July 8, 2021



Shevchenko coy on future
Ukraine national soccer team coach Andriy Shevchenko says it’s too early to say whether he will stay in his job after his team’s quarterfinal loss to England at the European Championship. Shevchenko said the team would return to Kyiv and assess its achievement of reaching the quarterfinals at the quadrennial tournament for the first time. “The federation will have to make a decision” after that, Shevchenko said on July 3 after England thrashed Ukraine 4-0 in Rome. “We had good parts of the game but set pieces did not work very well for us today,” said Shevchenko. “I am really happy with how the team performed. I want to thank the players for their attitude today.” Shevchenko became coach of the national team in 2016. The former striker was among the most prolific scorers in the Italian league with AC Milan and is the Ukrainian national team’s all-time leading scorer. The victory for England advanced the team to its first European Championship semifinal in 25 years – a showdown with Denmark at Wembley Stadium in London on July 7. In the other semifinal, Italy faced Spain on July 6 at Wembley. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AFP)

Defense Ministry criticized as sexist
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has been criticized after female soldiers marched in high heels during rehearsals for a parade next month to mark 30 years of independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union. The controversy erupted after the women rehearsed for the parade earlier this week in Kyiv dressed in combat fatigues and black pumps with medium-high block heels. The shoes caused a torrent of criticism on social media and in parliament on July 2 and led to accusations that women soldiers were being sexualized. The women, cadets at the Military Institute of the Taras Shevchenko National Univer­sity of Kyiv, are preparing to march in the parade on August 24. The Defense Ministry’s information website on July 1 posted photos of the cadets wearing the high heels while marching in formation. “Today, for the first time, training takes place in heeled shoes,” cadet Ivanna Medvid was quoted as saying by the Defense Ministry’s information website. “It is slightly harder than in army boots but we are trying,” Ms. Medvid added. Dozens of critical comments were posted on Facebook, including accusations of “sexism and misogyny” and contempt for women among the leaders of the Defense Ministry. Several Ukrainian female lawmakers showed up in parliament with pairs of high heels and encouraged the defense minister to wear them to the parade. “It is hard to imagine a more idiotic, harmful idea,” said Inna Sovsun, a member of the Holos party. She also said that Ukraine’s women soldiers – like men – were risking their lives and “do not deserve to be mocked.” Olena Kondratyuk, deputy speaker of the legislature, said authorities should publicly apologize for “humiliating” women and conduct an inquiry to discover who made the decision on the shoes. During an hour of questions for the government in parliament, she asked Defense Minister Andriy Taran if the choice of the shoes is how the ministry is bringing its ranks closer to NATO standards, according to RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service. Ms. Kondratyuk said that more than 13,500 women had fought in the current conflict in eastern Ukraine, where the country has been battling Russia-backed separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014. Overall, more than 31,000 women now serve in the Ukrainian armed forces, including more than 4,000 officers. The press service of the Ukrainian armed forces told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service that high-heel shoes were chosen for female servicemen in accordance with an order from the minister of defense. Mr. Taran announced on July 2 that the cadets would wear a different uniform in the parade, including a different type of shoe. Marina Bardina, a deputy with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party, said that the shoes at the parade “will be different.” She said the ministry had also agreed to work together to establish equality in the armed forces and support women in the service and that legislation had already been introduced to that end. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by AFP and the BBC)

Court rejects Pukach appeal
The Supreme Court of Ukraine has rejected the appeal of Oleksiy Pukach, a former top police officer who was convicted in the murder of investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The court handed down its ruling on July 2, saying the verdict and sentence for the former police general remain unchanged and that his request for a retrial was rejected. The Pechera District Court in Kyiv sentenced Mr. Pukach, the Internal Affairs Ministry’s former surveillance department chief, to life in prison in January 2013 after finding him guilty of personally strangling Gongadze to death. Mr. Gongadze, who exposed high-level corruption, was kidnapped in September 2000 and his decapitated body was found outside Kyiv several months later. Then-president Leonid Kuchma was accused of involvement in the murder based on audio recordings secretly made in his office in which he allegedly conspires against the journalist. Prosecutors charged Mr. Kuchma with involvement in the case in 2011. However, a court dropped the charges later that year saying the main evidence against Mr. Kuchma had been obtained by illegal means and therefore could not serve as the basis for a criminal complaint. Mr. Pukach was arrested in 2009. At his trial, he said Mr. Kuchma, his former chief of staff Volodymyr Lytvyn, and former Internal Affairs Minister Yuriy Kravchenko had ordered Mr. Gongadze’s killing. Mr. Kravchenko was found dead in his apartment near Kyiv in 2005. Official reports said Mr. Kravchenko committed suicide, but some Ukrainian media outlets claimed that he died of two gunshot wounds to his head. In 2008, three former police officers were found guilty of taking part in Mr. Gongadze’s killing and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Ukrainian politicians sport national colors
Ukrainian leaders – from the prime minister to the mayor of Kyiv – donned yellow-and-blue jerseys to celebrate the national football team’s win over Sweden in the European Championships, advancing Ukraine to the last eight for the first time. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal chaired a Cabinet meeting in a jersey that sported team captain Andriy Yarmolenko’s No. 7. Other ministers wore team shirts in the national colors. “I congratulate and thank the guys and coaches for this victory,” Mr. Shmyhal said. “Such things motivate, unite the country, which supports our team with all its heart.” Ukraine beat Sweden 2-1 at the end of extra time in Glasgow on June 29, matching the country’s biggest achievement at a major tournament. Ukraine last advanced to the quarterfinal stage at the 2006 World Cup. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko posted a picture of himself on Instagram in a blue national team jersey trimmed in yellow and holding two thumbs up. “Go Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!” he wrote in an accompanying caption. Ukraine’s jerseys for Euro 2020 sparked controversy earlier this month when Moscow objected over an outline on them that included Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014. Russia was also upset over the patriotic phrases “Glory to Ukraine!” and “Glory to the heroes!” that were written on the shirts. European football’s governing body UEFA initially approved the design but later ordered the removal of the “Glory to the heroes!” slogan, saying the combination of the two phrases was “clearly political in nature.” After the Kremlin took Crimea by force, Russia tried to legitimize its actions with a referendum widely derided as a sham. This vote was conducted in a heavily militarized environment and was illegal under the Ukrainian Constitution. The result has never been recognized by most of the international community. Ukraine’s quarterfinal match was against England on July 3 in Rome, which they lost 4-0. The team was considered an underdog against England, which advanced on June 29 by defeating Germany. (RFE/RL, with reporting AP and AFP)

