Sunday, November 20, 2016

First Ukrainian President Says Sanctions Not Enough, Must Negotiate For Peace

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's first president, who helped usher in the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union 25 years ago, said Ukraine's leaders today must find a similarly peaceful resolution of the separatist conflict in the east.


Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk says his nation must find a peaceful solution to the conflict in the east.

"We heeded our peoples then and signed the [dissolution] accords, and so why can't the country leaders today tap a solution consonant with the aspirations of their nations, which don't want a war?" Leonid Kravchuk said at an Atlantic Council event in Washington on November 18.

While Kravchuk said the West must keep up economic pressure on Russia by maintaining sanctions until it agrees to stop its aggression in Ukraine, he added that "you will not achieve order in the world only through sanctions."

Ukraine's only option in the end is to negotiate peace, he said.

"We have only one prospect ahead of us, and it implies dialogue and agreements,” Kravchuk said.

“Other prospects are nonexistent...I'm confident Ukraine has no other pathway than that of peace." 

Kravchuk has previously said that while he is ready to take up arms to defend his country, he believes Russia would quickly defeat Ukraine if an all-out war broke out between them.

Kravchuk has also said previously that Ukraine might have to accept Russia's 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian Black Sea region of Crimea in order to regain control over territory in the east that is held by Russia-backed separatists as part of a peace settlement.

"Donbass will return without fail, and we will not have to wait long," he told TASS in August.

"As for Crimea, we will have to wait for a long time...Crimea was drawn into Moscow's orbit, so it is already part of the Russian federal system."

In August, he called on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to ditch the Minsk peace process sponsored by Germany and France, which has been stalled, and instead try to negotiate a settlement directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia maintains that it is not a party to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, although Moscow provides military, political, and economic support to the separatist movements.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) earlier this month determined the conflict in Ukraine to be "an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation."

Also speaking at the Atlantic Council event, Gennady Burbulis, a close aide of the late Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who signed the 1991 agreement that dissolved the Soviet Union, said the West's harsh line against Russia has been ineffective at bringing about peace in Ukraine.

Burbulis, who said the Soviet Union was doomed to fail, called for a softer, more nuanced dialogue with today's Kremlin.

"There is no other way than consensus, but consensus implies a different understanding of politics, a different culture of relations, not guided by the principle, 'I am stronger and you are poorer,'" he said. 

Stanislav Shushkevich, who in 1991 was head of the Belarusian parliament and who also signed the agreement dissolving the Soviet Union with Yeltsin and Kravchuk, said that despite the success of the peaceful transition to a post-Soviet world back then, stubborn ethnic and territorial disputes have emerged and not all the old Soviet ways have disappeared. "

A whole range of symbols of the old Soviet Union have been resurrected because the mentality of Soviet people has been preserved," he said.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Saturday, November 19, 2016

EU Approves Ukraine Visa-Free Travel

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European Union member states on 17 November approved visa-free travel for Ukraine citizens, long sought by Kiiv to help cement ties as it combats pro-Russian rebels in the east.


Slovak EU Ambassador Peter Javorčík (L).

Visa-free travel was part of an EU-Ukraine partnership accord signed in 2014, when the country, a Soviet-era satellite, angered Moscow by casting its lot with the West.

In return for closer political and economic ties, the EU has demanded civil society reforms to root out corruption and ensure Ukraine rights and democratic standards match those in the bloc.

A statement said the 28 EU member states had agreed visa-free travel for EU and Ukraine citizens for stays of not more than 90 days in any 180-day period as all requirements had been met.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Twitter he welcomed this “long-awaited decision” and called on the EU to introduce the visa-free regime “without further delay”.

“Credible reform is the right path and should be encouraged,” Peter Javorčík, Slovak ambassador to the EU and whose country currently holds the bloc’s six-month rotating presidency, said in the statement.

“I am also delighted that our decision is able to send a positive message in the run up to the EU-Ukraine Summit on 24 November,” Javorčík added.

The proposal now goes to the European Parliament for approval.

Ukraine crisis has plunged EU ties with Russia into a deep freeze, with Brussels imposing a whole series of economic and other sanctions against Moscow for supporting the rebels and over its annexation of Crimea.

Source: EurActiv

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Campaign Against Sexual Abuse In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- On September 17th in Kiev, Ukrainian activists—most of them young women—marched against gender-based violence, proceeding from Maidan square to the City Administration Building on Khreschatyk Street.


Feminists protest sexual violence in Kiev, Ukraine.

With rainbow flags and slogans like “my body, my choice,” the march was a far cry from Femen’s topless (and controversial) antics of yesteryear.

Instead, it looked much like college feminist protests anywhere in the United States or Western Europe.

This was no coincidence: Viktoria Korobkina, a 23-year-old student, told me that she had learned about feminism from classmates from other countries while studying abroad in China.

The march, which included participants from Kiev’s leftist student movement FemSolution and the LGBTQ NGO Insight, built on the “I am not afraid to speak” online movement of this summer, in which Ukrainians shared their experiences of sexual assault.

The tidal wave of testimonials shocked many observers, and brought attention to the silence and shame that surrounds sexual assault in Ukraine.

Ukrainian law enforcement, and society in general, has a particularly poor track record of responding to sexual and domestic violence, often blaming the victims and making excuses for the perpetrators; it is no surprise that many assaults go unreported, and are not vigorously prosecuted when they are.

Onlookers’ response to the Kiev protest was mixed.

“Lots of women refused to take my fliers,” said Korobkina.

“One said, ‘I don’t need that—I haven’t been raped.’

But another woman came up to me and asked for information about where to get help.

She told me that her brother had been beating her for ten years.”

The war in the Donbass has added a frightening new dimension to Ukraine’s problem with sexual violence.

Human rights groups have reported increased levels of sexual violence in the conflict zone, including reports of rapes of civilians by fighters on both sides of the conflict.

Perhaps even more troubling has been the tolerant attitude of Ukrainian authorities to crimes committed by “heroes of the anti-terrorist operation.”

Several of the Kiev protesters expressed outrage over a recent case in which a man convicted of the violent rape of a minor was given a suspended sentence and ordered to pay just 3000 hryvnia ($120) in “moral compensation.”

There was no question that the defendant was guilty, but the judge ruled that his military service in eastern Ukraine constituted an extenuating circumstance— thus setting an alarming precedent.

The Kiev Oblast Prosecutor’s Office later announced that it had appealed the ruling.

One protester’s sign read, “ATO hero, patriot, Cossack, family man…that’s not an excuse for rape!”

A young woman with a bandana over her face carried a poster stating the details of the case and ending with the question, “Do heroes have the right to rape?”

That she felt the need to conceal her identity while protesting such an obvious miscarriage of justice was another indicator of the special status enjoyed by pro-Ukrainian fighters, who are too often allowed to operate above the law.

Many of the police officers providing security for the protest were young women recruited during the internationally lauded post-Maidan police reforms.

“It’s easier for a woman to talk to another woman,” said police officer Valentina Zalensko, when asked about how the presence of women in the police force might help improve the response to gender-based violence.

“But every situation is different, and it’s easier to talk about problems than to solve them,” she added.

Another officer, 21-year-old Anna, said that many women are still reluctant to report domestic and sexual violence; in these cases, she said, police offered referrals to the women’s rights center La Strada.

It is to be hoped that the new police force will support specially trained women officers in responding to gender-based violence.

But above all, Ukraine must make it clear that heroism is no excuse for rape.

Source: Pulitzer Center

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Why Ukraine Is Losing The War On Corruption

KIEV, Ukraine -- Few politicians in the world have had to undergo the same experience twice in their career and in different countries. Yet this is exactly what happened to me in Ukraine and Georgia.


The former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili at a news conference in Kiev this month.

I was the president of Georgia for nine years, during which it went from a kleptocracy and failed state to a country that won international recognition for tackling corruption and became one of the easiest places in Europe to conduct business.

Named the world’s top reformer by the World Bank in 2006, Georgia became a flagship among the countries of the former Soviet bloc.

After my second presidential term in 2013, I left to pursue academic work in the United States for a time, and then returned to Ukraine — where, as a young man, I had spent several years at Kiev University.

