Friday, August 31, 2012

Ukraine's Hryvnia Plummets Amid Fear Of Govt Moves

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, fell to its lowest level in 30 months on Wednesday on weakening exports and amid speculation the government may start printing money to cover the budget deficit.

Ukraine currency

Government officials strongly denied any plans for monetary emission ahead of October 28 parliamentary elections, but bankers said large amount of hryvnias had flooded the forex market on Wednesday.

“A lot of hryvnias have just emerged on the market,” a currency dealer with a commercial bank said Wednesday.

“Demand for hard currency has accelerated.”

The hryvnia closed at 8.11 to the dollar in trading between commercial banks on Wednesday compared with 8.02/dollar on Tuesday, dealers said.

The developments come amid speculations the government, which is facing lack of borrowing options, may ask the National Bank of Ukraine to print hryvnias to cover budget deficit to meet social payment obligations ahead of the elections.

Former President Viktor Yushchenko, who was the country’s longest serving central bank governor, said on Tuesday Ukraine may be heading towards default on massive debts payments next year.

He said the government’s failure to resume borrowing from the International Monetary Fund over the past two years may force the central bank to start printing hryvnias to cover budget deficit.

Economy Minister Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday denied the speculations.

“I do not accept an idea that money printing may be the source of revenue for the budget,” Poroshenko said.

“My principle position is that the exchange rate must be market based,” Poroshenko said.

“Any preconditions for any sharp depreciation of the national currency do not exist.”

The IMF suspended its $15 billion loan to Ukraine two years ago after the government had failed to stick to energy sector reform by hiking domestic natural gas prices.

National Bank of Ukraine Governor Serhiy Arbuzov has repeatedly called for resuming cooperation with the IMF, while Prime Minister Mykola Azarov had been more cautious.

Azarov on Tuesday also denied speculations the hryvnias has been facing downward pressure, but admitted that Ukraine’s traditional exports, steel, has been weakening, brining in less hard currency to the country.

“Now, we have big problems with exports of steel, and the steel is the backbone of our economy,” Azarov said.

Without the borrowing from the IMF other financial institutions, such as the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank, also withhold their lending programs.

“There is no reason to expect any financial assistance from these institutions,” Yushchenko said.

“Only one option remains on the table: it’s the money printing tool, and this is very bad.”

An IMF team arrived in Ukraine on Wednesday on a seven-day mission to check whether the government is line with its economic and fiscal policy projections.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Ukrainian Press Freedom In The Spotlight

KIEV, Ukraine -- Freedom of the press is restricted in Ukraine. But the World Newspaper Conference begins there next weekend.

Viktor Yanukovych is an enemy of the Ukrainian press.

Can Ukrainian media gain more rights through the event?

From Michael Golden, vice chairman of the New York Times Company, to Rainer Esser, managing director of German newspaper "Die Zeit," the list of speakers at this year's World Newspaper Congress and World Editor's Forum in Kiev, Ukraine is a who's who of global media players.

But one name on the list, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, has come under growing criticism for his government's restrictions on the media.

Growing pressure on journalists

Since taking office, Yanukovych has stated on a number of occasions that press freedom is something he cares for and protects.

But the reality looks somewhat different.

In 2010, Yanukovych declared Kiev's media union itself "the number one enemy of the press." ON these grounds, the president's bodyguards repeatedly hindered journalists' work.

Further, television reports critcial of the president were prevented from being aired.

International rights organization Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has reported a dramatic decrease in press freedom in Ukraine.

RWB's executive director Christian Mihr said pressure on journalists has been mounting in the lead up to October general elections in the country.

In RWB's latest press freedom ranking, Ukraine came in at spot 116 out of 179 countries.

That was much better than their 2010 spot, but significantly worse than 2009.

Under former President Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine was in spot 89 on the list.

Impetus to boycott Kiev

Against this backdrop, the question arises whether the World Newspaper Congress should even be hosted in a country like Ukraine.

Wouldn't it make more sense to boycott the event?

In spring 2012, a boycott by leaders including German President Joachim Gauck forced Ukrainian leaders to cancel a summit of central European countries in Yalta.

The Euro 2012 soccer tournament in Ukraine in June also saw top European politicians refusing to attend in protest of Ukraine's dismantling of democracy.

Several days before the World Newspaper Congress, the general director of Ukrainian broadcaster TVi discussed a possible boycott.

Mykola Knyaschyzki said holding the event in Ukraine gave the false appearance that the country has a free press.

"The Ukrainian regime is somewhat legitimized by participating in the form," he told DW.

TVi is one of the few stations in the Ukraine that airs reports critical of Yanukovych.

For several months, it has come under significant pressure from the authorities.

Several weeks ago, an investigation into alleged tax dodging by TVi was halted.

But Knyaschyzki fears the case could be picked up again.

He suspects those in power in Ukraine want to silence the station.

Critical issues to address

However, organizers of the World Newspaper Congress as well as Ukrainian and international participants are against a boycott.

Larry Kilman, chief spokesperson for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers said calls for a boycott seem rooted in "a misunderstanding."

"We are coming to Ukraine in solidarity with the local independent press,” he told DW.

He insisted the forum would not legitimize the Ukrainian government's treatment of its media.

Rather, Kilman said, the presence of publishers and editors from around the world will draw attention to Ukraine's problems.

Ukrainian experts share a similar point of view.

Ruslan Kabatschinskyj, an expert the Kiev Institute of Mass Media said "a boycott would have minimal effect."

He added that not politicians, but journalists are planning to come, and that it's important for them to see things first hand.

Valery Ivanov, head of the Ukrainian Press Academy, said local journalists should try to make contacts with colleagues from abroad at the World Newspaper Congress.

He added that western media representatives should "see for themselves what is happening with Ukrainian media, and report about it instead of learning about it third-hand."

Ukraine in the spotlight

German participants have also spoken out against a boycott.

"We see the democracy deficit in Ukraine very clearly," said Christoph Keese, head of public affairs at the Axel Springer media outlet, which owns German newspapers "Bild" and "Die Welt."

Springer added it would be wrong to "turn a blind eye to these problems and avoid Ukraine."

"We believe the better path is pointing out the meaning of press freedom and holding our yearly conference in Ukraine," he concluded.

Uwe Ralf Heer, editor-in-chief of the daily "Heilbronner Stimme" had a similar point of view.

"It's important for representatives at the World Newspaper Congress in Ukraine to show their true colors and stand up for press freedom," he said.

That's exactly what he intends to do with counterparts from about 70 countries who have already arrived in Kiev.

Source: Deutsche Welle

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tymoshenko Loses Appeal, Stays In Ukraine Jail

KIEV, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian high court rejected an appeal on Wednesday by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko against her conviction for abuse of office, leaving her in jail and Ukraine's relations with the West severely strained.

Ukrainian ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko (R) and her daughter Yevhenia attend a session at the Pecherskiy district court in Kiev October 11, 2011.

Tymoshenko's defense lawyer said the ruling by a three-judge panel had been steered by President Viktor Yanukovich for political reasons.

"These findings have no relation to justice," Serhiy Vlasenko told journalists after judge Olexander Yelfimov ruled that lower courts had delivered "correct decisions on the crimes of Tymoshenko."

"This is a decision of Yanukovich to keep Tymoshenko in prison," Vlasenko said.

Western leaders condemned the seven-year prison term meted out to the 51-year-old opposition leader in October as political persecution, and blocked strategic agreements on political association and a free-trade zone with the European Union.

