Easter is celebrated in Ukraine amidst concerns about COVID-19
Faithful urged to stay home and watch services online

KYIV – As Christians of the Eastern Churches prepared to celebrate Easter on April 19 (according to the Julian calendar), there was concern that potential large crowds of worshippers could further spread COVID-19. According to Ukraine’s Minister of Health Maksym Stepanov, the number of those infected with the novel coronavirus had grown significantly after Palm Sunday services held a week earlier.

This fact compelled the government to focus on preventing crowds on Easter. According to the National Police, about 7.5 million citizens took part in religious services last year on Easter. If a tenth of the faithful came to churches this year, Ukraine could suffer another coronavirus outbreak, according to the director of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Communication Depart­ment, Artem Shevchenko.

Ukraine, Russia-backed militants conclude another prisoner swap

KYIV – Ukraine and Russia-backed militants have exchanged a total of 34 prisoners ahead of the Julian calendar Easter celebrations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelens­kyy’s office said on April 16 that 20 Ukrainians who were in the custody of the militants were returned to Kyiv.

The “separatists” said 14 people were handed to them by Kyiv authorities.

The Ukrainian and Russian sides in the so-called Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) said last week that they had agreed on to hold the swap before Easter on April 19.

UWC defends itself against ban in Russian Federation

TORONTO – The Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) is challenging the July 2019 decisions by the Office of the Prosecutor General and the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation (RF) that declared the UWC an “undesirable” organization and banned its activities in the RF.

Deeming UWC an “undesirable” organization is yet another example of the continued violations of human rights and efforts to assimilate and isolate the Ukrainian minority in the RF from the global Ukrainian community, Ukraine and the democratic world, the Ukrainian World Congress noted.

Sisters of St. Basil make masks for local health-care workers

FOX CHASE MANOR, Pa. – The Sisters of the Order of St. Basil the Great might be handling the COVID-19 quarantine better than most – they are monastics after all. Yet even their timeless regime of prayer and ministry was altered by the pandemic. Most of the Motherhouse at Fox Chase is much quieter than usual, save for one room full of activity. There, the sisters engage in what has quickly become an essential craft: producing masks for health-care workers.

Sister Teodora sits at a sewing machine, where she turns rolls of fabric and lace into today’s hottest commodity. Beautiful abstract and floral prints take shape and, in turn, are neatly ironed and stacked by Sister Olha. Now they are ready to ship: these masks will be received by nearby Holy Redeemer Hospital.

Moscow’s new ‘Cossack’ paramilitary units could possibly be used against Ukraine

Recent reports that Moscow is deploying Cossack groups along the Russian-Ukrainian border near the Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv regions of Ukraine are extremely worrisome, as the Kremlin ostensibly used similar units in its initial invasion of southeastern Ukraine in 2014. Such revelations may presage a new Russian move against Ukraine and be intended as an attempt to muddy the waters about who is behind any aggression. But at the same time, they are the latest sign that the Kremlin wants to have groups with which it can maintain a certain plausible deniability when engaging in destabilizing or aggressive operations both internationally and within the Russian Federation.

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Chornovol under house arrest

A court in Kyiv has placed former lawmaker Tetyana Chornovol under house arrest on suspicion of murder during deadly anti-government protests known as the Euro-Maidan in February 2014. The Pechersk district court ruled late on April 16 that Ms. Chornovol, a member of the European Solidarity party led by former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, will stay under house arrest until June 8. Police searched Ms. Chornovol’s home in Kyiv on April 10, and later she was officially informed that she was a suspect in the murder of an employee of the office of the pro-Russia Party of Regions. The man died after the party’s office in downtown Kyiv was set on fire. Investigators say Ms. Chornovol led a group of people who set the building on fire, which the former lawmaker rejects. Mr. Poroshenko last week criticized the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) for launching the probe against Ms. Chornovol, a former investigative journalist well-known for her anti-Kremlin stance, calling it “an attempt to rewrite the history under Moscow’s orders.”

Russia’s May 9 Victory Day parade is postponed by COVID-19

The anniversary celebrations of victory over Nazi Germany in May 1945, which ended World War II in Europe, have become the main yearly public relations event in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Annual May 9 military parades began in 1995, when then-president Boris Yeltsin used the 50th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) as a grand occasion to redeem Russia’s military prestige, seriously tarnished by the disastrous first Chechen War. In Soviet times, there were only three military parades in Red Square on May 9: in 1965, 1985 and 1990.

EuroParliament pushes for Eastern partners’ greater integration, slams Russia’s illegal actions

BRUSSELS – The European Parliament will call for the creation of a “common economic space” between the European Union and the six former Soviet republics of its Eastern Partnership program as part of a process of “gradual integration” into the bloc, according to a draft report seen by RFE/RL on April 15.

The parliamentary draft report also denounces Russia’s “illegal” actions in Eastern Partnership countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – including what it calls destabilization, invasion, and annexation.

The document is to be debated by the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee in the coming weeks and could potentially be endorsed by the full chamber in May.

Quotable notes

“The coronavirus pandemic in Ukraine has sped up the revanche in Ukraine, its readiness to demonstrate its strength and readiness to carry out reprisals with everyone who defended the country from the criminal regime of [Viktor] Yanuko­vych and Russian aggression.

“People warned about this revanche in 2019, when Volodymyr Zelenskyy won the presidential election and his party, Servant of the People, won the parliamentary election. Participants in the Maidan who supported the new president, worked for his election, became national deputies, ministers and bureaucrats, didn’t want to believe in this revanche.

For two days, Kyiv tops list of cities with worst air pollution

KYIV – Ukraine’s capital topped the live Air Quality and Pollution City Ranking on April 16 and 17, as the city with the dirtiest air in the world. Its Air Quality Index (AQI) was the highest for those two days at 380. Two Chinese cities followed Kyiv – Shenyang with 180 and Chengdu with 171.

The Kyiv City State Administration explained the phenomenon by citing wildfires in the Zhytomyr region and forest fires in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone, as well as northwest wind gusts. “The radiation background is within the norm,” local authorities assured the public. However, they called on residents of Kyiv to limit time spent outdoors, keep windows closed (especially at night and early in the morning), use air conditioning equipment and air purifiers, and drink up to three liters of water a day. Earlier, the city and surrounding areas suffered a dust and sand storm.