February 7, 2020

2019: The noteworthy: Events and people


This section features the noteworthy events and people of 2019 that defy easy classification (or could fit under more than one of our Year in Review categories).

— After Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched its #CorrectUA campaign October 2018, appealing to foreign media and airports to use “Kyiv” rather than “Kiev,” 2019 saw marked progress in this area. In April, Toronto’s Pearson International Airport – the largest in Canada and the only one with direct flights to Ukraine – changed the spelling on both its arrival/departure boards and website.  Airports across the globe followed suit, and by July 1 some 50 international airports had announced the change. On August 14, the Associated Press Stylebook notified its users that the name of the Ukraine’s capital would now be spelled Kyiv, “in line with the Ukrainian government’s preferred transliteration to English…”  And on November 22, The New York Times – by its own admission “rarely an early adopter in altering place names” – adopted the use of Kyiv.  An editorial in the October 27 edition of The Ukrainian Weekly not only gave readers a historical overview of the “Kyiv/Kiev” issue, which started in October 1995, but also explained why this is much more than a minor spelling issue.

— On May 18, Ukraine marks the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Genocide against the Crimean Tatar People, commemorating the Sürgün – Stalin’s 1944 deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar people from their homeland. Seventy-five years later, many Crimean Tatars are once again in forced exile, or imprisoned in occupied Crimea or Russia for their civic activism or simply for their faith. Although remembrance in groups has been effectively banned since immediately after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, dozens marked the event in 2019 in Symferopol, with police warning participants that the event was unauthorized but otherwise not interfering. Around 100 people recited prayers at a city park where a small monument stands to the tens of thousands who died during the deportations; some participants dressed in traditional garb, while others carried the flag of the Crimean Tatar community. Several elderly survivors recalled their experiences from the deportations. Speaking from Kyiv, where he has lived since soon after Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea, veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev noted that “…we do not speak of the Deportation out of a desire to avenge what was done to our people. We remind people of it so that nothing like it is ever repeated.” On April 23, the Mejlis issued an appeal to the parliaments and governments of United Nations member states to recognize the Sürgün as an act of genocide.  On May 9, Latvia was the first to respond positively, with its Parliament adopting a resolution that read in part “Recognizing the entire seriousness of this declaration, we call the deportation and ensuing Soviet terror an act of genocide.” The resolution also took note of the fact that “five years ago, Russia illegally annexed Crimea and is carrying out the Russian policy of oppression and force in relation to the Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea.”

— The board of directors of the Ukrainian Federation of America (UFA) on May 23 honored Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R.-Pa.), co-chairman of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus (CUC), with their Alexander B. Chernyk Medal. Rep. Fitzpatrick was honored for his outstanding leadership of the CUC, his initiation of numerous important resolutions and statements on behalf of Ukraine, and his steadfast commitment to Ukraine’s rights to sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. In her welcoming remarks, UFA President Dr. Zenia Chernyk explained that the award is given only to “very special people who are friends of Ukraine and work to promote U.S.-Ukraine relations.” Rep. Fitzpatrick was elected to Congress in 2016. As congressman and co-chairman of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he initiated several important resolutions on behalf of Ukraine, including co-authoring bipartisan legislation to strengthen cybersecurity cooperation between the U.S. and Ukraine. Most importantly, Rep. Fitzpatrick led the effort in Congress to provide Ukraine with Javelin anti-tank weapons. On April 1, he was appointed by House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to serve as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), also known as the Helsinki Commission.

— Lviv, considered the capital of western Ukraine, has seen a steady increase in tourism since its incorporation into UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1998. According to Lina Ostapchuk, director of the city’s Tourism Office, Lviv welcomed 2.2 million tourists in 2018 – 43 percent from Ukraine and the rest from Poland, Belarus, Turkey, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Lithuania and Israel. For 67 percent of the foreign visitors, it was their first trip to Lviv. Travel and tourism accounted for 5.7 percent of Ukraine’s gross domestic product in 2017; additionally, taxes collected from tourism provide a boost to municipal budgets. Tourists are attracted by the beauty of Lviv’s old-town city center with its historic architecture, landmark churches and residences, as well as its wide array of cafes and restaurants, known not only for their gastronomic quality but for the experience – practically very restaurant has its own legend.