Responding to calls from my Ukrainian friends to help apply my experience in government, I arrived along with the wave of enthusiasm for reform that followed the Maidan revolution.

I offered to work in Odessa, the largest region of Ukraine.

It was highly unusual for a former president of another state to serve as a governor in a different country, but the very fate of Ukrainian statehood was at stake in Odessa.

The province was not only riddled with local mafia groups infamous for their thuggishness, but it was also threatened by the conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the east.

Odessa borders the breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova, which is controlled by Moscow-backed separatists and Russian armed forces.

I brought with me a group of professionals from my previous government, who started to overhaul Ukraine’s police force and helped to lead the country’s first anti-corruption agency.

The reform of the police force was an immediate popular success, while the new anti-graft agency established several high-profile investigations.

We seemed to have the encouragement of Ukraine’s president to push ahead.

The city of Odessa was recovering from the clashes of May 2, 2014, with pro-Russian militants, in which scores of people were killed.

Focusing on reconstruction and reform, I opened a competitive process to recruit the most talented Western-educated professionals to fill the leadership positions in district administrations.

I created an economic development board to help local businessmen circumvent crooked officials in state agencies, and I invited Yulia Marushevska, a prominent young Maidan activist, to clean up Odessa’s customs service, which was notorious for bribery and kickbacks.

We began a program of repairing roads and other infrastructure.

We worked hard to raise standards in public services to new levels and restore security to the region. 

As the reform movement picked up pace and gained popularity, we suddenly ran into resistance where we least expected it — from people in prominent positions in government back in the capital, Kiev.

The first sign of trouble was when I had to confront the then prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, over evidence of corruption involving government officials at a chemical plant in Odessa, one of the largest state-owned enterprises of its kind.

Starting in January, I toured the country to publicize our anti-corruption “Cleaning Up Ukraine” movement in order to put pressure on the country’s leaders to put a stop to this graft by Ukraine’s ultrarich.

In March, Ukraine’s Parliament voted to remove the prosecutor general, and the following month, the prime minister resigned.

Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko, pledged to crack down on the old practices and bring in greater transparency.

That was more than seven months ago, yet we have not seen any major changes.

There was no big clear-out of the cronies. I was left, instead, with the impression that local leaders of the president’s party were working to undermine the anti-corruption efforts.

My administration was starved of funding for months, the appointment of several of my key deputies has been stalled, and some of our most able reformers have quit in frustration.

Ms. Marushevska, the customs agency head whom I appointed, said she was harassed with trumped-up official reprimands.

Similar tactics were used by the prosecutor general’s office, which raided the office of one of my advisers.

Despite these aggressive searches, no charges have been filed.

The final straw for me came when the online disclosures of Ukrainian officials’ personal wealth, the so-called e-declarations, were published last month.

Here were the very public servants with whom I had to work on a daily basis shamelessly declaring the millions of dollars they had stashed under their mattresses.

It was the decades-long rule of this post-Soviet kleptocratic elite that turned this potentially wealthy nation into one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Ukraine need not be poor, but corrupt officials have systematically pillaged the country, robbing Ukrainians of the prosperity that should be theirs.

While Ukraine’s soldiers are on the front line, heroically defending their country from Russian aggression, Ukraine’s elite keeps stripping the country of all it has left.

In their lifestyle and mentality, Ukraine’s kleptocrats are identical to their counterparts in Russia’s oligarchy.

The final freedom for Ukraine would be to free it not just from Russian aggression but also from the Russian-style political class that holds Ukraine back from its European aspirations.

Back in 2001, after failing to persuade Georgia’s president, Eduard Shevardnadze, to force through meaningful reforms and get rid of his corrupt entourage, I resigned from the government.

I went on to found Georgia’s United National Movement, which led to the 2003 Rose Revolution, which finally brought real reform to Georgia.

The success of Georgia’s revolution served as an inspiration to many of the Maidan activists of 2014 in Ukraine.

Just as with Mr. Shevardnadze, I’ve been severely disappointed with Mr. Poroshenko’s apparent inability to see that the status quo is unsustainable.

Ukraine needs real change, not an imitation of it.

Today, many of the reform initiatives we began have come to a halt.

Just this week, Ms. Marushevska resigned from her post.

After my repeat experience here, I decided to resign to found a new political party in Ukraine.

This is an amazing country, full of hard-working, educated and talented people who deserve a much better future.

Its greatest resource is the young, educated Ukrainians who, given the opportunity, would become effective, honest public servants and political leaders, eager to rid the country of corruption.

Until now, Ukraine’s old corrupt establishment has discouraged and blocked these young reformers from assuming leadership positions in the public sector.

I am pledged to help change that.

Source: Mikheil Saakashvili for The New York Times

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Investigation Uncovers Poroshenko's, Allies' Spanish Coastal Villas

KIEV, Ukraine -- Along the picturesque shores of Estepona in southern Spain's Costa del Sol lie some of Europe's most elegant resorts and luxury estates, whose owners and residents include Hollywood actors, superstar athletes, and some of the continent's political elite.


The Spanish villa owned by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

But the list of property owners also includes the head of state, along with several key allies, of one of postcommunist Europe's most beleaguered and corruption-riddled states, an RFE/RL investigation has learned.

The Spanish properties of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko; Ihor Kononenko, a deputy head of the president's Bloc of Petro Poroshenko party and onetime business partner; and Oleh Hladkovskyy, a deputy secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, had previously been kept secret.

Each of those three men owns a lavish Mediterranean-style villa on or near the coast -- and in Kononenko's case, a second plot of land, too.

But none of the properties is enumerated in those public officials' publicly searchable asset declarations that came due on October 30 as part of a new, International Monetary Fund (IMF)-backed push to boost transparency and root out graft, according to an investigative program of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Skhemy (Schemes), that aired on November 10.

Instead, the declarations of Poroshenko, a confectionery mogul before his rise to the presidency of war-torn Ukraine in mid-2014, and Kononenko and Hladkovskyy include companies that in turn own the Spanish homes -- effectively rendering them invisible from public view.

Corruption has been a persistent problem in Ukraine, contributing to political stagnation that followed the so-called Orange Revolution in 2004-05 and the Euromaidan unrest a decade later that unseated a president.

Western officials and international financial institutions insist such criminality is still a problem and threatens billions in assistance that have helped keep the country afloat since Russian troops invaded and seized Crimea from Ukraine in early 2014.

Spanish Getaways 

Documents obtained by Schemes show Poroshenko's Spanish-registered Feruvita S.L. -- listed in the president's declaration -- bought a 23-year-old villa in Estepona in the summer of 2008, when he headed the Council of Ukraine's National Bank.

In the financial statements, the value of the two-story, 1,254-square-meter villa and grounds, complete with swimming pool, is estimated at 4 million euros ($4.3 million). 

The gated, white-columned villas belonging to Kononenko and Hladkovskyy were discovered by Schemes journalists within short driving distances of Poroshenko's property.

Kononenko also owns a second parcel of land on the coastline where a house was demolished in 2012, apparently to make way for a new one.

Neighbors confirmed seeing Poroshenko in the neighborhood.

Poroshenko "comes two days here and leaves," one man, whose gardener also does landscaping for the Poroshenko estate, told a Schemes journalist.

"He rests a day or two. Not for a week or month, no, no."

In March, Poroshenko was photographed by the Ukrainian news site Ukrayinska Pravda making a purchase at a Spanish pharmacy and driving away in a white Porsche.

The site also published images of what was believed at the time to be the president's Spanish villa. 

'Vague' Language? 

While it is not illegal to control assets through companies so long as they are used for purposes related to the business, anticorruption campaigners argue that failing to disclose such properties makes a mockery of the duty to report and raises questions about how they were obtained.

Daria Kalenyuk, executive director of the Kiev-based NGO Anticorruption Action Center, told RFE/RL that an independent investigation should be conducted by Ukraine's National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption to determine whether Poroshenko, Kononenko, or Hladkovskyy violated Ukrainian law by not declaring the villas directly in their declarations.