Lawmakers approve bills on reforms
Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has approved several draft laws aimed at reforming the judiciary and curbing corruption as Kyiv seeks to secure more loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under a $5 billion financing program approved last year. The bills approved by Ukrainian lawmakers on June 29 include a draft law on reestablishing the High Judicial Council (VRP), a special commission on appointing judges and other related activities. According to the bill, international experts will comprise the majority of the VRP’s staff members, while a special service of disciplinary inspectors will control the VRP’s work. Another bill approved in its final reading by Ukrainian lawmakers on June 29 is a law to impose jail sentences on officials who make false income or asset declarations. That bill stipulates that those officials who do not submit asset declarations or fail to declare assets worth more than 4.2 million hryvnias ($150,000) could face up to one year in jail. The bills officially become laws once they are published. Last year, the IMF approved the $5 billion loan program and disbursed the first tranche of $2.1 billion to help the Ukrainian economy as it struggled with the coronavirus pandemic and systemic corruption woes. However, further loans have been put on hold due to the slow pace of reforms and anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by Reuters and UNIAN)

Multinational naval drills continue in Black Sea
Nearly two weeks of multinational naval exercises are happenning in the Black Sea amid warnings from Russia that it will respond to challenges in contested waters off Ukraine after an incident with a British warship last week. The annual Sea Breeze exercise runs from June 28 through July 10 with the participation of 32 countries. Most Black Sea nations, NATO allies, and partners are joining the exercise, providing 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft, and 18 special operations and dive teams. This year, Ukraine and the United States are co-hosting the exercise involving sea, land and air components. The drills across the Black Sea region come after Russia claimed on June 23 that it fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of the British destroyer HMS Defender to force it to change course from the area near the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Britain’s Defense Ministry denied that the HMS Defender had been fired upon, saying that Russia was carrying out a previously announced “gunnery exercise” in the area. Britain said it was practicing freedom of navigation in Ukrainian and international waters. In response to the incident, Moscow warned it was prepared to fire on warships entering territorial waters it claims around Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized in March 2014 in a move not recognized by most of the international community. The Russian Embassy in Washington has called on the United States and its allies to avoid military exercises in the Black Sea, saying such maneuvers “increase the risk of unintentional incidents” and embolden Ukraine. Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba said last week that the incident with the British destroyer showed that Russia’s “aggressive and provocative policies” in the Black Sea and nearby Azov Sea constituted a “continuous threat to Ukraine and its allies.” Mr. Kuleba called for more cooperation in the Black Sea between NATO and Ukraine, which aspires to join the alliance. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters)

Classified documents on U.K. destroyer found
Classified defense documents containing details about the U.K. military vessel HMS Defender and the British military have been found at a bus stop in the country, the BBC reported on June 27. The British government said the employee concerned with the loss of documents reported it last week, and an investigation has been launched. A member of the public, who wanted to remain anonymous, contacted the BBC after finding 50 pages of classified information in a soggy heap behind a bus stop in Kent on June 22. The papers included one set of documents which discussed the potential Russian reaction to HMS Defender’s transit through Ukrainian waters off the Crimea coast on June 23, according to the BBC, while another laid out plans for a possible British military presence in Afghanistan. The Defense Ministry said that HMS Defender “conducted innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law.” A spokesperson said: “As the public would expect, the Ministry of Defense plans carefully.” The spokesperson added: “The Ministry of Defense was informed last week of an incident in which sensitive defense papers were recovered by a member of the public. The department takes the security of information extremely seriously and an investigation has been launched.” Britain’s main opposition Labour Party said the discovery of the documents by a member of the public was “as embarrassing as it is worrying for ministers.” Labour’s defense policy chief John Healey said ministers needed to confirm that national security had not been undermined or security operations affected and that “procedures are in place to ensure nothing like this happens again.” The HMS Defender is part of the U.K. Carrier Strike Group currently heading to the Indo-Pacific region. Russia claimed that its vessels on June 23 fired warning shots and a military plane dropped bombs in the path of the British destroyer HMS Defender to force it to change course from the area near the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Britain’s Defense Ministry denied the HMS Defender had been fired upon, saying that Russia was carrying out a previously announced “gunnery exercise” in the area. Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries. Western countries have imposed sanctions on Russia over the annexation of Crimea, the treatment of jailed opposition activist Alexei Navalny, election interference and cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure blamed on Russian hackers. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab reiterated during a visit to Singapore that “no shots were fired” as the British ship was “conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters.” British Cabinet member George Eustice said on June 24 in a televised interview that his country’s warships could sail again through the disputed waters around Crimea because Russia’s seizure of Crimea was illegal. (RFE/RL, with reporting by the BBC, dpa, and Reuters)