KYIV – The first protester was mowed down by sniper fire on February 20, 2014, exactly at 8:59:34 a.m. on Instytutska Street leading up towards Kyiv’s government quarter. Thirty minutes and 23 deaths later, another sniper shot killed Ihor Kostenko near the October Palace on the same street.
The death toll of Euro-Maidan protesters – known as the Heavenly Hundred – ended that day with 48 at 4:57:55 p.m., according to a joint investigation by Talionis and Censor.net that the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) corroborates with official statistics.
Oleksandr Abramenko made history on February 18, becoming the first man to win an individual Winter Olympic medal for Ukraine in a very tight aerials final competition. Both Abramenko and China’s Jia Zongyang attempted the same jump in the last round, a back full, double full. Both executed the jump perfectly and both believed they had won. The 29-year-old Ukrainian celebrated prematurely, turning a Ukrainian flag into a cape and racing around when his final score of 128.51 was posted. His score remained tops after Canada’s Olivier Rochon and Belarus’s Stanislau Hladchenko both washed out in their last attempts, leaving only Jia.
ByChristopher Guly / Special to The Ukrainian Weekly |
OTTAWA – Recalling past human atrocities can be both a politically delicate exercise for governments and a deeply personal journey for survivors and those close to them.
Last September, the Canadian government unveiled a monument to honor the victims and survivors of the Holocaust near the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
But the main plaque did not directly address the murder of 6 million Jews as the Nazis’ main target and only acknowledged the National Holocaust Monument as a commemoration to “the millions of men, women and children” deliberately killed during “one of the darkest chapters in history.”
In order to secure and consolidate its control over Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in early 2014, Moscow has been building a bridge across the Kerch Strait to provide a physical link between the occupied peninsula and Russia proper. The ongoing construction of the road-and-rail bridge reached a symbolic high point last year, when central arches were lifted into position in August and October, forcing the temporary closure of the narrow maritime channel to ship traffic (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, September 6, 2017). This action raised serious concerns in Ukraine and the West. The project’s first operational phase should be completed in December 2018. The Russian bridge to Crimea is a strategic priority for the Kremlin and has been driving important security-sector developments in the region.
MUNICH, Germany – Sharp and often fierce rhetoric permeated this year’s Munich Security Conference, which asked participants if the world could manage to dial down the geopolitical tensions that have been rapidly mounting in recent years. Such was the fraught atmosphere surrounding this year’s annual gathering of world leaders, diplomats and other dignitaries that the conference chairman saw considerable symbolism in how he punctuated the title of this year’s event: “To The Brink – And Back?”
“I was hoping when I opened this conference on Friday that, in concluding the conference, I would be able to say we can delete the question mark. In other words: ‘We are back from the brink,’“ former German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger said in closing remarks at the three-day event on February 18. “I’m actually not sure we can say that,” he added. From Kyiv’s war with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, to U.S. allegations of Moscow’s election-meddling, to territorial disputes between ex-Soviet republics, to a rhetorical clash between Israel and Iran, geopolitical rancor pervaded this year’s conference.
WASHINGTON – A mass gathering of Ukrainian Americans with large and small Ukrainian flags in hand occupied a portion of the steps in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall February 18 to commemorate the Heavenly Hundred who were killed four years ago in Kyiv while protesting the pro-Russian government of President Viktor Yanukovych.
This now-annual event was organized by the Embassy of Ukraine and four Ukrainian American organizations, United Help Ukraine, Razom for Ukraine, the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and U.S.-Ukrainian Activists, whose representatives addressed the gathering, and the thousands of tourists walking by that Sunday afternoon.
February 16 was notable for major news in the U.S. that coincided with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s address to the Munich Security Conference.
In Washington, the Justice Department announced the indictments of 13 Russians and three Russian companies linked to a notorious troll farm in St. Petersburg whose work was aimed at sowing discord in the U.S., particularly as the 2016 presidential elections approached, and influencing the vote. However, as reported by The New York Times, the work of this troll factory, created in 2013, was also intended to paint a “chaotic, morally corrupt West” and to focus “on Russian adversaries like Ukraine and the United States.”
Last year, on March 3, 2017, the U.S. State Department issued its first human rights report since President Donald Trump took office on January 20, 2017. It was also the first report of its kind produced under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The report underscored that human rights in Russia continued to be “significantly and negatively” affected by Moscow’s “purported annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and its support for Moscow-backed fighters in eastern Ukraine. An annual examination of human rights practices of nearly 200 countries, the report had particularly harsh words for Russia. This was in contrast to Mr. Trump’s largely conciliatory rhetoric toward Moscow and his reluctance to speak publicly about human rights concerns, either in Russia or elsewhere in the world.