"If the villa is not used for the company's commercial activity, it should have been declared," Kalenyuk said.

Responding to Schemes' request for comment, Poroshenko's office said:

"The enterprises in which Petro Poroshenko is the ultimate beneficiary have overseas property such as factories, shops, warehouses, administrative buildings, and houses. All this is in the form of legal entities specified in his declaration in accordance with the Law 'On Prevention of Corruption.'" 

Ukraine's new asset-declaration law has been hailed by Western governments as a major step in combating corruption.

But Kalenyuk and other activists complain the legislation is imperfect.

For instance, she said, "vague" language in the law has allowed officials to get away with not declaring assets owned by companies that they control.

But Ruslan Radetskyy, the deputy head of the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption, told Schemes that the language in the law was specific enough.

"[The declarant] must specify all property that belongs to him, through a company or as an individual," he said.

Yehor Sobolyev, co-author of the declaration law and head of parliament's anticorruption committee, agreed.

"In my opinion, there is evidence of breach of the law 'On Preventing Corruption' by the president of Ukraine, who did not declare the villa in Spain in his electronic declaration," he told Schemes.

"The explanation from representatives of the presidential administration that the owner of the villa is not the president, but a company that he controlled, is incorrect."

Source: Radio Free Europe

Monday, November 14, 2016

Ukraine Police Chief Quits, As Exodus Of Reformers Continues

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's police chief and a prominent customs officer resigned on Monday, continuing an exodus of reformist officials that has raised serious doubts about the Western-backed government's commitment to tackle corruption.


Chief of Ukrainian national police Khatia Dekanoidze quit on Monday.

Police chief Khatia Dekanoidze, a Georgian who was appointed on the strength of her reforms as a minister in Tbilisi, said political meddling in appointments had thwarted her efforts to bring meaningful change.

Yulia Marushevska, a 27-year-old who was appointed in 2015 to end rampant bribe-taking at the Odessa port customs, also resigned, accusing the government and her boss of blocking her reforms. 

Their departures are another blow to the leadership in Kiev, whose will to tackle corruption and vested interests has been repeatedly questioned since coming to power after the Maidan street protests in 2014.

The resignations come just days after former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili quit as governor of the Odessa region, accusing President Petro Poroshenko of blocking his efforts to fight graft. 

Police chief Dekanoidze told a news conference there was a conflict in Ukraine between "those who want to change, and those who are stuck in the past."

"I am asking, and even demanding, from the politicians and officials to refrain from interfering in the affairs of the National Police," she said.

"They will have to understand that or be doomed to a new confrontation with society, sooner or later."

Marushevska was parachuted into the customs service as a student activist by the president, after rising to prominence through a viral video she appeared in called "I am a Ukrainian" during the Maidan protests.

She has repeatedly accused vested interests in state agencies of sabotaging her attempts to build a new headquarters, fire corrupt officials or introduce new software.

"We have become hostages of sabotage, weakness, cowardice of senior government leaders and key officials," Marushevska told a news conference.

A slew of other high profile reformers have quit or been dismissed -- many of them foreign-born officials brought in after Maidan.

They include Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius, a Lithuanian, who quit in February, saying vested interests were blocking his ministry's work.

Source: Google News

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ukraine Begins To Move Giant Shield Over Chernobyl Site

CHERNOBYL, Ukraine -- The work to install a giant shield over the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site in Ukraine began Monday in an effort to block radioactive material from leaking out over the next several decades.


The installation of the shield is planned to complete on Nov. 29 at a total cost of $1.6 billion, the AFP news agency reports.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is the main sponsor of the project to slide in the arch shield, called the New Safe Confinement, made of concrete and steel, according to the BBC.

Once complete, the arch will block the remains of reactor four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which exploded in 1986, killing 30 people and affecting thousands with radiation poisoning.

“The start of the sliding of the arch over Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is the beginning of the end of a 30-year long fight with the consequences of the 1986 accident,” Ukraine’s Environment Minister Ostap Semerak said, according to the AFP.

Currently, a concrete dome that risks leaking nuclear waste protects the explosion site.

Source: Time

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Eerie Parallels Between The US Election And The Downfall Of Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- A female candidate for President with a long record of public service is seen as overly ambitious and corrupt. As a “creature of the system,” the woman is thought by many to be out of touch with the needs of everyday citizens.


Ukraine’s presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko speaks to press at a polling station during the presidential election in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, Sunday, May 25, 2014.

She faces off against a man with a documented history of wrongdoing, but “tells it like it is” and is thought by many to be a “man of the people.”

Although he is not considered to be competent, many see him as “the lesser of two evils.”

No, I’m not talking about America in 2016, this is Ukraine in 2010.

The woman, Yulia Tymoshenko, who Ukrainians tend to refer to as simply “Yulia,” much as everyone calls Secretary Clinton “Hillary”in America.

Despite Yulia’s widespread reputation for competence, the voters chose Viktor Yanukovych, a man with two past convictions for violent crimes and a well known penchant for corruption.

The parallels don’t stop there either.

Both Yanukovych and Donald Trump often expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin and his authoritarian approach.

Both hired Paul Manafort to smooth out their image and hone their populist rhetoric.

Once in office, Yanukovych jailed his opponent, just as Donald Trump threatened to do to Hillary Clinton.

Yanukovych turned out to be even worse than expected.

His record of incompetence and corruption was unprecedented even in Ukraine, which had never been known for its sound governance.

I remember living in Kiev at the time and noticing how even basic services, like snow removal, seemed to grind to a halt.

It was as if the country solely existed to enrich the President and his cronies.

In November 2013, Yanukovych backed out of a EU trade deal that had been a key campaign promise and the whole country erupted in what is now known as the Euromaidan protests.

The regime brutally cracked down on the protesters, ultimately killing scores of them.

Finally, even his staunchest supporters knew he had gone to far.

He was ousted and currently lives somewhere in Russia.

To be clear, America is not Ukraine and Donald Trump is not Viktor Yanukovych.

We have been building our democratic institutions for 240 years and are the most powerful country on earth.

Ukraine was dysfunctional long before the election of 2010.

Donald Trump, for all of his warts, has never been convicted of a crime, much less a violent one.

I write this not to say we will meet the same fate as Ukraine, but rather to point out that elections have consequences.

Donald Trump is now the leader of the free world.

While we should all, as Secretary Clinton put it, “keep an open mind” and offer our support, we should also hold him to the highest possible standards.

Our fate, in large part rests in his hands.

The President of the United States should not be graded on a curve.

Source: Forbes

Thursday, November 10, 2016

U.S. Ambassadors: Donald Trump Won't End Support For Ukraine And Europe

KIEV, Ukraine -- The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine has dismissed suggestions that Washington would cease supporting the country, following Donald Trump’s win in the presidential election, news site Ukrainska Pravda reported Wednesday.


U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump.

Trump has spoken highly of Russian President Vladimir Putin and famously claimed that Putin is “not going into Ukraine,” two years after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the start of hostilities with Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. ambassador Mary Jovanovich was quick to play down any mounting concerns that a Trump administration meant the U.S. would scale back support for Ukraine’s government, at an embassy event in Kiev Wednesday morning.

“I am confident that, irrespective of who becomes our commander-in-chief, during the interim period between administrations and during the next administration, the U.S. will remain a powerful partner of Ukraine,” she said, before the official announcement that Trump had won.

“On the side of both (U.S.) parties, there is support for Ukrainian sovereignty, territorial integrity and I am sure that this will continue,” she added.

U.S. ambassadors across Europe pushed out a similar message of assurance to concerned U.S. NATO allies.

Anne Hall, U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, one of the countries most concerned by Russian military action told local news channel Irytas that Trump’s election changed nothing “in terms of Lithuania and our friendship here.”

“Fortunately, when it comes to foreign policy there is a tradition of continuity,” Hall said, referring to the U.S. commitment to defending its NATO allies.

“The main themes of our foreign policy do not change.”

Nancy Bikoff Petit, U.S. ambassador to Latvia said she was “surprised” Wednesday morning with Trump in the lead, but promised Latvians that regardless of the winner, the U.S. “partnership will continue and strengthen in the coming years.”

