Ukraine at 25: Leaders in Ukraine share their thoughts

KYIV – On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Ukraine’s re-establishment of independence, The Ukrainian Weekly asked some of the country’s decision makers and opinion leaders, politicians and civil society leaders, to share their thoughts about where the country is headed. Ukraine’s economy is still on shaky ground as the International Monetary Fund has withheld funds because the country’s leadership has failed to implement certain corruption-fighting measures. Ukraine’s sovereignty is also fragile as Russia continues to wage war in Ukraine’s east for a third consecutive year. As a result, Ukraine’s territorial area has shrunk by about 7 percent, nearly 10,000 people have lost their lives and some 2.2 million have been displaced, of whom 1.8 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs). 

Following are their edited comments on the status of Ukraine at 25. Ulana Suprun, Ukraine’s acting minister of health:

Independence Day is a time for self-reflection and self-determination.

Olympic champions: canoeist Yuriy Cheban and gymnast Oleh Vernyayev.

Vernyayev golden in parallel bars, Cheban in canoe sprint

Gymanst Oleh Vernyayev won his second Olympic medal in Rio, with a decisive victory – and Ukraine’s first gold medal – in the parallel bars. The Ukrainian bested American silver medalist Danell Leyva by a score of 16.041-15.900 on August 16. Leyva nailed his final routine, putting him temporarily in first place until Vernyayev put up an incredible 16.041 points with his routine to earn the top spot. Earlier, Vernyayev had almost dethroned the man he refers to as the “king of gymnastics,” coming ever so close to denying Japan’s Kohei Uchimura a second straight Olympic gold medal in men’s all-around gymnastics. Although Uchimura’s high bar routine sealed the victory, the final results on August 10 showed him beating the young Ukrainian by only 0.099 points.

Moscow wants Bosnia-style outcome for Ukraine, says senior analyst

Despite its declarations about taking revenge against Kyiv for supposedly sending “diversionists” into Crimea, Moscow is unlikely to launch a major war, but instead hopes to use the threat of such a conflict to force Ukraine to agree to a resolution of the conflict that would result in a Bosnia-style outcome, according to Anatoly Oktisyuk. But the senior analyst at Kyiv’s International Center for Research about the Future says that Moscow’s interest in such a solution inevitably challenges Kyiv to select one of four very different strategies (apostrophe.com.ua/article/politics/2016-08-12/posledstviya-kryimskoy-diversii-ukrainu-jdut-chetyire-stsenariya-razvitiya-sobyitiy/6735). As Mr. Oktisyuk points out, “the Bosnian war ended more than 20 years ago, but Bosnia-Herzegovina is one of the most backward countries of Europe with massive corruption and the deepening erosion of state institutions. Local identities dominate over national ones, there is no consensus or national unity, and that interferes with the country’s development.”

Not surprisingly, he continues, Russia would like to see exactly that outcome for Ukraine because it would leave the country as “a neutral federal state without claims on Crimea and one in which the anti-Russian west and center would be balanced by a pro-Russian enclave in the Donbas.”

Indeed, the Kyiv analyst says, “the political component of the 2015 Minsk agreements very much recalls the Dayton format of resolving the conflict in Bosnia in 1995.”  The major difference is that there were NATO and then European forces in the former Yugoslavia, while there are no such forces in Ukraine. Kyiv has sought so far unsuccessfully to change that.

Since 2014, 18 countries have provided non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine

Since January 2014, 18 countries have provided $164.1 million (U.S.) worth of non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine, with more than 80 percent of that coming from just two countries, the United States, which has given $117.6 million worth of supplies, and Canada, which has given $23.6 million. Those figures were provided to the Apostrophe portal by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, which noted that there had been some weapons provided as well, by Lithuania among others, but that data about such transfers remain classified (apostrophe.com.ua/article/politics/ 2016-08-03/voyna-na-donbasse-kakie-stranyi-zapada-pomogali-ukraine/6566). According to the ministry, the amount (in U.S. dollars) of non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine between January 1, 2014, and July 15, 2016, provided by the 18 countries is as follows. United States $117,573,368
Canada $23,641,521
Poland $5,421,745
United Kingdom $4,975,847
Australia $4,682,498
China $3,400,000
Turkey $1,052,568
Slovakia $774,543
Norway $629,501
France $594,020
Netherlands $500,000
Spain $258,419
Czech Republic $245,782
Albania $226,388
Lithuania $116,201
Switzerland $31,928
Latvia $31,125
Denmark $21,300
Commenting on this data, Sergey Zgurets, director of the Defense Express Information Consulting Company, said that this foreign assistance had “a very great political effect at the very beginning of the Russian intervention when it seemed that Ukraine was standing one on one with a nuclear power.”

