President Petro Poroshenko welcomes U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Kyiv.

Tillerson confirms U.S. support for Ukraine, appoints special envoy for peace negotiations

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.”

Janusz Bugajski (left) of the Center for European Policy Analysis with panelists (from left) Herman Pirchner of the American Foreign Policy Council, Luke Coffey of the Heritage Foundation and Stefan Romaniw of the Ukrainian World Congress.

Ukraine’s performance better than expected in 2016-2017, with room for improvement

WASHINGTON – At the fifth annual yearly summit of the U.S.-Ukraine working group, the Center for U.S.-Ukraine Relations (CUSUR) presented an expanded program with over two dozen scholars, diplomats, and foreign and military affairs experts addressing a rapt audience in Washington. In a conference room located one city block west of the White House, six ambassadors – five former and one current – joined with the current chairman of Ukraine’s Parliament, Ukraine’s acting minister of health and a sitting U.S. senator to “take the measure of Ukraine’s 2016-2017 progress/regress.”

President Petro Poroshenko and President of Slovakia Andrej Kiska take part in the symbolic ceremony of the opening of the doors to Europe on the Ukrainian-Slovak border on the occasion of the introduction of the visa-free regime between Ukraine and the Schengen area on June 11.

Ukrainians celebrate visa-free travel to EU

BRUSSELS – Ukrainians celebrated the first day of visa-free travel to most European Union countries, which President Petro Poroshenko welcomed as a “a final exit of our country from the Russian Empire.”

The liberalized regime entered into force on June 11, allowing Ukrainian citizens who have biometric passports to enter all EU member states other than Ireland and the United Kingdom without a visa for up to 90 days during any 180-day period. It also applies to four Schengen-area countries that are not in the EU: Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Inside Kyiv’s Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, hierarchs pay their last respects to Cardinal Lubomyr Husar.

Cardinal Lubomyr Husar laid to rest in crypt of Patriarchal Cathedral in Kyiv

PARSIPPANY, N.J. – Funeral services for Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, the former primate of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) who died on May 31, were held in Lviv and Kyiv from June 1 through June 5. The divine liturgy and the burial rite for Cardinal Husar took place at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kyiv on June 5. Hierarchs of the UGCC participated in the service led by Patriarch Sviatoslav; Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, who attended the services as the personal envoy of Pope Francis; and the apostolic nuncio to Ukraine, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti. About 600 priests, scores of monastics and faithful from all over Ukraine and abroad came to pay their last respects to Cardinal Husar, who was revered as the Church’s patriarch. Many public figures, government officials and politicians came on that day to honor the former head of the UGCC at the Patriarchal Cathedral.

Cardinal Lubomyr Husar

Cardinal Lubomyr Husar dies

KYIV – Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, major archbishop emeritus of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, died on May 31, following a serious illness. He was 84. From January 26, 2001, to February 10, 2011, he headed the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church worldwide and was revered as the Church’s patriarch. Born in Lviv, on February 26, 1933, Lubomyr Husar fled from Ukraine with his parents in 1944, ahead of the advancing Soviet army. He spent the early post-World War II years among Ukrainian refugees in a displaced persons camp near Salzburg, Austria.

President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during their meeting in the village of Meseberg, north of Berlin, on May 20.

Poroshenko urges G-7 states to keep sanctions against Russia intact

KYIV – President Petro Poroshenko urged the leaders of the G-7 group of industrialized nations to maintain sanctions against Russia for illegally taking over Crimea and for waging war in the Donbas.

Due to Russia’s persistent warmongering, there are “no grounds for the EU to cancel or ease economic and sectoral sanctions against the Russian Federation,” Mr. Poroshenko said during a telephone conversation with European Council President Donald Tusk ahead of the G-7 summit taking place on May 26-27 in Sicily, Italy.

At the signing ceremony for a new visa-liberalization regime with the European Union in Strasbourg on May 17 (from left) are: Malta’s Interior Minister Carmelo Abela (whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU), Member of the European Parliament Mariya Gabriel, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and European Parliament President Antonio Tajani. In his May 14 press conference, Mr. Poroshenko cited Ukraine’s closer ties with the European Union as a major achievement.

Poroshenko lauds closer ties with EU, admits ‘there’s much left to be done’

KYIV – President Petro Poroshenko touted Ukraine’s deepening integration with the European Union and fielded questions about law and order, corruption, progress on reforms and his businesses on May 14 during his first news conference in 16 months. Speaking of the EU’s decision to waive visa requirements on May 11, the president said: “Only crazy people can consider Ukraine to be part of the so-called ‘Russian world.’ Ukraine is part of a united Europe stretching from Lisbon to Kharkiv. For three years Russia has tried everything to block Ukraine’s path towards the EU. But nothing will stop our path to Europe.”

He said that on May 17 he will visit Strasbourg, where the Council of Europe is located, to attend a signing ceremony of the visa-free travel legislation on the back of a working visit to Malta on May 16. Mr. Poroshenko, 51, will also start a series of meetings with the leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, starting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on May 20.

Yanukovych trial for treason starts as Interpol removes him from wanted list

KYIV – A day before the trial of Viktor Yanukovych for treason started in Kyiv on May 4, his lawyers announced that the disgraced former president of Ukraine is no longer wanted by Interpol. The world’s largest international police organization subsequently confirmed the information. “Interpol has thus confirmed the fact that criminal cases against Yanukovych are politically motivated,” said Yuriy Kirasir, the exiled politician’s spokesman. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine said it will appeal the decision. Now living in Russia at an undisclosed location, the former head of state, whose truncated administration is widely accused of large-scale embezzlement of up to $40 billion, is being tried for aiding Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine.

Freedom House’s graphics about press freedom worldwide in 2016.

Ukraine media environment improved, challenges remain, says Freedom House

Occupied Crimea among worst in press freedom

KYIV – Crimea is the fourth least press-friendly territory or country in the world, independent democracy watchdog Freedom House found in its latest report on press freedom published in April. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s media environment, according to the Freedom of the Press report, “has significantly improved since a change in government in 2014, and ongoing reforms continue to strengthen the legislative environment for journalists and outlets.”

Notably, only North Korea, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were rated worse than Crimea, which was rated separately from Ukraine. Human Rights groups in and outside Ukraine have said civil liberties, including freedom of the press, have sharply deteriorated since Russia illegally occupied the Ukrainian peninsula of 2.3 million people in March 2014. Crimean Tatars, who numbered around 300,000 before the Russian invasion, and ethnic Ukrainians have been subject to kidnappings, arbitrary detentions and prosecution on trumped of charges of either “extremism” or “terrorism.” Only Russian state-controlled media currently operate in Crimea. Over all, the report covering the year 2016 said, only 13 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that boast a free press.