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A priest tries to stop a fight between the protesters and the riot police in the downtown of Kyiv on Jan. 22. © AFP
Ukraine is facing an end of obviously the hardest year it has had since gaining independence in 1991. Three month-long EuroMaidan Revolution took the power away from corrupt president Viktor Yanukovych and his government that he kept on a short leash. It led to more than 100 people dead, some of them foreign citizens.
Berkut, a special unit of local police, guards the street in the center of Kyiv on Jan. 23. © AFP
Pivot towards the European Union, that Yanukovych strongly opposed, was followed by the Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine and a home for 2.4 million people. A so called referendum that was held on March 16 became a basis for Vladimir Putin-led Russia to take the control over the Ukrainian land.
A local musician plays the piano set on the anti-government barricade in Kyiv during a concert organized on Feb. 10. © AFP
Putin didn’t stop there. On Apr. 6 his camouflaged troops, that called themselves “people’s militia”, started an invasion of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts in Ukraine’s east. Almost 1,200 Ukrainian soldiers were killed since then in an anti-terrorist operation focused at pushing the separatists and Russian army out of the Ukrainian territory, according to the official information.
A protester holds Ukraine’s national flag at a burned building on Feb. 20 in Kyiv. © AFP
Meanwhile, some sources say Russians lost up to 9,000 soldiers during the war in the Donbas, though it’s unclear how many of them are Russian citizens.
Protesters advance to new positions in Kyiv on Feb. 20, police tries to stop them as violence on Independence Square, Khreshchatyk and Instytutska streets escalates. © AFP
The international community doesn’t recognize Russian annexation of Crimea and self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. A number of economic sanctions applied by the Western democracies against Russia have been the main tool for calming down the Putin’s aggression. However, sometimes when Ukrainian authorities were asking for the support of a larger scale, Western countries did not go beyond the condemnation statements.
A protester throws a molotov cocktail at riot police in the center of Kyiv on Jan. 22. © AFP
On Sep. 5, Ukraine agreed a cease-fire with the separatists during the negotiations in Minsk, Belarus. However, fighting still continues.
People carry a coffin of a man who was killed during recent clashes, as they gather at Independence Square on Feb. 22 in Kyiv. © AFPProtesters catch fire as they stand behind burning barricades during clashes with police on Feb. 20 in Kyiv. © AFPProtesters advance to new positions in Kyiv on Feb. 20. © AFPProtesters advance to new positions in Kyiv on Feb. 20. © AFP
Self-proclaimed prime minister of the pro-Russian separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic” Alexander Borodai (C) stands as he arrives on the site of the crash of a Malaysian airliner carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, near the town of Shaktarsk, in rebel-held east Ukraine, on July 17. © AFPPro-Russian militants take position on the roof of the international airport of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on May 26. © AFPA body lies in a wheat field at the site of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in Grabove, in rebel-held east Ukraine, on July 19. © AFPA Ukrainian girl cries as she stands on the road with her luggage after she left her home near the village of Grabove, some 80 kilometers east of Donetsk on Aug. 2. © AFPMembers of the Ukrainian State Emergency Service search for bodies in a field near the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Grabove, in Donetsk region on July 26. © AFPPeople react as a man attempts to revive another wounded as a result of fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian troops in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on May 26. © AFPBodies of crew members lie next to a destroyed Ukrainian tank in the northern outskirts of city of Donetsk, on July 22. © AFPArmed Ukrainian forces detain a pro-Russian militant in the village of Chornukhine in the Lugansk region on Aug. 18. © AFP
View of the outskirts of Mariupol on Sept. 4 under pro-Russian separatists heavy artillery action. © AFP
By Olivia Crellin.
A German company is offering a $30 million bounty for the identities of the individuals responsible for downing Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine this summer.
Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine are suspected of firing surface-to-air missiles at the civilian aircraft, which crashed July 17 while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board. A preliminary report carried out by Dutch investigators said that the crash was the result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that struck the Boeing plane from the outside.
Wifka, an independent German fraud investigation company, said that the money — provided by an anonymous client — will not be given away lightly. The reward will only be delivered to someone able to give detailed information on who shot down MH17, who gave the order to shoot down the plane, and who is covering up their tracks, according to Wifka.
“After the terrible assassination or ‘accident,’ all political parties, at home and abroad, said they owed it to the victims, their families and the public to clarify the circumstances of the crash and present evidence for what happened,” the company said in a statement. “None of this has yet been done.”