But despite months of chiding by the European Union and the United States, Yanukovich has refused to act to secure her release.

No one had expected her to be released on Wednesday.

Yanukovich did not immediately react to Vlasenko's comments, though in tough remarks last Friday he said he would not negotiate integration with the European Union at the price of allowing it to interfere in her case.

In Brussels, the European Union urged Ukraine to reform its judicial system "to redress the effects of selective justice" like that seen in Tymoshenko's case.

"We stress the importance for the Ukrainian authorities to take concrete steps to address the systemic problems of the judiciary," Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said.

Tymoshenko, recognizable for her peasant-style hair braid and known for fiery rhetoric, was not in court because of persistent back trouble which has kept her confined to a state-run hospital in eastern Ukraine.

About 300 of her supporters gathered outside the courtroom, chanting slogans such as "Yulia - Freedom!" and "Keep convicts inside and get Yulia out!"

They lowered a mock coffin into the ground outside the courtroom to symbolize the death of justice.

The continued incarceration of Tymoshenko - by far the most vibrant opposition figure on Ukraine's political landscape - is certain to figure as a major issue in an October 28 legislative election.

Yanukovich's Party of the Regions goes into that election with the government highly unpopular over reforms that have increased taxes on small businesses and raised retirement ages, and it will have to work hard to retain its majority.

The abuse of office conviction relates to a gas deal that Tymoshenko brokered with Russia in 2009 when she was prime minister.

The Yanukovich government says the agreement was reckless and saddled Ukraine with an enormous price for strategic supplies of gas which is taking a toll on the stressed economy.

'Shameful'

Tymoshenko has denied betraying the national interest, with her lawyers arguing that the gas negotiation with Russia was a political act which did not amount to a criminal action.

Ukrainian state prosecutors said Tymoshenko's guilt was clearly established at her trial last year.

In Wednesday's judgment, the three-member panel said: "The judges of the court have reached the conclusion that the appeal cannot be satisfied ... The judges believe that the previous courts reached correct decisions on the crimes of Tymoshenko."

Tymoshenko's daughter Yevgenia, who has sought international support for her mother's cause, told journalists: "Today we again received a shameful decision which proves that a dictatorship is establishing itself in Ukraine."

She said the ruling would be the basis for a fresh appeal to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The authorities have ignored Western criticism and piled up fresh charges against Tymoshenko for alleged past misdeeds.

In a separate trial, which has been adjourned several times because of Tymoshenko's ill health, she is accused of embezzlement and tax evasion going back to alleged offences when she was in business in the 1990s.

Lawyers for Tymoshenko pressed her case at the ECHR on Tuesday, arguing that her pre-trial detention had been unlawful and that she had been subjected to degrading treatment in prison.

The former prime minister was a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution protests against sleaze and cronyism in Ukraine that derailed Yanukovich's first bid for the presidency.

She served two terms as prime minister under President Viktor Yushchenko, but the two fell out and their partnership dissolved into bickering and infighting.

She narrowly lost to Yanukovich in a run-off for the presidency in February 2010 after a bitter campaign.

Source: NBC News

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Regions Support Grows After Language Law

KIEV, Ukraine -- Support for the ruling Regions Party increased in August after the approval of legislation allowing wider use of the Russian language across Ukraine, an opinion poll shows.

Hanna Herman

The opposition Batkivshchyna party trailed behind with its rating unchanged over the past two months in a major setback for the group ahead of the October 28 parliamentary election.

A strong performance by Batkivshchyna may be required to put political pressure on the authorities to secure the release of its leader, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, from jail.

The Regions Party, President Viktor Yanukovych’s group, increased popular support to 28.1% from 27.6% two months ago, according to the poll conducted by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Center and by the Razumkov Center.

Batkivshchyna’s support was unchanged at 25.6%, the center reported.

The Regions Party benefited from growing support among eastern and southern regions of Ukraine that are mostly using the Russian language for communication.

“The East has persuaded the ruling party that the Russian language is important for them,” Hanna Herman, an advisor to Yanukovych, said.

“The people that backed Yanukovych for president had called for the Russian language. That was the message.”

Other groups that may enter Parliament in October include the opposition Udar party, led by heavyweight world boxing champion Vitaliy Klichko, and the Communist Party.

Udar’s support rose to 11.5% in August from 9.7% in June, while the Communist Party’s rating rose to 8.2% from 7.1%, according to the poll.

The Forward Ukraine party, which is thought to be loyal to the government and has recently recruited soccer striker Andriy Shevchenko, lost to 4% from 4.6%, while the nationalist Svoboda party gained to 3.8% from 3.1%, according to the poll.

A party needs to score at least 5% in order to win seats in Parliament.

The poll was conducted between August 10 and August 15 among 2,009 respondents with margin of error at 2.3%.

The legislation was approved on July 31 and allowed regions to approve the use of Russian as a regional language if it gets support of at least 10% in a given region, allowing the language to be used in schools, courts and local governments.

Yanukovych signed the legislation on August 8.

The legislation was widely seen as aimed at energizing the Regions Party’s electoral base in the eastern and southern regions ahead of the October elections.

Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, Odessa, Luhansk and Kherson regions, as well as cities of Odessa, Sevastopol, Kharkiv, Mykolayiv and Izmail, have voted to approve the use of the Russian language.

Yanukovych used Russian on August 22 to address the people in Kharkiv while opening a monument dedicated to Ukraine’s independence at the city’s downtown square.

He said he “always” speaks the language of the people that live in the region.

The opposition groups denounced the legislation amid fears it would split Ukraine by languages and weaken the country pushing it towards Russia.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Ukraine's Jailed Tymoshenko In Plea To European Court

KIEV, Ukraine -- Lawyers for the jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko will shortly put her complaint against imprisonment to judges in Strasbourg.

A supporter of jailed Yulia Tymoshenko attends a rally near the high court building in Kiev.

Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, says Ukraine's prosecution of her was politically motivated and her detention unlawful.

She is now being treated for acute back pain in a state hospital.

Last October she was convicted of abuse of office and jailed for seven years.

President Viktor Yanukovych has been her arch-rival for nearly a decade.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is holding a half-day public hearing before embarking on an in-depth study of her case.

If Ukraine's judiciary is found to be at fault the court can impose penalties on Ukraine, a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights.

With her distinctive plaited, blonde hair Tymoshenko was a key figure in Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution.

Since then she has twice served as prime minister.

Many EU politicians have echoed her criticisms of the Ukrainian authorities and in June European leaders boycotted Euro 2012 football matches in Ukraine, to show their displeasure at her detention.

Tymoshenko argues that her detention was politically motivated and that there has been no judicial review.

She also says the authorities neglected her medical needs and kept up round-the-clock surveillance after moving her to a hospital in the eastern city of Kharkiv.

Run-up to election

On Wednesday the Ukrainian high court is expected to rule on her appeal against conviction.

She was found guilty of abuse of office over a gas deal she signed with Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Lawyers for the state of Ukraine dispute her complaint, and will argue in Strasbourg that it was just a normal criminal trial, the BBC's Moscow correspondent Daniel Sandford says.

The Tymoshenko case is likely to loom large in Ukraine's parliamentary election on 28 October, when Mr Yanukovych's Party of the Regions will seek to maintain its grip on parliament.

In a separate trial, Tymoshenko is accused of embezzlement and tax evasion in connection with business deals she did in the 1990s.

