Anyone following Russia’s war against Ukraine in the Donbas has probably heard of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its Special Monitoring Mission (SMM). The OSCE SMM is an unarmed, civilian mission now numbering around 900 monitors and staff whose main task is to observe and report on the situation in Ukraine and facilitate dialogue between all parties to the conflict. Their task is not an easy one, especially given the profound failure by Russia and its separatist proxies to implement their Minsk agreement obligations, which as first steps include a ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons and allowing access by the OSCE to all of the occupied territories up to the international border with Russia. OSCE SMM monitors have been intimidated, harassed and physically attacked by the so-called “Russian-separatist” forces. In April, American Joseph Stone became the first member of the SMM to be killed in the line of duty while on patrol in the occupied territories.
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.
NEW YORK – A Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report is critical of a Ukrainian investigation into the killing of journalist Pavel Sheremet, with no arrests in the case and more questions than answers nearly one year after his car-bomb death in Kyiv. The report, “Justice Denied: Ukraine Comes Up Empty In Probe Of Pavel Sheremet’s Murder,” suggests an independent investigation is needed, as Ukrainian officials have provided no evidence to back claims that Russia was behind the assassination and to ensure a complete probe into possible Ukrainian involvement. “Authorities say they are committed to solving Sheremet’s murder,” Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, writes in the introduction to the report. “But [they] offer no clear evidence to back their primary line of investigation of Russian involvement.” The report, written by Kyiv-based reporter Christopher Miller, an RFE/RL correspondent, adds that “a greater amount of circumstantial evidence points to a Ukrainian trace [in the killing], raising questions about why authorities are pushing the Russian narrative and whether they may be covering up evidence to protect someone powerful.” Sheremet, 44, was a well-known reporter who had worked at prominent media outlets in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine during his career and was often the subject of threats and harassment for his hard-hitting journalism that was often critical of political leaders. The native Belarusian died early on July 20, 2016, when his car blew up at an intersection a few minutes after he left his central Kyiv apartment on his way to Radio Vesti, where he had a morning program.
KERHONKSON, N.Y. – The 61st annual USCAK-East Tennis Tournament was held at the Soyuzivka Heritage Center during the weekend of July 1-2. The singles and doubles tournament was played in 10 competing groups, which had 38 entries, with some playing in more than one group. Many of the players were part of the staff and campers of the Soyuzivka Tennis Camp being held at this same time. Due to the threatening weather, a 10-point set tiebreak was played in lieu of the third set in all matches. During the closing ceremonies, trophies funded by the Ukrainian Sports Federation of the U.S.A. and Canada (known by its Ukrainian-based acronym as USCAK) were presented by Ivan Durbak and Yurko (George) Sawchak of the USCAK Tennis Committee.
KERHONKSON, N.Y. – One of the best things about Soyuzivka that happens every year in the spring and early summer is the sound of children coming to the Soyuzivka Heritage Center to have fun, learn new skills at various camps, and experience the magic of this special place where so many wonderful lifelong memories are formed. This year’s Tennis Camp, blessed with ideal weather conditions, began on Sunday, June 25, and continued through Thursday, July 6. As usual, the campers, age 10 to 16, stayed at Camp Lviv, which was newly spruced up, including some new bathrooms, thanks to Assistant Manager Stefko Drabyk, who is also the newly appointed camp director at Soyuzivka. The day campers, who are younger in age and stayed with their parents, also participated. Some campers, like the Bula family, even had parents who attended Tennis Camp years ago.
KYIV – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit on July 9 re-affirmed America’s consistent policy toward helping Ukraine preserve sovereignty amid a prolonged war with Russia that has killed more than 10,100 people and severed 7 percent of the country’s territory.
Speaking after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Mr. Tillerson said that Washington’s goal is to “restore Ukraine’s territorial… integrity.”
KYIV – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has affirmed the alliance’s “unwavering support” for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and has called on Russia to remove its “thousands of soldiers from Ukraine and stop supporting the militants with command-and-control and military equipment.”
Mr. Stoltenberg made the comments in Kyiv after talks with President Petro Poroshenko and other officials on July 10. “I am convinced that an investment in Ukraine’s security is an investment into the security of NATO and its member states that pays off,” Mr. Stoltenberg said, adding that the alliance is “learning a lot” from the cyberattacks that Ukraine has endured in recent months. He called for the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements, aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has left more than 10,000 people dead since early 2014. Mr. Stoltenberg added that monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe must be allowed unfettered access to all of Ukraine’s territory, including the conflict zone in the east. He also reaffirmed that NATO members do not accept Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea.
WASHINGTON – Among the major events that brought Ukraine into the spotlight in the U.S. capital in the middle of June – in addition to the visit here by President Petro Poroshenko and his meeting with President Donald Trump, and the visit a few days earlier by the chairman of Ukraine’s Parliament, Andriy Parubiy – was the June 14 Ukrainian Day on Capitol Hill.
