Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ukrainian Opposition To Stage New Year’s Party To Fuel Protests

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s opposition is inviting people to a New Year’s Eve party that will feature local rock bands and U.K. guitarist Neil Taylor in an effort to revive its flagging protest movement.

Opposition lawmaker, Oles Doniy.

Organizers want to set the Guinness world record for the biggest crowd singing a national anthem simultaneously on Kiev’s Independence Square, or Maidan, the site of anti-government demonstrations since Nov. 21.

The current record is held by the Indian company Sahara India Pariwar, which had 121,653 uniform-clad people sing the country’s anthem on May 6.

“Let’s celebrate the new year at Maidan, let’s celebrate together,” Oles Doniy, an opposition lawmaker in charge said in a televised news conference yesterday.

“It will be very interesting and we will have a lot of fun.”

Protesters have occupied the square since President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of a trade deal with the European Union in favor of a $15 billion bailout and a gas-price cut from Russia.

As authorities ignore demands for snap elections and the government’s dismissal, the opposition aims to keep a protest camp going before a presidential vote in March 2015.

The number of demonstrators has been dwindling since a police crackdown led half a million people to the square early this month.

Rallies every Sunday have attracted fewer people closer to the holiday season that lasts through Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7.

Christmas Play Performances are set to start at 9:30 p.m. today with a traditional Christmas play to be performed by politicians, activists, journalists and musicians. 

The New Year celebration will include non-alcoholic champagne and food.

Ruslana, the Ukrainian singer who won the Eurovision song contest in 2004 and spent most nights leading rallies from the stage on Independence Square since November, will be among performers.

She will also orchestrate the national anthem performance, for which Guinness World Records representatives have been invited.

Almost 12,000 policemen will secure public order on New Year’s Eve across Ukraine, according to a statement on the government’s website.

Police in Kiev will work “on higher alert” the Interior Ministry said.

Ukraine’s Hromadske TV will broadcast an alternative to Yanukovych’s annual televised address, showing recorded statements aimed at the president from the people of Ukraine five minutes to midnight.

Source: Bloomberg

Ukraine's Opposition Plans General Strike And Corruption Inquiry - Pro-EU Protests Stoke Tension Between East And West Of Country

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s pro-EU opposition parties plan to launch a general strike and an investigation into the allegedly ill-gotten gains of the country’s leaders, as they seek to maintain the momentum of protests against President Viktor Yanukovich and his government.

Pro-European integration supporters conduct a mock trial with an effigy of Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovich in Independence Square in Kiev yesterday.

Hundreds of Ukrainians are still camping on Kiev’s central Independence Square and occupying Kiev city hall and a nearby trade union building, and about 50,000 people rallied on the square on Sunday.

The protesters accuse Mr Yanukovich and his allies of indulging in massive corruption, of scrapping plans for EU integration in favour of closer ties with Russia, and of failing to punish riot police and other people who have attacked anti-government demonstrators and journalists.

“We are announcing a strike for after the [New Year] holidays. We should all say that we will not work with this government,” said opposition leader Vitaliy Klitschko.

“They set cars on fire and beat activists, and they really hope we will get tired and go home. No! We will fight and force out the current rulers,” the former heavyweight boxing world champion told demonstrators.

Rallies against Mr Yanukovich’s decision to postpone a landmark deal with the EU last month swelled after riot police brutally beat unarmed protesters and journalists.

Public anger has been further fuelled by subsequent attacks by unknown assailants on reporters and anti-government campaigners and their cars in Kiev and around Ukraine.

Resignations sought 

Another opposition leader, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, repeated demands for the resignation of the cabinet, the punishment of those responsible for violence against demonstrators and journalists, and freedom for protesters who have been jailed.

“We are also launching a worldwide anti-corruption investigation into members of the government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and their relatives,” said Mr Yatsenyuk, who claims that officials have stolen billions of euro in state funds.

On Sunday, more than 1,000 people left Independence Square and went to Mr Yanukovich’s lavish residence outside Kiev, where riot police prevented them entering the vast estate.

They then moved on to the heavily guarded mansions of Mr Azarov and other senior figures.

“Today a few people went to the homes of the country’s leaders, but if they continue to pretend nothing is happening, then millions will stand outside their houses,” said Mr Klitschko.

Demonstrators damaged a gate at the home of Viktor Medvedchuk, a powerful anti-EU politician and businessman who is a close friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“The only thing worse than an idiot is an active idiot,” Mr Medvedchuk said in a post on Facebook.

“They want to fight? I know how to fight. And we have enough strength and capabilities to defend our views and beliefs. And we will do it.”

National divide 

Several cities in largely pro-EU western Ukraine openly back the opposition protests and have rejected the authority of local representatives of the central government.

Meanwhile, eastern and southern regions broadly support Mr Yanukovich and favour strong ties with Russia, stoking fears of a possible split in the country of 46 million people.

The governor of the eastern Kharkiv region, Mikhail Dobkin, said of Sunday’s protests:

“This idiocy has gone beyond all bounds. It’s shameful to live in the same country as these psychopaths. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact needs to be annulled.”

Western areas of Ukraine, bordering the EU, were annexed by the Soviet Union under its 1939 non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany.

Until then they were part of Poland and, earlier, the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Eastern and southern regions were ruled from Russia for centuries, before independence in 1991.

Source: The Irish Times

Ukraine’s Leaders Are Silencing The Independent Media

KIEV, Ukraine -- In 2013, there were more than 100 acts of violence against journalists in Ukraine, and nearly half of these occurred in December as riot police unleashed a wave of violence during the ongoing “Euromaidan” protests.

Last week, well-respected Ukrainian journalist Tetyana Chernovil was brutally beaten on her way home.

Opposition leaders suspect that act was orchestrated by the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych.

The image of Chernovil’s bruised face has since been adopted by Euromaidan protesters as a symbol of state-sanctioned repression against Ukraine’s independent media. 

Direct acts of physical violence are not the only means of repression that pro-government forces are using.

Yanu­kovych’s political allies also are using media takeovers and hacking, and their actions have the potential to influence elections.

Fourteen journalists from the Ukrainian edition of Forbes magazine resigned simultaneously in November to protest censorship.

Forbes Ukraine was recently acquired by 28-year-old businessman Sergey Kurchenko, who is believed to be backed by Oleksandr Yanu­kovych, the son of the president.

As Forbes Ukraine revealed before the censorship scandal, the younger Yanu­kovych tripled his fortune during the past half-year amid suspicions that his wealth resulted from high-placed political support.

Korrespondent, a flagship of independent journalism for 10 years, was also acquired by Kurchenko, leading to new restrictions on freedoms at the publication.

Former deputy prime minister Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy was forced to sell his Inter television empire and go into exile.

Confidants of Viktor Yanukovych took over.

There have also been direct hacking attacks on independent journalists and civil society activists.

E-mail is regularly reviewed and phone conversations intercepted.

Watchdog groups have been defamed by anonymous sites that duplicate the design of independent publications and spread false information.

The Web site for which I work, pravda.com.ua, has been a target.

Ukrainian democracy has experienced pronounced backsliding during Yanukovych’s rule.

Ukraine ranks 126th out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

In 2009, before Yanukovych became president , it ranked 89th.

Now that the Ukrainian government has secured control of television broadcasts, it is focusing on the Internet, an increasingly popular source of information.

Police have started to interview activists about their Facebook posts and even took over the offices of an online newspaper, censor.net.ua.

The president’s party drafted a law last year criminalizing defamation that was widely perceived as an attack on independent online media.

The law was suspended only after mass protests by journalists.

Citizen access to unbiased information can affect political outcomes.

Members of Yanukovych’s team have experience in seeking to fix elections; their attempt to steal the 2004 presidential contest paved the way for the Orange Revolution.

Now, online media fear a rise in attacks ahead of the 2015 presidential election.

U.S. publishers that have partnerships with Ukrainian publishers should uphold the principles of independent media and free speech, as these principles are essential for building and sustaining a true democracy.

Forbes, for instance, should not allow its name to burnish the reputation of the Yanukovych family.

One possibility would be for Forbes to withdraw its license from its Ukrainian partners.

For its part, the U.S. government might consider issuing sanctions against officials responsible for attacks on independent journalists in Ukraine, while various U.S. agencies and institutions could support the development of new independent media outlets.

Additionally, international watchdog groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists could collectively focus their attention on the plight of unbiased media in Ukraine.

Western observers sometimes have been fixated on the fate of Yulia Tymo­shenko, the former prime minister jailed by Yanukovych a few years ago, at the expense of the journalists who reported her case of selective justice.

Ukraine’s independent journalists are equally deserving of Western attention and support.

Source: The Washington Post

Putin's Deal Is No Gift To Gas-Junkie Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Amazingly, tens of thousands of Ukrainians are still braving the winter cold to protest what they consider to be the sale of their country's future to Russia.

