NEW YORK – Ukrainian film director and writer Oleh Sentsov arrived recently in the United States for his first visit and a multi-city speaking tour that included a late afternoon presentation at the Ukrainian National Home in New York City’s East Village on Saturday, January 25. Since his release during a Ukraine-Russia prisoner exchange in September 2019, Mr. Sentsov has often stated publicly – most recently on January 22 during his appearance at the Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland – that he does not consider himself to be, foremost, a Russian political prisoner. He prefers to focus on his self-identity as a human rights activist and a fighter for Ukraine’s right to self-determination. This position that Ukraine, and all those who consider themselves Ukrainian, must assume serious responsibility to help assure the nation’s success was Mr. Sentsov’s primary message on January 25.
KYIV – During the final days of January, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy carried out two sensitive “working visits,” to Israel and Poland. They were connected with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp located in Poland and International Holocaust Remembrance Day observed on January 27. Given the broader context involving the role of Russian President Vladimir Putin, they were a veritable test for Mr. Zelenskyy’s diplomatic skills, both at home and abroad. And the commemorative events themselves revealed current attitudes towards the Holocaust in Ukraine where, according to the Ukrainian president, “one in four” of the total victims lived.
DAVOS, Switzerland – On January 21-24, this small Swiss town in the mountains hosted the 50th annual World Economic Forum. The world’s most influential people, politicians, businesspeople and philanthropists flew into Switzerland to join this elite gathering. Alongside the official invitation-only program, Davos’s main promenade hosts dozens of alternative events set up by corporations, global organizations and countries. Ukraine House Davos was one of these for the third consecutive year; its aim was to promote Ukraine as a young and vibrant democracy in the heart of Europe that is undergoing a massive transformation and is led by a resilient, highly educated and innovative new generation.
For Ukraine, the Holodomor of 1932-1933 is genocide, not a social or economic tragedy, as some try to present it. This was stated by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in an interview with the Times of Israel, according to Gazeta.ua. “Many people were eliminated. They were seized, their property – their houses, land, cattle, everything was taken from them. And if they didn’t surrender their assets, they were killed. They were shot. Millions of people died. Many countries have recognized that the Holodomor is a genocide. And I know that Israel understands this and understands that Ukraine recognized the Holocaust as genocide. For Ukraine, this is not a social or economic tragedy. This is genocide. Millions of Ukrainians were eliminated,” the Ukrainian leader said.
The start of 2020 in Kyiv was initially thought to be a triumphant one. The last weeks of 2019 brought some de-escalation in the war in the Donbas (EADaily, December 30, 2019), new hopes for peace and, importantly, formidable economic successes. Notably, the United States adopted new sanctions that delayed construction of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, thus forcing Russia to sign a renewed gas transit contract with Ukraine (Ukrinform.net, December 31, 2019) as well as to pay Gazprom’s penalties to Ukraine’s Naftogaz, in line with earlier rulings by a Stockholm arbitration court (Naftogaz.com, December 31, 2019). At the same time, in recent months, fears of a sovereign financial default – widely discussed since President Volodymyr Zelenskyy started his tenure last May (EADaily, May 29, 2019) – have now entirely evaporated.
In the wake of last month’s (December 2019) Normandy format summit (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, December 11, 12, 2019), and awaiting the same forum’s top-level meeting in April, Ukrainian officials are airing proposals to revise the Kremlin-imposed Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015. The accords, designed to legalize Russia’s control of the Donetsk-Luhansk territory and to disrupt Ukraine farther afield, remain unimplemented to date thanks to the previous Ukrainian government’s successful maneuvering and stalling. That work has made it possible for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s administration now to call for revising the Minsk accords. Whereas the former president, Petro Poroshenko, and the Ukrainian Parliament had unilaterally introduced domestic legal barriers to the implementation of the Minsk accords, the Zelenskyy administration proposes to revise these documents by negotiation with Russia, Germany and France in the so-called Normandy format.
WASHINGTON – Congressional Ukraine Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Andy Harris (R-Md.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) on January 16 released a statement after introducing a resolution expressing bipartisan support for Ukraine and its people. This vital and time sensitive measure reaffirms the United States’ strategic interest in strengthening liberty and democracy in Europe, a feat which is not possible without U.S. support for Ukraine in its fight to counter Russian aggression, said a news release from the Congressional Ukraine Caucus.
“Yes, Secretary Pompeo, Americans Should Care About Ukraine,” by William B. Taylor, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, The New York Times, January 26:
As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prepares to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine in Kyiv later this week, he has reportedly asked, “Do Americans care about Ukraine?” Here’s why the answer should be yes: Ukraine is defending itself and the West against Russian attack. If Ukraine succeeds, we succeed. The relationship between the United States and Ukraine is key to our national security, and Americans should care about Ukraine.
PHILADELPHIA – On Saturday, January 11, the Ukrainian American community of Philadelphia bid its final farewell to Dr. George A. Perfecky, retired professor of foreign languages at La Salle University. The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church was filled to capacity with family, friends, colleagues and two generations of former students. Also in attendance was the past president of the university, Brother Michael McGinness, FSC. After an insightful homily delivered by Father John Ciurpita , Prof. Leo Rudnytzky read a very stirring and deeply meaningful letter of condolences sent by Archbishop-Metropolitan Borys Gudziak.