia agreed to provide $100/1,000 cu m discount on gas prices for the next 10 years, in exchange for extending the stationing of its fleet for another 25 years.

Ukraine’s opposition groups said the deal violated the country’s constitution, and called for the impeachment of Yanukovych.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

OSCE Rights Watchdog Warns Ukraine On Language Bill

VIENNA, Austria -- Ukraine's move to restore Russian as the language for official business and schools in some regions risks polarizing the country, the head of minorities' rights at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said.

Knut Vollebaek

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek, urged a compromise to defuse tensions over a bill that provoked protests in Ukraine this month and is now in limbo as President Viktor Yanukovich has not said whether he will sign it into law.

Wrapping up a visit to Ukraine, Vollebaek called the draft bill "deeply divisive" and said authorities should open a dialogue with critics.

"The disproportionate favoring of the Russian language, while also removing most incentives for learning or using Ukrainian in large parts of the country, could potentially undermine Ukraine's very cohesion," he said in a statement.

He also expressed concern at what he called the parliamentary majority's refusal to consider any of the more than 2,000 amendments put forward on the measure.

"In the present pre-election climate, tensions surrounding the language law could easily escalate," Vollebaek said, referring to parliamentary elections in October.

"I therefore call on all parties to engage in a substantive dialogue on the issues raised by the law with a view to finding a suitable compromise."

One member of parliament who drafted the law and is a member of Yanukovich's Party of the Regions snubbed the call.

"Knut Vollebaek's negative reaction shows that many European politicians are interested in destabilizing the situation in Ukraine," Interfax news agency quoted Vadym Kolesnichenko as saying.

Many Russian speakers believe the legislation protects against Western encroachment including the introduction of mandatory Ukrainian dubbing of films by the government of previous president Viktor Yushchenko.

For its opponents it is a blow to the fragile sovereignty of a country long divided between regional powers and persecuted by Moscow's tsars and its Communist leaders.

According to a 2001 census, there were 8.3 million Russians in Ukraine but Prime Minister Mykola Azarov raised eyebrows last month when he said there were 20 million ethnic Russians in the nation of 46 million.

Azarov is an ethnic Russian who speaks Ukrainian, a language that has gained ground since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Source: Yahoo News

Sunday, July 29, 2012

During Drought China Turns To Ukraine As Food Source

LOKHVITSA, Ukraine -- The worst drought in half a century is hitting corn and wheat harvests in the United States, the world’s largest food exporter.

A John Deere combine harvests, threshes and pumps wheat into a waiting truck on fields managed by UkrLand Farming, July 21, 2012. Wheat from these fields may end up in Chinese bread next year.

So China, a major food importer, is turning to a new source of supply - Ukraine, a nation once known as the breadbasket of Europe.

The drought in the United States reinforces expert forecasts that world food supplies will steadily tighten this decade, and that prices will rise.

When grain prices go up, so do the prices of bread, milk, eggs and meat.

When that happened two years ago, riots broke out in Egypt and Mozambique.

By 2050, the world will have to produce 60 percent more food to meet demands from a world population that is expected to be bigger and richer.

In advance, China is reaching out to producers around the globe to guarantee future food supplies.

A century ago, rich corn and wheat harvests made Ukraine the breadbasket of Europe.

Now China wants to lock down a portion of the bounty flowing from the black soils of this farming nation the size of France.

Halyna Kovtok is CEO of UkrLand Farming, or ULF, Ukraine’s largest agri-business.

With more than half-a-million hectares of farmland under cultivation, she negotiated a $4 billion Chinese credit this year for her company.

“This year, UkrLand Farming may become the first company in Ukraine to send agricultural products to China because at this moment, we are actively working to get certified to export to China,” she said.

“The first step will be corn, and then we will work on sending other goods.”

When ULF exports corn to China, it will make Ukraine the first country outside the Americas to do so.

And with China's population becoming larger, and richer, China is on track to overtake Japan as the world's largest corn importer.

In Lokhvitsa, a three-hour drive east of Kiev, Chinese money is financing construction of six grain elevators.

Building for the Chinese market, ULF will soon have almost two million tons of elevator storage capacity.

At the elevators, and in the fields, the equipment is largely American.

In a wheat field, a fleet of four half-million-dollar John Deere combines is harvesting and threshing.

With investments like these, ULF grain yields per acre are now halfway between Ukrainian averages and the high yields of the American Midwest.

But, just as in the United States, farming depends on the weather.

Across the Black Sea region - in Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan - drought this year is pushing harvests down by 15 to 20 percent.

Yuri Scherbak, the ULF manager in Ukraine, predicts that his own corn and wheat crops will be down by about 15 percent.

“This year, unfortunately, we are expecting a bit of a drop in production,” he said.

“And the main reason, while we are in a period of drought, is the decrease in quantity of precipitation."

