Filmmaker Olha Onyshko, director of “Women of Maidan.”

“Women of Maidan”: when women’s unity overcame a regime backed by Kremlin

WASHINGTON – Women’s Month in Washington is being celebrated with discussions on the role of women in the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, and the “Women of Maidan” documentary will be screened at the U.S. Capitol. The film is about Ukrainian women’s role in an iconic quest for freedom and justice during the 2013-2014 Revolution of Dignity. Women’s resilience and spontaneous organization to sustain the 24/7 protests led to a historic victory of ordinary people over a ruthless authoritarian and corrupt regime supported by the Kremlin. Directed by Olha Onyshko, this tale of a country on the edge shows the real intensity of the Maidan and what women and men can do when unified. On March 28, at 6:30-9 p.m., Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) is sponsoring a special event on the role of women in the Revolution of Dignity and its impact on the current situation in Ukraine and the world.

The color guard prior to the U.S. national anthem sung by Anya Kosachevich (second from right). From left are: Myron Bytz, Eugene Mandzy, Stefan Krysyna, Ihor Rudko, Pavlo Pencak, Alexandra Soltys and Chris Bytz.

N.J. Devils host fourth annual Ukrainian Heritage Day

NEWARK, N.J. – Hundreds of Ukrainians attended the fourth annual Ukrainian Heritage Day during an NHL match between the New Jersey Devils and the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Prudential Center on March 19. More than 18,000 people were in attendance. Prior to the match, as well as during the period intermissions, as part of the afternoon’s entertainment on the concourse level, Ukrainian dance groups performed various dances from multiple regions of Ukraine. Many passersby were curious and stopped with camera phones out to shoot some video or pictures, while others clapped to the music and dancing. Andrij Cybyk, who is artistic director of the Iskra Ukrainian Dance Ensemble and Academy in Whippany, N.J., served as master of ceremonies and a cultural ambassador for those unfamiliar with Ukraine.

Newsbriefs

Kremlin critic fatally shot in Kyiv

KYIV – Denis Voronenkov, a former Russian lawmaker who defected to Ukraine and aired damning criticism of Russia’s leadership, has been gunned down in broad daylight in the heart of Kyiv in what Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko called “an act of state terrorism by Russia.” A city police spokesman told RFE/RL that the ex-Duma deputy was killed by a gunman as he and his bodyguard were approaching the five-star Premier Palace Hotel on March 23. An Internal Affairs Ministry spokesman at the scene, Artem Shevchenko, said the attacker fired at least eight shots at the 45-year-old Mr. Voronenkov with an “old Soviet pistol.” He said the incident was caught on security cameras. The attacker was shot in the ensuing gun battle with Mr. Voronenkov’s lone bodyguard and apprehended by police on the street nearby. He later died in the hospital, officials said, but there was initially no word on his identity. The Internal Affairs Ministry spokesman said the bodyguard, who was wounded in the exchange of gunfire with the assailant, was provided by Ukrainian authorities in the past month because there was “reason to fear” that Mr. Voronenkov’s life might be in danger.

UCCA urges Tillerson to visit Ukraine

NEW YORK – The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America in a letter dated March 22 urged U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to visit Ukraine during his upcoming European trip in April. “As the bastion of democracy in the free world, the United States must take definitive action to help stabilize the transnational, trans-Atlantic security framework, which clearly serves our national interests as Americans. It is our firm belief that such a visit would reaffirm the United States’ steadfast commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and would signify that the United States supports its strategic partner’s sacrifices in the face of continued Russian aggression,” reads the letter signed by UCCA President Andrew J. Futey and Executive Secretary Marie Duplak. The letter also notes:

“Ukrainian Americans, along with the Central and Eastern European ethnic communities of the United States, stand united in their support for the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. This support mirrors official U.S. policy, passed into law under the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, to ‘assist the government of Ukraine in restoring its sovereignty and territorial integrity in order to deter the government of the Russian Federation from further destabilizing and invading Ukraine and other independent countries.’

“The U.S. Department of State recently reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to a sovereign and whole Ukraine, continuing official U.S. policy not to recognize the Russian Federation’s illegally attempted annexation of Crimea and its continued violation of international law.

Meeting with Sen. Gary Peters (center) from left are: Mykhaylo Dyachun, Yaroslav Andriashko, Father Valeriy Kandyuk, Roman Zubar, Michael Andriashko and Borys Potapenko.