The list of requirements for the reward also includes information on whether the plane was shot by accident or out of political, economic, or military motivation. The company is also seeking details of the circumstances that led to the incident, the weapon used, and what happened to the people involved.
“The money is securely deposited in Zurich, Switzerland,” Wifka said. “It will be paid there or in a different neutral place of the whistle-blower’s choice.”
The company added that their client has also offered to give the tipster a new identity if necessary.
Concessions to Rebels
Two months exactly from the day of the MH17 crash, Ukraine is still in turmoil. Despite the announcement of a ceasefire 12 days ago, Ukrainian troops have been pushed back on multiple fronts in the last two weeks.
Amnesty offers from President Petro Poroshenko to those who had not committed serious crimes in the east have been largely rejected, and Ukraine’s parliament approved laws Tuesday that give rebels de facto control of parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, a move that has infuriated many protesters and activists.
Vitaly Zhuravsky, an MP who belongs to a party described as pro-Russian, was thrown by angry crowds into a dumpster.
Ukrainian lawmakers did manage to ratify an agreement Tuesday that brings the country closer to joining the European Union. The pact is the same one that former president Viktor Yanukovych backed out of signing last year, leading to the protests that sparked the revolution and ongoing conflict that has so far killed more than 3,000 and displaced 310,000.
“No nation has ever paid such a high price to become Europeans,” Poroshenko said, referring to soldiers killed in the fighting and the early deaths of anti-government protesters.
The agreement would make Ukraine compliant with EU standards in the areas of human rights, security, and arms control. It would also have removed trade barriers, but negotiations with Russia last week led to the postponement of the free-trade aspect of the agreement until 2016.
Poroshenko, a candy magnate-turned-politician who won 54 percent of the vote in the election following Yanukovych’s removal, told an audience of political experts, journalists, and senior European officials gathered in Kiev on September 13 that there could be “no military solution to this conflict.”
Despite the ceasefire, NATO officials said this week that about 1,000 Russian troops remain on Ukrainian soil. Six people were killed by crossfire when rebels attacked Donetsk airport on Sunday.
Seeking More US Aid
A diplomatic solution to the conflict will be undoubtedly be on Poroshenko’s agenda when he arrives Thursday in Washington to address Congress and speak with President Barack Obama. The country’s parliamentary elections are due to be held October 26.
More economic and military aid from the US will also be a topic of discussion, although concerns about corruption, as well as fears about escalating the military conflict with Russia, mean that Poroshenko could leave Washington empty handed.
Paving the way for more government accountability, Ukraine passed a law Tuesday that allows the removal of corrupt officials from their positions. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk has said that Ukraine will screen roughly 1 million civil servants to root out lingering corruption from the previous regime. The law targets individuals who worked under Yanukovych, as well as former senior members of the Communist Party and KGB.
The US and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have already pledged a total of $60 million in non-lethal aid, which includes food rations, body armor, and communications equipment, plus $17 billion in bailout money. Ukraine’s Central Bank says that the country’s economy may shrink up to 10 percent this year.
By Leonid Bershidsky.
A statue depicting Lenine next to a self-proclaimed Donetsk People Republic’s flag at the Lenin square center of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine on Sept. 16. © AFP
The compromises Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has made to end the fighting in his country have taken shape, and they are dangerous to his political future. His increasingly nationalist electorate considers them little short of treachery.
The Ukrainian parliament today passed Poroshenko’s bill on the special status of eastern areas held by pro-Russian rebels. It also ratified Ukraine’s association and free trade agreement with the European Union, although Ukraine now only intends to abolish customs duties on EU goods at the end of 2015. These concessions are less in some areas and more in others than Russian President Vladimir Putin squeezed from Poroshenko’s ill-fated predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, and they come at an enormous cost in human lives, lost trust and broken relationships between the two nations.
The special status law breaks with the Ukrainian government’s practice of calling the rebels “terrorists”. It describes them as “participants in the events in the territories of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.” They are granted a broad amnesty, and Ukrainian organizations are banned from discriminating against them on the basis of their participation in the fighting.
The rebel-held areas are given full power to govern themselves for the three years that follow local elections scheduled for Nov. 9. That includes appointing their own police forces, prosecutors and judges. The local self-government will be allowed to cooperate with Russian authorities across the border “to deepen good neighborly relations,” and the law allows the region to conduct its business in Russian, while the rest of the country uses Ukrainian. The ministries in Kiev will only be able to participate in running the eastern areas if the local bodies deign to sign special agreements with them, yet the law promises Ukrainian budgetary funding to patch up the ravages of war and develop the semi-independent regions.