Traditionally, the Black Sea region is the main source of wheat for North Africa and the Middle East.

But this year, on the supply side, Russia may have to suspend exports.

And on the demand side, Africa and the Middle East are now competing with China.

Source: Voice of America

Ukraine Legend Andriy Shevchenko Confirms Retirement From Football

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine legend Andriy Shevchenko has announced his retirement from football, and will now pursue a career in politics.
Andriy Shevchenko

The 35-year-old has opted to bring an end to his illustrious playing career following Euro 2012, with two tournament goals in the 2-1 win against Sweden the striker’s final memorable moment.

The news was released by former club Dinamo Kiev, as the veteran bows out of the sport.

"Perhaps, I will shock everyone: my future has nothing to do with football. It is related to politics,” he told the Ukrainian club’s official website.

Shevchenko will be remembered predominantly for his time at AC Milan, where he won one Scudetto, one Coppa Italia and one Champions League title with the Rossoneri over eight seasons - including one loan spell - where he netted 175 goals in 322 competitive games.

He had an ill-fated stint at Chelsea between 2006 and 2009, but still added FA Cup and League Cup triumphs to his medal collection, whilst he also won the Ukrainian Premier League five times.

Internationally the veteran striker represented his nation 111 times, scoring 48 goals.

He won the Ballon d'Or in 2004.

Source: Yahoo Sports

Archers Off Target As British Team Slump To Early Exit After Ukraine Defeat

LONDON, England -- Great Britain's hopes of a men's archery team medal ended at the first hurdle as they were soundly beaten by Ukraine at Lord's.

Easing through: Ukraine's Hrachov Dmytro helped end British hopes of a medal at London 2012.

Having ranked in eighth place on Friday, they had a first-round assignment against ninth seeds Ukraine.

But despite being a close match on paper Larry Godfrey, Simon Terry and Alan Wills went down 223-212 to Viktor Ruban, Dmytro Hrachov and Markiyan Ivashko.

The home team shot just five maximums in their 24 attempts, compared to their opponents' 11.

A tough contest was always likely, with 2008 Olympic champion Ruban and world No 3 Hrachov both in the Ukrainian team.

All three British archers hit nines with their first shot, but Terry made an early mistake when his second arrow scored just seven.

Godfrey raised a big cheer when he scored his side's first bullseye but after the first end of six shots, Ukraine had opened a four-point lead.

A seven from Wills and three eights in a row to close the second end left Great Britain struggling as three 10s from six arrows put Ukraine in front by 10 at the halfway mark.

Team GB needed to improve and briefly did, with Wills and Godfrey both finding the centre of the target with successive attempts.

But Ukraine, inspired by the in-form Hrachov, dropped just three points in the next end to extend their lead by another point.

With six arrows remaining per team, the hosts needed something special to get through but Terry started with an eight.

Two 10s and a closing eight from Godfrey left GB with a score 212, a score that Ukraine passed with one shot remaining.

British No 1 Godfrey, who is ranked fourth for the singles competition, was disappointed to be exiting the team draw so early.

Although he still has a chance of solo glory, he had set his sights on better on Saturday.

'It's sad. I came here to win two medals and now one has gone,' he said.

'I thought we did everything right. We prepared right and practised well. Everything has been brilliant, apart from the match... unfortunately that's what happens in archery sometimes.

'The Ukrainian guys got it right from the first arrow and I think it took us a long time to get adjusted."

"I don't understand why we were sending arrows high but I don't think we had a single arrow underneath the gold."

"I felt I shot great arrows, but it's one of those things. It's done, it's over."

Source: Daily Mail

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Operation Stop Orange Revolution-2

KIEV, Ukraine -- Political situations in Ukraine point to a fundamental problem that the United States and Europe faces of Ukrainian leaders not upholding democratic values.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych at the 65th United Nations General Assembly in the UN building in New York City in 2010.

Ukraine's sixth parliamentary election campaign begins Monday for an election on the last Sunday of October.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych seeks -- and will probably receive -- a parliamentary majority to assist his re-election for a second term in three years' time.

Permitting the opposition to control Parliament is not an option for a president who has a track record of overseeing five election frauds since the late 1990s as Donetsk governor, prime minister and president.

If the opposition were able to secure control of Parliament they might succeed in freeing Yulia Tymoshenko and other political prisoners.

Tymoshenko, who only lost by 3 percent to Yanukovych in a 2010 presidential election, would be a formidable opponent who could most likely defeat Yanukovych in the 2015 elections.

Ukrainian authorities have devised a 10-point strategy to ensure there is no repeat of the 2004 mass protests that became known as the Orange Revolution from the color of opposition banners.

This includes three strategies to increase support for the Party of Regions.

Social populism, including a "luxury tax" on Ukraine's wealthiest, was unveiled in March and aimed at the party's core working class and pensioner voters.