Yulia Tymoshenko made a gas deal with Vladimir Putin. Now she's in prison. Who thinks the new one is going to be better for Ukraine?

A big part of the deal in dispute was what Russian President Vladimir Putin described as a "fraternal" 33 percent discount on the price that Ukraine pays for natural gas imports.

So why aren't Ukrainians more grateful to their bigger brother?

Maybe they have done the math -- which shows it really isn't such a bargain after all. 

There are two major elements to the agreement: a $15 billion loan pledge and a reduction in the price of natural gas imports from about $400 per 1,000 cubic meters (tcm) to $268.50.

The average price that Gazprom charges to European Union countries for long-term contracts is $370 to $380.

So it sounds as though Ukraine will now get a big discount -- plus a generous bailout.

Not quite.

The gas has to cross Ukraine to get to EU markets, and the $370-$380 that Gazprom charges countries such as Germany includes the cost of that transit.

Ukraine charges about $3 per 1000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers. The distance from the Ukrainian border with Russia to the big European hub at Baumgarten, Austria, is about 1800 kilometers. So subtract about $50 from the European gas price to get closer to a true equivalent.

Then consider that the EU now has a hub, or spot market price for gas that's often lower than Gazprom's.

"What I find interesting is that $268.50 isn't so far off the European hub price, once you deduct transit costs," says Simon Pirani, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, who specializes on the gas trade in the ex-Soviet Union. 

When Ukraine struck its gas contract price with Russia in 2009, it was under threat of another cutoff of its gas supply, as had occurred in 2009, 2008 and 2006.

The thinking behind the new price was that Ukraine should start paying the European price for gas, in exchange for independence.

Think of Ukraine as a natural gas junkie, addicted to cheap Russian fuel.

Before 2006, this relatively poor country -- which has a population of 46 million and an economy 19 times smaller than Germany's -- had been consuming almost 80 billion cubic meters of gas annually.

Germany was consuming just under 100 bcm.

Ukraine had been paying just $50 per 100 cubic meters for Russian gas imports.

So something had to change.

The formula reached in 2009 was index-linked to the price of oil.

Three things then happened: The price of oil rose; the EU started to link up its natural gas grids to create a spot market at the gas hubs, independent of Gazprom's long-term contracts; and demand for gas within the EU fell.

Indeed, without a renegotiation in 2010 (Russia got extended naval basing rights in exchange), Ukraine would now be paying $500 per 100 cubic meters of gas.

The reduced price Ukraine pays to Gazprom is still so out of kilter that it is about $30 cheaper to buy gas the EU has imported and transport it back across the border.

This re-importing had started to happen on a very small scale from Poland and Hungary.

And on Dec. 9, Slovakia's gas transit company Eustream agreed on terms to reverse the flow in one of its big transit pipes.

With the necessary Slovak capacity, Ukraine might have been able to fulfill the deal it has to buy 10 bcm of gas annually from Germany's RWE AG.

That would represent about a third of Ukraine's current imports from Russia, which had already fallen substantially because of Ukraine's declining gas consumption, due to a collapsing economy, coal substitution and efficiency improvements, according to Pirani.

Faced by competition from EU re-suppliers, Gazprom would in any case have had to choose: risk losing as much as another one third of its gas sales to Ukraine and associated political leverage, or else reduce its price by a third to make EU re-imports uncompetitive.

In sum, it's clear that the $268.50 discount offered to Yanukovych wasn't as generous as it sounds.

Putin in essence agreed to stop extorting money from Ukraine and charge the market price.

So how about the $15 billion loan?

Russia bought the first $3 billion of Ukrainian eurobonds as promised just before Christmas, at a coupon rate of 5 percent.

Ukraine had an alternative source for a $15 billion bailout loan, from the International Monetary Fund.

The interest rate payable to the IMF probably would have been cheaper by 2 percentage points or more.

The difference between the two loans is, again, best looked at in terms of an addict and supplier.

The IMF was offering rehab, a painful treatment that would have involved: devaluing the currency; reducing energy subsidies worth about 7.5 percent of gross domestic product; making other budget cuts in areas such as pensions, which account for as much as 18 percent of GDP; and structural reforms.

Russia's loan was free of known strings, except those that bind a hopeless debtor to his creditor.

What the Russian money does better is fund Yanukovych's 2015 election campaign.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov immediately started announcing how the money will be spent, including increases to the minimum wage, child benefits and public sector pay raises -- everything the IMF would oppose.

The IMF loan terms would have been better for Ukraine.

The Putin deal is better for Yanukovych.

No wonder some Ukrainians plan to take to the streets again to call for his resignation on New Year's Day, even if their cause appears to be lost.

Source: Bloomberg

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ukraine's 'Euromaidan' Opposition Vows More Pressure, Threatens Strike

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian opposition leaders at a weekly antigovernment rally that attracted tens of thousands of people have called for continued protests and a national strike after the winter holidays.

Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged protesters to keep up the pressure on the government.

Udar party leader Vitali Klitschko was among those critics of President Viktor Yanukovych and his ruling allies who issued the appeal on December 29 on Independence Square in Kiev, which has been the hub of pro-EU protests for a month.

Klitschko said authorities expected the "Euromaidan" protests that erupted after Yanukovych's government suspended talks on an Association Agreement ahead of a major EU summit in late November.

"They expect us to tire and go home," Klitschko told the crowd, according to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

"But no, we will fight to the bitter end. We will not go away."

The crowd numbered in the tens of thousands but was seemingly down from previous weeks.

The parliamentary opposition signaled its commitment to keeping the political pressure on the ruling parties until Ukraine's next scheduled elections in 2015.

"We are preparing to win the presidential elections," Arseny Yatsenyuk, the leader of the opposition Fatherland (Batkivshchyna) party told the rally.

"We are building a team...that will be able to turn Ukraine into a European country." 

Yatsenyuk also drew a connection between the ongoing protests and a recent brutal attack on a Ukrainian journalist and activist for which five suspects have been arrested.

"We have named our today's rally 'Solidarity Against Terror' -- against the terror that was unleashed by the authorities when they attacked Tetyana Chornovil with these thugs outrageously beating her; against the terror that sees 'Euromaidan' activists prosecuted and intimidated by the current political machinery; against the terror directed against those families that now see their children afraid to go to school," Yatsenyuk, a former close ally of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, said.

Some Ukrainian motorists meanwhile demonstrated on a road near Yanukovych's Kiev residence, honking car horns and generally slowing traffic before heading toward the home of pro-Russian strategist Viktor Medvedchuk, who heads the Ukraine's Choice civic movement.

There were no reports of arrests or violence.

The protesters are demanding the punishment of those responsible for the forcible dispersement of peaceful protests that attracted hundreds of thousands in the days after the EU snub, the release of people detained in connection with the demonstrations, and the dismissal of the Ukrainian government.

Ukraine, which is predominantly Orthodox, marks Christmas with a public holiday on January 7.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Ukraine Protesters Rally At President's Home

KIEV, Ukraine -- Thousands demand resignation of Viktor Yanukovych, challenged by more than a month of opposition protests.

A Government opponent carries an EU flag as he walks in front of riot police surrounding Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's country home, about 10 miles from Kiev on December 29, 2013.

Thousands of Ukrainians have staged a rally for the first time in front of the private home of President Viktor Yanukovych, as more than a month of protests continue against the government's decision to cancel a deal for greater European Union integration.

About 5,000 protesters rallied outside the president's residence, known as Mezhygirya, on Sunday, carrying a coffin to symbolise what they hope is the end of Yanukovych's political career, and chanting "Kiev rise up!" and "Get Out Yanukovych!".

The residence, located 15km (9 miles) outside of Kiev, was heavily guarded by Ukrainian riot police.

There were no initial reports of clashes.

Ukraine's opposition and media have long accused Yanukovych of financing Mezhygirya with funds obtained improperly by him and his family, a claim the government denies.

Vitali Klitschko, the leader of the opposition UDAR (Punch) party and world boxing champion, denounced the "corruption" of the elite in front of the crowds.

"The authorities should not think that they can hide behind fences and not hear the people. They see how many of us there are and we do not have fear," Klitschko said. 

"The next time there are going to be a million of us," he said.

Low turnout In Kiev, some 20,000 to 50,000 protesters gathered in the city's Independence Square amid growing anger over the brutal beating of a reporter, Tetyana Chornovil, who exposed the lavish lifestyles of Yanukovych and others.

The turnout was lower than at previous anti-government rallies, which drew in hundreds of thousands earlier this month.

Yanukovych has faced more than a month of mass demonstrations across the country since he decided to ditch an EU deal - that would bring Ukraine closer to Europe - in favour of forging closer ties to Russia.