— On June 19, the Public Prosecution Service of the Netherlands announced it would prosecute four suspects for bringing down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew. The decision was made on the basis of the investigation conducted by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), consisting of law enforcement agencies from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, Ukraine and the Netherlands. Igor Vsevolodovich Girkin (“Strelkov”), Sergey Nikolayevich Dubinskiy, Oleg Yuldashevich Pulatov and Leonid Volodymyrovych Kharchenko – are all pro-Russia “rebel” commanders associated with the Moscow-backed separatist “Donetsk people’s republic” (DPR). The Public Prosecution Service alleges the four cooperated to obtain and deploy the Buk TELAR missile system at the firing location with the aim of shooting down an aircraft. For that reason they can also be held jointly accountable for downing flight MH17. Prosecutors said they would issue international arrest warrants and place the suspects on national and international lists of wanted persons. The Netherlands’ chief prosecutor, Fred Westerbeke, accused Russia of failing to cooperate: “We have proof Russia was involved in this tragedy, this crime. They knew almost immediately what actually happened, but continued to withhold information.” The trial is planned to begin in The Hague on March 9, 2020, in absentia. According to Mr. Westerbeke, the trial in The Hague could last up to a year; and while the actual culprits will likely be absent, Russia will be in the dock.

— Ukrainian National Guardsman Vitaliy Markiv, a dual Ukrainian-Italian citizen, was sentenced on July 12 by an Italian court to 24 years in prison for his role in the deaths of Italian photojournalist Andrea Rochelli and his Russian translator Andrei Mironov during fighting near the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk in 2014. Rochelli and Mironov had been working in the Donetsk region when they were hit by mortar shelling by the Ukrainian military just weeks after fighting broke out between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed “separatists.” Mr. Markiv had not been accused of committing the killings himself, but of informing the Ukrainian National Guard of the presence of the group. The defense had argued that the group was working in a war zone without protective armor and were not identified as members of the press, and had asked that Mr. Markiv be released for lack of evidence. On October 14, Ukraine’s Defenders Day holiday, dozens of protesters – including Oleh Sentsov – assembled in Kyiv at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, leaving an appeal for the diplomatic corps to take measure to secure Mr. Markiv’s release. The group also left a similar note at the Italian Embassy. The demonstrations came just four days after the Italian court released the explanatory portion of its ruling, saying Mr. Markiv was given a sentence seven years longer than prosecutors had asked for because he had maintained his innocence.  In an analysis published on October 14, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) concluded that the court had failed to justify the sentence, putting too much weight on the testimony of French photographer William Roguelon, who also was injured in the shelling, and two Italian journalists. On the night Rochelli and Mironov were killed, KHPG noted, firefights were ongoing and there was no evidence presented that the fatal shelling came from Ukrainian servicemen.

— Miss Soyuzivka 2020 was crowned on August 10 during the Saturday evening zabava (dance), continuing a decades-old tradition. The new Miss Soyuzivka 2020 is Anastasia Hanafin, who hails from New York and is a student at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. Also crowned were first runner-up Sofia Pitula and second runner-up Karolina Polivantseva.

— The Kobzarska Sich bandura camp celebrated its 40th anniversary in August. The 40th anniversary camp, held at the All Saints Camp site in Emlenton, Pa., featured two core programs: the flagship two-week bandura course, led by music directors Oleh Mahlay and Julian Kytasty, and a one-week choral workshop, led by Nadia Tarnawsky. New in this anniversary year were elective courses. Campers could broaden their knowledge with courses such as Music Theory, Composing and Arranging for the Bandura, Advanced Technical Development, Sound Amplification, Free Improvisation, Solo Contemporary Rhythm Bandura and Conducting. The camp culminated with a final concert, including former camp participants and instructors who joined the camp for two numbers. The concert was followed by a 40th anniversary gala-fundraiser.