Yanukovych's social populism outshines any of the measures attributed to Tymoshenko who has traditionally been accused of populism in Ukrainian politics.

This month authorities unveiled a second strategy of using the Russian language card when the Ukrainian Parliament adopted a controversial and divisive language law that led to riots on Kiev's streets and hunger strikes.

The new law undermines the constitutional status of Ukrainian as the country's state language and serves to further Russia's strategic goals of reintegrating Ukraine into the Eurasian cultural world.

A third strategy undermines the authorities claim to be reformers by promoting the Communist Party in Ukraine's tightly controlled media.

The Communists have been Yanukovych's coalition partners on three occasions in the last decade and traditionally capture disgruntled Party of Regions voters.

An additional seven strategies undermine the opposition and make a mockery of Ukraine's elections because they are not being held on a level playing field.

Ardent Orange revolutionaries such as Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko have been imprisoned and removed from elections for the next decade.

The opposition does not have other leaders capable of taking on Yanukovych while more pliant opposition leaders have been bought and blackmailed to remain "constructive."

Two former presidents, Yushchenko and Leonid Kuchma, have been pacified by threats of criminal charges for corruption and abuse of office.

Every political party, including the Communists, in Ukraine receives its main funding from big business.

The jailing of prominent opposition leader Tymoshenko sent a signal to big business that they could no longer play all sides and fund opposition political parties who are, as a result, cash-starved.

Surveillance of Western foundations similar to that undertaken in Russia is growing.

The U.S. Embassy in Kiev and international foundations promoting democracy, such as Germany's Adenaur Stiftung, the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute, have received similar letters from the prosecutor's office requesting information about which civil society groups they fund.

The investigations have been initiated by Party of Regions Deputy Vadym Kolesnichenko, who is vitriolic in his Soviet style anti-Americanism and is co-author of the language law.

Democracy funding foundations have reported a massive growth of KGB-style surveillance of their activities by the Security Service of Ukraine -- known by the initials SBU -- outside Kiev during the last two years.

Law enforcement bodies, which are already massively overstaffed, have been given additional financial resources and personnel.

In the Orange Revolution the authorities lost the streets to protesters when most law enforcement bodies defected.

Law enforcement is under the tight control of what has been dubbed "The Family," individuals who are personally loyal to Yanukovych and from his home region of Donetsk.

The chairman of the SBU, minister of Defense and head of the presidents bodyguards are Russian citizens.

The SBU, Interior Ministry and military have been given additional powers to deal with popular unrest.

New legislation, also drafted by Kolesnychenko, is modeled on that adopted in Russia and seeks to allegedly combat "terrorism" but in reality is meant to provide a fig leaf of legality to fight against the opposition under the guise of combating "extremism."

Funding for the Prosecutor-General's office, which has been at the forefront of imprisoning opposition leaders, is set to grow by a whopping 83 percent.

The cost of law enforcement bodies in maintaining order is set to grow by a staggering 50 percent.

Funding for the SBU is set to expand by nearly 10 percent and the Foreign Intelligence Service -- SZR -- will grow in size by 800 personnel.

With a planned 4,000 personnel the SZR are an anomaly in a country that has little external intelligence capability and many of its seasoned officers will no doubt be used in surveillance operations against the opposition.

With 30,000 officers the SBU has five times more officers than the combined British MI5 and MI6 while the SZR is larger than Britain's MI6.

Ukraine's state institutions have been undermined.

Parliament has been transformed into a rubber-stamp institution, heavy political intervention into the judiciary has made the rule of law non-existent, the Supreme Court has been marginalized and the Constitutional Court is manipulated and corrupted.

Finally, censorship of oligarch-controlled television has reached an all-time high.

Ukraine's last vestiges of independent media are being stamped out this month when the authorities closed independent media outlets such as the last remaining television channel TVi and Internet newspaper "Left Bank".

With opposition leaders unable to participate in Ukraine's October election it will be difficult to describe them as conforming to democratic standards.

Operation Stop Orange Revolution-2 points to a more fundamental problem that the United States and Europe faces of Yanukovych not upholding democratic and European values.

Source: UPI

Ukraine Parliament To Reconvene, Language Bill In Focus

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's parliament will reconvene for an extra session on Monday, the chamber said, in a move which could lead to a contentious bill to make Russian the official language in parts of the former Soviet republic being signed into law.

Opposition supporters rest under the shade as they take part in a rally against a new Russian language bill passed by the parliament in Kiev July 6, 2012.

President Viktor Yanukovich's Party of the Regions rushed the bill through parliament this month using a procedural trick, in what opponents saw as an attempt to rally public support in Russian-speaking regions ahead of an October parliamentary election.

But the move backfired as hundreds of protesters poured on to the streets of Kiev and clashed with riot police.

Parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn refused to sign the bill, a step needed before Yanukovich could sign it into law.

The chamber then went into recess until September.

