Report calls Russian artillery attacks against Ukraine in 2014 ‘acts of war,’ as fighting in Donbas escalates

KYIV – Russia extensively used cross-border artillery fire against Ukrainian military targets in July-September 2014 in what are considered “acts of war,” according to a new report by Bellingcat, a group of citizen journalists who use open-source investigation tools and techniques, that was released on December 21. Numbering in the “thousands,” the report says, the cross-border projectiles were the “first and strongest evidence of a direct Russian participation in the fighting.” Although they were already proven to have occurred by Ukrainian officials and the U.S. government, the new report analyzed the extent to which they were used in the summer of 2014, when they largely contributed to stemming a Ukrainian counterattack to retake the border areas near Russia, and cut off and surround the occupied Donbas capitals of Donetsk and Luhansk. In total, at least 279 separate artillery attacks likely were fired inside Russia, targeting 408 Ukrainian military sites in the “entire border area of the conflict zone.”

Using recent additions of satellite imagery to Google Earth, Yandex and Bing map services, Bellingcat said it found evidence of Russian artillery fire in 2014 “to a much fuller extent.” It found that weapons such as howitzers and multiple rocket-launcher systems were used and, based on other open-source evidence, said that “allows for direct attribution of responsibility to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”

Despite mounting evidence, Moscow authorities have consistently denied direct involvement in the Donbas war that has killed nearly 10,000 people and uprooted more than 1.7 million from their homes since April 2014. Instead, the Kremlin has attempted to portray the war as a civil conflict between Ukrainian government forces and indigenous pro-Russian separatists. The open-source investigative group found that Russia’s artillery barrages “escalated” in “magnitude” the more Ukraine’s offensive in summer 2014 succeeded to liberate occupied territory.

Sviatoslav Karavansky, prominent Soviet-era political prisoner, dies

PHILADELPHIA – Sviatoslav Karavansky, a prominent Ukrainian anti-Soviet dissident, twice imprisoned in Soviet concentration camps for a total of 31 years, died at the age of 95 on December 17 at a hospital in Baltimore. He had been living in the U.S. since 1980, soon after being released with his wife, Dr. Nina Strokata, likewise an inmate of Soviet prisons, who was arrested for protesting her husband’s incarceration. Born December 24, 1920, in Odesa, Ukraine, Mr. Karavansky studied philology and literature at the local university at the same time as he participated in the activities of student groups linked to the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) underground. Arrested by the Soviet security police in 1944, he refused to become a secret informer to report on fellow students and consequently was given a 25-year sentence. He served his prison term in various Siberian hard-labor camps.

Dutch court rules Crimean treasures must be returned to Ukraine

A Dutch court has ruled that a priceless collection of gold artifacts from Crimea that were on loan to a Dutch museum when Russia occupied the peninsula must be returned to Ukraine. The Amsterdam district court said on December 14 that Crimea was not a sovereign country and so could not claim the treasures as cultural heritage. The ruling drew a swift and angry reaction from Russia and praise from Ukraine, whose president said it means that “Crimea is ours, period.”

Kyiv and four museums in Crimea have been wrangling over the fate of the archeological treasures, which range from pots to a Scythian helmet dating back more than 2,000 years, ever since Russia seized control of the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014. The Ukrainian government claimed that, as state property, they could not be returned to territory outside its control, while the Crimean museums argued the objects must be returned by the Netherlands to the institutions from which they were on loan. The treasures, popularly known as Scythian gold, are in the Netherlands because they were borrowed from the four museums in Crimea and one in Kyiv for an exhibition in early 2014 at Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum.

EU lauds nationalization of Ukraine’s largest bank

KYIV – The European Union has praised Ukraine’s leadership for its decision to nationalize the country’s biggest bank, calling it a “bold and courageous” move and a key component of broader reforms that the West is pressing Kyiv to carry out. EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini spoke on December 19, a day after President Petro Poroshenko’s Cabinet said it would nationalize PrivatBank in an effort to avoid a financial collapse in the former Soviet republic. “Let me use this occasion to commend… the prime minister’s, the president’s, the government’s efforts in these hours to restore confidence in the financial sector as we have seen through a bold and courageous decision to nationalize Privatbank,” Ms. Mogherini said at a December 19 meeting of the EU-Ukraine Council in Brussels. “This step should help ensure that all banks in Ukraine are held to the same prudential regulatory standards, making the banking sector stronger and more resilient,” she said.

U.S. adds more Russians to sanctions list

WASHINGTON – The United States has levied new sanctions against more Russians for Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, hitting well-connected insiders, including the man known as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chef. The updated list, announced on December 20 by the Treasury Department, includes seven Russians and more than three dozen companies in Russia and Crimea. The names added to the Specially Designated Nationals List include Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg businessman whose company has provided catering to the Kremlin. “These targeted sanctions aim to maintain pressure on Russia by sustaining the costs of its occupation of Crimea and disrupting the activities of those who support the violence and instability in Ukraine,” John Smith, acting director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement.