The July 7 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, was so intensely anticipated and so poorly prepared in terms of the agenda that its outcome remains broadly open to interpretation. The Kremlin judged it a success beyond expectations, particularly since it lasted 135 minutes instead of the scheduled 35 minutes (Carnegie.ru, July 7). Sensing Mr. Putin’s satisfaction, Russian commentators were eager to elaborate on the “positive chemistry” between the two presidents and to hail a “breakthrough” in bilateral relations based on trust and respect (RIA Novosti, July 7). For the Trump administration, the huge amount of media attention was in itself a major achievement, and the supposed acceptance of Mr. Putin’s reassurances that Russia had not deliberately interfered in the U.S. elections presumably would fit a need to turn over that embarrassing page (Newsru.com, July 7). The preference for focusing on the future makes perfect political sense; but in fact, few steps in this direction were taken.
HAMBURG, Germany – The leaders of Germany, France and Russia have agreed that the Minsk agreements on ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine “should be comprehensively implemented,” a German official tells RFE/RL. The characterization of the meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, suggested no significant progress on efforts to bring peace to eastern Ukraine. Moscow’s role in fighting that began in April 2014 between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists prompted Western sanctions against Russia. A 2015 ceasefire deal under the Minsk agreements was brokered by Germany and France – together with Russia and Ukraine – in a bid to end the fighting. But hostilities have continued in the war that has killed more than 10,000 people.
BRUSSELS – The European Union’s 28 member states have formally endorsed the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, the final step in the ratification process after years of political twists and turns. The deal, which strengthens ties between the EU and Kyiv, will enter into force on September 1. The landmark agreement was initially slated for signing in November 2013. But the Ukrainian president at the time, Viktor Yanukovych, walked away from it under pressure from Moscow, prompting massive protests that pushed him from power in February 2014. Russia responded by annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region and providing military and economic support to separatists in a war against Kyiv that has killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine.
NEW YORK – As the world’s attention lingered on the G-20 summit of last week, Ukraine hosted numerous international visitors the next weekend, including: U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker. The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), which represents nearly 1.5 million Americans of Ukrainian descent, has respectfully requested a meeting with Ambassador Volker following his weeklong visit to Ukraine to discuss his new appointment as the United States special representative for Ukraine negotiations. News of Ambassador Volker’s appointment was welcomed by the UCCA, as it signifies that the U.S. continues to support its strategic partner in the face of continued Russian aggression. The UCCA believes that a strong, democratic and independent Ukraine remains in the national security interests of the United States. Ukraine today stands as the only non-NATO partner nation to have contributed actively to all NATO-led operations and missions for the past 20 years, a fact not unfamiliar to Ambassador Volker, a former ambassador to NATO.
UNA National Secretary Yuriy Symczyk was unanimously elected to the position on November 18, 2016, due to the unexpected passing of Christine Kozak, national secretary of the Ukrainian National Association since 2002. The following annual report prepared by Mr. Symczyk outlines the status of operations and highlights various initiatives that have been taken on throughout the report period, January 1, 2016, to December 31, 201,6 which includes Ms. Kozak’s tenure.
UNA Champions Clubs
Lubov Streletsky was the champion of the 2016 “Club of UNA Builders.” Mrs. Streletsky is an advisor on the UNA General Assembly, a fraternal agent, Philadelphia District chairperson and secretary of UNA Branch 10. During 2016 she brought in 17 new members and sold life insurance with face value of $865,500. The top three branch secretaries/organizers who brought in the most new members were Mrs. Streletsky (Branch 10) with 17 policies, Eugene Serba (Branch 173) with four policies, and George Fedorijczuk (Branch 162) with four policies. The top three districts that brought in the most new members were Philadelphia with 31 members, New Jersey with 29 members and Chicago with 16 new members.
There’s been good news thus far this month as the topic of Ukraine was on the agenda in several world capitals. Speaking in Warsaw’s Krasinski Square on July 6, President Donald Trump urged Russia “to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere” and, after meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda, said the U.S. is “working with Poland in response to Russia’s actions and destabilizing behavior.” It is important to point out that those strong remarks about Russia’s aggression came before President Trump’s much-anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 summit on July 7-8 in Hamburg, Germany. Speaking in Washington on July 7, shortly before the Trump-Putin meeting, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced the appointment of Kurt Volker, a highly respected and highly qualified ambassador, an expert in U.S. foreign and national security policy, and executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, as the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations. His role, according to the State Department, is to “coordinate all State Department efforts to bring a resolution to the conflict created when Russia invaded Crimea and later eastern Ukraine.”
To be sure, the topic of Ukraine was brought up during the meeting between Messrs. Trump and Putin, but we know very little about what was actually said, since press reports focused on election hacking and Syria.
Three years ago, on July 21, 2014, President Barack Obama released an official statement on the situation in Ukraine, following the downing of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, that killed all 298 persons on board. The statement was released by the White House Office of the Press Secretary. Excerpts from the statement were published in The Ukrainian Weekly. “…it’s now been four days since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine. Over the last several days, our hearts have been absolutely broken as we’ve learned more about the extraordinary and beautiful lives that were lost – men, women and children and infants who were killed so suddenly and so senselessly,” it said.