At the extra session, announced late on Thursday, the Party of the Regions will have another opportunity to get Lytvyn to sign the bill, or parliament - dominated by Yanukovich's party and their allies - could elect a new speaker.

Yanukovich has not said whether he would sign the bill into law.

While Ukrainian is the only state language, the bill would make Russian an official regional language in predominantly Russian-speaking areas in the industrialized east and southern regions such as Crimea where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based.

On Friday, opponents of the bill staged small protests in several cities wearing Guy Fawkes masks, Ukrainian media said.

In Ivano-Frankivsk, demonstrators tried to put a sign reading "Office of the traitors of Ukraine's interests" next to the local Party of the Regions office, but were stopped by party officials, Interfax news agency said.

Activists, who say the bill is a ploy to win back voters in areas alienated by the cash-strapped government's economic policies, have threatened to stage further protests if it becomes law.

Knut Vollebaek, the head of minorities' rights at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, urged Ukraine this week to seek compromise on the issue rather than pass the bill in its current form.

Source: Chicago Tribune

Ukrainian Minister Says Tymoshenko Completes Medical Treatment

KIEV, Ukraine -- Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose jailing for abuse of power soured Ukraine's relations with the European Union, has completed her medical treatment at a local hospital, Healthcare Minister Raisa Bohatyryova was quoted as saying on Friday.

Raisa Bohatyryova

Treatment for a back complaint has kept Tymoshenko, President Viktor Yanukovich's main rival, out of jail for almost three months, and Bohatyryova's statement did not say whether the authorities would now return her to prison.

"An international commission which includes German and Ukrainian doctors ... states that the rehabilitation process has been completed successfully," Interfax news agency quoted Bohatyryova as saying.

The West has condemned Tymoshenko's jailing last October as an example of selective justice and the EU stopped free trade deals and political association with Kiev and urged her release.

But Yanukovich has refused to intervene and state prosecutors have instead piled more charges on Tymoshenko.

Hearings in a fresh tax evasion case against her are due to resume on July 31.

Tymoshenko, 51, who was a leader of the 2004 "Orange Revolution" protests which derailed Yanukovich's first bid for the presidency, has dismissed all charges against her as part of political vendetta by Yanukovich.

She served twice as prime minister and narrowly lost the 2010 presidential election to Yanukovich.

A coalition which includes her party Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) will be the main competitor of Yanukovich's Party of the Regions in the October parliamentary election.

On Friday, the Healthcare Ministry declined immediate comment and the prison service could not be reached for comment.

Source: Yahoo News

Friday, July 27, 2012

Linguistic Future: Ukrainians Who Do Not Speak Russian?

LVIV, Ukraine -- It’s a sunny summer evening here in Lviv, the café and cobblestones capital of Western Ukraine.

Taking language politics to heart, a member of Svoboda, a Ukrainian nationalist political party strong in Western Ukraine, sprays riot police with tear gas in Kyiv, Ukraine on July 4. Nationalists fought with police over a bill that would allow the use of Russian and other minority languages in official settings.

But a steady stream of young couples are ducking down a secret archway.

They rap once at a solid wooden door, then stand back.

The door opens half way to reveal a man in forest green uniform, an automatic weapon slung over his shoulder.

He shouts: “Slava Ukraini!”

Visitors call out the password in Ukrainian: “Heroyam Slava!” – Hail to Our Heroes!

And with that, they descend into the red brick vaulted cellars of Kryjivka – an underground restaurant in the theme of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

This partisan group fought the Soviet Red Army for almost a decade, starting in 1944.

In that war, long hidden behind the Iron Curtain’s veil of secrecy, 35,000 Soviet officials and soldiers were killed — more than twice the number of Soviet troops killed in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

In reprisal, about 600,000 Western Ukrainians were “repressed” – one third executed, one third imprisoned and one third deported to distant parts of the Soviet Union.

At Kryjivka, the cellar walls are festooned with ghosts from that guerrilla campaign long lost to history – handsome, sandy haired young men posing in the forest with vaguely familiar uniforms; copies of Ukrainian language posters and pamphlets from underground presses; and Russian language diagrams of forest encampments, probably from Soviet counter-insurgency manuals.

At the entrance, my American-accented “Heroyam Slava” prompted the armed doorman to give me a shot – of local vodka.

Maybe thanks for the assistance — too little, too late — that Washington sent to the Ukrainian guerrillas in the early 1950s?

But at a table down below, I soon commit a linguistic faux pas.
I ask for a beer in Russian.

A Ukrainian dining companion at my table almost whacks my hand.

She chides me: “No Russian spoken here!”

The gap between Russia and Western Ukraine is more than linguistic.

Russia television regularly airs old Soviet movies showing Ukrainian guerrillas as fascist puppets of the Nazis, fanatics who fought on long after the war, ambushing heroic Red Army units.