That, in effect, is Ukraine’s signature under the creation of a frozen conflict area. For Russia, that kind of buffer is the best: It’s not an unrecognized state with a murky status, but an officially recognized enclave within Ukraine. Kiev takes responsibility for it, but has little or no influence on what happens there. The law will probably stand for now, as long as Poroshenko and Putin manage to make the shaky cease-fire in eastern Ukraine stick.
This is a bitter pill for Ukrainians to swallow. “I wouldn’t have voted for this bill if I had been a legislator,” journalist Mustafa Nayyem, who is running for a parliament seat as part of Poroshenko’s electoral bloc, wrote on Facebook. “I see no value in compromises that can lead to another political split in Kiev, mutual accusations of treachery and a show-off patriotism contest.”
That’s a mild reaction by Kiev standards: “Poroshenko is giving up to Putin just enough Ukrainian interests to avoid getting beaten up by his own citizens,” Dmytro Gnap, another journalist, wrote on Facebook. Gnap, who was a prominent investigator of corruption under the Yanukovych regime, accuses Poroshenko of trying to shore up his personal power at any cost so he can run the country with the same corrupt officials who enriched themselves under the previous presidency.
Poroshenko’s bloc does indeed include odious figures implicated in the corruption of the old regime and, in a blatantly Yanukovych-style twist, Poroshenko’s son Aleksiy is running for a parliament seat with his father’s party. “The summit of nepotism,” Gnap fumed.
As for the idealists who joined the government after Yanukovych’s ouster, they have been losing faith and dropping out. Last week, Deputy Foreign Minister Danylo Lubkivsky resigned after he learned that Kiev had decided to put off implementing part of the EU trade agreement. He wrote that the delay sends “the wrong signal to everyone: the aggressor, allies, and, most importantly, Ukrainian citizens.”
The trade deal, which Yanukovych declined to sign last year and thus triggered the protests that ended his presidency, will for now operate as a set of unilateral EU concessions to prop up the Ukrainian economy. Ukrainian companies will be able to export duty-free to the EU within certain quotas, but EU goods will still be subject to duties as before. This is to please Russia, which claims it would lose about $3 billion a year in economic damage from transit imports.
More than 3,000 people lie dead; Russia is in deepening international isolation; Ukraine faces a 10 percent drop in economic output this year; and Poroshenko’s concessions will take a further toll on the impoverished nation. It is a Pyrrhic victory for Putin and makes no one happy: not even the Russian leader can be sure Ukraine will follow through on the compromises it has offered. That depends on the Oct. 26 parliamentary elections, from which Poroshenko may not emerge with a comfortable majority, as voters back populists and military commanders from the eastern war.
If Ukraine then returns to the political in-fighting and non-transparent dealings of the past, it will have a hard time persuading even its friends, the U.S. and the EU, to support it.
(To contact the writer of this article: Leonid Bershidsky at firstname.lastname@example.org).
(To contact the editor responsible for this article: Marc Champion at email@example.com).
Ukrainian, European parliaments approve long-awaited political association agreement; free trade pact delayed
by Anastasia Forina and Ian Bateson.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko shows a newly voted Ukrainian law about the ratification of the Ukraine-EU association agreement on Sept. 16 at the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev. The Ukrainian and European parliaments on September 16 simultaneously ratified a landmark pact at the heart of the ex-Soviet country’s bloodiest crisis since independence. AFP PHOTO/GENYA SAVILOV © AFP
In sessions held simultaneously, the Ukrainian and European parliaments ratified association and free trade agreements on Sept. 16, nearly 10 months and a revolution after the deals were first rejected by former President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted by anti-government protesters in February as a result.
However, what many consider to be the most important provision of the association agreement, however, will be delayed. Under the agreement Ukraine is to join the European Union’s free trade zone, but in a concession to Russia it will not be allowed to join the free trade zone until 2016.
“The Heavenly Hundred and 872 brave Ukrainian fighters have died not only for Ukraine, but for us to take our rightful place in Europe,” said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in parliament, referring to protestors and servicemen who were killed in Kyiv during the EuroMaidan Revolution and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. “There is not a single nation has paid as high a price for that since World War II.”
More than 100 people were killed during the revolution between late November 2013 and late February of this year, according to government statistics.
And some 3,000 people have been killed during the eastern conflict and more than a million displaced since the start of the government’s anti-terrorist operation in mid-April, the United Nations reported on Sept. 8. That figure includes 295 passengers who were killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was allegedly shot out of the sky by a rocket in July while flying over the city of Torez, Donetsk Oblast.