Are the Kremlin’s LNR and DNR about to unite or fight each other?

The Kremlin has deliberately obscured the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), in eastern Ukraine, under a fog of confusion. As such, on a single day in mid-December, a Russian analyst argued that the two self-styled republics are about to unite into one entity (Novorossiya), while at the same time a Ukrainian analyst saw signs that the two Moscow-sponsored statelets are almost at the point of declaring war on each other even though their Russian curators are reportedly purging the most radical Russian nationalists in each. On one hand, that fog reflects the internal problems of the two self-proclaimed entities – problems that have only been exacerbated by the uncertain future of Donbas. And on the other hand, it reveals the Kremlin’s clear desire to keep as many of its options open as possible. Moscow wants to continue destabilizing Ukraine, even while talking peace.

U.S. Congress passes massive defense bill

Magnitsky rights measure, military assistance to Ukraine also part of legislation
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Congress has backed legislation giving the president new, broader authority to impose sanctions on human rights abusers worldwide, building on an earlier law that has infuriated the Kremlin. The measure, formally known as the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, passed the Senate in a 92-7 vote on December 8 as part of a larger bill that sets guidance for U.S. defense priorities for the coming year. The new measure is modeled after the Magnitsky Act, a law passed in 2012 that punishes Russians deemed by Washington to be rights violators by barring them from the United States and freezing any assets they hold there. That law is named for Sergei Magnitsky, a whistle-blowing Russian lawyer who helped uncover evidence of a massive tax fraud. He was jailed and later died in a notorious Moscow jail.

UCCA welcomes two organizations into its ranks

NEW YORK – The Executive Board of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), the nation’s largest representation of Ukrainians in America, announced on December 10 that the Ukrainian American Veterans (UAV) and the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America (UMANA), two longstanding organizations with a combined century plus of community leadership, now stand beside over 20 other national Ukrainian American organizations as official members of the UCCA National Council, the highest ruling body of the UCCA. The National Council gathered on Saturday, December 10, for its first meeting following the XXII Congress of Ukrainians in America, which had convened in September. Newly re-elected Council Chair Stefan Kaczaraj, the president of the Ukrainian National Association, presided over a gathering of delegates representing Ukrainian Churches and religious associations in the United States, Ukrainian American educational institutions, national or central member organizations, and local chapters of the UCCA. In addition to nominating members to over a dozen working and advisory committees, which will guide the actions of the new UCCA Executive Board over the next four years, the delegates heard a brief report from UCCA staff and leadership on the work accomplished during the eight weeks since the XXII Congress. Setting an ambitious agenda to start off his term, newly elected UCCA President Andriy Futey summarized the UCCA’s work in advance of and immediately following the U.S. elections, the UCCA’s recent high-level meetings in Ukraine, as well as a very active period of work at the United Nations.

UCCA hails U.N. General Assembly’s resolution on occupied Crimea

NEW YORK – The United Nations General Assembly voted 70 to 26 to adopt a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Crimea and urging Russia to allow U.N. monitors unimpeded access to the Ukrainian peninsula. The resolution passed on December 19 marked the first time that the Russian Federation was named by the General Assembly as an occupying power and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol as “temporarily occupied territory.” Out of the 193 member states of the United Nations, 70 voted in favor, 26 voted against and 77 abstained. Adoption of the resolution, in which the United Nations reaffirmed the sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders, was welcomed by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, the largest representation of Americans of Ukrainian descent. However, in welcoming the resolution’s passage, UCCA President Andriy Futey underscored that, “The 26 nay votes represent all the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) with the exception of Azerbaijan, Moldova and, of course, Ukraine, and thus the UCCA calls on the government of Ukraine to withdraw from the CIS.”

Since 1993, Ukraine has been an associate member of the CIS, a regional organization created by 12 former Soviet republics upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union. With legislation denouncing the CIS agreement languishing in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada since being introduced in 2014, it is high time that the largest nation in Europe formally cut ties with its neighboring oppressor, the UCCA commented.

Newly elected UCCA Executive Board holds first meeting, sets plans for 2017

NEW YORK – On Saturday, December 10, at its first meeting following the XXII Congress of Ukrainians in America, the newly elected Executive Board of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America discussed various projects for the upcoming year and approved an ambitious plan for 2017. Andriy Futey, newly elected president of the UCCA, presided over the meeting and welcomed the new leadership, urging everyone to earnestly work together to promote the activities of the UCCA for the greater good of the Ukrainian American community and Ukraine. Held at the national headquarters in New York City, the board meeting discussed various issues, including the principal topic of nominating members to the UCCA’s standing committees. In total, 11 standing committees were proposed, namely: Organizational, Student-Youth, Membership, Council on Aid to Ukrainians, External Affairs, Financial, Scholarly, By-Laws, Real Estate; and two newly formed committees – Public Relations and Media, and Corporate Governance. The nominations of committee members were ratified at the National Council meeting that same afternoon.