At Kryjivka, where it was hard to find an empty table on Monday night, there were two traits common to the 100 or so patrons packed underground.

Whether it was the young man proudly posing for souvenir photos with a (decommissioned) automatic weapon, or the two young women waiting for their turn to shoot an air rifle at a paper target of Stalin’s secret police chief, they were all in their 20s and 30s, and they were all speaking in Ukrainian.

Above ground, the linguistic landscape is the same.

Over the last two centuries, the name of this city has shifted according to tides of history: from Lemberg (German) to Lwow (Polish) to Lvov (Russian) and now Lviv (Ukrainian).

Before World War II, this was a Polish-speaking city.

Later, as a western colony of the Soviet Union, it was heavily Russian-speaking.

But the influence of Moscow faded with independence two decades ago.

Lviv is now an overwhelmingly Ukrainian speaking city.

On a national level, many linguists believe that Ukrainian language use is steadily spreading east.

Here, as in Central Asia, Georgia, the Baltics and in Eastern Europe, the collapse of the Soviet empire has meant a steadily shrinking footprint for spoken Russian.

In Ukraine, where Ukrainian and Russian are linguistically so close, this subtle atrophying of Russian language skills has been overshadowed by fights over language policy in Kiev, the nation’s capital.

Once a Russian speaking city, Kiev is now increasingly bilingual.

Outside Lviv’s World War II memorial, I stopped Andrei, a 23-year-old cook who was bicycling to work.

Aiming to please, he strained hard to understand my questions in Russian. He then replied in Ukrainian.

It was not a political statement.

Here was a young Ukrainian who could not speak Russian.

Inside the memorial, Austin Malloy, VOA’s Moscow-based video journalist, asked a gardener – in Russian – if he could shut off his lawnmower in order to film.

Standing 10 paces from a Red Army statue, the gardener barked back: “What’s your nationality?”

When he learned the request was not coming from a Russian, he shut off his lawnmower, and wanted to chat, at length.

Across town, at another World War II memorial, I stopped Sergiy, a 70-year-old retired engineer.

A veteran of the Soviet Army, he spoke Russian well.

He said he had used it every day at the factory where he worked.

As we stood under a massive Soviet-era statue of a Red Army soldier holding a sword, I asked him when was the last time he spoke Russian.

He mulled. He answered: “It must have been one year ago.”

On a park bench, near a 17th century chapel, I talked with Marina, an architecture student from Odessa, Ukraine’s Russian-speaking seaport on the Black Sea.

Embarrassed about making grammatical mistakes, she was using Russian in Lviv.

She said that put her on the defensive here.

Part of that is geography. Eastern Ukraine has a 1,576 kilometer (979 miles) border with Russia.

Central Ukraine has a 891 kilometer (554 miles) border with Russian-speaking Belarus.

And Western Ukraine has a total of 2,200 kilometers (1,367 miles) of borders with Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

With the Polish border a one-hour drive from here, Lviv, Western Ukraine’s largest city, is closer to Warsaw or Budapest than to Kiev.

At Lviv’s International Airport’s new $200 million terminal, the daily flight to Moscow is lost among a long list of alternate destinations – Vienna, Munich, Prague, Warsaw, Krakow and Milan.

In town, the roll call of 16 foreign consulates includes the standard list of neighboring nations.

But, there also are two unexpected ones, both legacies of Western Ukraine’s diaspora of the last century: Brazil and Canada.

Poland’s new steel and glass consulate – and the lines of visa applicants outside – testify to the fact that on May 1, 2004, Ukrainians woke up to discover that they needed visas to visit old friends and neighbors in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia — all members of the expanded Schengen visa zone.

But, for almost 150 years, Western Ukraine was administered by Vienna.

Today, Lviv’s younger generation sees visas to the West as obstacles that will pass with time.

When selecting a foreign language for study, Lviv high school students choose Polish, German or English, over Russian.

On Lviv’s Boulevard Dzhokhar Dudayev (named after the first president of secessionist Chechnya), I stopped by Oculus, an optometrist.

I asked the receptionist in Russian, if she sold eyewash.

The 20-something woman struggled for a moment. Then, she asked hopefully: “Do you speak English?”

Source: Voice of America

Ukraine And NATO - An On-Off Relationship

ZURICH, Switzerland -- In the aftermath of the Cold War, NATO membership rapidly expanded as the organization looked eastward, with more than a few members of the former Warsaw Pact looking in the opposite direction.

U.S. paratrooper from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team out of Vicenza, Italy train with Ukrainian Paratrooper at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center (IPSC) in Ukraine as part of Exercise Rapid Trident 2011.

In both instances joining an expanded NATO was for reasons beyond security.

Ukraine was one of the earliest and initially enthusiastic aspirant members from the former Soviet bloc.

Yet in sharp contrast to the Baltic States and the Central European members of the Warsaw Pact, Kiev’s aspirations for NATO membership have waxed and waned since Ukraine gained its independence from the former Soviet Union.