"The question now is what's next? The demonstrations seem to have run their course, and opposition leaders are relying on a new civil society movement to take the momentum started here, and turn it into real change in Ukraine's cities and regions,"

Al Jazeera's Jennifer Glasse reported from Independence Square in Kiev.

"They'd like to force early presidential elections, which aren't scheduled until 2015. They say they have a lot of support and they'll continue pressuring the government in any way they can," our correspondent said.

Other protests also targeted the homes of government officials earlier this week.

On Saturday, about 50 cars drove to the house of the country's Prosecutor-General Viktor Pshonka in what was dubbed a "protest drive", while another rally was held outside the house of Ukraine's Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko.

Source: Al Jazeera

Fresh Ukraine Protests Draw Thousands Onto Kiev Streets

KIEV, Ukraine -- Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have gathered again in Kiev in a fresh show of force by the month-old anti-government protest movement.

Estimates of the number of protesters in Independence Square on Sunday ranged from 20,000 to over 50,000.

Many demonstrators also marched on President Viktor Yanukovych's official residence outside the capital.

They have been re-energised by a brutal attack on a prominent journalist, Tetyana Chornovil, on Christmas Day.

She had accused Mr Yanukovych of corruption over his financing of the Mezhygirya residence in an expose.

Mr Yanukovych denies any allegation of corruption and has called for an investigation into the attack on Ms Chornovil.

"We plan to come out here until the day the authorities make changes to the constitution and limit the powers of the president," Kiev pensioner Tetyana Kornienko told AFP news agency, amid a sea of Ukrainian flags fluttering across Independence Square.

Protesters then made their way to the Mezhygirya residence, some 15km (9 miles) away on the banks of the Dnipro river, by bike, car and minibus, where they carried a coffin to symbolise what they hope is the end of his political life, AFP reported.

They were kept several hundred metros (yards) from the heavily guarded residence. 

Demonstrators first took to the streets in late November, angered by President Yanukovych's decision to abandon an association agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia.

Protesters continue to occupy the central Independence Square and have refortified barricades to ward off attempts by police to clear the camp - though such attempts now appear to have been abandoned.

But until Sunday their demonstrations had been dwindling in size since they started last month, and there were fewer people on the streets on 22 December than in previous rallies, says the BBC's David Stern in Kiev.

They appeared to be undermined by a deal Ukraine struck with Russia on 17 December, under the terms of which Russia bought $15bn (£9.2bn; 10.9bn euros) of Ukrainian government bonds.

The deal also saw the price of imports of natural gas on which Ukraine's precarious economy depends slashed by a third.

But on Sunday, more protesters returned to the streets of Kiev, many angered by the attack on Ms Chornovil, who says her car was run off the road before she was taken out and beaten by men.

Graphic pictures have been circulated of her bloodied and swollen face following the beating.

Local news agencies say five men have been placed under arrest but no motive has been put forward.

Ms Chornovil says her assailants followed her in a "black luxury" SUV after she had been taking pictures of the residences of senior administration figures.

"When you are struck by a luxury car, you understand that a price has been put on your life," the 34-year-old told pro-opposition Channel 5 television from her hospital bed, according to AFP.

Source: BBC News

Sunday, December 29, 2013

EU ‘Should Offer Ukraine Protesters Lifeline’

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The EU needs to offer Ukrainian protesters a lifeline if the pro-accession movement is to survive the winter, MEP candidate Stefano Mallia has warned.

Stefano Mallia

Mr Mallia, who recently formed part of an EU delegation to the nation-wide protest, fears the hard-fought stand in favour of EU alignment may be extinguished by the harsh winter cold and dwindling media attention.

“The occupy movement is very well organised but there is a hidden sense of desperation. There isn’t much sense of hope and there are fears that the international community has lost interest. They need support,” Mr Mallia said.

The pro-EU movement has staged huge rallies in Kiev over the past several weeks after President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an association agreement with the EU following months of negotiation, apparently under strong pressure from Russia.

The protesters want Mr Yanukovych to hold an early election.

Their momentum has recently faltered however, especially after a $15 billion financial package, secured by Mr Yanukovych from Russian premier Vladimir Putin, pushed the country further away from European integration and closer towards maintaining its traditional ties with Russia.

There are fears that the international community has lost interest “The country has a longstanding relationship with Russia, especially President Yanukovych, who has toed the Kremlin’s line for years. The people, however, want a change in the way the country is run,” Mr Mallia said, adding that the protesters’ slogan was “change the system not the faces”.

He said President Yanukovych was strongly against an early election.

“Joining the EU will mean going through tough economic measures which will affect the country. We know what that can be like. The new Russian deal will see the Ukrainian President have enough money to make it to the end of his term without forcing any such measures.

“An early election would change that,” he said, adding protesters felt that a relationship with the EU would offer the transparency and accountability, the country needed.

Mr Mallia claimed the EU had played a poor hand on the Ukrainian front, forcing people to choose between Russian and European alignment.

“The harsh accession criterion the country has had to meet was not coupled with the promise of membership. Instead they were looking at an agreement with the EU. They need a light at the end of the tunnel. They need stronger support from the EU,” Mr Mallia said.

Mr Mallia’s delegation held talks with social partners in Independence Square – the venue of protests in Kiev – in an attempt to build a plan of action and offer support.

“The square was safe. The only danger was that if something happened, say a police surge, then you risked getting locked in the square as they shut wooden barricades."

“We held talks with all the unions and several members of the opposition. The only people missing were business leaders, who probably feared being arrested or ‘disappearing’,” Mr Mallia said, as he recalled discussions with Ukrainian opposition politician and former boxing heavyweight champion Wladamir Klitschko in one of the occupied government buildings.

Source: Times of Malta

Beaten Reporter Planned Yanukovych Expose

KIEV, Ukraine -- Tetiana Chornovil, an anti-government protest activist who survived a ferocious attack by three assailants on Tuesday, said she was about to report on a previously unknown lavish mansion allegedly owned by President Viktor Yanukovych.

Tetiana Chornovil in the hospital, one day ago.

Chornovil, who is also a journalist, for several years worked to expose alleged massive corruption schemes involving the family of Yanukovych and his closest allies.

She once even sneaked into Yanukovych’s super-protected property known as Mezhyhiriya in Novi Petrivtsi to take pictures of palaces and other properties before she had been detained by his guards.

But the new mansion apparently dwarfs and outclasses the president’s Mezhihiriya property, which is the size of London ’s Hyde Park .

“The attack may have been caused by the fact that I had recently discovered Yanukovych’s new ‘Mezhyhiriya,’ not the one in Novi Petrivtsi, but the one in Koncha Zaspa that he has built and that is even more luxurious than the previous one. It only needs to be finished,” Chornovil told Channel 5 television from her hospital bed.

Chornovil was attacked late night on Tuesday as three unknown assailants had rammed her car on a highway just outside Kiev .

She tried to escape, but was chased and savagely beaten by the assailants.

The new revelations may shed more light on what caused the attack on the activist, leaving her with a concussion, a broken nose and multiple bruises on a disfigured face.

On the day of the attack Chornovil traced down and visited lavish residences of Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko and Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka, both close allies of Yanukovych.

She managed to publish photos of Zakharchenko’s home in her blog just hours before the attack.

Pictures from Pshonka’s property have not yet been published.

The ferocious attack was captured by her dashboard camera, while the video was taken and released on Youtube by opposition lawmakers and activists who had arrived to the scene before the police.

The video captured the license plates of the black SUV Porsche Cayenne and the three assailants, leading to the detention of two alleged attackers on Wednesday.

A third alleged attacker was detained by police on Thursday and is currently being questioned by investigators, the Interior Ministry reported.

The name the attacker was not disclosed, but the ministry on Wednesday named Serhiy Kotenko as the only suspect at large in the case.

“Police detained the third suspect wanted in the case in line with the investigation of the criminal case," the ministry said in a statement.

Kotenko, who apparently owns the SUV that has rammed Chornovol’s car, was earlier reported to have been involved in a raider attack on a TVi television channel. 

Hundreds of protesters on Thursday marched to the residence of Zakharchenko that had been mentioned in Chornovol’s blog to demand his resignation.

“Here lives the butcher” sign was put by the protesters on the fence along with Zakharchenko’s portrait covered in red paint.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Ukraine Opposition Calls For Mass Protest

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's opposition has vowed to continue its protests in Kiev, expecting thousands of anti-government demonstrators to gather in Independence Square on Sunday.

Pro-European Union activists cook meals during a rally in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine.

Vitaly Klitschko, the UDAR party leader, said on Saturday the next day's rally would "question the authority of the president, the prime minister and the chairman of the parliament".

Anti-government activists are planning to drive a motorcade to the residences of the three leaders and deliver a list of demands, including a call for their resignation.

