House of Representatives overwhelmingly passes Russia sanctions bill

WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill expanding sanctions on Russia on July 25 by a vote of 419-3. The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (HR 3364) sanctions Iran, Russia and North Korea for their dangerous and belligerent actions that undermine the United States and its allies. The bill has an additional North Korea component that the original Senate bill did not have, but it is expected to pass in the Senate with the original bipartisan support. The Senate had passed its version of the sanctions bill by a vote of 98-2 back on June 15. Both the Senate and House versions of the bill allow Congress to block the administration from unilaterally lifting or scaling back sanctions imposed against Moscow.

U.S. envoy cites “astonishing” number of ceasefire violations in “hot war”

KYIV – The new U.S. special envoy for Ukraine peace negotiations said he was stunned by the number of ceasefire violations in the country’s war-torn east after making his first visit to the region. Kurt Volker, who was recently appointed as Washington’s point man for talks on ending the war between Kyiv’s forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, made the comment in a July 23 interview after spending the day at the frontlines of the conflict. “The level of ceasefire violations on a daily basis is astonishing,” Ambassador Volker told RFE/RL by telephone from a train bound for Kyiv, where he was set to hold talks with Ukrainian officials the following day. Mr. Volker’s assessment came hours after he told a news conference in Kramatorsk, the headquarters of Kyiv’s military operation against the separatists, that Ukraine is locked in a “hot war” whose origins he blamed on Moscow. “This is not a frozen conflict, this is a hot war, and it’s an immediate crisis that we all need to address as quickly as possible,” the envoy told reporters in the government-controlled eastern city.

Envoy: U.S. considering sending arms to Ukraine

PARIS – The new U.S. special envoy for efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Kurt Volker, says Washington is considering sending Kyiv weapons to help government forces defend themselves against Russia-backed separatists. Providing lethal defensive weapons would allow Kyiv to “defend itself if Russia were to take further steps against Ukrainian territory,” Ambassador Volker told Current Time TV in an interview in Paris on July 25. “Russia says it won’t do that and isn’t doing that, so then there should be no risk to anybody, if that’s the case,” said Mr. Volker, who was appointed on July 7 and visited towns near the frontlines in eastern Ukraine on July 23. President Donald Trump’s administration “is now reviewing where the Obama administration left it, considering whether we should provide defensive arms to Ukraine or not,” he said. “So that’s the state of play.”

Mr. Volker said he did not think arming Ukraine with lethal defensive weapons would “provoke Russia to do more than they are already doing, and it also isn’t going to change any kind of balance that way.”

“I hear these arguments that it’s somehow provocative to Russia or that it’s going to embolden Ukraine to attack.

Overview of the Russian maritime threat to Ukraine: Mariupol and Odesa at stake

The Black Sea region has for centuries played a key role in Russia’s southwestern policy. In the Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774), Russia took the opportunity to create naval forces in Crimea. And during subsequent wars with the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire moved into Bessarabia, the Caucasus and the Balkans. In 1791, the Sea of Azov became an internal Russian waterway, and the Russian state then concentrated its efforts on strengthening its position along the northwestern part of the Black Sea. This important area connects with the Danube, Dnipro and South Buh rivers; overland and maritime routes to the Balkans; as well as shipbuilding facilities in Odesa and that city’s port-industrial-agricultural hub.

A year after journalist’s death in Kyiv, demonstrators ask ‘Who killed Pavel?’

KYIV – One year to the day after Pavel Sheremet was killed in a car-bomb blast in central Kyiv, dozens of reporters, civil society activists, friends and colleagues demanded to know who ordered the attack and why the investigation has stalled. On July 20, after lighting candles at a makeshift memorial at the busy intersection where Sheremet was killed, a group of more than 200 people marched to the president’s office and other government buildings. At each stop, the group demanded that authorities step up their commitment to investigating the case and release all information not already made public. They stood in a solemn column, displaying signs adorned with question marks. At the headquarters of President Petro Poroshenko’s administration, the marchers were stopped by police about 100 meters from the front door but remained for several minutes as some activists spray-painted “Who killed Pavel?” on the pavement.