Indeed, Ukraine’s ‘on-off’ relationship with NATO remains subject to diplomatic and economic ties between Moscow and Kiev.

Looking Westwards

At first sight, it might be considered that NATO sought expansion eastwards to improve its own security both by bringing former adversaries into the alliance and increasing the size of the buffer between its western borders and Russia – still a military power that demanded respect.

Likewise, to nations such as Poland and the Baltic states, NATO membership would bring benefits well beyond security.

These included gaining access to funding for upgraded military hardware, and cementing democratic credentials.

NATO expansion was, therefore, initially played out against the backdrop of a number of optimistic declarations regarding the future of the international system.

Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’, for example, argued that the end of the Cold War represented the end of ideological evolution and the triumph of Western liberal democracy as the final form of government.

Accordingly, it is understandable that the “triumph of the West” inspired those countries previously under Soviet control not only to reinforce their security but also their democratic credentials through membership in organizations like NATO and the European Union (EU).

Although not formally linked, the democratic ideals and common membership of NATO and the EU (the latter even more attractive as a funding source) inevitably led to a scramble for membership – a scramble that was, moreover, equally welcomed by the West.

Indeed, all of the perceived benefits of joining NATO (and eventually the EU) that appealed to the Baltic and Central European states were at least as appealing to Ukraine.

NATO-Ukraine relations were formally launched in 1991 when the country joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council.

Three years later, Ukraine was the first former Soviet country to join the Partnership for Peace.

In 1996, Ukraine contributed to the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, followed by similar deployments to Kosovo.

NATO-Ukraine cooperation was further cemented with the signing of the 1997 Charter on a Distinctive Partnership (the Charter) and the establishment of the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC).

From the outset, the Charter outlined the arrangements for enhancing NATO-Ukraine relations as well as identifying opportunities for cooperation.

These include dialogue on defense and security issues of common concern and practical cooperation on defense and security reform.

The opening decade of the 21st century saw an initial acceleration of NATO-Ukraine relations.

In 2002, for example, the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan (the Plan) was adopted.

The Plan sought to support Ukraine’s reform efforts ‘on the road to Euro-Atlantic cooperation’.

Earlier in the year, then-President Leonid Kuchma announced that Ukraine would eventually seek full membership of NATO.

Ukraine’s membership aspirations received a boost in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution.

NATO leaders not only expressed support for the new Ukrainian leader Viktor Yushchenko’s reform plans and commitment to enhancing Kiev’s relations with the Alliance, they also launched an Intensified Dialogue on Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO.

NATO-Ukraine dialogue has often been supported with military cooperation.

Since 1997, for example, Ukraine has hosted the annual Sea Breeze exercises in the Black Sea.

Each year, Ukraine’s armed forces undertake exercises with NATO counterparts (and other navies) aimed at enhancing a host of maritime security capabilities.

This year, Exercise Sea Breeze focused on combating maritime piracy and featured joint patrol flights by American and Ukrainian naval aircraft.

Military exchanges have also extended beyond exercises to include staff training, cooperation with defense equipment procurement and civil contingencies.

Underpinning many of these initiatives is the NATO Liaison Office (NLO) Ukraine, which opened in 1999.

Grinding to a Halt

Yet despite the initial and well-documented enthusiasm for full membership of NATO, Ukraine has more recently curbed its aspirations.

The return of the more pro-Moscow Viktor Yanukovych to the presidency in 2010 led to Ukraine formally withdrawing its bid for full NATO membership, albeit with the continuation of the vague intention of further European integration.

As a result, NATO leaders used the 2010 Lisbon Summit to outline their respect for Ukraine’s commitment to ‘non-bloc’ relations with the Alliance.

Instead, NATO-Ukraine relations continue to be guided by the provisions of the NUC and the distinct understanding that the ‘door remains open’ to full membership at a later date.

Three issues appear to have influenced Ukraine’s decision to withdraw its bid for membership of NATO.

First, Kiev has always had to accommodate a Russia that is uneasy with NATO’s expansion efforts within its former sphere of influence.

Further complicating Kiev’s relationship with Moscow is Ukraine’s continued reliance on Russia for natural gas supplies.

In this respect, Russia’s decision to cut gas supplies to Ukraine in 2008 demonstrates that political pressure from Moscow on Kiev is often far from subtle.

Second, public opinion polls have on occasion suggested that the majority of Ukrainians do not necessarily favor NATO membership.

A 2010 poll undertaken by the Pew Research Center, for example, suggests that only 30% of the Ukrainian population support membership of NATO.

Moreover, other polls have also suggested consistently suggest that 30% of Ukrainians actually view NATO as a threat.

Indeed, a lack of public support for NATO membership segues into the third, and perhaps most important, factor of Ukraine’s current policies.