The opposition held a similar "protest drive" on Saturday towards the house of the country's Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka when about 50 cars drove from central Kiev to the village of Gorenichi, about five kilometres outside the capital.

Two days ago a protest was held outside the house of Ukraine's Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko.

"Our revolution is not limited to just Independence Square. Criminals and executioners of the Ukrainian people must feel uncomfortable not only in their ministerial offices but at their homes as well. It concerns not only Yanukovich and his Mezhegorye residence, this concerns every state official who harms the country, and each of them should know that we will come to where he lives," said Oleksandr Briginets, an opposition MP and one of the organisers of the protest drive.

Start of demonstrations President Viktor Yanukovych has faced more than a month of mass demonstrations across the country since he decided to ditch an EU deal - that would bring Ukraine closer to Europe - in favour of forging closer ties to Russia.

The rallies were galvanised by a brutal police action to disperse the demonstrators on the capital's main square on November 30, and the number of protesters reached hundreds of thousands.

Pro-EU demonstrators have been occupying central Kiev but their numbers have been falling since Russia offered Ukraine a $15bn bailout this month.

The holiday season has also contributed to winding down the opposition movement. 

Source: Al Jazeera

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Police Blame Opposition In Ukraine Attack

KIEV, Ukraine -- Conflicting allegations emerge as journalist Tetyana Chornovol suggests she was targeted for her anti-government work.

The attack came as anti-government protests showed signs of losing steam.

Ukrainian police have accused five suspects in the savage beating of a local journalist of having links to the opposition, just as reporter Tetyana Chornovol suggested she was attacked for documenting the opulence of Ukraine's political elite.

The conflicting accusations on Friday came days after Chornovol, 34, was chased down by a car and beaten, an incident that threatened to breathe new life into dwindling anti-government protests.

"In the course of the investigation it was established that the detained had been in close contact with members of the party UDAR," Mykola Chynchyn, the head of the main investigations department, said in a statement posted by Ukraine's Interior Ministry.

UDAR, or Punch, is led by heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, the most prominent of several opposition leaders who have seized on the public outcry over the government's rejection of closer ties with the European Union.

Chornovol, meanwhile, told pro-opposition television station Channel 5 that "a price" had been placed on her life, suggesting the attack was "revenge" for her anti-government work.

Protests continue 

With tents and braziers against the winter cold, a core group of hundreds of protesters has been occupying Kiev's central Independence Square for weeks.

The protests have shown signs of losing steam, with turnout at weekly mass rallies down since the height of the backlash in late November and early December, when hundreds of thousands of people packed downtown Kiev.

After the attack on Chornovol, hundreds of opposition protesters called upon the Interior Minister to resign, and another rally was planned for Sunday.

The attack came just hours after Chornovol posted pictures on her blog of a country home she said belonged to Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko.

Chynchyn did not reveal a possible motive for the beating, but said the police investigation established ties between one suspect and a politician from the opposition Fatherland party of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Libel threat 

The investigation also established links between a suspect and the head of a criminal gang "with whom the Klitschko brothers had closely cooperated," Chynchyn said. 

Klitschko responded by threatening to sue for libel, noting in a statement: "Instead of conducting an objective investigation and finding who really ordered and carried out the beating... [the ministry] turns to provocation and effectively tries to conceal the criminals."

Vitaly Yarema, a member of Tymoshenko's Fatherland party, accused the Interior Ministry of trying to exploit the assault for political ends.

President Viktor Yanukovich has condemned the attack on Chornovol and urged police to find the perpetrators.

Source: Al Jazeera

Ukraine’s ‘Maidan’ Protests Are Spiritual, As Well As Political

KIEV, Ukraine -- The presence of priests, prayer, and an unprecedented level of cooperation between Ukrainian Catholics and Orthodox are striking elements of the ongoing mass demonstrations in Kiev.

Oleh Tiahnybok, leader of the Svoboda opposition political party, talks with Ukrainian Orthodox priests during anti-government protests Dec. 11 at Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine.

Tense images since November of Ukrainian riot police in sub-freezing cold, menacing a massive street encampment under the festive blue and yellow flags of Ukraine’s national flag together with the European Union symbol, might seem like déjà vu of previous mass demonstrations in other countries against unpopular regimes.

But unique in Ukraine is the prominent role being played by Christian churches in shaping the protest as a spiritual event, not just a political one.

The daily presence of priests and prayer at the barricade — and the unprecedented level of coordination between Ukrainian Catholics and Orthodox around the event — mark this as a historic moment, according to Church officials.

What triggered the Nov. 21 takeover of Kiev’s Independence Square, or Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Ukrainian, by opponents of President Viktor Yanukovych was, initially, a political act.

The government unexpectedly announced its decision to walk away from an expansive agreement with the European Union (EU) — just a week before it was supposed to be signed.

Neighboring countries Moldova and Georgia went ahead and inked similar accords on Nov. 29 at the EU’s Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“For the last year or more, the Ukrainian government was preparing to sign an Association Agreement with the EU. It was the government’s official policy,” Serhii Plokhii, the Mykhailo Hrushevskyi professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard University, told the Register.

“Europe and European values became a dominant discourse in Ukrainian politics — a big hope.”

To many Ukrainians, the EU agreement symbolized a path toward a more stable, less corrupt society Plokhii explained.

“When the government announced it had changed its mind, saying there were economic difficulties with that, it was an abrupt turn in policy. The protest shows Ukraine is a democratic state and the government can’t do what it pleases as a result of a backroom deal,” said Plokhii.

He concluded, “What we have today is the result of the Ukrainian economy being completely mismanaged by the current government, which was looking for an emergency bailout. Apparently they received one from Russia.”

Putin’s Bailout 

On Dec. 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a bailout package for Ukraine’s cash-strapped economy: Russia will buy $15 billion in Ukrainian bonds and will sell natural gas to its neighbor at a major discount.

The EU agreement included no quick cash.

Instead, it’s a political and trade agreement that lays the foundations for greater rule of law, transparency, human rights, and free trade, all of which supporters say would bring long-term benefits.

Roman Popadiuk, the United States’ first post-communist ambassador to the Ukraine, considers it essential for the country to orient itself toward Europe.

“While Ukraine can survive on its own — it’s a big country with extraordinary strategic resources — it needs a lot of help to become a viable democratic state, which can only come through association with Europe. So Ukraine needs to resume talks with the EU,” he told the Register.

Popadiuk added, “The pressure of Russian nationalism is too deeply ingrained. Russia will continue looking at Ukraine as a lost colony. Tying Ukraine’s economy to Russia’s is not good for either country.”

But both Plokhii and Popadiuk cautioned against reading the Maidan protests as simply a tug-of-war between Europe and Russia.

Having recently returned from Kiev, Plokhii observed, “The division is not, in my opinion, linguistic or based on religion but based on values. What I saw in Maidan was a very strong expression of unity between Russian speakers and Ukrainians, Orthodox and Catholics. They are all together there.”

The Nov. 30 Clash 

On Nov. 30, hundreds of riot police with tear gas and truncheons attacked the Maidan, scattering some 10,000 protestors and injuring more than 75 people.

Many Maidan activists took refuge in a historic Orthodox complex, St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, where they were protected and uplifted by monks from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate, one of the country’s three (sometimes rival) Orthodox formations.

The next day, thousands of anti-government civilians massed to retake Independence Square.

They gained buildings, too: An opposition party managed to overwhelm the Kiev City Hall, which has been used since as sleeping quarters for protestors.

Radicalized by the Nov. 30 assault on peaceful demonstrators, Maidan crowds swelled to more than 500,000 on the first two Sundays of December, drawing people from all over the country according to participants.

Father Mykola Buryadnyk, pastor of Chicago’s St. Joseph the Betrothed Ukrainian Catholic Church, was in Independence Square from Dec. 8-13 and he described to the Register what he called “a new nation transformed.”

“When you approach Independence Square, it looks very scary from the outside because of huge homemade barricades,” the priest recounted.

He described strict controls to get inside, with former soldiers and “defense experts” guarding the Maidan perimeter, checking people for weapons, and excluding anyone who has been drinking.

“Inside, it’s a joyful place, with many people in their twenties. Everything is very well organized, with teams responsible for food, medical aid, media, clothes, defense scheduling. People register and do duty,” he said.

Ecumenical Scene 

Father Buryadnyk described the “great role” of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, with a chapel in the middle of the square providing daily Mass, confession and counseling.

The scene was ecumenical, said Father Buryadnyk, “The Orthodox Church of Kiev is very active, but also priests from the Autocephalous Church and the Moscow Patriarchate too… All the priests are serving, especially praying at night, the Jesus prayer, the Rosary, especially when it is cold. Every night from the stage, you hear the national anthem, then a prayer, holy Scripture, a prayer.”

