10 noteworthy events for Ukraine in the year 2018
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)