While the Orange Revolution resulted in the installation of a pro-Western government, the return of Yanukovych further suggests that Ukraine has recently moved away from more Western notions of democracy.

Accordingly, with the return of Vladimir Putin to the Russian Presidency and a Ukrainian government that increasingly looks to Moscow it is perhaps unsurprising that enthusiasm for NATO membership has waned.

Instead, Kiev currently appears to be balancing its rhetoric of ‘present cooperation’ with NATO with a renewal of its military ties with Russia.

In 2010, Ukraine agreed to extend Russia’s lease on its naval base at the Black Sea port of Sevastopol until 2042.

In exchange for the continued stationing of the Black Sea Fleet in Ukrainian waters, Moscow offered Kiev a 30% reduction in the price of Russian natural gas.

Future Scenarios

So what might recent political developments mean for NATO-Ukraine relations?

As the recent NATO summit in Chicago was held against the backdrop of declining defense budgets and the lack of credible state-level threats it may well be that the Alliance will rest on its laurels for the time being and not seek further expansion.

Despite Ukraine’s decision not to seek full membership, NATO’s relations with Kiev nevertheless remain cordial.

Bilateral cooperation still occurs and exercises like Sea Breeze remain an important part of NATO-Ukraine relations.

By leaving the issue of formal Ukrainian membership on the back burner, both NATO and Ukraine also avoid any unnecessary antagonizing of Russia.

Maintaining the current status quo potentially allows NATO to refine its strategic outlook for the Caucasus.

This, in turn, may eventually result in renewed enthusiasm for Ukraine becoming a full member of NATO.

It is likely that enthusiasm for membership will be underscored by concerns that the entire region to the south of Russia may well become increasingly unstable as a result of rapidly growing Islamic populations.

The importance of the Caucasus as a source and key transport node of Western energy supplies may also prompt the Alliance to canvass Ukraine for full membership status.

Accordingly, there are sound geopolitical and security reasons for NATO not abandoning its support for Ukraine joining the Alliance.

However, recent political developments in Ukraine suggest that it is far too early to predict whether Kiev will once again seek closer and more formal ties with NATO, including full membership.

Ultimately, any future decision taken by Kiev will, in turn, reflect Ukraine’s current political ties with Russia.

Indeed, Kiev’s difficult relations with a country that is integral to its energy security ensure that Russia will continue to influence the on-off relationship between NATO and Ukraine.

Source: International Relations and Security Network

Fashion Show Shines Spotlight On Ukraine Disabled

KIEV, Ukraine -- At a glitzy Kiev night club brimming with neon lights and energetic pop music, the models showed off sleek evening gowns and glamorous hats as Ukraine's celebrities cheered on.

A blind model presents an outfit during a fashion show for disabled women in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, July 25, 2012. At the Wednesday night event dubbed Fashion Chance a dozen designers mostly from Ukraine presented outfits for physically handicapped women, in a bid to bring attention and dignity to some of Ukraine’s most marginalized citizens.

But this was no ordinary fashion show — some models rolled on wheelchairs, others were blind.

At the Wednesday night event dubbed Fashion Chance a dozen designers, mostly from Ukraine, presented outfits for physically handicapped women, in a bid to bring attention and dignity to some of Ukraine's most marginalized citizens.

In a country where most buildings lack wheelchair ramps and only a few public schools accept disabled children, the show was a small but vivid step toward removing the stigma that cloaks Ukraine's disabled.

"People on wheelchairs, the blind, the handicapped should all feel accepted," said 26-year-old Ilona Slugovina, an avid wheelchair ballroom dancer, who modeled a lilac-colored glittery evening dress.

Some models moved confidently down the runway — on wheel chairs, or accompanied by handsome young men in elegant suits — flashing smiles and some attempting to mimic the traditional model gait.

One blind model coquettishly held her hand on her hip and played with a lock of hair.

Others appeared nervous.

Moved by the show, some in the audience cried.

"I felt beautiful, I felt confident," said Antonina Krivobok, who masterfully rolled and turned around in a wheelchair and posed in front of TV cameras as she presented a purple evening dress.

Beginning and already established designers presented elegant dresses and suits for women on wheelchairs or with other handicaps.

Some of the outfits differed little from what ambulatory women would wear, others were cut in a more voluminous fashion to accommodate the needs of those in wheelchairs.

"God made the woman beautiful and the designer's goal is to stress that beauty," said Natalia Anri, a top Ukrainian designer.

But it wasn't just about clothes.

Yulia Kozluk, 28, who runs a fund that trains and then finds computer jobs for those on wheelchairs like herself, said she hoped such projects would help Ukrainian society grow up and accept those who are different.

"When I roll in my wheelchair, people stare at me like I am an alien and it wounds," said Kozluk, who became paralyzed at age 23 after a car accident.

"But I am not an alien, I am a regular person."