Early in the morning of Dec. 11, riot police attacked the Maidan encampment again.

To alert the public, a graduate student at a nearby theology academy next to Mikhailovsky Cathedral began ringing the sacred bells, which could be heard for miles.

Father Buryadnyk joined other priests, in cassocks armed with crosses, taking up positions between the riot police and the demonstrators.

“At 3 o’clock in the morning, I was a few feet from police special forces with their huge metal shields. We recited the Our Father and Hail Mary. Not only were protestors praying hard, the kind of prayer when you wonder if you will survive, but we saw some of the police praying quietly with us,” the priest said.

Unlike the Nov. 30th clash, widespread violence was avoided this time and the riot police subsequently withdrew without clearing the protestors from the square.

Like many of his clerical colleagues, Bishop Borys Gudziak, eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Paris, participated in the pro-Europe protest in early December.

He told the Register, “Pope Francis has encouraged us clergy to be pastors — to have ‘the smell of the sheep.’ That is why our religious are in the square with the people.” 

‘Claiming Their Human Dignity’ 

Bishop Gudziak was also at Maidan on Dec. 11.

He considers it a miracle that night did not result in casualties: “The fact that 5,000 unarmed people with song and prayer on their lips resisted armed storm troopers is a miracle. The fact that peace has prevailed even when the crowd swelled to 800,000 — that there is so much peace, levity, and humor in Maidan — all of this is not natural it is supernatural.”

He added, “And we believe that the grace of God is inspiring people to claim their human dignity.”

Although Bishop Gudziak is not shy to describe “the Putin government” as the “principal troublemaker in this situation,” he is also quick to see positive evolution in relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, not a simplistic “West vs. Russia” split.

For example, a Dec. 15 rally at Maidan opened with an ecumenical prayer in which priests from each of the three Orthodox churches participated alongside Catholics (both Eastern and Latin Rite) and evangelical Christians.

Bishop Gudziak also noted a significant statement issued by the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, currently chaired by the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, (the Orthodox church with closest ties to Russia).

The council’s joint statement conveyed four main points: The government should listen to the people; violence is unacceptable, Ukraine is an indivisible state, and dialogue is the only legitimate path.

Catholic University of Ukraine 

Bishop Gudziak also serves as president of the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) in Lviv, a university located in western Ukraine, founded in 2002 with extensive support from Ukrainian Americans.

With more than 1500 students, and a business school as well as a seminary, it’s the only Catholic university in the former Soviet space.

UCU students and faculty have been active in the Maidan protests from the start; the university community called for civil disobedience and resignation of the government in light of the unprovoked violence.

In the United States, the Chicago-based Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation (UCEF) coordinates support for UCU and helps educate Americans about the Greek Catholic Church.

Executive director Alexander Kuzma says a key factor in the Maidan demonstration is “frustration building about high levels of corruption.

The Yanukovych regime is protecting his own privilege and narrow economic interests.”

The popular response, Kuzma explains, is essentially a moral one: “a non-violent national uprising has emerged, which shows what Blessed John Paul II used to call ‘the eastern lung’ of Catholicism breathing very powerfully.”

Bishop Stefan Soroka, a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishop from Canada currently serving as Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy for Philadelphia, says it is essential to understand current events in the historical context of Greek-Catholic oppression.

“This is a fight for all the countries in the east that we don’t return to the repression we experienced,” Bishop Soroka said.

“Everyone is saying, ‘Let’s not go back to a bygone era.’”

Hope for the Future 

It is impossible to predict where Ukraine’s future lies.

The current government seems to be succeeding in moving the Ukraine back into the Russian sphere, possibly into a Eurasian “customs union” that Russian President Putin launched with Belarus and Kazakhstan in 2010.

Or, the forces of European integration could eventually prevail as the Maidan demonstrators hope — and pray.

The third option, geographic partition between European-oriented western Ukraine and the eastern and south regions, traditionally allied with Russia, is an idea still evoked by Putin in a meeting with President George W. Bush in 2008.

According to Time magazine, the Russian leader said at that time:

“You don’t understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state. What is Ukraine? Part of its territories is Eastern Europe, but the greater part is a gift from us.”

Most Catholics reject the idea of a split.

Says Bishop Sokola, “What is developing is not East vs. West, but an authentic ‘duch’ [divinely influenced spirit], wanting a nation to progress out of this path of ongoing conflict.”

Similarly, Bishop Gudziak observes, “People are not campaigning against a party, not campaigning for some earthly messiah. They are demonstrating their dedication to God-given dignity and the principles of rule of law.”

Father Buryadnyk, a graduate of UCU’s Holy Spirit Seminary, goes so far as to call Maidan a “New Jerusalem” because “it is a place from which Christianity will spread. It is a blessing. It is the rebirth of a nation and a profound spiritual rebirth.” 

Source: National Catholic Register

Ukraine Police Allege Opposition Ties To Reporter's Attackers

KIEV, Ukraine -- Police in Ukraine on Friday accused five suspects detained over the savage beating of a reporter of links to the opposition, an allegation the opposition condemned as an attempt to deflect suspicions of government complicity.

Protesters hold pictures of journalist Tetyana Chornovil, who was beaten and left in a ditch just hours after publishing an article on the assets of top government officials, during a protest rally in front of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kiev December 26, 2013.

Tetyana Chornovil, 34, was chased down by car and beaten shortly after midnight on Wednesday, hours after posting pictures on her blog of a country home she said belonged to Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko.

The attack threatened to breathe new life into more than a month of opposition protests in the capital, Kiev, over a decision by the government in November to spurn a landmark pact on closer ties with the European Union and turn instead to former Soviet master Moscow.

In a video statement posted on the website of the Interior Ministry, Mykola Chynchyn, the head of the main investigations department, said:

"In the course of the investigation it was established that the detained had been in close contact with members of the party UDAR."

UDAR, or Punch, is led by heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, the most prominent of a troika of opposition leaders who have seized on the outcry among many Ukrainians over the government's move away from Europe.

Chynchyn also alleged ties between one suspect and a lawmaker from the opposition Fatherland party of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Chynchyn said nothing about the possible motive for the attack.


With tents and braziers against the winter cold, a core of hundreds of protesters is occupying Kiev's central Independence Square behind barricades.

The protests, however, are showing signs of losing steam, with turnout at weekly mass rallies down since the height of the backlash in late November and early December when hundreds of thousands packed downtown Kiev.

Chynchyn said the police investigation had also established links between one of the detained and the head of a criminal gang "with whom the Klitschko brothers had closely cooperated", without offering any details.

Klitschko, whose brother Vladimir is also a heavyweight boxing champion but is not involved in politics, said he would sue for libel.

"Instead of conducting an objective investigation and finding who really ordered and carried out the beating of Tetyana Chornovil, the ministry of Zakharchenko turns to provocation and effectively tries to conceal the criminals," he said in a statement issued by Udar.

Vitaly Yarema, a member of Tyomshenko's Fatherland party, accused the Interior Ministry of trying to exploit the assault for political ends.

Chornovil, an opposition journalist and activist who had taken part in the anti-government protests, has waged a campaign to document the opulence of the political elite under President Viktor Yanukovich, most famously by scaling the walls of the president's own residence in a park near the Dnieper River.

Yanukovich condemned the attack on Chornovil and urged police to find the perpetrators.

The assault, which left Chornovil hospitalized with a bloodied and badly bruised face, was the latest targeting activists involved in the opposition protests.

Hundreds of opposition protesters rallied at the Interior Ministry on Thursday calling on Zakharchenko to resign.

Opposition supporters have accused authorities of either direct involvement, or of creating a climate of impunity that allowed the attack to take place.

The United States condemned what it said was "an emerging pattern of targeted violence" and said it would follow the case.

The opposition plans to rally supporters on Sunday and again on New Year's Eve. 

Source: Yahoo News

Friday, December 27, 2013

Ukraine Demonstrators Denounce Attack On Opposition Journalist

KIEV, Ukraine -- Angry protesters are demanding the resignation of Ukraine’s Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko after an opposition journalist was badly beaten by unknown attackers.

Protesters hold upturned portraits of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and journalist Tetyana Chornovil, who was beaten and left in a ditch just hours after publishing an article on the assets of top government officials, during a protest rally in front of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kiev, December 26, 2013.

They marched to the ministry in Kiev, where they also denounced President Victor Yanukovych and insisted that the attack on Tetyana Chornovol is far from an isolated case.

“At least 51 journalists have suffered over the past month,” said civil activist Natalya Sokolenko.

“And the Interior Minister is personally responsible for that. His men are supposed to ensure public order.”

Giving a first extended interview from her hospital bed, investigative journalist Chornovol has suspicions about why she was attacked.