Michigan community members travel to Washington for Ukrainian Days

WARREN, Mich. – Ukrainian Americans of Michigan sent a strong delegation to Washington on March 8-9 to participate in the first of several Ukrainian Days planned for 2017. A long-standing national initiative of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) and Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS), such advocacy events provide for Ukrainian communities to collectively converge on Washington to simultaneously conduct meetings with their members of Congress and to hold a number of joint events. This year nearly 100 community representatives from a multitude of states came together to advocate on behalf of legislation pending in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Significantly, on March 8, the House of Representatives approved a bill authorizing $150 million for defense aid to Ukraine, including lethal weapons, under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

Vera Andrushkiw speaks at the conference session titled “Adding to the Melting Pot: Ukrainians in Detroit.”

Michigan history conference spotlights local Ukrainian community

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. – “Adding to the Melting Pot: Ukrainians in Detroit” was a session topic featured at the annual “Michigan in Perspective” local history conference held in Sterling Heights on March 3-4. Although the roads were icy outside, inside the Wyndham Garden Hotel, the air proved electric as nearly 600 history aficionados gathered to attend 25 breakout sessions over the course of two days. Vera Andrushkiw, president of the Detroit Regional Council of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America and vice-president of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, was invited to host a session. Coincidentally, the event was held at the same time that the film “Bitter Harvest” about the Ukrainian Holodomor was playing in local theaters.

Manafort proposed plan to benefit Putin

A report by the Associated Press says that Paul Manafort, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, secretly proposed a political strategy to benefit Russian President Vladimir Putin and undermine his opponents. Citing several people familiar with payments to Mr. Manafort and business records it obtained, the AP report on March 22 said that the American businessman proposed the plan to Oleg Deripaska, a Kremlin-connected Russian tycoon, as early as June 2005. It said the proposed plan was aimed at influencing politics, business dealings and news coverage across the United States, Europe, and the former Soviet Union in ways that would favor Mr. Putin. Mr. Manafort eventually signed a contract worth $10 million with Mr. Deripaska and had a business relationship with him until at least 2009, AP said. The report appears to contradict earlier statements by the Trump administration, and Mr. Manafort himself, that he had never worked for Russian interests.

Manor to host dialogue about education as the battlefront of democracy in Ukraine

JENKINTOWN, Pa. – On Thursday, April 6, at 2 p.m. in the Manor College auditorium, Manor College will host a dialogue on the topic “Ukraine – Education as the Battlefront of Democracy.”

This dialogue will examine the most crucial areas of educational reform needed in Ukraine in order to protect and preserve free and democratic ideals. Currently, the chief looming crises in Ukrainian education are conflicting ideals held by post-Communist era sympathizers who have failed to embrace Western philosophies, and pay-to-GPA corruption, whereby those entrusted with educating Ukraine’s students are accepting cash for grades. Is there hope for reform and increased international credibility of the Ukrainian educational system? Can the Ukrainian community and concerned Americans help Ukraine to resolve these crises?

President Petro Poroshenko (right) and National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov (second from right) at the council’s meeting on March 15, when a decision was made to halt all cargo traffic with the occupied Donbas.

Ukraine halts cargo traffic with the occupied Donbas

KYIV – Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council halted the flow of road and rail cargo traffic in the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, following a decision during an ad hoc meeting on March 15. The measure also ordered the Security Service of Ukraine (known as the SBU) to probe the banks that have capital from state-owned Russian financial institutions and to, “within a day, provide relevant proposals, in particular, the introduction of sanctions against them.”

President Petro Poroshenko said he convened the extraordinary meeting due to a trade blockade that Donbas war veterans, helped by a group of lawmakers mostly from the Samopomich party, had started six weeks ago. The blockade had led to clashes between the pro-blockade activists and police in Donetsk Oblast and in Kyiv on March 14, as well as reciprocal measures enacted by the Kremlin-installed proxies in the occupied parts of easternmost Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Nationwide protests in support of the blockaders in at least 13 cities in 12 regions also were held this week. Pro-blockade lawmakers from the Samopomich and Batkivshchyna parties assert that the trade helps prop up the Kremlin-installed proxies in the Donbas and say the business ties are “tainted with blood.”

In turn, Mr. Poroshenko called the blockade, which started on January 25, counterproductive to restoring sovereignty over the territory Kyiv doesn’t control.