— This year’s Omelian and Tatiana Antonovych Foundation award was presented on September 13 at the Embassy of Ukraine to Alexander Motyl, professor of political science at Rutgers University, who has also taught at Columbia, Harvard and other universities. Dr. Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak, chair of the Antonovych Award nomination committee, noted that Prof. Motyl “continues to be a sobering voice among the myriad of writers and scholars about contemporary Ukraine, and remains interested in the country, not just in what makes the big headlines.” Accepting his award, Prof. Motyl spoke about how his interest in Ukraine back in Soviet times developed into a need to engage the world in this subject. He noted that “there has been a sea change in the view of Ukraine” and that today “Ukrainian studies are fully in the mainstream,” despite the continuing war with Russia and other negative happenings.

Yaro Bihun

Ambassador Valeriy Chaly congratulates Alexander Motyl, laureate of the 2019 Omelian and Tatiana Antonovych Foundation award. Standing beside them at the September 13 ceremony at the Embassy of Ukraine are Serhii Plokhy of the Harvard University Ukrainian Research Institute (left), and (on the right) the head the award advisory jury, Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak, and foundation board members Ihor Voyevidka and Roman Slonewsky.

— In September, Ukraine sent two youth delegates – Nargis Mokhd from Odesa and Roman Tymotsko from Lviv – to represent the country at the United Nations General Assembly, as it has done every year since establishing the Ukrainian Youth Delegate to the United Nations program in 2014. The youth delegates spent two weeks in New York, working closely with Ukraine’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, helping diplomats in the work of the GA’s Third Committee, which focuses on social, humanitarian and cultural issues, while learning the skills needed in real day-to-day work at the United Nations. Youth delegates are chosen from a field of around 100 applicants in an arduous application process. They have a one-year mandate, which includes participation in the U.N. General Assembly, an information campaign about their experience and Sustainable Development Goals in Ukraine, involvement in other international events by their choice, and leading a project focused on solving one of youths’ problems. The Youth Delegate Program is active in only 16 percent of the world’s countries, most of them European. During their two-week stay, Mr. Tymotsko and Ms. Mokhd were able to take part in Ukrainian diaspora events in the New York metropolitan area, including attending Razom for Ukraine’s annual meeting, visiting the local School of Ukrainian Studies in New York and meeting with members of Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization in New Jersey.

— The 49th Ukrainian of the Year Award was presented to Archbishop Daniel of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. by the Ukrainian Technological Society (UTS) of Pittsburgh on November 2, in recognition of his dedicated efforts in securing the granting of the Tomos of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. In reading the nomination for the award, the Rev. Mark Swindle noted that “a new page has opened in the history of Ukraine, and Archbishop Daniel has assisted in writing it.” In his acceptance remarks, Archbishop Daniel said that he was accepting the award on behalf of all the hierarchs, priests and laypeople who prayed and suffered through appeal upon appeal for the return of autocephaly to the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Kyiv since 1686, after hundreds of years of interference in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by the Moscow patriarch and the Russian Orthodox Church. The UTS is one of the longest continuously active Ukrainian organizations in the tri-state area. Its Ukrainian of the Year Award recognizes individuals of local, national and international stature who have contributed to the Ukrainian community or Ukrainian scholarship, or who have demonstrated significant achievement that brings recognition and prestige to the Ukrainian community.

Roksana Korchynsky

Archbishop Daniel (center), who received the Ukrainian Technological Society’s 2019 Ukrainian of the Year Award on November 2, is seen with UTS Executive Board members (from left): Dr. Natalia Kujdych, Andriy Bidochko, Dr. Natalia Onufrey, George Honchar, Michele Kapeluck and Nickolas C. Kotow.

— On November 27 Apple showed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula as being part of Russia on its Apple Maps and Weather apps for users in Russia. Users in the United States, Ukraine and parts of Europe saw no international borders around the Crimean peninsula. The situation prompted the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington to send Apple a letter explaining the situation in Crimea – that Russia had sent in troops in March 2014, seized key facilities and staged a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries – and demanding that it correct the peninsula’s designation. Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller told Reuters on November 29 that the U.S. technology giant was “taking a deeper look at how we handle disputed borders.” Ms. Muller said Apple made the change for Russian users because of a new law that went into effect inside Russia and that it had not made any changes to its maps outside of the country. Apple says it will re-evaluate how it identifies “disputed borders” after receiving criticism for displaying Ukraine’s Crimea as part of Russia.