May 29, 2020



Two soldiers killed, 18 wounded

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense reported that during the week of May 15-21, two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 18 Ukrainian soldiers were wounded in action. In the last week, Russian-terrorist forces opened fire on Ukrainian positions in the Luhansk and Donetsk sectors of the front 69 times in total, including at least 23 times with heavy weapons – mortars and artillery. Returning fire, Ukrainian forces killed three and wounded 11 enemy combatants in the last week. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)


U.S. grand jury investigating Kolomoisky

BuzzFeed News reported on May 1: “One of Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarchs, whose name emerged in the center of the Trump impeachment saga, is under investigation by a U.S. federal grand jury for allegedly laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. real estate.” BuzzFeed said billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky “is accused by Ukraine regulators of orchestrating a scheme to siphon money from the country’s largest bank and funnel it into prime properties, including landmark office towers and steel facilities across the U.S.” The grand jury is examining the finances of Mr. Kolomoisky in a probe that has tracked the money from the Ukrainian bank through a maze of offshore companies to the United States, according to two sources familiar with the inquiry. “The grand jury investigation in Cleveland represents a rare effort by the U.S. justice system to target an influential oligarch and trace the millions that he and his associates allegedly sent through U.S. correspondent banks,” the media outlet reported. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing, citing BuzzFeed)


Pentagon on additional military aid to Ukraine

CNN reported on May 27: “The Pentagon has notified Congress that Ukraine’s government has made the necessary progress on key institutional reforms, thereby justifying an additional $125 million in new military assistance, including patrol boats armed with remote-controlled 30mm autocannons, according to a U.S. defense official and a congressional aide.” The package is the second half of the $250 million in Ukraine Security Assistance that was appropriated by Congress in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment to CNN on the assistance, citing a department policy of not commenting on arms packages that are under congressional review. CNN reported that the new assistance package includes “mobile radar systems designed to detect and track incoming artillery and rocket fire, dozens of ambulances, secure communications equipment, including 100 ‘tactical tablets’ and the two patrol boats, the latter of which is seen as particularly important given Ukraine’s tensions with Russia in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing, citing CNN)


IMF, Ukraine pencil $5 billion deal

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Ukrainian officials reached a staff-level agreement on a new $5 billion stand-by arrangement to help Kyiv cope with economic shock caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The agreement is subject to approval by the IMF’s management and executive board, which will look at the deal “in the coming weeks,” the IMF said in a statement. The agreement aims to provide balance of payments and budget support over a period of 18 months. IMF Ukraine mission chief Ivanna Vladkova Hollar says it will ensure that Ukraine is “well poised to return to growth and resume broader reform efforts when the crisis ends.” The arrangement also is expected to “catalyze additional bilateral and multilateral financial support,” she added in the statement. The fund’s governing executive board generally follows the recommendations of the technical teams. Ukrainian lawmakers recently approved banking legislation paving the way for billions in assistance to flow from the IMF. Ukraine has been in talks with the IMF for months about a loan tied to reforms to help the country meet a spike in debt repayments this year. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on May 20 that he was certain a memorandum with the IMF would be signed by the end of May to bolster the country’s finances. “We have large debts to international entities. We are a serious nation, but we are a poor country. We are paying off billions of U.S. dollars annually to international organizations,” Mr. Zelenskyy told a press conference to mark his first anniversary in power. “We will sign this memorandum, I am sure that we will sign it in May. It cannot be delayed,” he added. (RFE/RL)


Student guilty of torching reporter’s car

A Ukrainian court has found a university student guilty of torching an RFE/RL reporter’s car, a decision that the media organization’s president said brings prosecutors closer to apprehending the organizers of the premeditated crime. A court in Lviv on May 25 handed down a suspended five-year sentence with a three-year probation period to Yakob Sarakhman for setting Halyna Tereshchuk’s car ablaze on the night of January 30. The 19-year-old university student admitted his guilt to the court and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, Ms. Tereshchuk’s lawyer, Oleh Mytsyk, said. Police have not provided a motive for the crime, but many reporters in Ukraine have been attacked, and even killed, over the years due to their investigative work. Ukraine ranked 96th out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index. “The conviction is an important first step in holding accountable the perpetrators of this hateful crime. The arson attack not only targeted an RFE/RL colleague, and terrorized her family, but it was a worrisome attempt to intimidate independent journalism in Ukraine,” RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in a statement. “I call on the Ukrainian authorities to identify and prosecute those who ordered the attack in addition to the individual who carried it out.” Police have named two other suspects in the arson attack: Mykhaylo Cherdak, a local police official, and Vadym Dmytrenko, an unemployed individual with a criminal record. Mr. Cherdak is in hiding and his whereabouts are unknown, while Mr. Dmytrenko is under house arrest. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Poroshenko a witness in transfer of paintings

