Tillerson’s questionable question

We’ve got to be frank: we were hoping to learn more about U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s talks in Moscow before weighing in on the strange question he posed on April 11 to European foreign affairs ministers meeting in Lucca, Italy. That meeting of the G-7 took place on the eve of his visit to Russia. The secretary asked: “Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” According to various news reports, the question caused many more questions and consternation about U.S. foreign policy. Was there change afoot in U.S. policy toward Ukraine? The U.S. State Department tried to downplay things, with spokesman R.C. Hammond saying the secretary was merely using a “rhetorical device.”

A rhetorical question or not, there’s been much reaction from members of Congress, analysts and opinion writers, all of whom gave their own answers as to why Ukraine is indeed important to the U.S. Let us begin with the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, in which the U.S., the United Kingdom and Russia gave security assurances to Kyiv in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons.

The case for U.S.-Ukrainian cybersecurity collaboration

It is often forgotten that Ukraine is currently the scene of the largest land battle in Europe where the battle for democracy is unfolding before eyes. Amid Russian cyberattacks and militant aggression in eastern Ukraine, the fledgling democratic government in Kyiv continues to work to fulfill the promises of the Euro-Maidan and advance economic reforms.

The West must continue to support our ally Ukraine – for the sake of protecting its democratic future, and defending the principle of democracy the world over. Ignoring Vladimir Putin’s continued offensive of covert military attacks, political pressure, propaganda and cyberattacks threatens Ukraine’s sovereignty and our own American national security interests. It’s no coincidence that cyberattacks against Ukraine increased when the Ukrainian people self-organized to demand an open and democratic society in 2014. Days before Ukraine’s 2014 presidential election, hackers infiltrated Ukraine’s Central Election Commission with a series of attacks that disabled the website in an attempt to sow distrust in the outcome of the election of President Petro Poroshenko.

About those DP camps

I was a high school senior in 1964 when my guidance counselor gave me a pile of college catalogues: Cleveland State, Ohio State, Ohio U., Kenyon, Notre Dame…

Notre Dame? I knew they had a great football team, but reading the catalogue I also discovered they had a sophomore studies program in Innsbruck, Austria. Innsbruck! That’s where I was born! That settled it.

Russia’s political prisoners

The case of filmmaker Oleh Sentsov made world headlines recently when PEN America announced it was bestowing its Freedom to Write Award on the acclaimed filmmaker and writer. Mr. Sentsov, readers may recall, has been held by Russia and its satraps since May of 2014, when he was taken into custody by Russian security officers in Symferopol, held incommunicado for weeks and then taken from Crimea to Russia, where he was imprisoned and tried – by “a court of occupiers,” as he called it – on trumped-up charges of terrorism. His sentence: 20 years. Amnesty International said his trial was “redolent of Stalinist-era show trials.”

“He’s been forced to sacrifice this promising career in film because of his decision to speak out,” Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, was quoted as saying by The Washington Post. “It’s just a very vivid illustration of the intolerance of dissent by Putin’s government.”

Known for his maiden film project “Gamer,” Mr. Sentsov was working on a second film project when Russia invaded Crimea.

“Bitter Harvest,” a Ukrainian tragedy

Dear Editor:

A 5-year-old puts his ear to the ground on his mother’s grave without shedding a tear. He is probably showing his strength to his two younger sisters, hardly able to walk, as their father buries her. There is no one to help, as the villagers are starving to death. This heartbreaking scene from “Bitter Harvest” has kept me awake, as my own family experienced similar horrors in 1932-1933 in Ukraine. I am just starting to recover from the recent death of my dearest grandmother Hanna, who passed away and joined her brother, Fedir.

UCCA issues appeal for Ukrainian National Fund

The following appeal was issued by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America on April 3. For 77 years, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) has served as the nation’s largest representative body of Americans of Ukrainian descent. Since its founding in 1940, the UCCA has represented the interests of our community and supported Ukraine’s fledging democracy. With new leadership elected during last year’s XXII Congress of Ukrainians in America, as well as the return of prominent national organizations as members, the UCCA is better equipped than ever to create a greater understanding of and stronger advocacy for Ukraine, especially during these perilous times. The UCCA has also forged new relationships with diverse ethnic communities and strengthened old ones, and has continued an ongoing dialogue with elected officials and leading policy makers, while diligently working to advocate a variety of issues.