In the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, on Sept. 16, 355 MPs voted in favor of the agreement with 26 abstaining and none voting against. In the European Parliament, many of whose members came to Kyiv during the protests to show their support for the grassroots uprising, 535 voted for the agreement with 127 voting against and 35 abstaining.
“This is a historical moment,” said Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament. “We will continue supporting Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. These people are fighting for a better future, we are supporting the Ukrainian people in their will to make dreams of Maidan true.”
Russia has previously pushed Kyiv to join a Russian-led customs union and said it cannot be a member of both.
Critics have seen the delay of the free trade provision as Ukraine and the EU kowtowing to Russia. But not all experts agree.
“Russia wanted to change the text of the association agreement. It didn’t happen, and it was ratified as it was signed and prepared,” said Olexiy Haran a political analyst in Kyiv.
“It is a big step and something that took three presidents to achieve. It has finally been ratified and I think it is a choice of civilization,” he said.
Doctor and acclaimed author Henry Marsh had worked in Kiev for more than 20 years – then found himself in the middle of a revolution.
Henry Marsh stands in front of the Maidan protest in Kiev. Photograph: PR
I went to Kiev in December last year. The hospital where I work is in the centre of Kiev and only a few hundred yards away from Independence Square where Maidan – the demonstration against Yanukovych and his government – was in full swing. I helped operate on a young woman with a large brain tumour and saw the usual long queue of patients with awful problems in the dark and windowless corridor outside my colleague’s cramped little office.
While in Ukraine I made many visits to Maidan. To get to it you had to push your way through the lines of thuggish berkut – the special riot police. They were in visored black helmets, carried truncheons and shields and guns, and wore smart grey and blue camouflage uniforms. But once you were through the police lines you entered an extraordinary place. The central square in Kiev was packed with people, many draped in the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag. The air was full of the smell of wood smoke from the hundreds of oil drum braziers and field kitchens handing out free food. Flags and banners were flying everywhere. There were hundreds of tents, each with the name of the village or town from where the demonstrators had come. There were street musicians and bands playing all along Kreschatyk, the central street in Kiev. The atmosphere – despite the sinister police – was cheerful, yet you could feel a very real sense of determination. “We’re here to stay” everybody said while chanting “Bandu het!” ( Out with the gang).
I work as a senior consultant brain surgeon at St George’s Hospital in London. I had first gone to Ukraine in 1992 to give some lectures. The conditions I found in the hospitals I visited were terrible – the Soviet Union had been good at making guns and rockets but not much else. Healthcare – apart from for those in power – had been a low priority and, to make matters worse, the Ukrainian economy was in a dire state in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. I met a young neurosurgeon, Igor Kurilets, working in the State Emergency Hospital, who was burning with a fierce determination to improve things that most of his senior colleagues seemed to lack. It seemed a simple matter to help him and I took to driving to Ukraine with car loads of secondhand medical equipment – microscopes, operating tables, thousands of instruments –enough to equip an entire neurosurgical theatre. I soon learned, however, that the newly independent Ukraine had not lost its old Soviet habits; innovation and initiative and contact with the west, if not sanctioned by those in charge, were met with implacable opposition. Igor’s attempts, with my help, to do better for his patients, quickly ran into difficulties. There were endless enquiries and denunciations, and on several occasions members of Igor’s staff were sacked. At one time, following telephoned death threats, he even felt obliged to sleep in a different room each night. While his problems became ever greater, I felt I could not very well abandon him and I have continued to work with him, pro bono, in my spare time, ever since.
Igor eventually left the state system to set up his own private clinic, where he paid all his taxes, and bribes from patients were no longer required. Money and medicine are never far apart, and his transparent honesty and tremendous success (since patients flocked to see him) were seen by many as a threat.
At last, after more than 20 years, Igor’s position is reasonably secure. Since I first went there, healthcare in Ukraine has improved considerably, although by European standards the country remains very poor. But when I saw what was unfolding last winter, it seemed to me that the protesters against the Ukrainian government, and its closeness to Russia, were fighting the same fight Igor had been engaged in for so many years – a fight against corruption and arbitrary rule. Although Yanukovych had been democratically elected, the police and judicial system were so corrupt that this had little meaning. With his family and cronies he had quickly started to amass a personal fortune by embezzlement and intimidation, and this corruption had spread into every corner of Ukrainian life. Igor, for instance, had had to start paying regular bribes to the police and pharmacological authorities or face criminal prosecution for trivial infringements of unrealistic regulations. I visited Yanokovych’s notorious private pleasure palace at Mezhyhirya in March, when it was left empty and open to the public. Behind the 20ft high walls mounted with security cameras, there is a shooting gallery, a huge sauna surrounded by water gardens, a vast garage with its own petrol station and a six-litre Mercedes coupe parked outside ( the other cars had all been looted), as well as an enclosure with ostriches waiting to be eaten. And, of course, there is the palace and an airport. The way Yanukovych looted Ukraine is a perfect example of the “extractive” institutions (described by Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson in their brilliant book Why Nations Fail) that lead eventually to the collapse of states and empires. Another country, which has similarly extractive institutions is Putin’s Russia.