In the Orange Revolution pro-Western opposition activists angry at official corruption and cronyism prevented Mr Yanukovych taking office after an election widely condemned as rigged.

Mr Yanukovych has sought to renew the close ties with Russia that existed in Soviet times - a stance that alarms many Ukrainian nationalists.

Source: BBC News

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Yanukovych Warms Up To Russians At Sochi

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine indicated on Saturday that it may soften its stance towards Russia-backed regional organizations and was also ready to make changes to its position in talks over natural gas prices.

Viktor Yanukovych (L) and Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia.

President Viktor Yanukovych traveled to Sochi for a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to deliver the messages, underscoring the importance of the suggested changes.

Yanukovych said Ukraine was seeking observer status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security bloc that includes Russia, China, Kyrgyztsan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

"We would like to become observers in this organization so that we would be able to take part in integration processes on this territory," Yanukovych said in comments released by his press service.

Yanukovych’s visit to attend Putin’s Black Sea residence Bocharov Ruchey was announced on Friday, a day before the meeting, suggesting it wasn’t planned before.

The joining of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization would be a major change in Ukraine’s foreign policy, which for a decade had focused on increasing cooperation with NATO and the European Union.

Ukraine’s relations with the EU have stumbled earlier this year over what Brussels sees as politically motivated prosecutions of Ukrainian opposition leaders.

Ukraine has long resisted calls from Moscow to join Russia-backed regional economic and trade blocs, always underscoring that Kiev’s foreign policy goals were to increase cooperation - and eventually to join - the EU.

The developments come as Ukraine has failed to persuade Russia over the past 28 months to lower natural gas prices amid disagreements over a number of issues.

Moscow said it would lower the gas prices only if Ukraine joins a Customs Union, a trade bloc that also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan, or if Kiev agrees to sell majority stake in its natural gas pipelines to Gazprom of Russia.

Ukraine has so far resisted to do both, but Yanukovych on Saturday indicated that the government may change its position at the gas talks, without providing further details.

"The issue (of gas supplies from Russia) will never be excluded from our relations and will always remain sensitive," Yanukovych said.

"We would like to slightly alter our positions in our relations with Russia."

Ukraine has been seeking to lower the gas prices to less than $250 per 1,000 cubic meters, down from $425/1,00 cu m currently.

After failing to reach any agreement over the past two years, Ukraine said it would reduce imports of Russian gas to 27 billion cubic meters in 2012, down from 40 billion cu m in 2011.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was founded in 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The organization’s goal was declared as confronting terrorism, separatism and extremism.

Some said that the organization was aimed by Russia and China at counterbalancing the activities of the United States and NATO in Central Asia.

The organization’s observer states include Iran, Afghanistan, India, Mongolia and Pakistan.

Its six full members account for 60% of the land mass of Eurasia and its population is a quarter of the world's.

With observer states included, its affiliates account for half of the human race.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Ukraine Court To Rule On Tymoshenko Appeal On Wednesday

KIEV, Ukraine -- A high court in Ukraine will rule on Wednesday on former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's appeal against her abuse-of-office conviction and seven-year prison sentence - a case that has soured Kiev's ties with the West.

Yulia Tymoshenko

The European Union shelved landmark deals on political association and free trade with Ukraine after a local court sent Tymoshenko to prison last October over a gas deal brokered with Russia in 2009 as prime minister.

The government of President Viktor Yanukovich, Tymoshenko's long-time political foe, says the agreement went against national interests and saddled Ukraine with an exorbitant price for vital energy supplies.

Tymoshenko, one of the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution protests that derailed Yanukovich's first bid for presidency, says she is the victim of a vendetta by Yanukovich, who narrowly beat her for the presidency in February 2010.

Her prosecution will be a major issue in the parliamentary election on Oct. 28 when Yanukovich's Party of the Regions will seek to keep its control of parliament.

Tymoshenko's lawyers argued in court this month that negotiating the gas agreement with Russia had been a political act which did not amount to criminal action.

Tymoshenko, 51, has not attended the appeal trial herself, receiving treatment for back trouble in a state-run hospital since May.

"The full text of the ruling...will be announced on Aug. 29, 2012, at 10 a.m.," the court said on its website on Monday.

Her supporters are not expecting the high court to acquit Tymoshenko and are pinning their hopes on the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) which can start looking into the case after she has exhausted her appeals at home.

However, Tymoshenko could stay in prison even after winning an appeal in Strasbourg as local prosecutors have brought more charges against her.

In a separate trial, where hearings are set to resume on September 11, Tymoshenko is accused of embezzlement and tax evasion going back to alleged offences when she was in business in the 1990s.

Source: Yahoo News

Texas Man Pleads Guilty In Bizarre Murder Plot Against Ukrainian Internet 'Bride' Who Scammed Him

HOUSTON, USA -- A seemingly mild-mannered Houston man is awaiting sentencing in what authorities say was a bizarre international murder-for-hire plot whose target was a would-be Ukrainian Internet bride.

David Sartin claims he fell in love with Elena Barykina, whose website details her entertainment career.

David Sartin, 49, was so incensed when he found out the Ukrainian beauty he'd met through a website had taken him to the cleaners that he tried to have her kidnapped and shipped to his home, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The unemployed man planned to keep Elena Barykina imprisoned in a fortified room in his house while he slowly killed her with lead poisoning, according to authorities.

Last week, Sartin pleaded guilty to attempted kidnapping and brandishing a firearm in connection with the case.

Taped conversations between Sartin and an undercover Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent recorded in January and February captured Sartin agreeing to pay $50,000 to the agent to abduct Barykina in Kiev and have her "shipped in a crate" to the U.S.

He told the agent he would "take care of her," killing her with "lead poisoning," according to authorities.

Sartin's father told the paper he doesn't think his son was ever going to kill anyone, but Sartin did express his heartbreak and anger last year in a letter to the website InternetScamsWatch.com, in which he named Barykina and detailed the jewels and cash he'd given her on a half-dozen trips to see her in the Ukraine.

"I have learned that all during this two years I have been sending her money by wire transfer as she as requested she is also doing the same to many other men," Sartin wrote.

"It was all a fraud from the beginning."

Sartin, who lived in a trailer in Hankamer, 25 miles east of Houston, first came across Barykina in 2009, when he found a website called dream-marriage.com, that touts itself as the place to meet "beautiful Russian women and sexy Ukrainian brides to be."

He was instantly attracted to Barykina’s profile and made contact with her even though his father warned him not to.

"But my son was lonely, and she was prettier and could talk sweeter than me," Cecil Sartin told the Chronicle.

Barykina could not be reached for comment.

Calls and an email to dream-marriage.com were not returned.

But the site, which claims to be legitimate, has a section warning that con artists can use it to dupe the lovelorn and warns visitors to be careful.

"A scammer is any member, whether male or female, who intentionally uses our site for ulterior purposes," a warning on the site states.

"A scammer has no intention of engaging in a meaningful relationship with the other members on our site. In short, a scammer is a deceiver and only communicates with the other members to fulfill some other need."

"Unfortunately, this need is usually some type of personal and/or financial gain."

Over the next two years, after making contact with Barykina, Sartin, who lived off disability checks and a divorce settlement, claims he made nearly half-a-dozen trips overseas to see Barykina, showering her with $15,000 worth of jewelry and spending thousands more taking her on lavish trips and funding her living and school expenses as well as her attempts at a singing career.