Putin must go, Donbas must be freed for normalized relations with Russia

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military engagement in eastern Ukraine have taken their toll on Ukrainians’ attitude toward relations between the two countries.  According to a recent study, only 49 percent believe that a normalization of relations is possible in the distant future, while a mere one in 10 believes a swift improvement is possible.  Twenty-four percent now consider that no normalization is possible at all. Russians need not assume any deep-seated antagonism. As recently as February 2014, 78 percent of Ukrainians had a positive attitude toward Russians.  By May of that year, after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and the mounting military conflict in eastern Ukraine, that figure had fallen to 52 percent.  The number of Ukrainians who had a negative attitude had tripled during the same period – from 13 percent to 38 percent. The latest survey, titled “Ukraine – Russia: What should be the format for future relations?” was carried out by the Razumkov Center together with the Democratic Initiatives Foundation on December 16-20, 2016, in all parts of Ukraine, except Crimea and areas of the Donbas under Kremlin-backed militant control. Forty-seven percent saw normalization in relations as possible only with the end of the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Forty-three percent said that this could happen only on condition that military action ends and the Donbas ceases to be occupied.  A smaller percentage – 31 percent – made such normalization contingent on Russia returning Crimea to Ukrainian jurisdiction.

The Great War Memorial in City Park, Kingston, Ontario.

“To the end, to the end, they remain”

My parents took me there when I was a young lad. I recall going into City Park, to the corner of Wellington and West streets, and walking around the Great War memorial reading the names of the battles where Kingston’s 21st Battalion fought – the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Ypres, Passchendaele, Hill 70. I had no clue where those places were or what they echoed. What I do remember is being puzzled by the statue. A sculpted infantryman stands high on a plinth, gazing upwards.

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Jewish, Armenian, Ukrainian, Rwandese communities issue statement on Genocide Remembrance Month

The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the Armenian National Committee of Canada, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Humura Association issued a joint statement on April 3 regarding Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation and Prevention Month. 

OTTAWA – On April 24, 2015, the House of Commons unanimously passed a historic motion (M-587) designating the month of April as Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation and Prevention Month. With support from all major parties represented in the Canadian Parliament, the motion recalls the genocides recognized by Canada, the Jewish Holocaust, the Ukrainian Holodomor, the Rwandan Tutsi Genocide and the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The Canadian Parliament has also recognized the Bosnian Genocide and the ongoing genocide that is being committed against the Yezidi minority in Syria and Iraq today. The passage of Motion 587 was the realization of a joint effort between the Jewish, Armenian, Ukrainian and Rwandese communities that sought to bring the issue of recognizing, condemning and preventing future genocides to the attention of the international community. On April 24, 2015, a strong and a united message was echoed through the halls of the Canadian Parliament.

Following up on Ukrainian Days

The first Ukrainian Days of 2017 – and the first to be held during the Trump administration – were on March 8-9 in Washington with nearly four dozen Ukrainian Americans from 12 states and the District of Columbia participating. Group members visited the offices of more than 50 members of Congress to personally press their concerns about Russia’s war against Ukraine and the urgency of strong U.S. support for Ukraine. It was also a valuable learning experience on which further advocacy can be built, as the activists attended several briefings and a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, and received an information package on “How Congress Can Assist Ukraine.”

The director of the Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS), Michael Sawkiw Jr., explained that, although such Ukrainian Days were usually held once a year, “since the election of a new Congress and president in November 2016, as well as renewed Russian aggression in Ukraine, …once again Ukrainian Americans must send the message that Ukraine’s fight for democracy and independence is not a battle that it can fight alone.” He added that there will be several such advocacy events this year. A front-page news story about Ukrainian Days appeared in this newspaper on March 19; in the March 26 issue, the Michigan delegation followed up with a separate report on its activity. (Next week, on our UKELODEON page, we’ll carry a high school student’s article about the participation of a Philadelphia-area Ukrainian studies school’s civics group.)

Now, UNIS is encouraging Ukrainian Americans to follow up on the Ukrainian Days mission by conducting similar advocacy on the local level in their states and congressional districts.