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has failed to appear at the State Bureau of Investigations (DBR) for questioning as a witness in a case about the alleged illegal transfer of cultural objects across the border. Mr. Poroshenko’s lawyer, Ihor Holovan, said on Facebook that his client did not appear at the DBR headquarters in Kyiv on May 26 because the summons for questioning was “illegal” since his client should have been served the subpoena personally, which was not the case. Mr. Holovan called his client “the main political rival” of incumbent President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and claimed that the case in question, as well as other cases against Mr. Poroshenko, were politically motivated. The DBR said earlier that it had summoned Mr. Poroshenko for questioning in a case about “the circumstances of moving across the Ukrainian border, without presenting to customs services, a collection of cultural objects, consisting of 43 paintings by world-famous artists.” The former president, who is currently a national deputy in the Verkhovna Rada, has been questioned as a witness several times in recent months in cases looking into several investigations launched after he failed to win a second term as president. The DBR said in January that it was looking into 13 possible cases where Mr. Poroshenko or his associates were implicated. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Small businesses lost significant income

The European Business Association reported, “One-third of small businesses lost more than 50 percent of their income. These are the results of a survey conducted by the European Business Association among the participants of the Unlimit Ukraine project, which unites micro and small businesses. Thirty-three percent of these businesses reported income losses of 50-75 percent. Businesses also reported a significant increase in receivables. Another 44 percent suffered up to 50 percent of revenue losses, and 7 percent of businesses are considering closing. At the same time only 14 percent did not have any changes in work or even increased their income. It will take one year for 38 percent of entrepreneurs, two or more years for 25 percent, and about six months for 19 percent to reach the pre-lockdown level of development. Only 3 percent reported that the level of development of their business has not changed. The following measures of state support can help companies recover: reducing the tax burden on the wage fund, providing cheaper loans and abolishing penalties for tax violations by the end of the year. Forty-eight percent of companies managed to keep staff salaries unchanged, while 29 percent were forced to reduce wages, and another 19 percent sent employees on unpaid leave. Fifty-nine percent of enterprises were able to keep the company’s staff unchanged. Another 33 percent of companies had to cut staff, but 6 percent are even looking for new employees. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)


Lawmaker found dead in his office

Valeriy Davydenko, 47, was found dead by a cleaner in the restroom of his office in central Kyiv on May 23. Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Anton Herashchenko said on Facebook that a comprehensive investigation would be carried out. “The police and prosecutors will check all possible versions of the tragedy,” he wrote. Zoryan Shkiryak, an Internal Affairs Ministry official, said a preliminary investigation suggests he may have committed suicide. Mr. Davydenko ran as an independent from the northern Chernihiv Oblast in the 2019 parliamentary elections. He later joined the Dovira parliamentary group. From May 2013 to March 2014, he was deputy minister of agriculture. (RFE/RL, with reporting by AP, Reuters and 112 UA)


Russian court rejects Crimean blogger’s appeal

A Russian military court has rejected an appeal by Crimean Tatar blogger Nariman Memedeminov to overturn his conviction on charges of inciting extremism, leaving him to serve the rest of his sentence in prison. The May 14 decision comes as Russia is accused of stepping up pressure on bloggers and independent media critical of the Kremlin’s policies. Rights groups and Western governments have also denounced what they call a campaign of oppression targeting members of the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar minority and others who opposed Moscow’s seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014. The majority of Crimean Tatars were against the Russian takeover of their historical homeland. Mr. Memedeminov was arrested in Crimea in late March 2018 on charges his YouTube videos dating from 2013 to 2015 incited followers to commit acts of terrorism. In his video blogs, Mr. Memedeminov discussed political developments, voiced opinions on Russian holidays, and called on Muslims to observe their religious norms. Most Crimean Tatars are Muslim. In a ruling denounced by human rights and media-freedom watchdogs, a military court in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don in October 2019 sentenced him to two and a half years in prison. During the May 14 hearing at the Moscow region’s military court of appeals, Mr. Memedeminov called on bloggers and journalists to continue to report on human rights abuses in Crimea. “I ask that you continue to pay attention to the persecution on religious, national and professional grounds on the territory of Crimea. I hope soon to meet with you directly and not through the bars,” he said. Ahead of the court ruling, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called on the court to overturn Mr. Memedeminov’s conviction, saying: “Forcefully transporting a Ukrainian citizen and independent journalist from Crimea to Russia and trying him in a military court on absurd charges is a violation of international legal norms, and the Russian authorities know it.” (Crimea Desk, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Far-right activists detained for hooliganism