The Russian-Ukrainian conflict could be escalating

On July 18, Alexander Zakharchenko, the Russia-backed leader of the self-proclaimed and Moscow-supported “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR), declared that a new state – “Malorossiya” or “Little Russia” – must be created to replace the present Ukrainian “failed state.” According to Mr. Zakharchenko, the regime in Kyiv has failed, and the only way to stop the conflict in Donbas and to maintain Ukrainian territorial unity is to reinvigorate the failed state as a federalized Malorossiya that will have two official languages – Russian and “Malorossiyan” (Ukrainian). This new country would then become part of a joint union state with Russia and Belarus “while continuing to be independent and sovereign.” All attempts to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the European Union would be repudiated by the new Malorossiya government. The capital of the new state would be Donetsk instead of Kyiv. Selected delegates from different regions of Ukraine will be gathered to form a constitutional assembly to inaugurate Malorossiya (RIA Novosti, July 18). The Malorossiya declaration by Mr. Zakharchenko was condemned in Kyiv and in the West for undermining the Minsk II roadmap (signed in February 2015) to peace in the Donbas.

New agreement to strengthen Ukraine-Canada research networks

TORONTO – The Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko (Shevchenko Foundation) and Mitacs, a national not-for-profit research and training organization, announced a new partnership that will allow Ukrainian undergraduate students to participate in research internships at Canadian universities for the first time. The agreement was signed on June 9 at the Bahen Center for Information Technology, University of Toronto, by Shevchenko Foundation President Andrew Hladyshevsky and Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director Alejandro Adem. From June to September each year, top-ranked Ukraine students will participate in a 12-week research internship under the supervision of Canadian university faculty. Students are provided with professional skills training and gain valuable knowledge about Canadian industry and innovation. Interns interested in returning to Canada for graduate studies will be eligible for a Mitacs Globalink Graduate Fellowship.

Ukrainian National Foundation assists students of Ostroh Academy

PARSIPPANY, N.J. – The Ukrainian National Foundation, an affiliated company of the Ukrainian National Association that performs charitable activities, continuously provides grants enabling less fortunate students in Ukraine – those who come from needy families, are orphaned, or have been displaced by the war in Ukraine’s east – to pursue university studies at the National University of Ostroh Academy. A total of $20,000 was donated in 2016 for this purpose to Ostroh Academy. One of the students who received such assistance from the U.S.-based foundation was Olha Klymchuk of Ostroh, Rivne Oblast, who is studying toward a bachelor’s degree in psychology. The third-year student recently expressed her thanks in a letter she sent to the UNF’s president, Stefan Kaczaraj. “I, along with my parents, express sincere thanks to you for the assistance given me, an invalid since childhood, to enable me to fulfill my most heartfelt dream: to receive an education in my chosen specialty,” she wrote.

Soyuzivka’s Sonia

Tuesday, July 25, marked the 40th day since the passing into eternity of Sonia Semanyszyn, a loyal employee of Soyuzivka since late 1988, who was a familiar and friendly face to countless visitors at this Ukrainian heritage center in Kerhonkson, N.Y. It’s not often that this editorial space is used for a reflection on someone’s passing. But, like Soyuzivka, Sonia herself was an institution. Sonia (her given name was Sofia) served in various capacities during nearly 30 years at Soyuzivka, from office manager to, most recently, billing and accounting manager, working under managers John A. Flis and Nestor Paslawsky, and with colleagues such as John Kocur, Sheila Zahajkewycz, Stefko Drabyk, Andrey Sonevytsky, Marianka Hawryluk… They and many others constituted Sonia’s Soyuzivka family. Many who came to Soyuzivka for the 11th annual Ukrainian Cultural Festival just two weekends ago remembered Sonia, noting that it just wasn’t the same without her… Several even caught themselves reflexively saying things like “I’ll have to ask Sonia” or “Sonia will take care of it.”

For us at the Ukrainian National Association’s two newspapers, The Ukrainian Weekly and Svoboda, Sonia was someone we could always count on, whether that was for information about the annual Miss Soyuzivka weekend or the latest news from Soyuzivka. When Sonia said she would find what we needed, she always delivered.