“Before being beaten, I had filmed the Interior Minister’s residence and the residence of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General and I think that this car started to chase me after I left the prosecutor’s place,” she said.

“And then some time ago, I discovered that the Ukrainian President also has another residence, not the one we know but another, more luxurious one.”

The 34-year-old blogger, who was chased down in her car and beaten outside the capital, is a thorn in the side of Ukraine’s political elite.

Filming luxury residences, Chornovol has waged a campaign to expose what she says is the opulence of those in power.

The attack, shortly after midnight on Wednesday, came hours after she posted pictures online of what she said was Zakharchenko’s home.

Source: euronews

Euromaidan's Little Helpers

KIEV, Ukraine -- Sofia Marchenko loves baking. And as protests continue in Ukraine against the government's decision to shelve a landmark pact with the European Union, the 18-year-old Kiev student has found a new way of putting her kitchen skills to use.

Sofia Marchenko hands out cookies to anti-government protestors in Kiev.

Like millions of Ukrainians who long to see their country join Europe, Marchenko was dismayed when President Viktor Yanukovych walked away from the EU deal last month in favor of closer ties with Moscow.

Her university exams, however, are currently preventing her from joining the protesters camped out on Kiev's Independence Square, better known among locals as the Maidan.

To make up for her absence, she regularly prepares patriotic-themed biscuits for demonstrators.

"The kitchen on Maidan is very well organized and people bring a lot of food. But there's a shortage of desserts. People usually want something sweet with their tea, especially when they are cold and down. I think sweets always raise people's spirits," Marchenko said.

During her latest baking session, Marchenko made trays full of heart-shaped biscuits which she adorned with the letters UA and UKR, both abbreviations for Ukraine, and yellow and blue glazing representing the national flag.

"I love seeing people smile as they take the biscuits, as they express thanks and say how tasty they are. It's great to see the joy in their eyes," Marchenko said.

Marchenko is one of many Ukrainians who for different reasons cannot spend much time on Maidan but help sustain the protests by keeping demonstrators fed, warm, and in revolutionary spirits.

Words, Deeds Of Support 

Since the protests erupted a month ago, sympathizers have been steadily streaming into the square to deliver homemade food, groceries, warm clothes, and other basic necessities.

Many of them take a stroll around Maidan after dropping off their donations at one of the tents that have sprung up on the square, doling out refreshments and words of support to protesters.

Yelena, 75, comes by every other day, usually hauling heavy bags brimming with food and warm clothes.

On one of her recent visits, she was already looking forward to her next delivery.

"I'll make barley kasha. I'll fry onions and throw them into the kasha with some lard, and I'll bring it to Maidan. It should be enough to feed 10 people. I'll also bring bread loaves, otherwise they might still be hungry," Yelena said.

Yelena dreams of a future in Europe for her three children and six grandchildren. 

Despite earning just $120 a month answering phones at a local company, she vows to spare no expense for the protesters.

"I'm ready to give whatever I have, however difficult it may be. This is my way of protesting. I come here for the sake of my children and Ukraine, so that its youth lives in Europe, so that we are no longer cheated, so that we receive decent pensions and laws are respected," Yelena said.

Many Ukrainians say they are grateful to protesters for braving subzero temperatures and police truncheons to defend their country's pro-European aspirations.

Riot police have twice attempted to break up the rally in the middle of the night, injuring dozens.

Bonfires, Prayers 

Valentina Rokhozhenska, a 41-year-old cook, commutes one hour from work every day to bring homemade food to Independence Square.

It takes her another hour to travel back home.

"People in the cold want to eat warm soup, warm kasha. I bring kasha with gravy and mushrooms, just like in good restaurants. We bring people food and we hope they will stay here until the victorious end," Rokhozhenska said.

While a solution to the political crisis remains elusive, the protesters seem to have everything they need to continue occupying the square for weeks.

The food tent is packed high with supplies, bonfires burn bright, a giant stage provides musical entertainment, volunteer doctors treat coughs and runny noses, and army veterans are on site round-the-clock to shield the protesters from police. 

Orthodox priests even lead daily prayers calling for peace under a large wooden cross.

The protests, widely dubbed Euromaidan, have drawn praise for their unprecedented level of organization.

Kiev entrepreneur Dmitro Vasilev is the co-founder of "Plan of Action," an Internet-based initiative to help drum up support for the protests.

He says the Euromaidan is a dramatic improvement from the 2004 Orange Revolution that ushered in a pro-Western government led by Viktor Yushchenko, who stepped down after losing the 2010 presidential election to Yanukovych.

"The organization is much better this time. There is a very clear understanding of how to run this Maidan, where food, clothes, and wood for heating are collected, where people are accommodated, where valuables are stored, there's even a special Internet tent.

We had a first experience, and we have since learned a lot from our mistakes," Vasilev said.

Vasilev, Marchenko, Rokhozhenska, Yelena, and countless other Ukrainians appear determined to ensure this Maidan brings long-term democratic change to their country.

Back in her cramped kitchen, Sofia says she is ready to cook as many biscuits as it takes.

"I will continue to bake in my free time. If the protests continue, I will do everything in my power to support them," Marchenko said.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Vladimir Putin Is Just The Latest Bully In The Thousand Year Struggle For Ukrainian Nationhood

WASHINGTON, DC -- Who are the Ukrainians? More fundamentally, are there Ukrainians? These questions of national identity stand at the core of the struggle for Ukrainian independence that protesters are waging right now in Kiev's central square, as well as in other cities across the country.

Click on image for a larger size.

The current crisis began when Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych decided that his government would "suspend the preparations for the signing of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union."

The agreement between the EU and Ukraine had already been negotiated and "initialed" but Yanukovych appeared to be choosing a path that would reduce Ukraine to little more than an economic and, in all likelihood, political satellite of Russia.

Moscow has offered significant cash as an inducement to bring Ukraine into its orbit.

While Russia alone already has significant weight in the world, a Russia with Ukraine is far more powerful.

Boris Tarasyuk, Ukraine's ex-foreign minister and the opposition's point person on international affairs, believes that Putin will put significant effort into bringing Ukraine into his Eurasian Union "by hook or by crook," and that Putin's ultimate goal is "reincarnating some semblance of the Soviet Union."

To be sure, even such an achievement would not return us to the Cold War.

No matter how much he bullies his neighbors, Putin's Russia is not the Soviet Union, and is not the enemy of the United States.

Nevertheless, there is clearly one side to root for here, not merely for America's national interest but in the interest of the liberal, democratic values we hold dear. 

Polls of Ukrainians taken throughout recent months show solid pluralities or majorities in favor of the EU Association Agreement, and a strong preference for joining the EU over joining the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

In response to the government's decision, mass numbers of Ukrainians have taken to the streets and demanded that Ukraine choose Europe over Russia and, by extension, choose independence, democracy, and the rule of law over subordination as part of a Russian-dominated economic union, and a corrupt, semi-authoritarian system of government of the kind specifically prohibited by the EU Association Agreement.

Twenty-three year old Anastasia Bondarenko -- who has been protesting daily in Kiev since this whole thing began on November 21 -- captured these sentiments: 

"We've always seen Ukraine as independent, and not as a small Russia. We understand Europe has lots of problems," she said.

"But they have a set of rules. They know how to follow the rules. We want to follow rules."

The government has responded to these peaceful demonstrations, at times, with violence and mass arrests that have brought condemnation from European and American officials.

In recent days, there have been discussions of compromise, and talks, and even a statement from Yanukovych that, for 20 billion Euros ($27.4 billion), Ukraine might just sign that EU Association Agreement after all.

Furthermore, there are signs just this weekend that the ground is shifting in favor of the protestors, according to Adrian Karatnycky, Ukraine expert affiliated with the Atlantic Council of the United States.

We can only hope.

This is a complex story, with many more moving parts (in particular the economic/trade aspects) than I can describe in a single post.

What I'd like to do is offer some historical background that will help make clearer the long-term, underlying issues.

Ukraine is, in a word, complicated.

In terms of demographics, it is divided, with a significant portion of eastern Ukraine dominated either by ethnic Ukrainians (presumably self-identified) who speak Russian as a first language, or ethnic Russians. 

There are much stronger pro-Russian/anti-EU sentiments the further east one goes in Ukraine.

In the east, the region from which Yanukovych hails, many question whether Ukraine should even be an independent country rather than simply a part of Russia.

This question is one that has been debated for about a millennium.

The briefest of overviews follows: A thousand years ago there was a state known as Kievan Rus'.

It existed from 882 through 1283, the capital was Kiev, and it covered much of what is now western Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.

So-called "Great Russian" propagandists claim that, in reality, there really is only one people in that region, united by the Orthodox faith, a common language (they claim that Ukrainian and Belarusian are merely regional dialects of Russian), culture, and history.

