KYIV – Once again, Ukraine will make political waves at the annual Eurovision Song Contest. Yet this time around, a Crimean Tatar will represent Ukraine, as announced on February 21. Accomplished pop singer Jamala will get a unique chance to raise Europe’s awareness to the plight of her people in performing “1944,” a song that ties the current persecution by the Russian occupation to the genocide in which Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin deported most of the Crimean Tatar population to Uzbekistan. The Verkhovna Rada declared the 1944 forced deportation of Crimean Tatars a genocide on November 12, 2015, and designated May 18 as the Day of Remembrance of Crimean Tatar Genocide Victims. More than 180,000 Tatars, or about 84 percent of the population, was forcibly reported, according to Soviet records. The vast majority, or more than 82 percent, were resettled to Uzbekistan, while the remainder were mostly sent to Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and central Russia.
GENEVA/NEW YORK/KYIV – The conflict in Ukraine has deeply affected the lives of 580,000 children living in non-government controlled areas and close to the front line in eastern Ukraine, UNICEF said on February 19. Of these, 200,000 – or one in three – need psychosocial support. “Two years of violence, shelling and fear have left an indelible mark on thousands of children in eastern Ukraine,” said Giovanna Barberis, UNICEF representative in Ukraine. “As the conflict continues, we need to reach these children urgently to meet their physical as well as psychological needs.”
More than 215,000 children are internally displaced from the conflict-affected areas. At least one out of five schools has been damaged or destroyed.
WHIPPANY, N.J. – “Ukraine Exists” was the title of a unique exhibit of art by contemporary artists from Ukraine accompanied by videos of interviews recorded in the country’s war-torn eastern regions whose aim was to depict Ukraine’s current reality of war and peace, as well as to demonstrate Ukraine’s desire to take its rightful place as a full-fledged member of Europe. Dubbed a “Project of Truth and Art,” the exhibit was presented in two parts, comprising contemporary Ukrainian art and documentary materials from the years 2014-2015. A project of the charity fund Wilni UA, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Alina Haieva Creative Agency, the exhibit was shown at the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey (UACCNJ) from January 31 through February 14. Its message was outlined in the exhibit brochure: “Through internal and external challenges, overcoming the war, economic and political crises, we are developing. Ukrainian society, culture and art are developing.
Russia’s primary objectives in the Black Sea region are to maximize its strategic and maritime influence there, isolate Ukraine and Georgia, weaken the cohesion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Black Sea security issues, and limit access to the area through the Turkish Straits for the navies of the United States and other extra-regional NATO members. A December 2015 incident in which Russia hijacked two Ukrainian offshore natural gas drilling rigs provides interesting insight into this wider Russian strategy. On December 14, the jack-up drilling rigs Petro Hodovanets and Ukraina – both assets of the Ukrainian firm Chornomor-naftogaz, which was wholly seized by the Russian state when it illegally annexed Crimea in March 2014 – were hauled away from their location on the Odesa gas field, 100 to 120 kilometers south of Odesa city (thus well within Ukraine’s exclusive economic zone), by Russian tug boats. Russia replaced these modern drilling rigs with the Ukrainian drilling platform Tavrida, which had also been captured in Crimea (112.ua, January 5, 2016). During their removal, the gas rigs were escorted by vessels of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and Federal Security Service (FSB) border guards.
LEICESTER, England – A team of open-source researchers investigating the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 has published a report it provided to Dutch prosecutors linking the commanders of a Russian military unit to the plane’s downing. The latest report, released on February 24 by the British group known as Bellingcat, links higher-ups in Russia’s military chain of command to the tragedy and adds other details building on earlier investigations into the July 2014 downing of MH17. Its previous reports had identified Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade as being the likely source of the missile that Dutch aviation officials say brought down the jet, killing all 298 people on board. The new report details the chain of command for this battalion and adds to the growing body of circumstantial evidence suggesting Russian complicity. This includes personal information about Russian military officers and enlisted soldiers who Bellingcat alleges specifically knew of, and possibly even manned, the Buk-M1 surface-to-air missile system believed to have brought down MH17.
Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian territories, and its continuing military operations in Ukraine’s east, receded from center stage at the Munich Security Conference on February 12-14. Instead, the calamities visited upon Europe by wars in Syria and the wider Middle East – uncontrolled mass migrations into Europe, cross-border terrorism, breakdown of the consensus over fundamental values in the European Union, potential denial of free access by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into the Levant – concentrated the attention of NATO’s top annual event this year. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko did bring Ukraine back to center stage for only as long as he held the podium. A diminishing sense of urgency, however, can also become a blessing in disguise. It can, at least temporarily, relieve pressure from Western partners on Ukraine to fulfill the political “obligations” to Russia’s proxies under the Minsk armistice.
BERLIN/VIENNA – The mandate of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) was extended to March 31, 2017, by the OSCE Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The move welcomed by OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Germany’s Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Secretary General Lamberto Zannier. “We have thereby ensured that the SMM can continue to perform and enlarge its important role in stabilizing the ceasefire in implementation of the Minsk accords,” Mr. Steinmeier said on February 18. He stated: “Nearly 700 monitors from 46 OSCE participating states work day by day to give us objective data on compliance with the ceasefire and on the withdrawal of weapons in eastern Ukraine. Unfortunately, they have reported that the ceasefire remains fragile and that the mission still does not have full access to the entire conflict zone.
KYIV – The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) received 20 armored vehicles donated by the European Union (EU) during an official handover ceremony held on February 3 outside the SMM’s head office in Kyiv. The EU’s donation is part of its support to the OSCE in working towards the stabilization and normalization of the situation in Ukraine. The Mercedes G-type vehicles, at an estimated value of 685,000 Euros in total, will be deployed to be used by the teams in the east of the country in the coming days. They were previously used by the EU Police Mission in Afghanistan. “The additional armored vehicles donated by the EU will enable more monitoring activities to be performed safely by the monitors, who work in unpredictable security circumstances in the conflict area,” said Jan Tombinski, head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine.
KYIV – We each have our own private Maidan memories. Some uplifting, far too many incredibly tragic, but all – forever vibrant and absolutely indelible. I will never forget my long walk home to the Maidan four days after the shooting stopped. As I made my way on February 24, 2014, down now hallowed Instytutska Street and across the Maidan, the silence and devastation were utterly unbelievable. There was almost nowhere to walk with so much debris and still-smoldering rubble.
In our February 21 issue, readers saw a poignant commentary by Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk, a professor of political geography at the Royal Military College of Canada, titled “Almost Forgotten.” The subject was the nearly forgotten graves of 16 prisoners, buried on a plot measuring some 35 by 25 meters, at the Spirit Lake internment camp (today known as La Ferme) in Quebec. Spirit Lake was one of 24 such camps established as part of Canada’s First National Internment Operations, 1914-1920. From January 13, 1915, to January 28, 1917, the period when Spirit Lake was functioning as an internment camp for so-called enemy aliens under the War Measures Act of 1914, the camp had a maximum population of 1,312 internees, including entire families – some 60 of them. Many of those interned were parishioners of St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church in Montreal.