April 24, 2020



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.” Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov also criticized the SBI for the investigation and called on the SBI’s chief, Oleksandr Babikov, to resign. Mr. Avakov publicly recalled that Mr. Babikov used to be a lawyer of Russia-friendly former President Viktor Yanukovych, who led the Party of Regions before winning the presidential election in February 2010. Mr. Yanukovych was toppled by the Euro-Maidan protests in February 2014 and has been residing in Russia ever since. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Ukraine extends lockdown until May 11

The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine has approved a draft resolution extending the coronavirus lockdown through May 11, but with a slight relaxation of the regime. The decision was made at a government meeting on April 22. “We will make a decision to extend the lockdown until May 11 since, according to the calculations of the [National] Academy of Sciences, we expect a peak between May 3 and May 8. We have a very clear plan of emergence [from the lockdown],” Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said. He said the plan consists of five stages, and the starting point is the day when the lockdown is lifted. “According to optimistic forecasts, this day should come on May 11. Therefore, today we will extend the lockdown up to this date as a condition for the coming of this first day, which will symbolize the beginning of emergence from the lockdown,” Mr. Shmyhal explained. He noted that the beginning of emergence from the lockdown would be possible only if, within 10 days, the percentage of new coronavirus cases in the country does not change and will fluctuate within 5-7 percent. Ukraine had a total of 6,592 coronavirus cases as of April 22, according to the Public Health Center of the Health Ministry of Ukraine. (Ukrinform)


Occupied areas of east not part of tally

Around 4 million people in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions are not part of the tally of coronavirus cases, though the region is under threat. Neither the Donetsk nor Luhansk “people’s republic” is recognized by the international community, contributing to the area’s current status as a coronavirus black hole. The number of coronavirus infections is rising rapidly, there is no personal protective equipment to be bought anywhere, and there is a shortage of capable doctors, according to a local nurse who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity. There are also a very limited number of tests for the coronavirus, and no ventilators for patients who need assistance with their breathing due to COVID-19, the nurse said. Many residents are not taking the pandemic seriously, and because local authorities have allowed many businesses to remain open, the streets are still bustling with people – a strange sight at a time when much of the world is practicing social distancing. And despite the coronavirus pandemic, fighting rages on. The coronavirus was officially slow to arrive in the separatist-held areas. The forces in control claimed zero cases in March, although Ukrainian officials in Kyiv suggested an uptick in pneumonia cases there likely meant coronavirus cases were going undiagnosed in these territories, and confirmed the first ones only in early April. As of April 17, the Russia-backed militants in Donetsk had reported 32 cases of the coronavirus, and their counterparts in Luhansk had confirmed 21 infections. Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on April 15 called on Russia “as an occupying country to ensure the protection of life and health of the population of the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Among the international groups sounding the alarm is the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which wrote in its Humanitarian Response Plan for the coronavirus pandemic in March that the risk of rapid local transmission in Donetsk and Luhansk is high and the regions “may face a COVID-19 outbreak of considerable scale.” (Christo­pher Miller of RFE/RL)


EU Commission loan to help Ukraine

The European Commission said it has adopted a proposal for a 3 billion euro macro-financial assistance (MFA) package to 10 enlargement and neighborhood partners to help them to limit the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. The proposal, following a preliminary assessment of financing needs, provides for the MFA funds to be distributed as follows: the Republic of Albania (180 million), Bosnia and Herzegovina (250 million euros), Georgia (150 million euros), the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (200 million euros), Kosovo (100 million euros), the Republic of Moldova (100 million euros), Montenegro (60 million euros), the Republic of North Macedonia (160 million euros), the Republic of Tunisia (600 million euros) and Ukraine (1.2 billion euros). The MFA funds will be made available for 12 months in the form of loans on highly favorable terms to help these countries cover their immediate, urgent financing needs. Together with the International Monetary Fund’s support, the funds can contribute to enhancing macroeconomic stability and creating space to allow resources to be allocated towards protecting citizens and mitigating the coronavirus pandemic’s negative socio-economic consequences, the European Commission noted. The commission stands ready to disburse the first installment as swiftly as possible after the adoption of the MFA decision and upon the agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding with each partner country. The second installment could be disbursed in the fourth quarter of 2020 or in the first half of 2021, provided that the policy measures attached to it have been implemented in a timely manner. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)


Ukraine talks to be held next week

German Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas said April 22 he would hold talks next week with his Russian, Ukrainian and French counterparts to revive efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The leaders of the four countries met at a summit in Paris in December to revive a peace process and for Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country to exchange prisoners. But lingering issues over a timeline for local elections and control over borders in the separatist-controlled regions remain. Mr. Maas said he had held talks with his counterparts in recent days. “We have come to the conclusion, and no one has disputed this, that key parts of the agreements from the summit in Paris have not yet been implemented,” Mr. Maas said. “That’s why it is important to give a new impetus to the decisions and the implementation of the decisions,” he said. The so-called Normandy format meeting will be held via video link. Separately on April 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by phone about the conflict in Ukraine and welcomed the latest prisoner exchange, the Kremlin said in a statement. Germany and France have mediated between Ukraine and Russia since a peace agreement was signed in Minsk in 2015, but efforts at implementation have faltered. (RFE/RL, with reporting by AFP, DPA, AP and TASS)