During one trip, he claims he discovered Barykina, who had refused to consummate their relationship, had a boyfriend in the Ukraine.

Sartin, who claimed in his letter to InternetScamsWatch.com that he spend more than $57,000 on Barykina, told the site he considered suicide.

"I had no idea I was being scammed, as I believed in this girl with all of my heart and she knew this," he wrote.

"This is a very cruel thing to do to a person. My first thought upon arriving back home was to put an end to myself, but I was feared of not hitting the right spot and the pain would be bad."

Instead, authorities say, he plotted revenge.

Court records show he asked the undercover agent to deliver Barykina to him and said he wanted to "eliminate" her Russian boyfriend, too.

In March, Sartin bought supplies he used to build a fortified room onto his trailer and paid the undercover agent a $25,000 down payment for the kidnapping, records said.

Two weeks later, Sartin went to meet the agent in a Beaumont parking lot, where he expected Barykina to be turned over to him.

Federal agents arrested him, federal prosecutor Joe Batte told the Chronicle.

In his truck, they found an envelope with the final $25,000 payment, handcuffs, stun gun and a pistol.

But Cecil Sartin told the paper his son just wanted to get his money back.

"He just wanted to get her over here so he could sue her," the elder Sartin said.

"And in the back of his heart, I think he was still hoping they might have a life together."

Source: Houston Chronicle

Monday, August 27, 2012

Prominent Nigerian Pastor In Ukraine Claims Persecution By Ukrainian Police

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Ukrainian Police has summoned a famous Nigerian Pastor Sunday Adelaja, who pastors the country's biggest church based in the Kiev, capital city, to report for what is feared may be an arrest and detention in a controversial case bordering on racial discrimination and religious victimization, which has been going on for the last three years.

Nigerian Sunday Adelaja has made a fortune in Ukraine.

Confirming the invitation by the nation's Internal Affairs Ministry in an interview over the weekend, Adelaja said the case for which he is being summoned is about the collapse of a business-King's Capital which was owned by members of his church, but for which he or the church administration had no formal or official relationship.

The Nigerian born, Ukranian pastor, Sunday Adelaja who was described last year by the New York Times as one of the country's "best known public figures" is facing what is seen by many as trumped up charges in a country, where another Nigerian young man was recently charged with attempted murder after he fought to defend himself from the assualt of 4 Ukrainian attackers.

According to reports, Adelaja who is founder and pastor of what is widely regarded as the largest church in Europe, The Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations in Kiev, Ukraine, said he has been summoned by Ukraine national police, under the former socialist nation's Internal Affairs Ministry to appear on Tuesday August 28 on charges bordering on how members of his church ran a business enterprise King's Capital aground, and also allegations that he is running a crime organization.

That business may have been worth about $100m, according to Adelaja's church reporting on the case.

Dismissing the allegation as mere political charges that bears no resemblance to fact, Adelaja said "in Ukraine you don't have to commit a crime before you are accused, you only have to be targetted."

In the same vein, his attorney, a well-known Ukrainian lawyer, Andrey Fedur stated also that as far as the law is concerned Adelaja "cannot be punished, for he does not have anything to do with this case. The charges are absolutely made up and have no foundation."

According to a New York Times report last year, " Adelaja has built a vast religious organization under the banner of his church, Embassy of God.

He has become one of Ukraine’s best known public figures," making him by far a significant leader in the country whose favor politicians have curried in the past causing them to win victories to high public positions.

While Adelaja's political battle has been on for over several years now, since 2009, the invitation to the state police on Tuesday is seen as a heightening of the case, after some members of the church have been detained for over two years now.

Besides the Pastor himself is under constant police surveillance and not allowed to travel out of the country

A media commentator and Washington DC publisher, Dr. Segun Olanipekun writing on the summoning said alongside Adelaja five people have been accused in the church and those have been arrested by the police ahead of Pastor Sunday Adelaja's invitation on Tuesday.

According to Olanipekun, "the church fears that this invitation and the deliberate change of the charge to a criminal one are part of the plot to jail the innocent pastor as he is seen to be a threat to the present government."

The King's Capital was formed by some members of Adelaja's church, but amidst the global economic crisis, the investment company failed and many investors lost a big chunk of money.

While there has been no direct link to Pastor Adelaja in the management of the company, besides that the owners are members of the church, the Ukrainian police is said to be insisting on linking Adelaja to the failure of the company and alleging criminal acts against the company.

In previous interviews with the police, Adelaja said his questioners were always asking if he knew the church members who owned the business and he always answered in the affirmative, explaining that he was the target of the whole investigation.

It is in the same country of Ukraine that a Nigerian student Olaolu Sunkanmi Femi has been detained since last November on charges of attempted murder after he fought to defend himself against white attackers.

Media reports said last November "eye witness accounts say Olaolu and his friend who were hurled to the ground and racially abused was able to get up and grab hold of a piece of glass from a broken bottle to use in self-defense.

And quoting Nigerian Embassy officials in Ukraine, reports stated that "it was while he was defending himself that police arrived at the scene and the Nigerian was subsequently arrested and charged with attempted murder of five people," who were the original assailants.

Commenting on that case, Adelaja said, "tales like that were not uncommon in Ukraine, saying "they used to kill Africans like that in the past."

Nigerian Embassy staff are said to be involved in the students case, while Adelaja's trials is also drawing wider international ripples, with many petition drives online fighting the pastor's cause.

One of the petitions on ipetition.com titled "Racial and Religious Persecution Against Sunday Adelaja," the petitioners noted that "this is a textbook case of xenophobia and discrimination on religious ground."

In addition that petition also noted that the heightening of the offensive against Adelaja may not be unconnected to the forthcoming elections in the country.

According to the petition, the current persecution "is a systemic effort to discredit, persecute and incriminate Pastor Sunday Adelaja from his work as the spiritual leader...in order to dissuade votes in favor of the opposition."

Adelaja himself acknowledged that there are currently political moves in place trying to negotiate with him.

Said he," they are trying to solve the problem politically, but we can't go public as yet on the terms, they are afraid the people may back the opposition."

Since the country's Orange revolution that spurred it effectively out of communism, Adelaja and his church has become a very critical force in the emergent political landscape of Ukraine.

In Kiev, the local Mayor and the city are known to be very friendly with him, while even the country's Attorney-General Mykola Onischyk has been known to speak up for him, defending his rights to innocent presumption until proven guilty.

But it is the Internall Affairs and the police that is being systematically used against the Nigerian-born pastor.

It is well known in Ukraine that in 2004, members of the church took an active part in the events of the orange revolution, which resulted in Pastor Sunday Adelaja being declared a persona non-grata to Russia by then President Vladimir Putin, accused "of being a voice and a herald of western value systems," in the old USSR, Communist state.

Also in 2007, Victor Yushchenko, the former President of Ukraine reportedly informed that the Russian government that Adelaja's church in Ukraine, "is the biggest threat to its political dominance that it held over the country."

Source: Leadership Newspapers

US Soldiers Share Celebration With Ukrainian Partners

HOHENFELS, Germany -- Positioned between the American and Ukrainian flags, soldiers stand at attention as the Ukrainian national anthem plays. The Ukrainian colonel speaks to the group before her.

Soldiers from the 1st of the 118th Combined Arms Battalion stand in formation with Ukrainian soldiers during a ceremony to celebrate the Aug. 24 anniversary of Ukraine's independence. The soldiers have been training together to prepare for the multinational environment they will face during the 118th's year long deployment to Kosovo with the 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.