After the decline of Kievan Rus' and its ultimate defeat at the hands of the Mongols, the region that is now Ukraine then relatively quickly (by the early 14th century) fell under the sovereignty of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, at one point the largest country in Eastern Europe.

In 1569, Lithuania merged with Poland to form the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which then became the largest state in the region.

Over the next two hundred years, Poland-Lithuania and Russia struggled for domination of Eastern Europe, and Ukraine was one of the central battlegrounds.

For its time, Poland-Lithuania was quite democratic, while Russia grew increasingly autocratic.

Each of them, however, had an interest in denying Ukrainian desires for independence.

By the nineteenth century, Russia had swallowed not only Ukraine but most of Poland-Lithuania as well.

Austria and Prussia took the rest, with a small chunk of contemporary Ukraine (centered around the city of L'viv) serving as the eastern half of the Austrian province of Galicia.

A modern nationalist movement began to emerge by the late nineteenth century, with Galician Ukrainians (many of whom were Greek Catholic rather than Orthodox) playing an outsized role.

At the end of World War I this movement achieved success, and the independent state of Ukraine emerged.

However, this Ukrainian People's Republic was short-lived, as the Soviet Union quickly established its authority over the region.

The history of Soviet Ukraine is perhaps better known than some of the events I've (all too quickly, I realize) related here.

To summarize, Ukraine was absolutely brutalized by Joseph Stalin in what is known at the Holodomor, or Terror-Famine, in which millions died at the hands of the regime in 1932 and 1933.

During the early 1940s, the Nazis also had a brief run controlling a good chunk of Ukraine.

They and their numerous Ukrainian collaborators all but eliminated the region's Jews.

In the long run, however, the Nazis intended to murder, expel, enslave, and/or absorb into the Aryan population the non-Jewish Ukrainians as well.

1945 saw the return of Soviet rule.

Finally, with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine once again gained its independence.

The question now is whether they will keep it.

The outcome of the tug of war between the pro-government/pro-Russian forces and the pro-EU/pro-independence forces in Ukraine will have a decisive impact on Eastern Europe's development in the new millennium.

Yes, we can cast cynical aspersions about all the reasons why European/Western democracies are hypocritical and awful and terrible.

Many of those aspersions do have a grounding in reality.

Nevertheless, for many Ukrainians, the European Union specifically and the West in general represents values and ideals that they want their country to embrace.

Source: Huff Post World

US Condemns Violence Against Protesters, Journalists In Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC -- The United States on Thursday expressed concern over the targeting of journalists and activists taking part in pro-EU rallies in Ukraine, calling the savage beating of one opposition journalist "particularly disturbing."

Protesters hold photos of Tetyana Chornovil, popular Ukrainian journalist and opposition activist, during the rally at the Internal Affairs Ministry in Kiev on December 26, 2013.

Opposition leaders have been locked in a standoff with President Viktor Yanukovych over his decision to scrap key political and free trade agreements with the European Union last month.

"The United States expresses its grave concern over an emerging pattern of targeted violence and intimidation towards activists and journalists who participated in or reported on the EuroMaidan protests," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

"The violent beating of journalist Tetyana Chornovil is particularly disturbing," she said.

Chornovil, who writes for the Ukrainska Pravda opposition website, was attacked overnight Tuesday outside the capital Kiev, police said in a statement citing the journalist, who described being pulled from her car, beaten on the head and thrown into a ditch.

The attack came after a local pro-EU activist was stabbed in both thighs in the eastern city of Kharkiv on Tuesday evening.

The United States called on Ukraine to "ensure respect for human rights, including fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly, the rule of law, and democratic principles," Psaki said.

"We urge the government of Ukraine to send an unequivocal message that violence against critics of the government and those who are working towards a modern, democratic, and prosperous Ukraine will not be tolerated," she added, emphasizing that the US and its European allies would be watching closely.

Yanukovych's decision to scrap the EU pact sparked the largest protests since the pro-democracy Orange Revolution in 2004 but the demonstrations have been losing their momentum following a bailout deal with Russia last week.

Protesters have been occupying Kiev's central Independence Square,known locally as Maidan, since late November but opposition leaders have been unable to shake Yanukovych from his perch.

Source: AFP

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Ukrainian Protesters Cling To Their Camps As Holidays Divert Crowds

KIEV, Ukraine -- As they enters their second month, pro-European protests in Ukraine appear to be losing momentum after financial aid from Russia averted an economic crunch.

Pro-European Union activists warm themselves at a bonfire during a rally in Independence Square in Kiev. Anti-government demonstrators continued to occupy Kiev's Independence Square, expressing their anger over a bailout Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych negotiated with Russia earlier this week.

As thousands gathered in Kiev’s central square on Sunday, five weeks after huge antigovernment protests first flared, the movement's leaders tried to rally the crowd's spirits for the battle that lies ahead.

“We will not leave!” shouted Vitali Klitschko, a prominent organizer.

“We will celebrate New Year here. We will celebrate Christmas here with our families.” (Ukraine's Orthodox Christmas falls on January 7.)

Yet it is precisely these holidays, as well as freezing temperatures and the government’s unwillingness to bend to the protesters’ demands, that has rattled these leaders.

President Viktor Yanukovych has rejected calls to step down and call early elections.

Sunday's crowd was estimated at 75,000 to 100,000 people, a substantial turnout.

But, as the protest enters its second month, organizers face a stiff challenge in maintaining momentum.

Last week Russia threw the embattled Ukrainian president an economic lifeline by agreeing to buy $15 billion worth of Ukrainian bonds and to discount natural gas shipments, which could save Ukraine an additional $2 billion a year.

The agreement provides short-term stabilizers to an economy that had teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.

Yet it may ultimately be more of a liability than a victory for Mr. Yanukovych, who still faces legions of angry protestors camped out on the capital's streets, says Andreas Umland, professor of political science at the National University of the Kiev-Mohyla Academy in Kiev.

The deal made the president look “like he is selling out the country to Russia,” says Mr. Umland.

The president’s choice to strike a deal with Russia rather than the EU has angered those who had hoped the country would inch in Europe’s direction.

“The people on the street feel angry and betrayed by this treaty,” says Alisa Ruban, the international secretary for Democratic Alliance, an opposition party.

“We know that this money won’t go to the people or to helping the country. It will go to Yanukovych and a few businessmen he is close to,” she says.

Moscow’s financial package came a month after Ukraine scuttled a free-trade agreement with the EU.

Russia, the country’s largest trade partner, vehemently opposed the deal – a message made clear by its use of trade sanctions.

Ukraine had also been in talks with the IMF for an emergency loan.

Many are concerned that Russian aid could hobble Ukraine's economy in the long term, since it requires none of the painful fixes that the IMF was demanding in return for similar financial assistance: greater government transparency, judiciary reforms, and improvements in oversight.

“Longer-term risks to the credit profile remain,” said international rating agency Fitch Ratings in a statement last week.

“In pursuing Russian rather than IMF support, the Ukrainian government has avoided policy conditions ultimately aimed at helping revive its economy."

Ukraine is not out of the woods yet.

Its business environment remains weak, its GDP has declined for the past five consecutive quarters, and it needs to repay $8 billion to creditors in 2014.

But the deal with Russia is a clear victory for Moscow, especially coming so close on the heels of a sobering announcement by the EU’s commissioner for enlargement Štefan Füle that talks with Ukraine were being put on hold until the country showed a firm commitment.

And although Yanukovych insists that he still plans to sign the European agreement, potentially as early as next year, many Ukrainians put little faith in him or his promises.

Next Steps 

Despite plummeting approval ratings, Yanukovych remains firmly in power, and fatigue has begun to set on Kiev’s streets.

“There is a very small hope that the protests will change the political situation, since there is no legal pressure on the government to reform,” says Kyryl Savin, director of the Kiev office of Heinrich Böll Foundation, a think tank allied with Germany’s Green Party.

The next presidential election scheduled for early 2015 “is when change could happen,” he says.

Yanukovych has tried to counter any fallout from the Russian agreement by pledging to use some of the money to raise public-sector wages.

Opinion polls suggest that, for the moment at least, he would lose to the opposition in a fair vote.

In fact, if elections were held right now, the most likely man to become president would be Mr. Klitschko, a former world heavyweight boxing champion.

But with more than a year until the election, the Kiev movement needs to keep up its momentum, which has become harder following the Russian aid deal.

"Now it's even more difficult for them to formulate their demands,” says Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Kremlin-funded Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow.

“What are they going to say? 'Let's not lower the price of gas'? 'Let's not take those easy Russian credits, but instead accept those IMF loans that have harsh austerity conditions attached'?"

Recognizing the problem, protest leaders say that they will launch a new political umbrella movement for the various anti-Yanukovych factions.

The movement will be named after Maidan, the central square in Kiev that has been the main theater for the protests.