Among the most unpleasant aspects of following Kremlin actions is that one must always be open to the possibility that its denizens will act in ways that seem too outrageous or immoral to be considered but then turn out to be exactly what they are doing. Igor Eidman, a Russian commentator for Deutsche Welle, suggests that may be the case with the recent deaths of Russian mercenaries in Syria. According to him, it may be the case that this project constituted “Operation ‘Utilization,’” one designed to have “other hands” get rid of its own “dangerous ballast” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A88632C3868B). Specifically, he says, “the Russian authorities could have completely consciously sent ‘those who are not here’ [ikh-tam-nets] into the slaughter in Deir-es-Zor and not done anything to save them when the Americans warned about an upcoming attack” because in that way, some militants Moscow wanted out of the way would be disposed of after performing a final “service.”
That could have happened, Mr. Eidman suggests, in order to remove some of the most hardened pro-Moscow fighters in the Donbas, at least some of whom had gone to take part in the Syrian conflict, and thus open the way for the kind of accord that the German foreign affairs minister has suggested, placing U.N. peacekeepers in the Donbas and dropping sanctions. Had Moscow simply agreed to what Berlin is proposing without getting the radical militants out of the way, the Russian commentator suggests, any U.N. peacekeepers would have been opposed by its own militants in the Donbas.
By denial and indirection, Moscow has tried to suggest that American forces are to blame for the deaths of Russian mercenaries in Syria; but in reality, “responsibility for what happened rests on the closest effective powers – the Russian command,” says Yevgenii Ikhlov, and their actions raise the old question: “was this stupidity or treason?”
In a comment on the Kasparov portal (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A85D2EE E903F), the Moscow analyst offers a five-part argument in support of his overall conclusion:
• First, no one disputes that there were at least some casualties among the irregular Russian forces or that they were there with the approval of both the Syrian authorities and the Russian military command in Syria. • Second, those who suffered were mercenaries under the terms of international law. • Third, “responsibility for all their actions is in the hands of the closest effective powers – the Russian command,” something the Russian Defense Ministry has indirectly confirmed by asserting that the mercenaries had acted “without the agreement” with Russian commanders, an indication that from Moscow’s point of view, they should have done so. • Fourth, “these mercenaries attacked citizens (military personnel) of the U.S., despite repeated warnings by the U.S. representatives” against such actions. “The organizers certainly knew that they were beginning a direct military confrontation with the U.S. [and] that the U.S. would quickly discover” that those doing so were connected with Moscow.
There appears to be a coordinated effort to denigrate Petro Poroshenko as a viable candidate for re-election. No doubt, Vladimir Putin and his FSB agents are seeking to destabilize Ukraine, including the upcoming elections in 2019, specifically, by tying Mr. Poroshenko to corruption and causing dissension among Ukrainians. Corruption is a very important issue to Ukraine’s long-term viability. Certainly, there is much to be done in Ukraine. Mr. Putin has picked this issue because it affects every Ukrainian citizen; there is no quick fix.
The strong support that Ukraine has received in recent years, especially from the U.S. Congress, did not occur in a vacuum. It is the result of much work by individuals and institutions over the course of many years, indeed, over the last century. An important component of laying the groundwork was the commemoration of important anniversaries, whether it be the annual Independence Day (both 1918, and for the last 26 years, 1991) or one-offs such as the 1988 Millennium of Christianity of Kyivan Rus’.
The following press statement by Heather Nauert, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, was released on February 19.
Four years ago, Ukrainians from all walks of life and all regions of the country came together on the Maidan, Kyiv’s central square, to demand their government recognize the choice of the citizens of Ukraine to join Europe. Scores of Ukrainians – the “Heavenly Hundred” – gave their lives on the Maidan for the dream of a better Ukraine. The United States will continue to stand by Ukraine as it faces ongoing Russian aggression, which has claimed over 10,000 lives and displaced more than 1.6 million Ukrainians.
The Ukrainian World Congress released the following statement about the heroes of the “Nebesna Sotnia” (Heavenly Brigade) on February 19.
On February 20, 2018, Ukrainians worldwide will mark the fourth anniversary of the tragic events on Kyiv’s Independence Square that brutally and mercilessly cut short the lives of the women and men who, with their heroism, thrust Ukraine into the international spotlight ensuring that the Ukrainian people would not stand alone in the fight for the democratic values, fundamental rights and principles that define Western civilization.