This is not the first time we are celebrating our Independence Day in theater and we are glad to celebrate it with you, said Ukrainian Lt. Col. Valerie Parada.

Be sure to take every opportunity to make friends with those from other countries. Be steadfast. I wish you all speedy promotions, new victories and good fortune.

Ukrainian and American soldiers came together to celebrate the 21st anniversary of independence for the country of Ukraine, Aug. 24.

The soldiers have been training together at the mock Camp Novo Selo, in the Hohenfels Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Germany.

Soldiers from the 1st of the 118th Combined Arms Battalion are preparing to deploy with South Carolina’s 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade as part of the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

American soldiers will be working with military from 30 other NATO nations, to include Ukraine, Armenia and Slovenia.

The joint celebration was one event that Command Sgt. Maj. Darryl J. Cheatham saw as an appropriate avenue to strengthen relationships between the multinational soldiers.

“Today is the Ukrainian Independence Day,” said Cheatham, Command Sgt. Maj. for the 118th.

“We got wind of this information a couple of days ago, and we were able to put something together to show our solidarity with the Ukrainian soldiers. I wanted to celebrate the Fourth of July right now just being here with them celebrating their day. I could see the Ukrainians were motivated, and it motivated me.”

First Lt. Taras Nahorny, a 10-year veteran of the Ukrainian Army has been working alongside 118th soldiers as part of the pre-deployment training.

The 27-year-old from Rivne, Ukraine, said his young country is rich with history.

The strong bonds of partnership and community are strong within his country, he said.

“She is 21,” said Nahorny. “She is becoming a grown up finally. Our country is very young, but she has a long history.”

When Ukrainians began to seek formal sovereignty, they did so as a community.

On Jan. 1, 1990, they formed a human chain between two major cities in support of the independence movement.

Citizens came out into the streets and highways to form a live chain, holding hands in a display of unity.

As the Soviet Union was starting to show signs of deterioration, the Ukrainians banded together and began to hold democratic elections.

“I was a real little boy at the time,” said Nahorny.

“But over 91 percent of the population voted for independence from Russia. On the 24th of August, we finally got our independence. When the Soviet Union broke up, 16 new countries appeared on the map. But we were one of the first.”

Nahorny said that he was very honored and humbled by the fact that the Americans wanted to participate in their celebration.

“We are very grateful to our American friends for tonight, it is a great honor for us,” he said.

“To help each other, work together, this is a great experience. Everything is perfect.”

Working in a multinational community can be complicated.

Each country brings with them their language, culture, training and nationalism.

But Cheatham is not worried about how things will unfold.

“Soldiers are soldiers the world over,” said the Greer, S.C., native.

“We all share the same hardships. We already have that common bond. I don’t see there being any issue because soldiers are soldiers, simply put.”

“Their soldiers are just like my soldiers,” said Cheatham.

“They laugh, they joke. They get serious when they need to be serious; ultimately they are military just like us. And they have a job to do, just like us. They are learning our training methods and we are learning some of theirs. Ultimately we are getting it done.”

During the next year, the soldiers will celebrate many holidays, birthdays and anniversaries together.

These shared experiences help cement the bond that will help create friendships and ultimately the trust necessary to maintain a united front for the people of Kosovo.

Source: DVIDS

Sunday, August 26, 2012

To Trip The Volynska Polka, Respectfully In The Catskills

KERHONKSON, New York -- Each summer for about three decades, children of Ukrainian descent have converged on a wooded retreat here in the Catskills, the girls donning embroidered blouses, and the boys puffy Cossack pants, to learn the folk dances of their ancestors.

Students of Ukrainian dance on the verge of their retreat’s final performance, trained by their non-Ukrainian teacher.

Think of it as a kind of Ukrainian Hogwarts.

This retreat, the Roma Pryma Bohachevsky Ukrainian Dance Academy at the Soyuzivka resort, is secluded in an enchanting patch of forest purchased half a century ago by Ukrainian immigrants.

Founded in the late 1970s, it hosts dozens of students each year; this summer had a record 31 new pupils.

Many have come annually for their entire childhood and later bring their own children, forging a link with a country many of them can scarcely imagine and may never see.

So it is curious that among those most responsible for imparting this important bit of Ukrainian culture is Orlando Pagan, a son of Puerto Ricans who grew up in the Bronx.

Mr. Pagan, who has been involved with Ukrainian dance since the late 1980s, choreographs and teaches here.

He is also heir to a small empire of Ukrainian dance schools in the New York area.

His status in this niche of ethnic dance is all the more extraordinary, when you consider that many in the North American diaspora see their affiliation as a last preserve of culture and traditions that they believe have eroded in Ukraine over much of the last century.

“Our parents really encumbered us with this mission that we had to maintain our heritage because Ukraine was stripped of it,” said Tamara Lucyshyn, 46, whose teenage daughters attend the camp.

But as with most diasporas, early orthodoxy has made way for assimilation.

The immigrants who fled Ukraine during World War II are disappearing, and knowledge of the language has begun to fade.

Many in the younger generations have never been to Ukraine, and lately what it means to be Ukrainian is being recalibrated.

“Orlando is as Ukrainian as you can get,” said Roma Slobodian, 47, whose daughter has attended the camp for six years.

“We couldn’t imagine this place without him.”

Mr. Pagan, 45, began dabbling in dance in grade school, albeit hesitantly.

The machismo culture of the Bronx was not exactly tolerant of boys in tights, he said.

His parents, he added, were not enthusiastic about the idea and were even more perplexed when he announced, at 19, that he would study Ukrainian folk dance.

Recruited by another Puerto Rican friend, he said, Mr. Pagan was immediately enraptured by the intense athleticism of the men and the equally powerful grace of “girls spinning across the floor at 100 miles per hour.”

Most important, he said, the dance was an escape from the poverty and helplessness of the Bronx, allowing him to prosper and set aside problems.

And, he said, “It didn’t hurt that the girls were beautiful.”

Over the years he has been involved in other projects, including a stint singing in the boy band Freestone in the 1990s.

He has also performed with the Bronx Dance Theater and appeared in a few Off Broadway productions.

In 1999 Arthur Mitchell invited him to join the Dance Theater of Harlem, and for the next seven years he toured the world.

Throughout, he said, he almost always practiced Ukrainian dance on weekends and maintained strong ties to Ukrainians, marrying into their world in 2003.

His wife, Larisa, is also a dancer and now works with him at the camp and New York schools.

Along the way, he gained the confidence of Roma Pryma Bohachevsky, the grande dame of Ukrainian folk dance in the region.

Ms. Bohachevsky, a ballerina from Ukraine who immigrated in the 1950s, founded a network of Ukrainian dance schools in the New York area, as well as the camp here.

She also created an elite Ukrainian dance ensemble called Syzokryli, which Mr. Pagan joined.

Typically accompanied by up-tempo traditional music, Ukrainian folk dance often combines jumps performed by men with more graceful movement for women.

At the camp students learn the dances of different regions of Ukraine, some dating back centuries.

There are the Volynska polka, from the region bordering Poland, which involves fluid hip and leg movements; and the Hutsulka from the Carpathian Mountain region, which has quick, constricted movements of the legs and feet.

Shows often culminate in the Hopak, a central Ukrainian dance, which evolved as a stylized version of Cossack martial arts used to hone fighting skills and show off.

For Mr. Pagan, it came as something of a shock when, in 2004, Ms. Bohachevsky, who had cancer, asked that he take over her schools.

