KYIV – Nadiya Savchenko, the former Ukrainian military pilot who was kidnapped by pro-Russian forces on Ukrainian territory in June 2014, was released to Ukraine on May 25 after nearly two years in captivity during which she endured what is globally recognized as a show trial that convicted her on false charges of complicity in murder. The 35-year-old native of Kyiv became Ukraine’s internationally recognized symbol in the war against Russia as the public learned of the nefarious nature of her capture by Donbas terrorists who surrendered her to Russian officials, the torture she endured in prison, her repeated hunger strikes that brought her to the brink of death and the rigged criminal trial that exposed the extreme corruption of Russian courts. Upon arriving at Boryspil International Airport near the capital, she was greeted by her mother, Maria, and sister, Vira, offered a few remarks before journalists, before heading to the Presidential Administration, where she was presented with the highest state honor, the Golden Star of the Hero of Ukraine award, for her unbreakable will, civic bravery and sacrificial service to the Ukrainian people. “For 709 long days, we worried, prayed, actively worked and organized protests to gain what happened on this present day. A day when hope returned to Ukraine – Nadiya Savchenko and hope – and the firm faith in our victory,” said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, playing on words that referred to the meaning of the names of both Nadiya (hope) and her sister, Vira (faith).
WEST ORANGE, N.J. – More than 100 people from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania gathered on May 15 at The Manor Restaurant for an afternoon luncheon benefitting the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. The event featured special guest speakers Prof. Yaroslav Hrytsak and Dr. Boris Lushniak, and was sponsored by the New Jersey Friends of the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) and the Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation (UCEF). The Rev. Stepan Bilyk of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Whippany, N.J., led the gathering in an opening prayer, and community activist Ihor Zwarycz served as master of ceremonies. Alex Kuzma, chief development officer of UCEF, in his statement of greeting underscored that that UCU is a “pioneering institution” that has the potential to “transform Ukrainian society.” Mr. Kuzma recognized the major donation of $100,000 by the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America toward the UCU Rehabilitation Center.
The need to keep the channels of dialogue open with an unpredictable Russia is taken as an absolute imperative by many Western politicians. But they are often surprised when this tactic backfires. The foreign affairs ministers of the member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) held talks on May 19–20 in preparation for the July summit in Warsaw. They agreed to convene a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in order to clear any possible misunderstandings with Moscow on the decisions to be taken (Kommersant, May 21). However, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was quite upset by Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov’s undiplomatically rude, negative response (RIA Novosti, May 20).
STRASBOURG, France – A law firm in Australia has filed a compensation claim against Russia and President Vladimir Putin on behalf of victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), shot down in 2014. Reports on May 21 said 33 next of kin were named in the claim filed on May 9 by the law firm LHD Lawyers in the European Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg, France. It seeks $10 million in compensation per passenger. The jetliner crashed in Ukraine in Russia-backed separatist-held territory on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people on board, including 28 Australians. The aircraft, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, the Dutch Safety Board concluded in its final report late last year.
The “Normandy” powers’ (Ukraine, Germany, France, Russia) latest meeting, in Berlin on May 11, which failed to address Ukraine’s concerns, has stiffened Kyiv’s refusal to go along with local elections in the Donetsk and Luhansk “peoples’ republics” (DPR, LPR). That territory is Ukrainian de jure but Russian-occupied de facto. The Minsk II armistice prescribes those elections, but does not obligate Ukraine to consent to their staging or recognize their outcome. Russia presses for those elections to legitimize its DPR-LPR proxies. Key Western powers, in varying degrees and for varying considerations, are leaning on Ukraine to go along with quick-fix elections there (deadlines have moved from December 2015 to July 2016 and, now, beyond that).
Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine held an expanded meeting of their foreign affairs ministers and senior staffs on May 11 in Berlin (the “Normandy” format). Two overlapping issues topped the meeting’s agenda: possible elections in the Russian-controlled Donetsk-Luhansk territory and policing those proposed elections to make them look (against all odds) somewhat believable (Interfax, Auswaertigesamt.de, Ukrinform, May 11, 12). In this meeting, the Russian, German and French ministers turned down Ukraine’s recent proposal for an armed police mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the Russian-controlled territory (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, April 20). The proposed local elections and police mission are partly interrelated issues, but their divergence is more important than their overlap. Ukraine wanted an OSCE police mission to do much more than provide security for possible local elections in Donetsk-Luhansk; but Ukraine lost out in the Berlin meeting.
“For more than two years, Ukraine has suffered from the aggression of its neighbor, the Russian Federation. Russia has temporarily occupied and attempted to illegally annex a part of the territory of Ukraine – the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol – and continues hostile and subversive actions, supporting terrorism in the Donbas region. Russia employs a broad range of hybrid warfare techniques, including financing terrorism, to promote ideology of the so-called ‘Russian world’… “This neo-imperialist ideology tolerates and encourages violation of the international law, human rights, perpetration of serious crimes, including terrorists acts. Fierce, deceitful propaganda disseminated by the state-controlled Russian media and through numerous means is one of the key elements of the ongoing hybrid aggression against Ukraine.
PARSIPPANY, N.J. – The Home Office of the Ukrainian National Association, which includes not only UNA staff but also the staffs of its two newspapers, Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly, on May 19 marked the worldwide Vyshyvanka Day – a day when Ukrainians around the globe proudly wear their embroidered shirts wherever they might be as a symbol of Ukrainian unity. According to the Ukraine Crisis Media Center, the celebration of Vyshyvanka Day was initiated by students of Yuriy Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University. The idea of the action is to wear a vyshyvanka on the third Thursday in May – to the office, to school or anywhere you happen to be. The students wanted to return the vyshyvanka to modern Ukrainian life as a “talisman, a symbol and an integral part of Ukrainian culture,” explained Oleksandr Tkachuk, a co-founder of the action, who noted that in 2015 the day was celebrated in 38 countries. “We have walked through a difficult road from misunderstanding, a skeptical attitude – both to the action and to the vyshyvanka itself – to a time when …a little student action has turned into a great global celebration,” said Lesya Voroniuk, initiator of what is now known as Global Vyshyvanka Day, speaking at a press conference in Kyiv back in April.
Nadiya Savchenko, who had been in Russian custody since June 2014, when she was abducted from Ukrainian territory, and then imprisoned in Russia, is free at last. She returned home on Wednesday, May 25, to a hero’s welcome. As noted by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who spoke out forcefully for the former Ukrainian military pilot’s release on many occasions during the last two years, it was “a day for celebration in Ukraine, as one of its patriots has finally returned home.”
Ms. Savchenko was held by the Russians for a total of 709 days. She became a symbol of Ukraine’s unyielding resistance to Russia, enduring imprisonment, repeated extensions of her detention, interrogations and a show trial that harkened back to the Soviet era. She protested her illegal detention and the trumped-up charges against her with several hunger strikes.
Two years ago, on June 5, 2014, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress issued a statement on the build-up of pressure on FIFA to revoke Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup of soccer. In May 2014, United with Ukraine, an Ottawa-based organization, launched its campaign, which included support from corporations such as Visa, Kia Motors and Sony. The initial target of the campaign was Anheuser Bush InBev, with a portfolio of more than 200 beer brands, including Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois. The world governing soccer body, FIFA, banned former President Sepp Blatter and former UEFA President Michel Plantini from FIFA for eight years. Since the news broke of the corruption allegations, 18 individuals and two corporations had been indicted, including nine FIFA officials and five businessmen.