But “all countries tried not to cross a definite line in order not to provoke Russia to harsher methods of conducting military operations in the Donbas.” Furthermore, he said, it was important for Ukraine to rely as heavily as possible on its own resources, given that it has a sizeable military industry.  There have been achievements there, but much remains to be done.

Vitvitsky on selection commission for Ukraine’s General Inspectorate

KYIV – Bohdan Vitvitsky, a Ukrainian-born corruption expert from New Jersey, has joined a selection commission that will choose members of a newly created General Inspectorate at the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine. The move is part of an overall drive to fix the nation’s deeply flawed prosecutorial and justice system. Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko made the announcement live on television on August 8. Dr. Vitvitsky, who holds a juris doctor as well as a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University, is a former U.S. federal prosecutor and assistant U.S. attorney. He served as resident legal advisor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine in 2007-2009.

U.S. envoy thanks Ukraine for assistance in recovering remains of WW II-era pilot

KYIV – On August 12, U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt spoke at a ceremony at the National Military History Museum in Kyiv commemorating the repatriation of remains from Ukraine to United States custody. The U.S. Army second lieutenant was shot down near Novi Troyany, Odesa Oblast, in June, 1944 during Operation Frantic – a series of shuttle bombing operations against Germany during World War II conducted by American aircraft based in Britain and southern Italy which then landed at three airfields in Ukraine. The identity of the second lieutenant is being withheld until positive identification is confirmed. “I would like to thank the Ministry of Defense and General Staff and everyone in the government of Ukraine who has made today’s repatriation possible… Over 70 years ago, this young American pilot was killed while fighting a war on Ukrainian soil that was marked by brutal conflict with an aggressive foe challenging our most fundamental values.

New U.S. ambassador to Ukraine is sworn in

WASHINGTON – The swearing-in ceremony of Marie L. Yovanovitch as ambassador of the United States of America to Ukraine was held on August 12, in the William J. Burns Auditorium at the George Marshall Center, U.S. Department of State. Ambassador Yovanovitch will arrive in Ukraine in time for the 25th anniversary celebration of the independence of Ukraine on August 24. She replaces Geoffrey Pyatt, who will serve as the new U.S. ambassador to Greece. The U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC) was represented at Ambassador Yovanovitch’s swearing-in by President Morgan Williams. He noted that the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC) congratulates Ambassador Yovanovitch on her appointment and that the council’s 200 members look forward to working with her in Kyiv. Over 45 representatives of USUBC member-organization met with Ambassador Yovanovitch in Washington.

Moscow more likely to use terrorism against Ukraine than to launch conventional attack, Bezsmertnyi says

Moscow is unlikely to launch a conventional military attack against Ukraine in the near term, according to Roman Bezsmertnyi. It simply isn’t prepared to do so or to suffer the international consequences. Instead, he says, the Russian side is more likely to use terrorist attacks and other means of heightening tensions in Ukraine. In an interview on Kyiv’s 112 Ukraina television channel, Ukraine’s former representative to the trilateral contact group said that officials are currently considering several different scenarios for the future of Russian-Ukrainian relations, including heightened tensions (112.ua/politika/rossiya-ne-poydet-v-nastuplenie-a-budet-pribegat-k-teraktam-i-obostreniyu-situacii-na-donbasse-bezsmertnyy-332117.html). Within that vector, the ambassador suggests, three possible vectors are being discussed, but only two of them are likely.

“Unfortunately, we know first-hand what negative impact armed conflicts could have on children. According to our data, 68 children have been killed and 186 have been wounded in eastern Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict masterminded by Russia. The number of IDPs [internally displaced persons] in Ukraine, who were forced to leave their homes in war affected regions, now stands at 1.7 million, including 215,000 children. The Ukrainian government is doing its utmost to strengthen social protection of displaced children and families with children, including through elaboration of relevant legislation. …

Community leaders share their thoughts on Ukraine at 25

As 2016 is a particularly significant year for Ukraine, marking the 25th anniversary of the re-establishment of the country’s independence, The Ukrainian Weekly approached several community leaders in the United States, Canada and Australia, as well as the Ukrainian World Congress and asked them to share their thoughts on Ukraine. Following are their responses. Eugene Czolij, president  of the Ukrainian World Congress:
Ukraine and the diaspora today are a global force that is stronger and better unified than ever. The 20-million strong Ukrainian diaspora led by the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) joins the people of Ukraine in marking the 25th anniversary of the Independence of Ukraine as proclaimed on 24 August 1991 – a day that saw the fulfillment of the dreams of so many who had dedicated their lives to this goal and a day that offered hope and promise to future Ukrainian generations. Over the course of 25 years we have watched the rebirth of a nation that not only removed the shackles of oppression, but shattered them into pieces, ensuring that they can never again be used to deny our people their freedom, their aspirations or fundamental human rights.