When she died that year, he wound down his own dance career to take up her work.

Few seemed to question the decision or Mr. Pagan’s abilities.

“He does what many Ukrainian choreographers will not do,” said Ania Bohachevsky Lonkevych, Ms. Bohachevsky’s daughter, who is now the camp’s director.

“He’ll do the research. He’ll make sure it’s accurate and regionally proper.”

With his dark features and Bronx accent, Mr. Pagan is an oddity among the many fair, blue-eyed children at the camp.

In most other respects he is indistinguishable.

“Raz, dva, tri,” Mr. Pagan counted in Ukrainian, trying to get a group of 8-year-olds back in step after a small blond boy, Taras, twirled out of turn.

It was the day before the final show at camp, and the boys seemed more interested in practicing their kicks than in guiding their female partners through the more graceful steps Mr. Pagan had prepared for them.

Beyond the more traditional elements, Mr. Pagan said he tried to give the children a foundation in ballet.

The students, who range in age from 8 to 16, have two weeks to learn the steps for the three-hour final performance.

There are about 100 dancers, including young counselors who participate in the show.

They practice about nine hours a day.

On the day of the show people began lining up outside the locked auditorium an hour ahead of time.

This year they were not disappointed.

During the final dance the floor shook under the weight of the full ensemble.

It was an intoxicating spectacle of flailing limbs adorned in bright fabrics.

After the show, teary-eyed grandmothers with thick accents showered Mr. Pagan with thanks for his devotion.

Some of the parents had danced with Mr. Pagan when he was a young student of Ukrainian dance, and they were now at the camp to watch their own children.

“It has been tough to accept this as my calling,” Mr. Pagan said.

“I never wanted anyone to feel like I was forgetting or disrespecting my culture. But at the same time I respect and admire and love this Ukrainian culture.”

In recent years the face of the camp has slowly been changing, thanks partly to Mr. Pagan, who in February took his advanced troupe to Puerto Rico for a show.

At the concert Winona Coe, 13, was dressed as a Hutsul from the Carpathian Mountain region of Ukraine.

But she was born in the Philippines.

“I don’t speak Ukrainian,” she said.

“But I can dance.”

Source: The New York Times

National Art Museum Of Ukraine's "Sleeping Beauty" Exhibit Invites Men To Awaken Beauties With A Kiss

KIEV, Ukraine -- A group of women were slated to snooze in the central gallery of the National Art Museum of Ukraine this month, inviting worthy male suitors to try and wake the slumbering women with a single kiss.

One of the Ukrainian ‘sleeping beauties’ awaiting her ‘prince.’

They're not under the spell of an evil witch or a poison apple however; instead, the ladies been recruited to participate in an art exhibit appropriately titled "Sleeping Beauty."

The fairy-tale inspired project was imagined by Ukrainian-Canadian artist Taras Polataiko.

Influenced by an old story by Charles Perrault, where a young maiden is cursed to sleep for 100 years, only to be awakened by true love's kiss.

In the spirit of this "once upon a time" literature, Polataiko cast several female volunteers as his performance beauties, tasked with "sleeping" in the Ukrainian museum for two hours at a time, every day from August 22nd until September 9th.

Dressed in white and laid upon an elevated bed, the women lay motionless in the museum's space, awaiting a kiss from that one perfect museum patron.

But there's a serious legal catch to the piece.

To participate in the exhibit, potential princes have to sign a contract that states, "If I kiss the Beauty and she opens her eyes, I agree to marry her."

The female performers have also entered into an agreement that reads, "If I open my eyes while being kissed, I agree to marry the kisser."

So unlike the chivalrous charmers of yore, these contemporary heroes are contractually bound to live happily ever after if their princess so chooses.

This modern interpretation of damsels in distress gives the woman a say in whether she will be rescued or not, though the performance still adheres to the archaic concept that only a male will awaken the sleeping princesses.

"The tension of the performance is in the seductiveness and fear of the ultimate moment," describes the exhibit's press release.

"The viewer will have to think twice before kissing the Beauty. The Beauty will have to decide if the ultimate moment has come or not. The show will end the moment the Beauty opens her eyes."

The "Sleeping Beauty" exhibit almost experienced it's own unhappy ending in the run-up to its opening, when the artist Polataiko was called to the museum director's office and told by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture that he would be forced to shut down his work.

Polataiko recounted the attempted censorship on his Facebook page, stating that the ministry provided no reason behind their disapproval and later likened the situation to "a return to totalitarianism."

The disagreement was later worked out in meetings between the ministry and the museum.

Nataliia Mykhailova, a public relations representative at the museum, confirmed the Ministry of Culture's intervention, stating in an email to the Huffington Post:

"We really had some difficulties, but now it is all arranged and the exhibition is working as planned."

The museum has a history of experiencing resistance on the part of the Ukrainian government, as a serpentine installation erected on the exterior of the museum earlier this summer was almost halted after officials claimed the material was flammable.

Taras Polataiko's "Sleeping Beauty" will take place until September 9th at the National Museum of Ukraine's central gallery.

Source: The Huffington Post

Ukraine's Yanukovych Flirts With Russia As Election Looms

SOCHI, Russia -- Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych hinted on Saturday he may soften his stance against Russia over gas prices and membership of Moscow-backed regional groups, seeking support from the Soviet-era ruler before an October parliamentary election.

Viktor Yanukovych (L) with 'Big Brother' Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russian gas while about 70 percent of Russia's gas exports to Europe go via Ukraine.

Kiev has tried for years to renegotiate a deal struck in January 2009 after Ukraine's squabbling with Moscow left several European countries without gas for almost three weeks when Russia halted exports via Ukraine.

Yanukovych, whose party faces an election in late October, met Vladimir Putin in the Russian president's Black Sea residence of Bocharov Ruchei.

This was second such meeting in just over six weeks, and despite the fact that the encounter again failed to produce any solid results, the Ukrainian leader said his country may change its stance in gas talks.

He gave no further details.

"The issue (of gas supplies from Russia) will never be excluded from our relations and will always remain sensitive," he said.

"We would like to slightly alter our positions in our relations with Russia."

After failing to get a discount from Moscow in prolonged negotiations throughout 2011, Ukraine, which pays more than $400 per 1,000 cubic metres of Russian gas - on a par with Europe - tried to cut the volume of its gas imports, set at maximum of around 50 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year.

The Kremlin has hinted that it may sweeten the gas deal if Ukraine joins a Putin-brokered alliance, including fellow former Soviet states of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Kiev has resisted the idea of jointly building Putin's vision of a Eurasian Union, but Yanukovych told the Russian president that Ukraine is willing to participate in another Moscow-backed entity, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

"We would like to become observers in this organisation so that we would be able to take part in integration processes on this territory," Yanukovych said.

Yanukovych's Party of the Regions hopes to get a renewed majority at Oct. 28 elections despite signs of flagging support in parts of the country's industrialised east and south, with high gas prices paid by consumers traditionally seen as a major shortcoming of the Ukrainian leadership.

Supporting Putin, who is popular among the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine, was crucial for Yanukovych in his victory in 2010 presidential election, when he trounced the leader of the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko was jailed last year for abuse of office relating to the January 2009 gas agreement.

Source: Yahoo News

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ukrainian Catholic Leader Hopes To Mend Ties With Russian Orthodox

KOLOMYYA, Ukraine -- The major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said he hopes to follow up a Polish-Russian joint message by pursuing a similar reconciliation process with Russian Orthodox leaders.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych.