Russian Embassy implicated in campaign to discredit Minister Chrystia Freeland

OTTAWA – The day after Chrystia Freeland was appointed Canadian foreign affairs minister in January, the Russian Embassy in Ottawa contacted a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery with information about her late Ukrainian maternal grandfather, Michael Chomiak. Justin Ling, features editor of VICE News Canada, told The Ukrainian Weekly that one of his regular contacts at the Embassy, whom he chose not to identify, was “pushing the narrative” that Mr. Chomiak was not just the chief editor of the Krakow-based Ukrainian-language Krakivski Visti (Krakow News), he was also “working with the Nazis,” who controlled the newspaper. Mr. Ling, who is also VICE’s parliamentary correspondent in Ottawa, chose not to take the bite. “The story was neither publicly relevant nor publicly important, and I chose not to publish it – and it was a story being shopped by the Russians,” he said in an interview. However, stories about Mr. Chomiak’s alleged Nazi connections soon popped up on the Internet.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (center), Friend of UNIS award recipient and co-chair of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, at the Capitol Visitor Center with (from left): Ukrainian Congress Committee of America President Andrew Futey, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.S. Valeriy Chaly, Ukrainian World Congress President Eugene Czolij and Ukrainian National Information Service Director Michael Sawkiw Jr.

Advocates promote Ukraine issues on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON – Nearly four dozen Ukrainian Americans representing New Jersey, the District of Columbia, New York, Illinois, Virginia, Connecticut, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, North Carolina, Washington state and Michigan convened in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday, March 8-9, for the first in a planned series of Ukrainian Days advocacy events to be held this year. The Ukrainian Americans were also joined by community leaders from the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC), representing communities of Central and East European heritage, as well as the Syrian American community. Students from the Philadelphia-area Ukrainian studies school’s civics group also participated in the advocacy event. It was an opportunity for them to experience government civics in action. “Normally, Ukrainian Days are held once a year and is a time during which Ukrainian Americans meet with their elected representatives to discuss concerns related to U.S.-Ukraine relations,” noted event organizer Michael Sawkiw Jr., executive vice-president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) and director of the Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS), the UCCA’s public affairs office.

E-mail hack gives glimpse into Russia’s influence drive in Eastern Europe

Belarusian Alyaksandr Usovsky describes himself as a historian and publicist. His works include titles such as “Who Set Hitler Against The USSR?,” “Churchill’s Cannon Fodder,” and “God Save Stalin! Tsar of the USSR Josef the Great.”

And according to a cache of documents hacked from Mr. Usovsky’s e-mail and social-media accounts, which were subsequently published by the Ukrainian website InformNapalm at the end of February, he is also “a Russian curator” of a loose network of nationalists, radicals and neofascists across Eastern Europe. Among other projects, he has specialized in trying to spoil relations between Poland and Ukraine. In written correspondence with RFE/RL, Mr. Usovsky confirmed the authenticity of the hacked documents.

Newsbriefs

EU extends sanctions over Crimea

BRUSSELS – The European Union has extended sanctions against dozens of individuals and entities over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. EU ambassadors agreed on March 13 to prolong the sanctions against 150 individuals and 37 entities that, according to Brussels, are responsible for actions against Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The existing sanctions were due to expire on March 15. Asset freezes and visa bans were first imposed by the EU in March 2014 after Russia illegally annexed Crimea. Those sanctions have been continued and expanded by a series of additional votes by EU officials in Brussels.

Kremlin’s hopes for a ‘post-West’ world order recede

Just a couple of months ago, things looked to be going thoroughly President Vladimir Putin’s way. The 2016 elections in the United States gave the presidency to Donald Trump – a flamboyant real estate mogul and reality TV star, a nationalist and an isolationist. Throughout his campaign, Mr. Trump promised to strike a deal with Mr. Putin, repeatedly called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) “obsolete,” and appeared ready to weaken long-term U.S. strategic alliances that have constrained Russia since the late 1940s. And last December, in the run up to his inauguration, top members of Mr. Trump’s team evidently contacted the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak. The two sides seem to have discussed improving relations and possible sanctions relief.

At The Hague, Ukraine accuses Russia of terrorism, discrimination

On the first day of hearings into its case against Russia at the International Court of Justice, Ukraine presented a weight of arguments and examples to back its accusations against Russia over its annexation of Crimea and gross violations of human rights under occupation, and over its financing of terrorism in the Donbas. While Russia denies all charges, Ukraine’s case is backed by documents from the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, international human rights organizations, as well as NATO satellite imagery. Russia is likely to argue that the court does not have jurisdiction, hoping that the ICJ will agree to this, as it did in 2011 over the war between Georgia and Russia. It is, of course, for the court to decide, but the situation this time seems quite different for a number of reasons. One of the key focuses in Ukraine’s suit is on the compelling evidence of grave erosion of fundamental rights and liberties in Crimea under Russian occupation.