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

How Journalist Tetyana Chornovil Became The Face Of Ukraine Struggle

KIEV, Ukraine -- Unknown assailants have savagely beaten a dogged Ukrainian journalist who has taken part in pro-EU rallies, triggering outrage among the opposition locked in a confrontation with President Viktor Yanukovych.

Tetyana Chornovil before and after the beating.

Tetyana Chornovil, who writes for the Ukrainska Pravda opposition website, was attacked overnight Tuesday outside the capital Kiev, police said in a statement, citing the journalist.

The prominent journalist, known for her critical reports about Yanukovych and top officials, was driving to Kiev when she noticed she was being followed by a car.

"The driver of the suspicious car began to push her to the side. When she stopped, several men who were following her broke the back window of her car, pulled her out and started beating her," police said in a statement.

"After that she was thrown into a ditch," police said, adding she was found next to her vehicle shortly after midnight.

President Yanukovych condemned the attack and ordered Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko to find those responsible.

Later in the day Zakharchenko said three suspects in the beating had been identified and two of them detained.

Police said its "most experienced" investigators were probing the attack on the 34-year-old, who has participated in weeks-long pro-EU protests against Yanukovych.

Chornovil herself said there were "at least two" assailants.

"I started running, they began pursuing me," she said in video comments posted on the Ukrainska Pravda website.

"They were hitting me on the head, they were not saying anything, they were just hitting," said the young woman, her face bruised and swollen.

The news site said, citing relatives, that Chornovil was hospitalised with a broken nose, a concussion and multiple bruises.

The attack on the journalist comes after a local pro-EU activist was stabbed in both thighs in the eastern city of Kharkiv on Tuesday evening.

The latest assault caused outrage among opposition leaders, who have been locked in a standoff with Yanukovych over his decision to scrap key political and free trade agreements with the European Union last month.

Several hundred protesters on Wednesday gathered outside the seat of the interior minister, calling for his resignation.

Some of the protesters held up pictures of Chornovil.

'Last drop of blood' 

"Today they nearly killed Tanya Chornovil and this should be the last drop of blood, the last manifestation of cruelty towards our people which we have all allowed through our inaction," jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko said in a statement.

"Police and bandits together are roughing up those who do not suit the authorities -- that's what the dictatorial regimes in Africa and Latin America did," opposition lawmaker Andriy Shevchenko said on Twitter.

World boxing champion and opposition leader Vitali Klitschko posted on Twitter pictures of a bloodied Chornovil as well as of several journalists injured in recent clashes between protesters and police.

"The price of freedom of the press in Ukraine now thanks to the system put in place by our current government," said the message next to the pictures.

The opposition has called for the resignation of Zakharchenko over police brutality and corruption but Yanukovych has refused to sack him.

Yanukovych's decision to scrap the EU pact sparked the largest protests since the pro-democracy Orange Revolution in 2004 but the demonstrations have been losing their momentum following a bailout deal with Russia last week.

Protesters have been occupying Kiev's central Independence Square known locally as Maidan since late November but opposition leaders have been unable to shake Yanukovych from his perch.

In an apparent bid to re-energise the protest movement, dubbed the "EuroMaidan", Tymoshenko on Wednesday encouraged protesters to march on her arch enemy Yanukovych's luxurious Mezhygirya residence on the banks of the Dnipro River.

She also urged the opposition to establish an interim government and a new central election commission.

The US embassy in Kiev said it was "appalled" by Chornovil's beating.

"We express our concern at a strikingly similar series of events over the last few weeks, targeting individuals, property, and political activity, apparently aimed at intimidating or punishing those linked to the EuroMaidan protests," it said.

The EU Delegation to Ukraine noted "the increasing pressure on civil society activists, political leaders and journalists," while the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe called on the authorities to improve the safety of journalists. 

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

Activist And Journalist Who Organised Pro-EU Protests In Ukraine Assaulted And Hospitalised In Separate Incidents

KIEV, Ukraine -- A journalist and an activist who organised mass pro-EU protests in Ukraine were assaulted and hospitalised in separate incidents on Tuesday night.

Activist Dmitry Pylypets told The Independent he was approached by two men outside his apartment in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine.

They stabbed him at least four times, told him to stop organising protests, and left him bleeding on the street.

Mr Pylyets believes the attack could have been much worse if his assailants had not been interrupted by a passing driver.

Journalist Tetyana Chornovil was driving home from Kiev when she noticed she was being followed by an SUV.

The pursuers rammed her car, forcing her to flee on foot.

She told reporters that two men leapt out of the SUV, chased her down, and beat her unconscious.

Doctors say she needs surgery to reconstruct her face.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have taken to the streets over the past month to protest their government’s decision to abandon a historic Association Agreement with the EU, which would have given Ukraine free access to European markets in exchange for democracy and human rights reform.

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks to have killed the deal, years in the making, by agreeing a $15 billion dollar bail-out for Ukraine's floundering economy and slashing the price of gas exports to Ukraine by a third.

Embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych insists he still intends to sign the Agreement next year, but Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov made it clear on Monday that Moscow would block the move.

Responding to a question about whether Kiev could still sign a pact with the EU having secured multi-billion dollar financial assistance from Russia, he said: "The financial assistance agreement gives us the right to demand that the Ukrainian government repay this loan at any time, backed by the most severe legal consequences."

Russia has previously threatened to block Ukrainian imports and increase gas prices if Ukraine signed the agreement with the EU.

The attacks are the latest in a series of actions targeting pro-Europe demonstrators.

A third activist died in hospital earlier this week after being assaulted by three men he said were police officers on 18 December.

36 internationals, including former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, have been banned from Ukraine by the country’s state security services for affiliating with demonstration organizers.

International rights organisation Human Rights Watch have also accused President Yanukovych’s government of intimidating those who complained about police violence during the protests.

Source: The Independent

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Putin Ready For Post-Soviet Economic Union With Belarus, Kazakhstan And Ukraine

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday the final pieces were in place for the 2015 launch of an economic union with Belarus and Kazakhstan that Moscow hopes can also be joined by Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin promised following talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko that the so-called Eurasian Economic Union would turn into a new source of growth for all involved.

The alliance would replace a much looser Eurasian Customs Union that Russia formed with the two ex-Soviet nations in an effort to build up a free trade rival to the 28-nation EU bloc.

“Government representatives of the troika (Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus) … have developed the draft of the institutional part of the Eurasian Economic Union agreement,” Putin said in televised remarks.

“This document determines the international legal status, organisational frameworks, the objectives and mechanisms of how the union will operate starting on January 1, 2015,” Putin said.

Putin has made the creation of a post-Soviet economic union that could one day even be joined by nations such as Turkey and India the keystone project of his third Kremlin term.

Russia has put immense pressure on Ukraine to join the alliance and threatened economic sanctions against Kiev when it was on the verge of signing a landmark trade and political association deal with Brussels last month.

Kiev’s decision to spurn the EU pact sparked the biggest protests since the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution and exposed the deep cultural rifts running between the nationalist west of Ukraine and its more Russified eastern parts.

But the size of those rallies began to ebb when Ukraine agreed a $15-billion bailout package with Russia that also included a one-third cut in the price Moscow charges its neighbour for natural gas.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said during talks in Moscow with his counterpart Dmitry Medvedev that Kiev had just received the first $3.0-billion tranche of the Russian rescue plan.

“This is a stabilising factor for us,” the Ukrainian government website quoted Azarov as saying before he joined Putin at the Eurasian meeting.

“Thanks to the reached agreements, our ratings went up. We came out of the zone that we were in,” Azarov said.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara added that Kiev and Moscow intended to continue to “coordinate (their) foreign policies.”

“I am especially asking my Russian colleague Sergei Lavrov to support Ukraine’s efforts to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council,” ITAR-TASS quoted Ukraine’s top diplomat as saying.

Russia’s rescue — announced following talks in Moscow between Putin and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych — involves the purchase of new eurobonds Kiev began to issue on the Irish stock exchange.

The package helped to tamp down the soaring yield on Ukrainian government obligations and made it easier for Kiev to issue new debt to cover its yawning fiscal black hole.

The three nations on Tuesday also agreed on a “road map” paving the way for the membership in their union of Armenia — a tiny ex-Soviet Caucasus nation that had also been expected to sign an initial agreement with Brussels last month.

Putin rewarded Armenia’s reversal by slashing the price of its natural gas imports from Russia to $189 from $270 per 1,000 cubic metros.

Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said it should take “about half a year” for Armenia to formally join the existing Moscow-led customs pact.

Putin added that the impoverished Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan was also conducting initial membership talks.

Kyrgyzstan’s participation has been held up by Russia’s worries over its inability to plug its porous border with China.

Source: Agence France-Presse