Saakashvili offered post of deputy PM

Ukraine’s government has offered former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili the post of deputy prime minister to supervise reforms. Mr. Saakashvili, an ex-governor of Ukraine’s Odesa Oblast, wrote on Facebook on April 22 that he plans to submit to the Ukrainian Parliament his proposals “for the urgent changes” needed in “this very difficult period” faced by Ukraine. “It is a great honor for me to receive a proposal from President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy to become a deputy prime minister. …I also had a very meaningful and useful conversation with Prime Minister [Denys] Shmyhal, during which we discussed in detail all the issues related to my possible work in the government,” Mr. Saakashvili wrote. President Zelenskyy’s office confirmed the meeting in a statement, saying the two politicians discussed the country’s development and how to assist it. “Mikheil Saakashvili is well-known in the international arena and has already demonstrated the experience of successful implementation of reforms. President Zelenskyy believes that Mr. Saakashvili has the potential to support the government of Ukraine and invited him to share his views and developments with the government and Parliament of Ukraine,” the statement said. (RFE/RL)


More soldiers killed in action

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense reported that during the week of April 10-16, one Ukrainian soldier was killed and eight Ukrainian soldiers were wounded in action. Leonid Skakunenko, 32, was killed in action on April 12 near Krymske, Luhansk Oblast. In the last week, Russian-terrorist forces opened fire on Ukrainian positions on the Luhansk and Donetsk sectors of the front 46 times in total, including at least 15 times with heavy weapons. On April 21, the Ministry of Defense reported that in the previous 24 hours, one Ukrainian soldier was killed and four Ukrainian soldiers were wounded in action. Lt. Andriy Shynkaruk, 28, was killed in action on April 20, 2020. In that same 24-hour period, Russian-terrorist forces opened fire on Ukrainian positions on the Luhansk and Donetsk sectors of the front 13 times in total. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)


SBU officer accused of assassination plot

A top security official in Ukraine who was arrested for alleged collaboration with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) is suspected in plotting the assassination of Ukrainian Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov. Mr. Avakov’s deputy, Anton Herashchenko, said in a televised interview late on April 16 that Maj. Gen. Valeriy Shaytanov of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) is suspected in planning to murder Mr. Avakov and Adam Osmayev, the leader of Chechen volunteers who fought alongside Ukrainian soldiers against Russia-backed militants in Ukraine’s east. Earlier in the day, the SBU said it detained an unidentified former officer also suspected of collaborating with the FSB along with Mr. Shaytanov. Mr. Shaytanov was detained on April 14 on suspicion of high treason and terrorism. A day later, the FSB announced that it detained a Russian servicewoman and a Ukrainian national in the annexed Crimea region for alleged espionage for Ukraine. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Ukrayina 24, Ukrayinska Pravda and UNIAN)


U.S. nominates ambassador to Belarus

The United States has named its first ambassador to Belarus in more than a decade in the latest sign of warming relations between the two countries. President Donald Trump announced on April 20 that he intended to nominate career diplomat Julie Fisher, a top State Department official for Europe, to the Embassy in Minsk. Ms. Fisher previously held assignments at NATO and served in Russia, Georgia and Ukraine. The Senate must first approve her appointment, but it’s unclear when hearings will be held as lawmakers are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and will later hit the election trail. The United States recalled its ambassador to Minsk in 2008 when authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka ordered a reduction of U.S. diplomatic staff in the country. The deterioration in relations came after Washington imposed sanctions in response to human rights abuses and a political crackdown around the 2006 Belarusian presidential election. Since then, both countries’ embassies have been represented at the chargés d’affaires level. In the first visit to Belarus by a top U.S. diplomat since 1994, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in February met with President Lukashenka in Minsk and said the United States seeks closer ties with the country. Mr. Pompeo also said that the United States “wants to help Belarus build its own sovereign country.” The United States and Belarus first announced plans to exchange ambassadors in September 2019 when top State Department official David Hale met with Mr. Lukashenka in Minsk. In another boost to its ties with Belarus, Washington on January 31 omitted it from a list of countries under a travel ban after earlier signaling its possible inclusion. (RFE/RL)


Group notes 100 days since PS752 downing

Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and the United Kingdom – members of the International Coordination and Response Group for the victims of Flight PS752 – issued a statement on April 16 marking 100 days since the downing of a Ukrainian airliner over Iran. “Today marks 100 days since the tragedy of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752: 176 people lost their lives unnecessarily when their plane was brought down by a surface-to-air missile in Tehran, Iran, on January 8,” the statement read. “Our thoughts continue to be with their families. The members of the coordination group would like to take this opportunity to reassure the families and loved ones of the victims that our group of ministers continue to work together to advocate for full accountability, transparency, justice, compensation, and a full, independent and transparent investigation, to help families seek closure as they continue to grieve.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)