U.S. ambassador to Romania, Hans Klemm issued a similar message on polling day, vowing that irrespective of the result, the U.S. “partnership with Romania will continue.”

Elsewhere in Europe, U.S. ambassador to Germany John Emerson told public broadcaster Deutsche Welle that "there is no question that Germany is still our indispensable partner."

Source: Newsweek

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Meet The Ukrainian Hackers Targeting The Kremlin's Master Manipulator

KIEV, Ukraine -- As Russia stands accused of meddling with the U.S. election and waging war in the east of Ukraine, Americans, Brits and others have discussed, and threatened, retaliation. In Ukraine, hackers have long been biting back in earnest.


Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, right, speaks to Vladislav Surkov.

Over the last two weeks, a group of hackers calling themselves The Cyber Alliance claim to have accessed significant tranches of emails linked to Vladislav Surkov, believed to be the mastermind of Russia’s misinformation tactics and one of Putin’s more surreptitious aides.

Surkov was, in 2014, placed on a U.S. sanction list for his role in Russia’s dealings in Ukraine.

In his recent documentary Hypernormalization, Adam Curtis described Surkov’s ability to create instability by simultaneously spinning contradictory stories, pointing to the West’s befuddlement over Russia’s support of the Syrian regime.

Curtis previously called him “a ruthless manipulator of modern politics.”

The Alliance is made up of various groups, going by the names CyberJunta, Falcons Flame, Trinity and RUH8.

One of Cyber Alliance’s members, from RUH8, spoke with FORBES over encrypted chat on Thursday morning, shortly after they leaked the contents of an email account they claimed belonged to Maria Vingradova, an assistant to Surkov.

To date, the Alliance has claimed breaches of at least two accounts of individuals associated with Surkov.

The Kremlin, which hadn’t responded to a request for comment at the time of publication, previously stated Surkov does not use email.

The hacks look real 

To prove the Vingradova hack was genuine, RUH8 asked me to send an email to Vingradova’s personal address (pochta_mg@mail.ru), which I duly did.

The hacktivist then returned a screenshot showing a copy of my email hitting Vingradova’s email address, before linking to emails the group had leaked stored in Google Drive.

The Cyber Alliance still had access to Vingradova’s account then?

“We changed all credentials and contacts of the mailbox, including recovery options. Since it’s not an official mailbox in the gov.ru zone it is easier for them to create new mailboxes instead of recovering the hacked one,” RUH8 said.

RUH8 was reluctant to say just how Vingradova’s account, or those belonging to other Kremlin officials, were breached in the first place.

“Generally speaking we used everything we could – software exploits, bruteforce, phishing, vulnerabilities on servers and other stuff. Does it really matter which particular tool was used against Surkov?”

The group had previously leaked emails from an @gov.ru account, prm_surkova@gov.ru, supposedly belonging to Surov’s reception office.

So far, the Alliance has released 1.4GB of data from inboxes of people linked to the master manipulator, RUH8 said.

They are yet to find anything especially egregious, however.

Aric Toler, who has been looking at the leaks for open source journalism outfit Bellingcat (itself a target of Russia’s hackers), believes RUH8 and the Alliance really did breach those email accounts.

But he isn’t sure about the quality of information being leaked.

“The leaks seem credible. We haven’t verified every piece of information in there, but from the emails I have looked at, there are no signs of forgery,” Toler told me.

Many of the folks who were in the last inbox have confirmed their correspondence.

The mails do at least appear to discuss separatist Russian republics in Ukraine, believed to be sponsored by the Kremlin.

And as the BBC noted, one document contained an image of a Ukraine divided into three parts: New Russia in the east, Lesser Russia in the center and Galicia to the west.

“[It's] probably not damaging at all. Most of the info in here is stuff that we already knew, or suspected. There are no real bombshells… there are maybe some possible corruption cases to dig up from pay-to-play and such. But, if I had to say, I’d predict that no real change will come from these, outside of some embarrassment for Surkov,” added Toler.

Perhaps the most bizarre file to have leaked thus far is a script written by Yury Bykov, a reputed screenwriter and director.

The film was titled Volunteers and focused the war in the Donbass region of Ukraine.

‘We want to win the war’ 

The Alliance doesn’t want the war to just stop, said RUH8, it wants Ukraine to force Russia out.

“It’s written in our Constitution: ‘protecting sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine is a duty of every citizen.’ It sounds like a slogan, but it’s true. We want victory in the war. “We [want to] force Russia to leave Donbass, return Crimea, build a 10 meter-high wall on the border with Russian Federation and cover losses.” 

But will hacks aimed at Surkov help?

“We uncover plans of pro-Russian separatists (including military and police), we track the traitors on our side, we passed on intel to the law enforcement agencies (though we never cooperate directly). There are a lot of things to do,” RUH8 said.

“One thing then you knew that Russia is backing the unrest here in Ukraine, and the other one is to prove it. We share the proofs. We gather intel. I think it helps.”

As for what’s next for RUH8 and its co-hackers, the Alliance spokesperson claimed to have access to emails of a top Putin communications staffer, Dmitry Peskov.

“We have other interesting stuff from the president’s administration of Russia, tons of stuff,” RUH8 added.

Meanwhile, Russia has another threat to contend with: U.S. hackers.

A report from NBC Friday cited senior intelligence officials, who indicated America’s cyber specialists have already compromised Russia’s critical infrastructure, including its electric grid and telecoms networks, in preparation for any necessary retaliation to the targeting of the election.

Fears that Russia will interfere with the election were stoked by a hacker going by the name of Guccifer 2.0, who on Friday encouraged others to target the vote on Tuesday.

Source: Forbes

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Mikheil Saakashvili Resigns Post in Ukraine, Citing Corruption

KIEV, Ukraine -- Mikheil Saakashvili, a former president of Georgia who was brought into the Ukraine government to set an example of transparency and clean government, resigned on Monday and accused Ukraine’s president of supporting corruption.


Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, in January. He resigned on Monday as governor of the Black Sea region of Odessa, citing the central government’s obstruction of his efforts to root out corruption.

Mr. Saakashvili, who was appointed governor of the Black Sea region of Odessa by President Petro O. Poroshenko in May 2015, said he was leaving because of the central government’s unrelenting obstruction of his efforts to root out graft.

“The president personally supports two clans,” Mr. Saakashvili told a group of journalists.

“Odessa can only develop once Kiev will be freed from these bribe takers, who directly patronize organized crime and lawlessness.”

In a terse statement, Mr. Poroshenko’s office said it would accept Mr. Saakashvili’s resignation once it had been submitted by the cabinet.

In Odessa, Mr. Saakashvili and a team of young reformists tried to tackle the acceptance of bribes in the corruption-plagued customs service and to make government services more responsive and transparent.

Yet, government officials in Kiev thwarted these efforts, Mr. Saakashvili said, because they interfered with the various enrichment schemes that allowed many of them to amass healthy fortunes.

Mr. Saakashvili said his plan to open a new customs service center in Odessa was undone when the money allocated for its refurbishment was stolen.

He noted that some top-level government figures listed millions of dollars in savings in cash and other assets in financial disclosures that were mandated by the International Monetary Fund.

One minister declared bottles of wine worth thousands of dollars each.

A bitter opponent of Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin, Mr. Saakashvili was one of several foreign politicians and specialists who were brought to Ukraine after the 2014 pro-Western revolution to start a broad modernization of the country.

But there was always deep skepticism about whether Ukraine was capable of such a transformation, and many of those figures have since become disillusioned and resigned.

In February, the economy minister, Aivaras Abromavicius stepped down, saying that he did not want to act as a “smoke screen” for corruption.

The American-born finance minister, Natalie A. Jaresko, left the Ukrainian government in April. 

Taming corruption was widely seen as crucial for proving the legitimacy of Ukraine’s pro-Western leadership, especially in contrast with Putin’s Russia.

In October, Mr. Saakashvili’s political party in Georgia suffered a painful defeat in parliamentary elections, ending the prospect of his return to that country, where he faces multiple charges that he says are politically motivated.

