10 note­wor­thy events for Ukraine in the year 2018

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OLGA RUDENKO [email protected]

1

At­tack in Kerch Strait

Rus­sia at­tacks Ukraine openly for the first time. Par­lia­ment in­tro­duces mar­tial law.

Rus­sian Coast Guard ships at­tacked and then seized three Ukrainian Navy boats as the Ukrainian ves­sels tried to cross the Kerch Strait con­nect­ing the Black and Azov Sea on Nov. 25.

Re­act­ing to it, Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko, sup­ported by par­lia­ment, in­tro­duced a 30-day mar­tial law, for the first time in the coun­try’s his­tory. How­ever, the re­ac­tion of the West hasn’t been as strong as many in Ukraine had hoped.

2

Mur­der of Kateryna Gandz­iuk

Brazen mur­der and weak in­ves­ti­ga­tion high­light im­punity.

Most Ukraini­ans didn’t know the name of Kateryna Gandz­iuk un­til sum­mer of 2018, but by the end of the year it be­came a sym­bol of at­tacks on civil so­ci­ety and im­punity en­joyed by the at­tack­ers.

Gandz­iuk was a city coun­cil of­fi­cial and anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paigner from Kher­son, a south­ern Ukrainian city of 290,000 peo­ple some 550 kilo­me­ters away from Kyiv. On July 31, a man at­tacked her with bat­tery acid. She died three months later, on. Nov. 4, in a Kyiv hospi­tal.

Gandz­iuk's mur­der, be­lieved to be linked to her ef­forts to ex­pose cor­rup­tion in Kher­son, was just one in the se­ries of at­tacks on ac­tivists in Ukraine in 2018. Her death sparked a protest move­ment against the lack of in­ves­ti­ga­tion into such at­tacks. Un­der pres­sure from ac­tivists, the po­lice ar­rested five sus­pected per­pe­tra­tors of the mur­der and one sus­pected me­di­a­tor be­tween them and the or­ga­nizer.

Civil so­ci­ety is un­sat­is­fied with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that re­minds many of the weak ef­forts to in­ves­ti­gate other high-pro­file mur­ders, like those of jour­nal­ists Ge­orgiy Gon­gadze in 2000 and Pavel Sheremet in 2016.

3

Start of elec­tion cy­cle

Ahead of the pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary elec­tion in 2019, ev­ery­thing be­comes a cam­paign move.

Ukraine al­lows a rel­a­tively short of­fi­cial elec­tion cam­paign for pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates: it can go for only three months be­fore the elec­tion date. It isn’t sur­pris­ing that many can­di­dates for the March 31 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion started their un­of­fi­cial cam­paigns in 2018.

The loom­ing elec­tion put a po­lit­i­cal spin on vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing hap­pen­ing in Ukraine, from at­tacks on ac­tivists to the uni­fi­ca­tion of Or­tho­dox churches.

Yu­lia Ty­moshenko, an ex-prime min­is­ter and head of the 20-seat Batkivshchyna Party fac­tion in par­lia­ment, went heav­i­est on the cam­paign, plac­ing bill­boards promis­ing a “new course” for Ukraine, hold­ing fo­rums for her sup­port­ers and fill­ing the in­ter­net with her ads.

Poroshenko, who hasn’t yet an­nounced his ex­pected bid for re-elec­tion, launched a heavy promo cam­paign un­der a con­ser­va­tive slo­gan: “Army. Lan­guage. Faith.”

The big­gest in­trigue through­out the year has been Svy­atoslav Vakarchuk, a pop­u­lar singer. He has been eva­sive. (See our elec­tion primer on page 2).

4

Arkady Babchenko’s fake mur­der

Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties stage a high-pro­file jour­nal­ist’s mur­der, win­ning mixed re­sponse.

In a bizarre sting op­er­a­tion that set the world’s me­dia abuzz, the Se­cu­rity Ser­vice of Ukraine staged the mur­der of Rus­sian dis­si­dent jour­nal­ist Arkady Babchenko in Kyiv. The Se­cu­rity Ser­vice jus­ti­fied the fake crime as part of a spe­cial op­er­a­tion to un­cover a Krem­lin plot to kill at least 30 other peo­ple, many of them jour­nal­ists. Babchenko co­op­er­ated with the au­thor­i­ties. While some praised the agents for the op­er­a­tion, oth­ers, in­clud­ing some Western diplo­mats, pointed out that it un­der­mined the world’s trust in Ukraine.

5

Re-elec­tion of Vladimir Putin

Rus­sian dic­ta­tor main­tains his throne, and con­tin­ues his war against Ukraine.

As was ex­pected, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, a dic­ta­tor, was coro­nated for his fourth pres­i­den­tial term on March 18, 2018 af­ter no se­ri­ous op­po­si­tion was al­lowed. Putin, who has been rul­ing Rus­sia since 2000, won the elec­tion with 76 per­cent of the votes. The term is to last six years. Ukraine is suf­fer­ing di­rectly from Putin’s grow­ing un­pop­u­lar­ity, with 56 per­cent sup- port­ing him. Some in­ter­preted the Nov. 25 naval at­tack in Kerch Strait as Putin’s re­sponse to the de­clin­ing rat­ings.

6

War of anti-cor­rup­tion agen­cies

Two key anti-graft in­sti­tu­tions block each other’s work, con­fus­ing the pub­lic and par­a­lyz­ing the coun­try’s fight against cor­rup­tion.