‘Healthcare in Ukraine has improved since I first went there’… Henry Marsh. Photograph: PR
I returned to London on a wintry Sunday evening with deep reluctance, but I had a long list of operations for Monday. Then, on Tuesday of that week, Maidan turned violent when the government tried to evict the demonstrators. We have all seen the extraordinary scenes on television of the berkut locked in battle with the demonstrators, in temperatures down to -13C; scenes that looked like medieval battles. I rang Igor the following morning.
“They are heroes,” he said of the demonstrators, his voice breaking with emotion “Heroes. Henry, you must come back!” I felt a surge of patriotism within me for the country that has almost become my second home, even though I do not speak Russian or Ukrainian.
“Yes!” I shouted in reply because I had suddenly remembered that my outpatient clinic for the next day had been cancelled and I was supposed to be attending a rather dull meeting where nobody would notice my absence. I was able to get the last ticket out on the morning flight to Kiev the next day, 12 December, and so was back with my friends in Maidan by lunchtime.
The atmosphere now was very different. High barricades of bags packed with snow had been built round all the entrances to the square, so that the place looked like a fortress. Demonstrators wearing hard-hats or army helmets stood guard at the entrances, carrying shields and staves. Ruslana, the famous Ukrainian singer, was haranguing the crowd from the stage. “Bez krovni,” she said over and over again and they chanted it back: “Bez krovni” – “without blood”. I spent much of the next few days wandering around Maidan, since my visit was unplanned and there was little operating to be done. I was exhilarated (and worried) by what I saw but, once again, I had to return to London, deeply reluctant though I was to leave Kiev.
I next returned in early March. Yanukovych had fled the country, leaving a blackened and scarred Maidan behind him. Over 100 people had been killed there, shot down by snipers on the roofs of the buildings just next to the hospital in Institutska Street. One of the steel lamp-posts behind which the demonstrators had taken shelter was drilled with bullet holes – on the side facing away from the camp. So much for the Russian claims that the demonstrators had been shot in the back by their own side. Maidan was now a sad and sombre place with candles and plastic flowers and photographs of the dead on every corner, surrounded by smoke-darkened buildings.
Before Ukraine became headline news, when I told people at home of my enthusiasm for that country, they usually expressed some surprise.
“It’s in Russia, isn’t it?” was the usual response. I would explain how Ukraine was roughly divided into east and west, the west looking towards Europe and the east towards Russia, but would add that nobody expected that Ukraine would go the way of Yugoslavia. Ukraine was different. I would also say that it was a very important country but I doubt if anybody believed me.
All this has changed. Russia has invaded eastern Ukraine and the problem now is about Russia’s place in the modern world. Putin has replaced the dubious altruism of communism with the mystical pan-Slavism that has been the traditional response of some Russians to the existential threat they felt Russia faced from the west (which now takes the form of Nato). In this perspective, Ukraine is seen as part of Russia’s ancient heritage, while Ukraine’s move towards the west is a betrayal of this heritage and needs to be punished. The Russian equivalent of English jokes about the stupid Irish are told about Ukrainians. I suspect the closest analogy with many Russians’ view of Ukraine is with the patronising, colonial attitudes many people in England had toward Ireland in the past. The Soviet Union was, after all, the last of the great Empires and Putin has said that its demise was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. Putin wants Russia to be a Great Power once again.
Equally important – perhaps more important – is the fact that Putin runs Russia on the same extractive, corrupt principles as Yanukovych ran Ukraine, and the success of Maidan at his back door has been a real threat to his own system of rule. It seems that Ukraine will pay a terrible price – it already has in terms of lives lost or ruined – for Russia’s failure to escape its past. I will be back in Kiev in December. I do not know what I will find, apart from a list of patients with difficult brain tumours and other neurosurgical problems waiting patiently outside Igor’s office.
(To buy Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh for £13.59 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on (+44) 0330 333 6846 or go to guardianbookshop.co.uk).