Standing in front of Odessa’s seaport, Mr. Saakashvili signaled that he would continue to be involved in Ukrainian politics.

One of his allies, Ukraine’s former deputy prosecutor David Sakvarelidze, recently started a new political party that cites Mr. Saakashvili as its “ideologist.”

Source: The New York Times

Monday, November 07, 2016

Ukraine's Military Wants HoloLens Helmets For Its Tank Commanders

KIEV, Ukraine -- It's not easy to see out of a tank (that's the point) but in order to be effective on the battlefield, their crews need to know what's going on around them.


The AR headgear will give crews 360-degree views of their surroundings.

Modern tanks often have a variety cameras mounted to their exteriors to help the soldiers inside get a better view but crews still have to rely on monitors in the cabin to see out.

However, a new HoloLens-enabled helmet from Limpid Armor can give tank commanders a better view of their surroundings just by turning their heads.

The helmet, dubbed the Circular Review System (CRS), sets a HoloLens headset directly onto the front of its frame.

Video feeds gathered from the tank's exterior cameras are stitched together and displayed through the headset as a "mixed reality" view to the wearer.

With it, tank crews are afforded a 360-degree view of the situation in both the visible and infrared spectrums.

Not only that, the CRS can tag enemy and friendly soldiers, designate targets and feed critical information to the commander.

Limpid Armor debuted the Limpid Armor in mid-October at the Arms and Security show held in Kiev.

The company has not yet tested the helmet outside the lab, however, Ukraine military has expressed interest in the technology so, given the region's heightened tensions surrounding Russia's illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula, expect for field tests to come quickly.

Source: engadget

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Ukraine Has Opened Pandora’s Database Of Corruption

KIEV, Ukraine -- In the early morning hours of Oct. 31, shortly after the midnight filing deadline, the incomes and assets of tens of thousands of Ukrainians officials and lawmakers became publicly available in an online database for the first time in the country’s history.


But declaring billions of dollars in wines, watches, and tickets to outer space isn’t going to win the public’s love — or the West’s trust.

That many of Ukraine’s political class are wealthy is hardly a secret, but the electronic disclosures — which became mandatory as part of a long-awaited reform program that passed in October 2014 — give a next-level glimpse into the decadence of Ukraine’s elite.

In a country where the average monthly income is roughly $200, revelations that elected officials have personal holdings worth hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate and eccentric items, like Fabergé eggs, Japanese art, and even a ticket to space, are now causing a public uproar.

In the four days since the database went public, many Ukrainian voters and Western allies have been left questioning the post-revolutionary government’s commitment to a political system defined by personal enrichment.

Passed in the wake of the revolutionary euphoria that saw the ouster of corrupt former President Viktor Yanukovych, the electronic declaration law survived numerous attempts by lawmakers to delay or water it down over the last two years.

The new declaration system mandates that officials publicly disclose all assets in their name, as well as those in the name of their family members.

The intention of the declarations is first to provide transparency and do away with the corrupt practices that sparked the Maidan protests.

Moreover, by making public the wealth of officials, it opens them not only to scrutiny but also potentially to criminal prosecution for a false disclosure — a major accomplishment for a system of government characterized by corruption and influenced by oligarchs.

The 2015 filings of the country’s top leadership were particularly staggering: Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who has been a public official for the past 14 years, declared that he and his wife hold the equivalent of more than $1.8 million, not including a collection of 12 luxury watches that varied in value from $10,000 to $20,000 each.

The declaration of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire who ran a successful chocolate business before he was elected president in May 2014, revealed $26.3 million in bank accounts and ownership of 104 companies.

Ihor Kononenko, the deputy head of Poroshenko’s parliamentary faction, declared more than $72 million in real estate assets.

The declaration of Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s interior minister, showed hundreds of thousands of dollars and euros in cash and expensive paintings, clocks, and vintage wines worth millions of dollars.

The declarations come as public disillusionment over the government’s inability to enact reforms is rising and fatigue among Ukraine’s Western backers over rampant corruption is high.

In a country like Ukraine, where politicians have not had their financials publicly scrutinized, the declarations will be a major test for Kiev’s newly created anti-corruption agencies.

But there is some lingering doubt over whether any investigations prompted by the declarations will dig deep enough; these agencies have limited resources and are sure to face political obstacles.

However, should any exposed corruption or open questions over how so many career politicians became so wealthy go uninvestigated, it also risks alienating the Western capitals — like Washington and Brussels — that Kiev relies on for financial and political support.

“It’s a miracle what we are now witnessing,” Daria Kaleniuk, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, a Kiev-based nongovernmental organization (NGO), told Foreign Policy.

“There were so many obstacles and so much pressure inside the country on the senior level against this system that we were hardly able to protect it,” she said, referring to the political resistance that civil society groups faced in pushing the strict legislation.

Yet, despite the successful enforcement of the deadline, anti-corruption activists in Ukraine say they doubt that officials have declared all their wealth, with assets like yachts and foreign villas likely still hiding in unnamed offshore accounts.

But Kaleniuk is excited that a system of transparency she and others have fought for is finally becoming a reality.

Pursuing high-level reforms in Ukraine is a careful balancing act juggled by activists, allies within the government, and foreign governments, and according to Kaleniuk, no one has any illusions that the process will become simpler.

But this new treasure trove of financial information could lead to more investigations into the wealth of top officials, which should only foster more transparency.

But just when this kind of international scrutiny is needed, most of it may be fading.

After two years of paying steady attention following the Maidan revolution and the simmering war in eastern Ukraine, there is growing fatigue with the slow pace of Kiev’s reforms, and support within the EU for keeping biting economic sanctions on Russia is quickly eroding.

Meanwhile, in Washington, where the U.S. government has committed more than $1.3 billion in foreign assistance to Ukraine since late 2013, frustration with Kiev’s failures to curb corruption is high and has policymakers debating new measures of how to force the Ukrainian government’s hand in fighting graft.

“It’s still a big, big problem. They haven’t done nearly enough of a good job in going after oligarchs,” a U.S. congressional staffer who requested anonymity and works on Ukraine and Russia policy told FP.

Since the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, Washington has pushed the EU to maintain sanctions against Moscow and called for a resolution to the conflict in Donbass through the stalled Minsk peace process.

U.S. President Barack Obama declined to send lethal aid to the Ukrainian military, and U.S. policy has instead focused on supporting economic and political reforms to make Ukraine a more attractive alternative to the Russian-supported separatist areas.

Ukrainian officials have publicly supported these reforms, in large because their implementation is required for the continued flow of Western financial aid.

But Kiev has often watered down the same reforms after they came into law, undercutting their effectiveness.

For instance, the newly created National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine was locked in conflict with the general prosecutor’s office over jurisdiction this summer, in what many observers interpreted as a war between reformers and the old guard of Ukrainian politics that has derailed the investigation of corruption at the highest levels.

Despite mounting doubt in Washington over Kiev’s commitment to reform, the public disclosures have earned Poroshenko another lifeline from his Western backers.

The e-declaration system is a final requirement for Ukrainians to be eligible for visa-free travel within the EU and will help earn more financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund, which currently has $1.6 billion of aid on hold due to concerns about Kiev’s inability to limit corruption.

But Ukrainians’ own post-revolutionary support of their leaders is rapidly wearing off.

A new poll released by the International Republican Institute (IRI) on Oct. 31 found that public frustration with the government’s performance is growing, with 72 percent of respondents saying that the country is moving in the wrong direction and general dissatisfaction, particularly due to Ukraine’s sluggish economic performance and rampant corruption, on the rise.

According to Stephen Nix, IRI’s director for Eurasia, widespread disappointment with the government looks to be a long-term trend in Ukraine.

“The government has to realize that the window is closing on this,” Nix told FP, referring to popular anger over the slow pace of reforms.

“They have taken some concrete steps but clearly not enough.”

Politicians have asked Ukrainians to endure government austerity programs and economic hardship as the country’s currency, the hryvnia, has lost more than 70 percent of its value against the dollar since 2014 and salaries have failed to keep up with inflation.