This year, Ukraine fi­nally es­tab­lished a long-an­tic­i­pated An­ti­Cor­rup­tion Court that will start work­ing by June 2019. But while the civil so­ci­ety and Western part­ners fought to es­tab­lish the court as the fi­nal link in the chain of the coun­try’s anti-graft bod­ies, its other links fell apart. The lead­ers of two key agen­cies, Artem Syt­nyk, chief of the Na­tional An­ti­Cor­rup­tion Bureau of Ukraine, and Nazar Kholod­nyt­sky, the spe­cial anti-cor­rup­tion prose­cu­tor, have fallen out. Both ac­cuse each other of cor­rup­tion and sab­o­tag­ing each other’s work.

The con­flict has brought months of mu­tual ac­cu­sa­tions be­tween the two agen­cies and stalled the fight on cor­rup­tion.

7

In­de­pen­dent church

Ukraine’s Or­tho­dox churches unify and are about to be­come in­de­pen­dent of the Or­tho­dox church of Rus­sia, chang­ing the hi­er­ar­chy of the Eastern Or­tho­dox world.

Af­ter some 300 years of be­ing sub­or­di­nated to the Rus­sian Or­tho­dox Church in the Eastern Or­tho­dox global hi­er­ar­chy, the Ukrainian church is about to get in­de­pen­dent of Rus­sia. On Jan. 6, 2019, the rul­ing Or­tho­dox body, the Is­tan­bul-based Ec­u­meni­cal Pa­tri­ar­chate will is­sue a de­cree, or a to­mos, grant­ing Ukrainian church in­de­pen­dence.

8

Ten­sions with Hun­gary

Fol­low­ing its na­tion­al­ist agenda, Western neigh­bor gives Ukraine a hard time.

Hun­gary, fol­low­ing a na­tion­al­ist agenda, has been grow­ing in­flu­ence in Zakarpat­tia, the western-most re­gion of Ukraine that used to be part of Hun­gary in early 20th cen­tury and where some 150,000 eth­nic Hun­gar­i­ans lived as of 2001. Hun­gary has been grant­ing cit­i­zen­ship to Ukraini­ans who could prove a Hun­gar­ian an­ces­try, with some 100,000 Ukraini­ans hav­ing al­ready got it, ac­cord­ing to Hun­gary.

A mem­ber of NATO and the Euro­pean Union, Hun­gary has been block­ing Ukraine’s Euro­pean and Euro-At­lantic in­te­gra­tion ef­forts where it can. It has been block­ing the meet­ings of NATO-Ukraine com­mis­sion for over a year, since Oc­to­ber 2017.

9

Re­turn of Vik­tor Medved­chuk

The Prince of Dark­ness re­turns ahead of elec­tions.

The year 2018 marked the re­turn of Vik­tor Medved­chuk, the for­mer head of ex-Pres­i­dent Leonid Kuchma’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, and one of the most men­ac­ing fig­ures in Ukraine’s pol­i­tics.

Medved­chuk, whose main lever­age in Ukraine is his close per­sonal ties to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Putin, has stepped into the lime­light in 2018, when he joined a po­lit­i­cal party Za Zhyttya (For Life), where he part­ners with such highly tainted law­mak­ers as Vadym Rabi­novych and Yuriy Boiko. The party nom­i­nated Boiko as the can­di­date for pres­i­dent in 2019 elec­tion.

Ukrainian me­dia have claimed Medved­chuk was the real owner of two TV chan­nels, NewsOne and Chan­nel 112. Both sta­tions were pur­chased in 2018 by Taras Kozak, a long-time ally of Medved­chuk, and both pro­duce pos­i­tive cov­er­age of Medved­chuk and his party. Medved­chuk has de­nied he owns the two chan­nels.

Jour­nal­ists also filmed Medved­chuk hav­ing night-time meet­ings with Poroshenko, in­clud­ing in his pri­vate res­i­dence. Poroshenko said he met with Medved­chuk to ne­go­ti­ate the re­lease of Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers in Rus­sia.

10

Kyiv Post sale

Ukraine's only in­ter­na­tional news me­dia out­let gets a new owner in its 23rd year.

The Kyiv Post started as a fe­ro­ciously in­de­pen­dent news­pa­per in 1995 and en­ters its 24th year in 2019 the same way.

The credit goes to hun­dreds of jour­nal­ists over the years who up­held the high­est pro­fes­sional stan­dards in jour­nal­ism, and to the Kyiv Post's own­ers who backed its ed­i­to­rial in­de­pen­dence: Jed Sun­den (1995–2009), Mo­ham­mad Za­hoor (2009–2018) and now, since March 21, Ad­nan Ki­van. ■

Two Ukrainian gun­boats, sim­i­lar to those seized by Rus­sia on Dec. 25, are seen in the Azov Sea port of Mar­i­upol, on Dec. 2, 2018. Af­ter Rus­sia at­tacked the Ukrainian ves­sels that tried to pass the Kerch Strait and cap­tured 24 Ukraini­ans on board, Ukrainian par­lia­ment voted to in­tro­duce a 30-day mar­tial law. (AFP)

Peo­ple Front's law­maker Yuriy Bereza (L) at­tacks Op­po­si­tion Bloc law­maker Nestor Shufrych (C) af­ter Shufrych took down a ban­ner call­ing for the ar­rest of the pro-Rus­sian politi­cian and his po­lit­i­cal ally Vik­tor Medved­chuk that other law­mak­ers hung on the par­lia­ment's ros­trum on Dec. 20. Medved­chuk, once the head of ex-pres­i­dent Leonid Kuchma's ad­min­is­tra­tion, re­turned to pub­lic pol­i­tics in 2018, ahead of the pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, com­ing in 2019. (UNIAN)

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