Ukraine at 25

As Ukraine and its people prepare to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the re-establishment of the country’s independence on August 24 – a day that should be the occasion for great celebrations of Ukraine’s remarkable history and its promising future – there are storm clouds gathering over our ancestral homeland. Reports from various sources indicate that not only is the war in Ukraine’s east intensifying, but that Russia has deployed surface-to-air missiles (SAM) in Crimea. In addition, Russian forces are reported to be massing along the border with Ukraine. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council noted on August 17 that, in the previous 24 hours, combined Russian-separatist forces fired on Ukrainian positions 96 times, employing over 500 mortar rounds and over 300 artillery rounds; three soldiers were killed and six were wounded in action. The Central Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Defense cited reports that a SAM battalion from the 60th Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian armed forces was deployed within the territory of Ukraine.

August 26, 1991

Twenty-five years ago, on August 26, 1991, following the declaration of independence by Ukraine’s Parliament on August 24, 1991, leaders of the United States and Canada showed two different stances in reaction to the news. Attorney Bohdan Vitvitsky, based in New York, wrote a commentary about the reactions by Canada and the U.S.

Dr. Vitvitsky highlighted President George H. W. Bush’s comments at Kennebunkport, Maine, during a press conference that was reported by the Financial Times. “You’re asking me about some public works committee in downtown Kiev, and you want to know if we support them?” he asked reporters with heavy sarcasm. In contrast, Canada’s Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said he would be inclined to recognize Ukraine if its population supported independence in the December 1, 1991, referendum. However, an Ottawa-based group of “international analysts” attacked the position as “politically unwise.”

Dr. Vitvitsky noted:

“If the status that existed in Ukraine and the rest of the non-Russian republics up until as recently as two or three years ago had continued for another 50 or 100 years, Ukrainians may well have disappeared as a nationality – given the population resettlement and intense political and cultural Russification policies emanating for decades, if not centuries, from Moscow.

25 years of independence

The statement below was released by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America on August 4. August 24, 2016, will mark 25 years since the people of Ukraine proclaimed an end to centuries of bondage and resolutely vowed to protect their new democracy, while charting a future course towards closer European integration. Sadly, this historic anniversary is overshadowed by the knowledge that for the past two years the people of Ukraine have been fighting to defend their nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity from military, economic, cyber and information warfare – or hybrid war – by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Just last month, Ukraine recorded the highest number of civilian casualties from Russian attacks in over a year – twice that of the previous month. Despite overwhelming odds, Ukraine’s brave new generation of patriots has risen to the challenge of countering Putin’s machinations, fighting both on the battlefield for their freedom, as well as against corrupted officials for much-needed social and economic reforms in the name of dignity for all.

Russia’s military escalation: threat to Ukraine and global security

The following release was sent by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress on August 11. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) strongly condemns the Russian Federation’s military escalation, its aggressive, provocative statements and continued refusal to honor a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. Large movements of Russian troops, tanks, artillery and other materiel into the occupied territories of Crimea and the Donbas over the last week have been reported. Heavy shelling of Ukrainian positions by Russian and proxy forces in the Donbas are a daily occurrence as Russia continues to blatantly violate the Minsk agreements to which it is a signatory. Ukrainian soldiers being killed and wounded as a result of these attacks has become a daily occurrence.

A suggestion re: counter-argument

Dear Editor:

Re: “A counter-argument to Andrew Fedynsky’s” (July 31), in her letter, Lydia Kossak Kernitsky, D.M.D., has made it clear that she supports Donald Trump and will not be voting for Hillary Clinton. She writes that, “If you love America and Ukraine, you will not vote for Hillary Clinton.”

But I wonder, if for some strange reason Dr. Kossak Kernitsky changes her mind about “the Donald,” her preferred candidate, who are Dr. Kossak Kernitsky’s non-Hillary options? Perhaps she will vote for the Libertarian, Gary Johnson, who stated on RT (Russia Today, Vladimir Putin’s propaganda “news” show) that what he calls U.S. intervention in Ukraine would be the equivalent of Russian intervention in Puerto Rico? (See link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSWRoEVnWJ4.)

Or, perhaps Dr. Kossak Kernitsky will consider voting for Jill Stein (Green Party) who sat at the same table with Mr. Putin during a December 2015 celebration of RT in Moscow? (See link: http://www.jill2016.com/stein_in_russia_calls_for_principled_collaboration.) She notes of that evening: “While the objective of that dinner was not to engage in serious discussions, Putin did appear to respond in his formal remarks to the call for greater dialogue and collaboration made by myself and three other political figures on the foreign policy panel earlier that day.”

And so, I offer what I hope is a helpful suggestion: that between now and November 8, Dr. Kossak Kernitsky read a few informative and analytical articles about the implications of the choice she will be making when she casts her vote.