The Maidan revolution that led to the ouster of Yanukovych began in late 2013 with people protesting against endemic graft and the government’s failure to sign an association agreement with the European Union.

But more than two years later, Kiev is far from achieving the political and economic progress that the revolution embodied, and the country has since grappled with the twin crises of the war in eastern Ukraine and reforming its corrupt politics.

Despite these roadblocks to reform, some progress has been made in Kiev.

A new online procurement system, established in August after a pilot program, has saved money for Ukrainian taxpayers by limiting avenues to abuse government purchases.

Moreover, the overhaul of the country’s inefficient gas sector and the creation of a new police force have been lauded as successful examples of progress.

However, many of these reforms have not been applied to their full potential, fostering a growing perception in Washington and Kiev that the Ukrainian government is enacting reforms to appease Western donors while still trying to preserve the old corrupt system of power in politics.

“Ukraine has introduced new reforms. But the problem is that they don’t always see them through,” said William Pomeranz, the deputy director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington.

“One has to encourage the reforms as best one can.”

On Thursday, Ukraine’s anti-corruption movement faced its first setback after hoping to capitalize on the new declaration system.

Lawmakers in parliament announced that they would debate a new bill that would require all organizations receiving foreign funds for anti-corruption work to submit financial disclosures of their own.

Activists see the proposed measure as retaliation by Ukrainian officials for the new declaration system, and Kaleniuk, the anti-corruption activist, likened the bill to a Russian law that requires NGOs that receive international funding to register with the state as “foreign agents.”

This latest effort to impede reform will cast a shadow over Kiev as its political and financial backers in Brussels and Washington experience upheaval of their own.

Brexit negotiations and the migrant crisis are currently draining the EU’s attention, and the outcome of the U.S. election could have major implications for Ukraine and its neighborhood.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has already voiced support for Kiev’s standoff with Moscow, but her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, has parroted Russian talking points and offered little sympathy for Kiev’s conflict with the Kremlin.

“There is a chance for Ukraine to fall off the agenda if [Western] leadership is not shown,” former Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, now a fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, told FP.

Looking ahead, the Donbass war’s importance to any U.S. foreign-policy decisions regarding Russia means that Ukraine will continue to be a priority for the next U.S. president.

But frustration with Kiev’s domestic setbacks, and a potential Trump presidency, could see Ukraine’s wider interests ignored and relegated to being solely a Russian policy issue.

“It’s a high risk to remain important only because of the war,” Jaresko said.

“We also need to be important because of our performance.”

Source: Yahoo News

Inside The World Of Women Warriors

KIEV, Ukraine -- Lera Burlakova first traveled to eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region in 2014 as a journalist to report on the violence between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatist forces.


Nika, 24, a sniper for the Ukrainian army, on the Bakhmut front lines in eastern Ukraine.

After a week of covering the war in the town of Pisky, Burlakova decided writing about it was not enough: She wanted to fight for her country.

“I couldn’t stand aside,” says Burlakova, 30.

“I came back to Kiev for three days, quit my job and returned to Pisky as a soldier.”

Almost three years later, Burlakova is an experienced veteran in a war that has led to the deaths of more than 10,000 people, including civilians, Ukrainian troops, separatists, Russian servicemen and members of pro-Kiev militias.

Pounded by daily shelling, many towns near the front lines—including government-controlled Pisky—are now practically empty.

Burlakova, who serves as a commander of a five-person artillery mortar unit, did not begin her military career in the Ukrainian army.

For much of the war, which began in spring 2014, official government forces did not permit women to fight on the front lines; the 17,000 women who served in the military were allowed to work in only supporting roles, such as medics, engineers and administrators.

The hundreds of women who were desperate to fight instead joined nationalist paramilitary groups, which did offer women combat roles.

For the past year, Burlakova has fought alongside volunteers from the Right Sector, one of the most far-right pro-Ukrainian volunteer groups that clashed violently with Ukrainian law enforcement last summer.

The militia has denounced LGBT groups and has co-opted symbols from the World War II–era Ukrainian opposition to the Soviet Union, factions of which joined forces with Nazi Germany before resorting to fighting both the Soviets and the Nazis.

Burlakova says that while the Right Sector may attract people from the far right, she does not support such ideas; her priority was simply to find a group that would let her fight.

“For many people,” she says, “joining the Right Sector or volunteer groups was the easiest way to go to war.”

In September, American photographer Sarah Blesener spent two weeks embedded with the Right Sector and other Ukrainian troops.

“The first thing I noticed was how many girls and young women were there,” she says.

“They all do the same things as the men, and they all seemed incredibly brave.”

Blesener, however, was disturbed by the Right Sector’s darker side, noticing that some members had swastika tattoos.

“It is shocking that a unit can at the same time embody virtues that I respect—such as allowing women to fight on the front line of combat—yet, on the other hand, be known for nationalistic rhetoric, Russophobia and hate speech,” she says.

“It's a tragedy to see that nationalism is now on the rise again in a country that suffered so much from it in World War II .”

At the height of the current war, the Right Sector was one of more than 40 pro-Ukrainian battalions fighting in the conflict—although few of the others were as extreme.

Despite their success on the battlefield, some militias had a tendency to violently enforce the law or oppose the government.

These groups were not the norm, but Kiev worried they might ultimately undermine its authority. 

After an armed standoff between a Right Sector group and Ukrainian police officers in July 2015, President Petro Poroshenko ordered the militias to officially join the army or disband.

Many of the Right Sector’s troops joined the army’s 54th Brigade.

Most other groups joined different units of the military.

The integration of the militias meant that female fighters suddenly found themselves in an official army that did not permit them to fight.

To get around this restriction, many registered on paper as paramedics or support personnel to avoid being sent home.

But they would still fight as they had before.

“I was technically and officially a medic [when deployed at] Butovka mine,” Burlakova says, referring to her previous station in the Donetsk region.

“But really I had nothing to do with medicine. I was a regular soldier on the front lines with the same duties as everyone else.”

In June, the Ukrainian military amended its rules, and women like Burlakova were finally allowed to fight on the battlefield, serving as snipers, intelligence officers or operators of heavy military hardware.

Burlakova is now registered as a soldier and paid more than support staff.

She will also receive full army benefits if she is wounded or killed in the line of duty.

“Nobody cared about these things in the beginning of the war,” she says.

“But as time goes on, they become really important. If we needed money in the beginning, our friends could cover us. But they can't cover us for years.”

Blesener found that many women who joined the Right Sector came with a partner, while others met boyfriends or husbands in the battalion; many of these couples will not survive the war.

Burlakova’s fiancé was killed in January when he stepped on a land mine near one of the most dangerous checkpoints in the east.

Burlakova is devastated by his death but says it will keep her fighting until the war is over.

“I won't leave Donbass on my own will because every meter of the ground here is filled with the blood of our guys,” she says, adding that lots of her fellow soldiers are from nearby towns overrun by rebels.

“I am not going home until they get a chance to come home as well."

Source: Newsweek

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Ukraine Students Prepare For A Russian Invasion

KIEV, Ukraine -- The young man never told anyone he was going to war. The 20-year-old student at Kiev’s Taras Shevchenko National University slipped away in June 2014 to join a civilian paramilitary group fighting in eastern Ukraine.


Military school students dressed in Red Army uniforms during a historic re-enactment in Kiev on May 9, 2013, to mark the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany. Nolan Peterson reports that as fighting in the Donbas continues, volunteer civilian territorial defense battalions prepare to defend their cities in the event of a Russian invasion. he quotes one Ukraine student saying, “The hardest part is not going to the front line. But returning is hard, too.”

The young man, whose name was Sviatoslav Horbenko, was a star pupil at the university’s Institute of Philology, where he studied Japanese.

When he transferred from a university in Kharkiv, a city in eastern Ukraine, during his third year, he had to retake 17 exams.

He aced them all.

“There was no bellicose air about him,” said Serhiy Yanchuk, an associate professor at Taras Shevchenko University and coordinator of the university’s Students Guard, a volunteer militia comprising students and faculty.

“He never acted or behaved aggressively for his personal cause,” Yanchuk said.

