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Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko together with his wife Maryna Poroshenko, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk and Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko visit the Holodomor memorial in Kyiv to commemorate the victims of the famine in Ukraine in 1932-33. © Anastasia Vlasova
Anastasia Vlasova, Kyiv Post.
The great famine in Ukraine of 1932-33, which was engineered by Soviet Union Secretary General Joseph Stalin and leading members of the Communist Party in Moscow and Ukraine, was commemorated in Kyiv on Nov. 22.
People lay flowers and light candles on the Holodomor memorial in Kyiv on Nov. 22. © Anastasia Vlasova
Thousands of people paid their respects to the victims of the Holodomor, which is Ukrainian word for the great famine of 1932-33, as well as to the victims of other Ukrainian famines at the Museum of Famines near Pecherska Lavra. The Ukrainian government recognizes Nov. 22 as the official day of commemoration.
A woman cries near the memorial to the victims of the Holodomor in Ukraine in 1932-33. © Anastasia Vlasova
People walk by a currency exchange outlet in Kyiv offering dollars for Hr 15.2 each for those who don’t trust either deposits in banks or other investment instruments to preserve their savings amid 20 percent inflation this year. © Volodymyr Petrov
Valeriya Gontareva, head of Ukraine’s central bank, has all the reasons to reiterate her popular saying that the country’s financial system is like a terribly sick person who’s got an open wound and is bleeding.
The national currency, hryvnia, has declined in value by 47 percent since January, reaching 15.5 to the U.S. dollar during the Nov. 10 trading session on the interbank market. This reflects banks’ high demand for hard currency as people prefer it as the best savings option. Hryvnia deposit rates have reached 28 percent in some banks, though many still feel it’s better to invest in U.S. currency in times of economic crisis caused by war in the east.
Banks agreed they would not allow the hryvnia slip below 16 per dollar during the Nov. 10 emergency meeting at the National Bank headquarters on Instytutska street in Kyiv, according to Interfax-Ukraine, a news agency.
The nation’s economy is expected to shrink by 6.5 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, while Gontareva’s agency thinks it’s going to be a 7-percent contraction.
Central bank reserves fell by 23 percent in October, all the way to $12.6 billion, mostly due to covering the debt obligations of state-owned oil and gas company Naftogaz. This means the regulator will have less capacity to calm down the banks starving for dollar cash. “The National Bank doesn’t plan to leave the interbank market (and will keep injecting dollars into it),” Gontareva said during the Nov. 3 news conference.
Central bank reserves are as low as $12.6 billion, while the regulator’s head Gontareva says her Yanukovych-era predecessor Serhiy Arbuzov spent $22 billion on a populist policy focused at keeping hryvnia at a rate 8 against the dollar.
The central bank plans to sell dollars daily through the auctions. Since January, it has sold $6 billion to cover the demand from commercial banks and their clients.
However, Gontareva is trying hard to persuade everyone that the hryvnia’ll do fine. “I wouldn’t put anything into the state budget project for 2015 but a hryvnia rate of 12.95 against the dollar,” she said in an interview with TSN, a television news program. She said the regulator is pushing forward a ban on early deposit withdrawals to secure the banking system’s liquidity. Meanwhile, it’s not planning any new restriction regarding the foreign exchange market.
At the moment, a bank client cannot withdraw more than Hr 150,000 per day.
“In October, the behavior of our clients was better,” says Volodymyr Lavrenchuk, head of Ukrainian unit of Austria’s Raiffeisen bank. People felt less panicky, which is why their demand for U.S dollars dropped.
Andriy Pyshny, chief executive officer of state-run banking giant Oshchadbank, adds that as much as $8 billion in cash are stuffed under the pillows of average Ukrainians, which keeps the capital-short economy from growing. “Right now, the market is seeking an equilibrium between the real economy and banking system,” he says.
This year, the central bank recognized as many as 26 commercial banks as insolvent, while 11 of those “had nothing to do with banking at all,” according to the central bank governor. An oligarch-dominated economy that bets on avoiding taxation, for instance through reporting profits in offshore zones, is the key reason why so many banks were involved in fraudulent schemes.