"We should also take such a path of reconciliation -- without this, it will be impossible to stop Russification in Ukraine and Ukrainophobia in Russia," said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych.

"If we somehow try to settle painful questions of the past as Christians in light of the Gospel and to heal our memory solely by means of reconciliation, then we can build something constructive," he said at a mid-August news conference in Kolomyya.

On Aug. 17, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and the president of the Polish Catholic bishops' conference signed a joint message urging Poles and Russians to set aside centuries of anger and prejudice and work together to maintain their countries' Christian identities.

Archbishop Shevchuk said the declaration had not specified "what Poles forgive the Russians for and what the Orthodox church intends to apologize to the Latin church in Poland for," but he said the text had provided "a very powerful example."

Eastern and Latin Catholics make up 10 percent of Ukraine's population of 46 million, compared to around a third belonging to the country's three rival Orthodox denominations.

Church ties in Ukraine have long been tense over Orthodox complaints of Catholic proselytism, as well as over the reclaiming of churches by Eastern Catholics.

Archbishop Shevchuk said Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill of Moscow seemed ready to communicate "not only with the head of the whole Catholic Church, but also with the head of a national church."

He noted that most Russian Orthodox conversations about Ukrainian Catholics were at the Vatican, "almost always without us."

Source: Catholic News Service

Concerns Over Ukraine's Smuggle Tunnels To EU

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Ukrainian authorities have launched an investigation into a tunnel network running from its border into neighboring Slovakia, a member of the European Union.

Ukrainian border village of Mali Selmenci.

There has been mounting international concern that organized crime groups from the former Soviet Union smuggle people, weapons, drugs, cigarettes and other goods into the European Union.

Ukraine's secret service, SBU, says it has discovered a suspected smuggler tunnel running from the western Ukrainian border village of Mali Selmenci into Slovakia.

In a statement, the SBU says the tunnel's entrance was beneath a retail store, ironically called 'Europa.'

The store sold clothing and household merchandise. But the SBU believes the real purpose was to hide a dangerous, four-meter (13-foot) deep, underground tunnel, to smuggle goods or people into the European Union.

Ukraine, which is not an EU member, has come under pressure to crackdown on organized crime.

Slovaks found an even more advanced 700 meter (2,297 feet) tunnel last month, explained Slovakia's Interior Minister Robert Kalinak.

The tunnel was equipped with a small train and tracks running from the western Ukrainian border town of Uzhhorod into Slovakia.

Minister Kalinak says, "it was capable of transporting various kinds of goods" and he "suspects also people."

Investigators in Slovakia and Ukraine say "sophisticated mining-technology" appeared to have been used to dig out the tunnel, which ran about six-meters (20 feet) below ground.

It underscores that crime groups are finding new ways to reach the European Union, where many border controls between member states have been removed.

Slovakia, which joined the visa-free EU zone several years ago, claims it has taken adequate steps to protect it.

But Finance Minister Peter Kazimir acknowledges that tax authorities lost millions in revenues in the recently discovered tunnel network.

He claims 13,100 cartons containing 200 cigarettes each were seized in the July raid, the equivalent of more than two-and-a-half million cigarettes. Kazimir estimates excise tax evasion could reach up to $61-million if "the tunnel was used for a year."

The minister has compared the tunnel to those built by drug cartels along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Police say the owner of the Slovak warehouse involved in the operation was detained on site, along with a truck driver in a different location.

But officials caution a joint investigation with Ukraine is expected to reveal that many more individuals have been involved in the underground operation.

Slovakia shares a nearly 100-kilometer (62-mile) long border with Ukraine and security forces say its remoteness and deep forests are often used by smugglers of drugs, cigarettes and refugees from east to west.

American and European diplomats are also concerned that weapons and nuclear material from aging, Soviet-era, facilities are illegally transported from the ex-Soviet Union.

Back in Ukraine, residents are upset about the smuggler tunnels.

A worker constructing a home near the discovered tunnel in the Ukrainian border town of Uzhhorod says he often saw a mini bus arriving there with well-dressed passengers.

The man complains he "thought they were intelligent people, but look at what they did."

Local residents claim corrupt officials, including mayors and judges, must have known about the tunnels but were paid to look the other way.

They also fear authorities will blow up the tunnels or flood them with sewage water to hide evidence.

Giving and taking bribes, locals say, has become a way of life in Ukraine following the chaotic collapse of the Soviet Union.

That does not surprise watchdog group Transparency International, which ranks Ukraine among the world's most corrupt nations.

Concern over Ukraine's borders has added to international pressure on neighboring EU members Slovakia, Poland, Romania and Hungary to step up efforts to keep the 27-nation union safe from illicit trade.

Source: Voice of America

Ukraine's Yanukovich Hits Back At EU Over Tymoshenko

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich hit back at the European Union over jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko on Friday, saying he would not pursue integration with the EU at the price of allowing it to interfere in her case.

Opposition activists take part in a rally as they mark the 21th anniversary of Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union and protest the arrest of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012.

The seven-year prison term meted out to Tymoshenko has been condemned as political persecution by Western leaders and stopped important Ukrainian agreements with the EU on political association and a free-trade zone dead in their tracks.

Yanukovich made his remarks in a speech marking Independence Day that also drew several thousand opposition supporters onto the streets of the capital in protest at his government's economic policies and Tymoshenko's imprisonment.

Yanukovich, midway through a five-year term in power in the former Soviet republic, said in a keynote address to government and church officials that his leadership was committed to joining the European mainstream.

He went on: "But integration at any price in exchange for losing independence or for making economic or territorial concessions or in exchange for allowing interference in our internal affairs - this is a path which we have never accepted and will never accept."

The Tymoshenko affair will be a major issue in an Oct. 28 parliamentary election when Yanukovich's majority Party of the Regions faces a strong challenge from the united opposition.

The EU and the United States regard Tymoshenko, firebrand leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution street protests and a former prime minister, as the victim of selective justice and say her trial was politically motivated.

But Yanukovich, whose first bid for power was overturned by the Orange Revolution but who later went on to beat Tymoshenko in a bitter run-off for the presidency in 2010, has refused to secure her release and allow her to return to political life.

Tymoshenko was convicted last October of abuse of office in connection with a gas deal which she brokered with Russia in 2009 when she was prime minister.

The Yanukovich government says it saddled Ukraine with exorbitant prices for strategic gas imports which are now impairing the economy.

TYMOSHENKO FACES SECOND TRIAL

She is appealing against her conviction, but a second trial has been opened against her for alleged embezzlement and tax evasion.

Yanukovich, resorting to a tactic used by Ukrainian negotiators before, hinted that Ukraine might opt for tighter economic association with Russia if its path to integration with Europe proved too difficult.

"We must multilaterally develop cooperation with our CIS partners. After all that is where there is the biggest market for Ukrainian producers. We should not ignore the integration processes which are going on there," he said.

Despite frequently dropping the hint that it will turn to Russia if spurned by the EU, Ukraine has for several years rejected membership of a Russian-led customs union of ex-Soviet republics as an economic blueprint for the future.

Several thousand opposition protesters marched in Kiev on Friday to show their solidarity with Tymoshenko and to criticise government reforms, which have imposed higher taxes on small business and forced people to push back the age of retirement.

In an audio-recording from jail that was played at Friday's opposition rally, Tymoshenko appealed for uncompromising struggle against what she called "absolute evil" in the country.