“He was friendly, warm hearted, and an easy-going person. One would surely want to be a friend of such a guy.”

“He was an exceptional student,” said Ivan Bondarenko, a professor who heads the university’s Institute of Philology.

“And he was an inspiration to all of us.”

Horbenko’s angular features and piercing eyes distinguished him physically, reflecting the intensity of his inner convictions.

His work ethic and natural intelligence set him apart from his peers academically, inspiring high hopes for the future among those who knew him well.

Horbenko’s father, Olexander Horbenko, is a surgeon.

He volunteered to treat wounded protesters in Kiev during the 2014 revolution.

The younger Horbenko was active in pro-revolution groups in Kharkiv, where he was studying at the time.

As the revolution became violent in February 2014, Olexander Horbenko encouraged his son to transfer to Kiev to continue his studies due to the threat of reprisals against protesters by authorities in Kharkiv.

At his father’s behest, the younger Horbenko moved to Kiev and settled into life and his studies at Taras Shevchenko National University.

And then, a few months after the war began in the summer of 2014, Sviatoslav Horbenko disappeared.

Without telling his friends, family, or teachers, he joined Right Sector, a civilian volunteer battalion, to fight at the battle for the Donetsk airport.

Olexander Horbenko ultimately was able to track Sviatoslav down at boot camp.

The father tried to dissuade his son from going to war.

But Sviatoslav was determined.

“That was my last meeting with him alive, our unforgettable conversation,” Olexander Horbenko later said.

“Sviatoslav considered defending his fatherland as his duty, and he developed the strong bonds of military comradeship.”

At their parting, the elder Horbenko placed a necklace with an icon and a cross around his son’s neck.

It was the same necklace worn by his own father—Sviatoslav’s grandfather—during World War II when he fought the Nazis.

And Olexander had worn it as he weathered sniper fire on the Maidan during the revolution.

“And I let him go,” Olexander Horbenko said.

It was the last time he saw his son alive.

In September 2014, Sviatoslav Horbenko stepped onto the battlefield for the first time.

One month later, on October 3, 2014, he ran into the line of fire to rescue a wounded comrade.

While Horbenko dragged the man to safety, a tank shot at them.

A piece of shrapnel from the round went into Horbenko’s neck, slicing his carotid artery.

He was dead within minutes.

As for the soldier he had run out to save—he survived.

“Death takes the best of us,” said Denys Antipov, an instructor at Taras Shevchenko University and a veteran of the war in eastern Ukraine.

Because Horbenko served in a civilian volunteer battalion, he is not officially recognized as a combatant by the Ukrainian government.

He has not received any posthumous decorations, and his family has not received the compensation of about $23,000 that typically is given to the families of fallen soldiers.

“His family feels really humiliated by such ignorance,” said Yanchuk, the professor who coordinates the university’s Students Guard.

Hell and Cyborgs 

The second battle for the Donetsk airport, for which Horbenko volunteered, was fought at close quarters, and it was brutal.

Opposing troops sometimes holed up on different floors of the same building.

For months, soldiers on both sides endured near constant shelling, tank shots, rocket attacks, close-quarters gunfights and even hand-to-hand fighting, according to some Ukrainian soldiers who fought in the battle.

Ukrainian soldiers had taken control of the airport in May 2014, during the opening weeks of the war.

That September, weeks after the conflict’s first cease-fire, combined Russian-separatist forces launched an offensive—comprising heavy armor, artillery, and rocket attacks—to take back the airport.

What followed was an apocalyptic showdown that lasted until January 2015.

The Ukrainians gave the nickname “cyborgs” to their soldiers who fought at the Donetsk airport —a reference to the science fiction beings that are a fusion of man and machine.

It alluded to the superhuman grit required to endure such intense and brutal fighting, and a mechanical ability to endure endless fear and suffering.

Donetsk’s Sergey Prokofiev International Airport was rebuilt in 2011 for the Euro 2012 soccer championships.

More than 1 million passengers passed through the facility in 2013, the year before the war started, on airlines including Lufthansa and Aeroflot.

The new terminal was stylish and modern.

It featured manicured landscaping, polished floors, and chic metal detailing.

A bellwether, many hoped, for Ukraine’s more prosperous future.

As the war in Ukraine evolved from skirmishes to artillery and tank battles in 2014, the Donetsk airport became a key prize.

The opposing sides fought savagely for its control.

Artillery and rocket attacks reduced the modern buildings to gutted ruins of crumbling concrete and twisted rebar.

Runways and the surrounding open spaces were churned into a cratered lunarscape, reminiscent of images of no man’s land from World War I battles like the Somme or Verdun.

The charred skeletons of planes littered the tarmac.

The physical destruction evidenced the intensity of the battle, and the hellish conditions soldiers on both sides endured.

Surrounding villages like Pisky, about 1 mile from the airport perimeter, where Ukrainian troops staged for battle and fired artillery, also were reduced to demolished ghost towns by reciprocal separatist artillery, rockets, and tanks.

Yet, even amid the bloodletting, the opposing sides were able to demonstrate fleeting acts of humanity.

Soldiers who fought at the airport described short truces, during which officers ventured out to collect the dead.

Enemies walked among each other, their desire to kill undimmed, but held in check to honor the fallen men under their command.

Pro-Russian separatists, commanded and supported by Russian regulars and armed with Russian weapons, ultimately won control of the airport in January 2015.

Ukrainian forces pulled back to nearby villages where they dug in for a protracted, static, long-range battle.

Two years later, Ukrainian forces still are entrenched on the periphery of the airport.

Both sides fight from trenches and abandoned, artillery-blasted homes and buildings in a daily, tit-for-tat exchange of artillery and sniper fire.

The fighting has de-escalated from the death spiral of the winter of 2014-2015, but it hasn’t ended. 

‘We Shouldn’t Give Up’ 

The students filled the hallway at the appointed hour.

They squeezed, shoulder to shoulder, leaving a pocket of empty space in front of the table with the flowers, which was next to a poster with a picture of Sviatoslav Horbenko and some details about his life.

Behind the table and the poster was the entrance to the room at Taras Shevchenko University’s Institute of Philology that was named in Horbenko’s honor.

It was the second anniversary of Horbenko’s death.

Some students held flowers.

Others stood quietly, with their hands clasped in front of them.

“He would have made a good professor, a good husband,” Antipov, a 27-year-old teacher and war veteran, told the students gathered at the memorial ceremony.

“Do whatever you can to help our country,” Antipov told them.

“But the most important thing you can do is to study, so that his death wasn’t in vain.”

Down the hall from the ceremony was a wall display featuring pictures of students and faculty who served in past military conflicts, including Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a Ukrainian sniper for the Red Army credited with 309 kills in World War II.

Horbenko’s picture is now among the others.

“History constantly repeats,” Antipov said.

Grassroots Defense

About 200 students and faculty from Taras Shevchenko National University died fighting in World War II.

The history of students volunteering for war dates back to the Battle of Kruty in 1918, during the Russian Civil War.

About 300 students, along with about 100 free Cossacks, mobilized to defend Kiev against a force of about 5,000 Bolsheviks.

The students holed up at the Kruty railway station on the outskirts of the city, but eventually were overwhelmed.

More than half of the combined force of students and Cossacks died in the battle.

Kiev ultimately fell to the Bolsheviks and, along with the rest of Ukraine, was incorporated into the Soviet Union.

The legacy of the students who fought at the Battle of Kruty inspired the formation in 2014 of the group called the Students Guard.

Under the direction of Yanchuk, approximately 200 students and faculty members have received military training as part of an auxiliary guerrilla force dedicated to Kiev’s defense.

“Our goal is to train students to take up arms in the event of an emergency,” Yanchuk, the coordinator, said.

Life in Kiev is moving on from the war, even though it hasn’t ended yet and the front lines are only a six-hour train ride from Ukraine’s capital city.

There is a film festival in Kiev this week.

The hip underground speakeasies in the city center are filled every night with patrons sipping on craft cocktails while jazz bands play covers of American songs.

At the Art-Zavod Platforma on the left bank, a former Soviet industrial space is now an art flea market and a venue for food festivals and concerts nearly every weekend.