Overall, Ukraine’s banking system consists of 166 banks with $85 billion in assets. “There are too many banks in Ukraine, so the banking sector needs consolidation,” said Suma Chakrabarti, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in an interview with the Kyiv Post in May. “The central bank has not been close enough to the banks.”
The IMF mission will be checking Ukraine’s macroeconomic performance, that includes analysis of the state of the things in the banking system, during its Nov. 11-25 visit to Kyiv.
Kyiv’s historic Zhovten cinema after suspected act of anti-LGBT motivated arson on Oct. 29. © Ilya Timchenko.
In response to a series of attacks in Kyiv over the past month, the party of President Petro Poroshenko said they support introducing criminal liability for discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals.
“We support safety guarantees for the LGBT community and criminal liability for discrimination based on sexuality,” the party said in a recent letter addressed to the National LGBT Portal of Ukraine.
On Oct. 29 Kyiv’s historic Zhovten cinema was devastated by fire in what authorities believe to be an act or arson. At the time an LGBT themed film was being show as part of the Molodost film festival. On Oct. 31 a group of men in camouflage attempted to force their way into a screening of another LGBT film being shown as part of the festival but were stopped by police.
The film festival’s organizers later said on Facebook that the men were wearing far-right Pravy Sektor insignia though the group itself denied being involved in the attacks.
The state-own Zhovten cinema has been at the center of real-estate development disputes making it unclear whether LGBT issues were the real focus or whether the attacks were a cover for an attempted land grab.
Following the incidents critics said that politicians had failed to keep promises made during the EuroMaidan protests to meet European human rights norms.
“It seems that not everyone understands human rights. Not everyone understand that LGBT rights are human rights and we are not talking about something special for one community,” said the Director of Amnesty International’s Ukraine branch Tetyana Mazur.
The National LGBT Portal of Ukraine received the letter from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc signed by the head of the party secretariat Maksym Savrasov after sending out appeals ahead of the Oct. 26 parliamentary election to all major Ukrainian political parties. In these appeals, they asked whether the parties would support legislation introducing criminal liability for LGBT discrimination.
The Petro Poroshenko Bloc was the only political party to respond to the inquiry, according to the LGBT rights group.
The letter the party sent emphasized that the path to EU membership was also a “tool” for change that allowed implementing “European standards of life” in both economic and social spheres. It did not mention any time frame or specific plans for introducing a bill supporting criminalizing LGBT discrimination in the new Rada, which is expected to convene in December.
A previous attempt to pass a similar law in 2013 failed.
LGBT rights groups experienced a setback in July when Kyiv police asked them not to hold an equality march saying they couldn’t ensure their safety. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko who recently ran as number one on the party list for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc compared the event at the time to a “carnival” and said it was not a time for celebrating.
An LGBT march had taken place the previous year when now ousted President Viktor Yanukovych was still in power.
A helmet and ammunition belonging to a pro-Russian fighter are seen in the Slovyanoserbsk district of eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region.
Ukrainian authorities say artillery fired by government forces has killed up to 200 pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east amid reports of Russian tanks and soldiers crossing the border.
The number of insurgent casualties is much higher than most previous tolls reported for a single day of fighting in the conflict, which has killed more than 4,000 combatants and civilians since April, and could not be independently confirmed.
The press center of Kyiv’s “Antiterrorist Operation” (ATO) said on its Facebook page on November 7 that “militants who were firing at Ukrainian military positions on the grounds of Donetsk airport on November 6 were eliminated by artillery units of the ATO forces.”
It said “verified information” indicates the artillery fire “killed up to 200 militants” and destroyed or damaged four tanks and several other pieces of military equipment.
The Donetsk airport, which is mostly held by government forces, has been a focus of persistent fighting despite a September 5 cease-fire.