"Do not leave our young country to the kleptocrats, the occupiers and dictators. Do not adapt yourself to their level of immorality. Do not betray yourselves or the country," she said.

Source: Yahoo News

Friday, August 24, 2012

President Gives Kharkiv Speech In Russian

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yanukovych used the Russian language on Wednesday to address the people in Kharkiv while opening a monument dedicated to Ukraine’s independence at the city’s downtown square.

Viktor Yanukovych

Yanukovych, who ended his two-month vacation in Crimea, made the official speech in Russian for the first time since signing controversial language legislation earlier this month.

The legislation allows wide official use of the Russian language throughout many Ukrainian regions that have at least 10% Russian-speaking population.

The legislation led to weeks of protests and was denounced by opposition groups as discouraging the use of Ukrainian and splitting the country by languages spoken.

Asked by reporters why he used the Russian language to address the people in Kharkiv, Yanukovych had replied: “I always speak the language of the people that live there.”

“Ukraine is being split by the people who ask the questions like that without taking into account opinions of the people that live on that land,” Yanukovych said.

The legislation, dubbed by some opposition figures “a death sentence to the Ukrainian language,” was signed into law on Aug. 8.

The legislation is widely seen as an attempt by the Regions Party, which battles declining popular support, to energize their supporters ahead of the October 28 parliamentary elections.

At least six regions have moved over the past two weeks to approve the Russian language as their “official regional” language, a status that allows its use by local governments, schools and legal system.

Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, Odessa, Luhansk and Kherson regions, as well as cities of Odessa, Sevastopol, Kharkiv, Mykolayiv and Izmail, have voted to approve the use of the Russian language.

The legislation, drafted by the Regions Party, has been suggested as supporting ethnic groups and languages in line with the European charter.

But when Bulgarian ethnic group, which exceeds 10% of the population of Izmail in the Odessa region, suggested approving the Bulgarian as a regional language in the city, local lawmakers had declined.

The Bulgarian community threatened to appeal to Yanukovych and to courts to “defend their right” to use their language in the city.

The legislation was criticized by many prominent Ukrainians, and most recently by former President Leonid Kuchma.

“This law is not promoting the national idea and the independence of the state,” Kuchma said in a recent interview with Ukrinform, the state-owned news agency.

“I was always the supporter of the idea that there is one state language in the country.”

Kuchma said the law has been hurting Yanukovych politically because it was splitting the country.

“This is a headache for politicians, and especially for the president, because he bears responsibility,” Kuchma said.

“We have to start looking for a civilized exit out of this. They have to sit down at the table and to find something constructive.”

Yanukovych agreed that the legislation requires some changes, but disagreed that it was hurting the Ukrainian language.

“I disagree that the law weakens the Ukrainian language,” Yanukovych said, adding that he had ordered the government to come up with a state program that would support the Ukrainian language.

“It will be drafted by the Cabinet,” Yanukovych said. “It will not be temporary, it will be permanent.”

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Ukraine's Language Law Raises Identity Concerns

KIEV, Ukraine -- Despite public opposition and political wrangling, President Viktor Yanukovych signed Ukraine's controversial language bill into law earlier this month.

Opposition activists clash with riot police July 4, during a protest in Kiev against a new language law as President Viktor Yanukovych summoned the leaders of Parliament to limit a growing crisis. Several people were left covered in blood and broken glass littered the street. The police used tear gas to attempt to bring the situation under control.

The bill passed through the Ukrainian Parliament - the Verkhovna Rada - in early July, gaining the support of 248 deputies, thus easily clearing the required minimum of 226, albeit under controversial circumstances.

Dismissing superficial government measures to quell popular discontent, hundreds of Ukrainians took to the streets after the bill passed, in some of the biggest demonstrations since the so-called Orange Revolution.

The protesters dressed in traditional clothes, waved national flags and brandished portraits of the country's poets such as Taras Shevchenko and Volodymyr Sosyura, who are lauded for their works in Ukrainian.

Among those fighting back the tears caused by police pepper spray was heavyweight boxing champ and leader of the UDAR opposition party, Vitaliy Klytschko.

People blocked the capital's streets, picketed the Ukrainian House political and cultural center in Kiev and some even declared themselves on hunger strike.

The passage of the bill triggered a fresh round of infighting inside the chamber and prompted speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn to tender his resignation amid allegations that parliamentarians had voted on behalf of absent colleagues.

However, a little more than a month later and despite mass protests and major controversy, the bill got the final stamp of approval it needed to become law - the president's signature.

The new law states that, while Ukrainian is still the official language of the country, other "minority" languages used in Ukraine will gain official status.

Local authorities now have the right to choose which language will be considered as the official one in any given region.

This means that about 13 of 27 Ukrainian administrative units will recognize Russian as an official language.

The regions that border neighboring countries may choose Hungarian or Romanian, while some parts of the Crimea are likely to exclusively use the Tatar language.

The law allows officials to issue statements and documents in the regionally chosen language, with the same rules applying to the media and business spheres.

Supporters say the law will help to abolish discrimination against Russian-speaking citizens, improve the status of other minorities living in Ukraine and recognize the fact that for many Ukrainians, their native and everyday language is not Ukrainian.

Citizens who were brought up speaking a different language than Ukrainian will not now have to learn the official language of the country, since it will not be needed even to perform state-level duties or interact with government.

In addition to the advantages for many non-Ukrainian speakers, this may be a beneficial move for the current government's credibility given that both Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov are notorious for having major problems with Ukrainian grammar and pronunciation.

On the other hand, opponents have expressed fears that the law will lead to the eventual loss of Ukrainian sovereignty, citing the key role of language as a transmitter of, and focal point for, national culture and arguing that neglecting the Ukrainian language will inevitably lead to a decline in Ukrainian culture.

Those such as the leader of the opposition Svoboda party Oleg Tyahnybok reject government claims that they are doing all they can to preserve the priority status of Ukrainian language, stating that Yanukovych has now taken up personal responsibility for "neglecting the Ukrainian Constitution and laws, as well as conducting Ukrainophobic politics from the very first day of ruling."

The language issue is traditionally a salient topic in Ukrainian politics, and the Yanukovych period has been no exception.

The relative positioning of Ukrainian and Russian languages and the symbolic and practical effects that this has on Ukrainian identity and self-determination have been linked to myriad issues.

When Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnik proposed in 2011 to slash Ukrainian language and literature teaching in schools, local intelligentsia as well as international watchdog groups launched a campaign for his immediate dismissal.

Belarusian journalist Konstantin Shayan captured Ukrainian fears in this regard when recounting his own experience of living in a country where Russian has long been a second official language.

"Belarusians consider books, press and TV shows in their own language to be inferior," and so they come to consider themselves as provincial to someone else's center, he said.

Shiyan also said that all Ukrainians, whatever their mother tongue, should fight against the language law, unless they want to risk a similar fate to that of contemporary Belarus.

Despite all the good the newly implemented law may bring to the country, for many Ukrainians, this is outweighed by the effect it will have in undermining the key self-identification mechanism for a country that has only been independent for 20 years.

"By tearing the informational and educational spheres of the country to pieces, the government created feudal mini-ghettos inside the country pursuing the only goal: To reduce the resistance of the fractious nation," former Foreign Affairs Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko commented.

However, a step that could ostensibly have seemed to reduce the linguistic aspect of division in Ukraine may end up exacerbating it.

Source: The Prague Post