The coffee bars in central Kiev perpetually are filled with hipsters and students.

The foreign journalists who used to be an ubiquitous presence largely have left.

Only a few stalwart holdouts remain, convinced that the forgotten conflict in the east still holds the potential to spiral into something much worse.

“Here in Kiev, the mass media, the political leadership tries to make the war look far away,” said Vasyl Yutovets, a student at Taras Shevchenko University and commander of the Students Guard.

“We try to remember that the war is far from over. The threat is growing day by day.”

Yet, despite the distractions of youth, and many Ukrainians’ blind eye to the ongoing combat in the east, some students haven’t forgotten about the war.

“The hardest part is not going to the front line,” said Yutovets, who served in Ukraine’s National Guard and is a veteran of the war.

“But returning is hard, too,” Yutovets said, adding: I can’t imagine doing nothing while our country is suffering. We are still hopeful for our future. When the war began, it was very easy to get to the front lines. We realized, then, it was our duty to support the war. Civilian defense battalions like the Students Guard are also a hedge against further Russian aggression, Yanchuk said.

“When [Russian President Vladimir] Putin encounters the possibility of fighting territorial defense battalions, militias, or even students, it acts as a deterrent,” Yanchuk said.

Yanchuk served in Ukraine’s armed forces for three years and took part in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo.

He also participated in joint training events with the U.S. military at bases in Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas.

Yanchuk leverages his military experience and his personal connections with Ukrainian military instructors to organize training events for the Students Guard.

The group conducts weekend training events, including first-aid courses, field training exercises, and weapons training.

The group also runs specialty courses, including training on mines and booby traps, tactical mountaineering, and a basic sniper course.

Ownership 

The Students Guard at Taras Shevchenko University is another instance of Ukrainians’ enterprising solutions to their country’s myriad problems independent of official government channels.

“Civil society is two, or three, or five steps ahead of the government,” Yanchuk said.

“Civil society is winning the war, despite all efforts from Ukrainian and Russian politicians.”

In eastern Ukraine, grassroots humanitarian groups have popped up to address the needs of Ukraine’s 1.7 million internally displaced persons as a result of the war.

Across the country, veterans’ groups have formed to help returning soldiers reintegrate into civilian life and deal with the psychological consequences of combat.

And as fighting in the Donbass continues, volunteer civilian territorial defense battalions remain ready to defend their respective cities in the event of a Russian invasion.

Harkening back to the legacy of partisan groups of World War II, Ukrainians took their country’s defense largely into their own hands in the opening months of the war in 2014.

As the pro-Russian separatists and their Russian military handlers seized town after town in eastern Ukraine, some feared a march on Kiev, which could have split the country in two.

In the eyes of many Ukrainians who volunteered to fight, the war in the Donbass had become an existential battle for the country’s survival.

The Ukrainian military was at that point a ragtag force.

Its soldiers were a motley mix of draftees and recruits; equipment reserves had been depleted by decades of plundering by corrupt oligarchs and arms dealers.

With the regular army on its back foot, civilian volunteer battalions formed out of the remnants of protest groups active during the revolution.

These paramilitary groups mainly comprised young men with no military experience, although some veterans from the Red Army, including Afghanistan veterans, also were in the ranks.

“There was a real chance the front could have collapsed in 2014,” Antipov said.

“Nobody knew what was going to happen. So, many young people wanted to train for guerrilla warfare.”

Initially armed with hand-me-down weapons from local police forces, or collected from the enemy dead, the volunteer battalions stalled the combined Russian-separatist march across eastern Ukraine. 

“There was no army in 2014,” Antipov said.

“In my opinion, the volunteer battalions were the only reason we kept our independence. Why else would the Russian tanks have stopped in 2014?”

Then, in August 2014, thousands of Russian regulars streamed into eastern Ukraine to reverse the Ukrainian offensive.

At the time, it looked like Ukraine was facing a full-scale Russian invasion.

“We were concerned in the summer of 2014 of how far Putin was willing to go,” former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt told The Daily Signal in an earlier interview.

“If the Russians broke through, there was no stopping them,” Pyatt said.

“We were concerned that Putin was deploying enough force to mass an invasion.”

Although hundreds of miles from the front lines, some in Kiev began to prepare for a partisan, guerrilla defense of the city.

Spray painted signs indicating the nearest bomb shelter became ubiquitous—they still are.

City authorities issued instructions on how to use the metro as a bomb shelter.

Officials across the country made similar preparations for war.

The Ukrainian military built anti-tank trenches around Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, the country’s second-largest city.

And local officials and civilian groups built a network of fortified checkpoints around Dnipro (formerly Dnipropetrovsk), Ukraine’s fourth-largest city.

Ultimately, Ukraine’s cobbled-together military was able to thwart the combined Russian-separatist advance at several key places, including the battle for Mariupol.

Today, many credit the civilian volunteer battalions with turning the tide of war and fundamentally reshaping the Kremlin’s strategic objectives in Ukraine.

“It was Ukraine’s improvised army that held it all together [in 2014],” Pyatt, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said.

Scars 

Later, after the ceremony to honor Horbenko, members of the Students Guard gathered in a nearby lecture hall to speak with this foreign correspondent.

Yanchuk was among the students and faculty members.

He wore a pressed suit and tie and carried himself with military bearing as he explained the history and the mission of the Students Guard by giving a PowerPoint presentation that would make any U.S. military officer proud.

Yanchuk never met Sviatoslav Horbenko, yet he spoke reverently about the young man, explaining how the courage and sacrifice of Ukrainian millennials could finally put an end to Ukraine’s generational cycle of war and revolution.

Yanchuk posthumously enlisted Horbenko in the Students Guard in 2015.

“The war leaves scars,” Yanchuk said.

“Both physical and moral.”

The 39-year-old teacher and Ukrainian army veteran then beamed with pride as he talked about the students who volunteered for the Students Guard, and their willingness to spend weekends training for their country’s defense.

“In the U.S., college life is associated with fraternities and parties,” Yanchuk said.

“For these students, they have to seriously consider the possibility of fighting to defend their homes from a Russian invasion.”

The students were initially reluctant to speak openly about their fears and hopes.

But they began to speak freely (and mostly in English), revealing a resilient hope that life will get better.

“My hope is very strong,” said Olga Makhinya, a student at Taras Shevchenko University and a member of the Students Guard.

“I want to live in a united Ukraine. My native country, without war, without problems.”

But there was also a pervasive sense that the struggle is far from over.

Their youthful, romantic vision of the future was moderated by a sober cynicism born from a collective exposure to violence.

“The time of idealistic and romantic people is over,” Yutovets said.

“Now is the time to be pragmatic. We shouldn’t give up.”

Many of the young people gathered in the lecture hall that day had witnessed lethal violence, whether on the front lines in the Donbass, as the veterans had, or during the 2014 revolution.

They shared a common bond and a collective sense of sacrifice.

“We don’t have faith,” said Viacheslav Masniy, a 24-year-old Ph.D. student and a veteran of the war in the Donbass.

“Faith is to pray and wait. We are willing to struggle. We are tired of hiding our identity, like our parents did in the Soviet Union.”

These students and faculty considered the conflict in the Donbass to be a fight for their country’s independence from Russia and freedom to foster closer ties with Western Europe.

“Our enemies are not fighting for their freedom,” Masniy said.

“They are fighting to destroy our country. They don’t believe we are a nation, or that we are a state.” 

But Ukraine’s better future will not happen automatically.

The students and faculty, mostly in their early and mid-20s, repeated a commonly held opinion among Ukraine’s millennials—that the “Homo Sovieticus” mindset of the older generations is beyond fixing, and real change in Ukraine will be possible only when the younger generations, for whom the Soviet Union is not a living memory, take power.

“I think that the future of our country depends on our generation,” said Olga Svysiuk, a student at Taras Shevchenko University and a member of the Students Guard.

“Our example shows other people that we can change the situation for the better,” Svysiuk said.

“We can change everything, if we want to do it.”

“We don’t just need heroes,” Masniy said.

“We need to build a country.”

Source: Daily Signal