Ukraine's physically handicapped people are barely visible to the country at large, confined to their homes in the absence of ramps, elevators and specially equipped buses and mostly shunned by society in a grim legacy of the Soviet era.

The Soviet authorities aimed to maintain the image of a happy and healthy society devoid of any problems, locking many disabled, including maimed World War II soldiers, into specialized institutions and even remote islands, where they could not be seen to the general public, while discussing the plight of the handicapped was virtually a taboo in Soviet media.

Today, children with disabilities are usually hidden away in specialized schools or orphanages, where they are deprived of a chance to interact with other children and society as a whole does not learn to co-exist, accept and help those with disabilities.

Only a handful of public schools accept disabled children, because building entrances, canteens and toilets are not equipped with ramps, teachers lack the necessary training and other students and often their parents object to having such classmates.

In Kiev, home to tens of thousands of disabled children of school age, only about 10 schools provide inclusive education, according to Larisa Baida, an education activist with Ukraine's National Assembly for Disabled.

"It's sad," said Baida. "It's a constant struggle, every day they fight for their life."

The Education Ministry declined a comment for this story.

Universities also offer very few chances for the handicapped, lacking audio books for hearing-impaired and computers for the blind.

Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union over 20 years ago, not a single book in the tactile writing system called Braille has been published for the visually impaired, according to the Assembly.

Only a handful of news programs on television are translated into sign language, while none of entertainment shows for adolescents or children are accessible for hearing impaired.

Most Ukrainian websites, including those of the president and the government, lack the special software that allows the blind to convert them into audio.

Finding a job is also a major problem, with about only 25 percent of the country's disabled employed, mostly at low-skilled and low-paid jobs, according to the United Nations Development program.

"When we look at a disabled person, we are not ready to see a person in them" who wants to study, work and eat at restaurants, said Natalia Skripka, Assembly's director.

"While we should first be seeing a person and only then notice their peculiarities — are they tall or short, do they have blond or dark hair, do they have disabilities or not."

Source: AP

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ukrainian Cattle Rustler Stashes Beasts In Car

KIEV, Ukraine -- A would-be cattle rustler in central Ukraine was caught after attempting to steal a cow and a lamb in his Lada sedan, local media said.

Soviet-built Lada sedan.

Anatoly Stepanyuk had to remove the car's seats in order to cram the animals inside, Gazeta.ua said.

He then drove some 20 kilometers from the crime scene on backroads before realizing he was going the wrong way.

The car got stuck in a ditch when Stepanyuk attempted to turn it around.

The thief abandoned it with the animals inside and hitchhiked home, Gazeta.ua said on Tuesday, citing regional police.

Police soon found the car, pulled the animals out and tracked down the Lada’s owner, the report said.

Stepanyuk reported the car as stolen, but failed to come up with a believable alibi and eventually pleaded guilty during questioning, the news website said.

He faces up to six years in prison for the crime.

Source: RIA Novosti

Ukraine And The EU Further Simplify Visa Regime

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union and Ukraine signed an additional section of the current visa facilitation agreement with Ukraine.

Štefan Füle

The document extends the list of categories of people falling under the simplified procedure for obtaining visas while travelling to the EU member states.

The European Union is committed to strengthening personal contacts between the citizens of the EU and Ukraine, commented Štefan Füle after signing of the document.

The Ukrainian side was represented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Kostyantyn Hryshchenko.

The newly signed amendment expanded the list of categories of Ukrainian citizens who may follow simplified procedures while obtaining visas before travelling to the EU.

For example, in addition to the journalists the list also included members of their teams - videographers, sound engineers, etc., reports Interfax.

From now on, the journalists may present the proof of employment letters from their respective employers instead of the invitations from the host party.

The simplified visa obtaining procedure now is also available to the four new categories: members of civil society organizations, participants in international forums (seminars, exhibitions, etc.), representatives of religious communities, as well as participants of the cross-border cooperation programs within the EU programs.

In addition, the amendment covered citizens who visit their relatives - citizens of Ukraine currently residing in the EU, as well as relatives who are the EU citizens.

The list also includes the accompanying persons of those who are in need of medical treatment.

In 2011 alone Ukrainian citizens received 1.1 million of Schengen visas.

The volume of multiple entry visas compared to single entry visas for Ukrainian citizens increased to 35.5 percent (in 2010 - 27.3 percent) and every third visa has been issued free of charge.

The visa liberalisation dialogue was initialed in 2006.

The two-stage Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP) for Ukraine toward the establishment of a visa-free regime for short-stay travel was adopted in late 2010.

VLAP outlines four blocks of issues: document security, including biometrics; irregular immigration, including readmission; public order and security; and external relations and fundamental rights.

Currently, Ukraine is at stage one of the Action Plan and the next step is for Ukrainian Parliament to approve the introduction of biometric passports for travelling abroad.

Source: The Sacramento Bee