Why Ukrainian independence matters

Below is the transcript of Brian Whitmore’s August 24 edition of “The Daily Vertical” (see https://www.rferl.org/a/daily-vertical-why-ukrainian-independence-matters/28694450.html). Twenty-six years ago today Ukraine won its de jure independence. Today it is fighting to achieve its de facto independence. And on this day, it’s worth reflecting on why Ukrainian independence matters. It matters because it shatters a myth.

“Okun” on the frontline on July 18.

On the frontlines in eastern Ukraine

Enemies call each other names. They also tell fibs about the foe. I was recently reminded of this as I moved along the frontlines in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. These territories were invaded by the Russians in February 2014. A war, euphemistically described by Kyiv’s politicians as an “anti-terrorist operation” (ATO), is still being fought there, daily.

Lubomyr Luciuk on the eastern front in the Donbas on July 18.

At the edge of no-man’s land

Ukraine’s troops see themselves as soldiers in a war of independence, struggling to secure Ukraine’s proper place in Europe rather than allowing their homeland to be swallowed by a resuscitated Russian empire. I’m not as good a runner as I used to be. This revelation came somewhere between the ninth and first floors of a murky, bomb-ravaged building located at the edge of no-man’s land in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. I began scrambling downstairs after our sentinel, positioned nearby, yelled “Run!”

I did not ask why, nor linger to consider how only minutes before we had inched up these very same stairs, stepping carefully in each other’s footsteps to avoid setting off any booby-traps secreted to maim, mutilate, or murder anyone scouting this abandoned edifice. Children’s toys, full bottles of alcohol and other seemingly innocuous household items can be the disguised agents of your destruction, something I learned a few days earlier at the Ukrainian Armed Forces Demining Centre in Kamianets-Podilskyi.

Lubomyr Luciuk (left) presents a copy of “A Canadian Hero,” about Cpl. Filip Konowal, to Col. Ihor Slisarchuk of Ukraine’s armed forces at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in Lviv Oblast on July 15, as Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk of the Canadian Army (right) looks on.

A visit to the IPSC in Lviv Oblast

Looking out and down from the inside of a Ukrainian armed forces Mil Mi-8 helicopter, I surveyed Ukraine as I have never done before – marveling at that country’s measureless tracts of sunflowers and wheat fields nourished by the fertility of its “chornozem” soil – understanding by seeing it from this height why this land, known from ancient Greek times as the “breadbasket of Europe,” has again and again been made a ravin by the depredations of rapacious invaders. Since February 2014 the trespassers have been the Russians, whose army seized Crimea then attacked in eastern Ukraine, occupying much of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. To this day, they despoil there and so threaten the peace of Europe. But the Russians are encountering resistance, and an increasingly dogged one at that. From the very start of their unprovoked invasion of Ukrainian territory, they found themselves impeded by volunteers who rushed forward from all parts of their homeland to thwart the aggressor.

Sources of anti-(Ukrainian) nationalism and what must be done to counter it

At the launch of my book “Putin’s War Against Ukraine” in Parliament organized by Hanna Hopko, head of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, a German student asked about anti-Semitism in Ukraine. The question had nothing to do with my book but reflected the Western view of a Ukraine where anti-Semitism thrives. I replied that she should be looking for anti-Semitism in Germany and France, as these countries have the highest rates in Europe with attacks often committed by Muslim immigrants. Monitoring of anti-Semitic media articles and violent acts shows Ukraine to have one of the lowest rates in Europe. There are four reasons why Ukraine has this image.

Lubomyr Luciuk on June 12 at the internment exhibit at the Canadian Museum of History.

Internment fund’s legacy project

It’s a small case in a big hall. I have no idea how many people will pause beside it, but millions of visitors will eventually tour through the Canadian History Hall. The first guests entering this newly renovated space within the Canadian Museum of History will arrive on July 1, Canada Day, which this year is the 150th birthday of our country. Odds are that more than a few will stop where I did. That’s good.

NATO must offer an ultimatum to Russia: Get out of Ukraine

There is an old saying: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. It’s been a long time since the world order has hovered on the brink as it is doing now. In the European Union, some members are leaving, while others are reversing course from open societies to insular ones. North Korea is flexing its nuclear power. The Middle East is chronically unsteady, while Palestine and Israel are geometrically apart on a settlement.

“Europe not Moscow”

In Budapest, thousands march and chant, “Europe not Moscow!”

In France, a pro-European centrist is poised to handily defeat a pro-Moscow nationalist in the May 7 presidential election runoff. In Finland, a new center has been established to combat Russian disinformation and hybrid threats. In Sweden and Finland, the issue of joining NATO is being taken more seriously than ever before. In Spain, prosecutors are aggressively pursuing cases against Kremlin-connected organized crime groups. Across Europe, the backlash against Moscow’s efforts to subvert and undermine the EU with disinformation, corruption and organized crime is gathering steam.

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.

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.