The fighting at the airport comes amid a report by a Ukrainian military spokesman that 32 tanks, other heavy weapons, and soldiers entered the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk from Russia on November 6.
Andriy Lysenko said that along with the tanks, 16 howitzer artillery systems and 30 trucks carrying ammunition and troops had also entered Ukraine.
He said another column of trucks and three mobile radar stations had crossed from Russia into Ukraine at a nearby border point.
Lysenko added that five Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and at least 16 other troops wounded in fighting in the past 24 hours.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on November 7 that he told Germany’s Angela Merkel via phone that the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine was escalating due to “significant” violations of the September 5 cease-fire deal.
In Moscow, a senior Kremlin aide reiterated Russia’s “respect” for elections held on November 2 by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine but said Moscow has deliberately stopped short of saying it “recognizes” the votes.
Yury Ushakov, President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy aide, told reporters on November 7 that Russia set out its position in a Foreign Ministry statement on November 3 that said it “respects the will” of residents who voted in the elections, which were condemned as illegitimate by Ukraine and the West.
Asked whether respecting the elections is the same as recognizing the elections, Ushakov said it was not.
“These are different words,” he said. “The word ‘respect’ was chosen deliberately. We fundamentally respect the voters’ expression of will.”
Ushakov said Russia remains committed to a September 5 cease-fire in eastern Ukraine and wants further talks to be held to build on some peace moves.
Ushakov said there is no specific plan for a meeting between Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama during upcoming summits in Asia, but that they would have good opportunities to meet “on their feet.”
With reporting by Interfax, AFP, TASS, and Reuters.
The delicate truce between Kyiv and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine was broken again on Sunday. New NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is optimistic that the situation can be resolved.
There was fresh shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Sunday, the one-month anniversary of the ceasefire between Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian rebels.
“There is no ceasefire,” a resident of the city said, gesturing to the firefight and destruction in the distance.
Ukraine’s military blames the separatists for the outbreak of violence near Donetsk’s government-held airport, where at least three civilians and three separatists were killed and dozens were wounded, according to senior rebel official Eduard Basulin.
Ukrainian military spokesman Volodymyr Polyovy gave a different account, telling a press conference that two service staff were killed on Sunday and about six people were wounded. “The terrorists are violating the terms of the ceasefire,” he added.
Clashes around the airport have been going on for weeks, as the facility, which has a modernized runway capable of handling heavy transporters, is of great strategic value. And while the separatists have been able to take several other important buildings in Donetsk, the airport remains in Kyiv’s hands.
Both sides blame each other for the civilian deaths.
“The airport is a springboard for the city…our main task is to push them (government forces) away from the city so that they can no longer shell residential districts,” Basulin said.
Clinging to a fragile truce
Despite the ongoing violence, neither Kyiv nor Moscow seems willing to proclaim the truce invalid.
Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have come together to create a monitoring contact group, which together with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) patrols the frontline. Berlin has also considered sending troops to support the patrols.
The Ukrainian government has a large interest in maintaining some form of peace ahead of October 26 parliamentary polls called by President Petro Poroshenko. Europe, for its part, would also rather maintain the status quo as opposed to widening its impasse with Russia and its gas supplies as winter approaches.
NATO secretary general optimistic
There is great interest into how newly-minted NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will approach the issue. Speaking on his first day in office on Wednesday, Stoltenberg told journalists that he saw no contradiction between his pro-US, stronger-NATO stance and improved ties with Russia.
Jens Stoltenberg took the helm of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on October 1.
“We see opportunity in the ceasefire…but we also see violations of the ceasefire and it’s a fragile situation,” the former Norwegian prime minister said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin cautiously approved of Stoltenberg’s ascension, saying “we have very good relations, including personal relations.” The new NATO chief promised to react with an “open mind” if Russia sought to restart the NATO-Russia council, which has ceased operations since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.
Some 75 people are reported to have died since the Ukrainian-Separatist truce, which was backed by Kyiv and the Kremlin, went into effect on September 5.
es/nm (AP, AFP, Reuters)