Seventeen members of a far-right group have been detained for attacking the headquarters of Ukraine’s largest pro-Russia political party in Kyiv. Police said on May 23 that members of the far-right National Corps were arrested for hooliganism after they clashed with security guards and threw smoke bombs, fireworks and paint cans at the headquarters of the Opposition Platform – For Life. The party is led by Viktor Medvedchuk, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is godfather to one of the Ukrainian politician’s daughters. The National Corps is the political wing of the far-right Azov movement that emerged during fighting with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The National Corps has demanded that authorities file charges of treason against Opposition Platform – For Life and its leaders. On March 10, a delegation of Ukrainian lawmakers from the Opposition Platform – For Life met with deputies from the Russian State Duma in Moscow. The party said the two sides were discussing the creation of an interparliamentary element of the Normandy format, a diplomatic process involving Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine. Mr. Medvedchuk reportedly discussed the initiative with Mr. Putin. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Sailors freed after kidnapping in Africa

Eight foreign crew members kidnapped from a container ship off Benin’s coast last month have been freed, the Nigerian Navy says. The eight include nationals from Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and the Philippines. They were freed in a rescue operation on May 23, Nigerian Navy Admiral Oladele Daji told AFP, adding that it was “premature to give any details on their captivity and release.” He also reported: “They are on medical observation and one of them is receiving medical treatment for malnutrition.” The owner of the ship, Hamburg-based shipping firm Transeste, confirmed that the detained crew members had been released and would be repatriated back to their families. Transeste has said the vessel, the Tommi Ritscher, had been boarded by pirates on April 19 while at anchor off the coast of Benin. Eleven crew members were able to hide in the ship’s citadel and were later freed in a joint Benin Navy and Nigerian Special Forces operation. However, 11 crew members remained missing, including three Russians, one Ukrainian and the Bulgarian captain. The West African country lies in the Gulf of Guinea, which has been the scene of pirate attacks, lootings and kidnappings for ransom. Many of the pirates come from Nigeria. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AFP)


SBU chief runs company in Spain, illegally

The head of the Security Service of Ukraine holds a top position in a private company registered in Spain, in violation of an anti-corruption law, according to a Skhemy investigative program. According to the May 21 report, an official extract from the register of legal entities in Spain shows Ivan Bakanov has occupied the post of sole administrator at Nueva Tierra Verde Sociedad Limitada since 2015. According to Ukrainian law, the head of the Security Service, known as the SBU, cannot be the head of a private company. The founder of the company is the Cypriot firm Davegra LTD, owned by Andriy Yakovlev, the creator of Kvartal-95 Studio, where President Volodymyr Zelenskyy worked as a comedian/actor before he was elected last year. The name of the company, based in the Spanish province of Girona, translates as New Green Territory in English, echoing the titles of projects with Mr. Zelenskyy’s involvement. The president’s last name stems from the word green in Slavic languages. According to the register, the company specializes in construction and various real-estate activities. Since it does not submit annual reports on its operations, the company was added to a list of violators of Spanish tax regulations. Last autumn, the company’s tax identification number was temporarily revoked due to the violation. The State Register of Legal Entities of the Province of Girona confirmed to Skhemy that the company had not been liquidated and was considered a functioning entity. Under Spanish regulations, Mr. Bakanov is legally the company’s sole manager and fully in charge of running it. Article 25 of Ukraine’s Law on the Prevention of Corruption states that individuals occupying public offices are banned “from being members of boards, other executive or control bodies, and supervisory boards of commercial enterprises or profit organizations.” Mr. Bakanov refused to comment on the situation, but the SBU press service provided Skhemy with a statement denying Mr. Bakanov did anything wrong. Skhemy, which translates as Schemes, is a joint investigative news project produced by RFE/RL and UA:Pershy television. “It is a well-known fact that, long before his appointment as the chief of the Security Service of Ukraine, Ivan Bakanov was successfully engaged in business, including business activities abroad. We stress that, in compliance with the law requirements, he has not been engaged in commercial activities since his appointment to the public office. Nueva Tierra Verde Sociedad Limitada officially suspended its activities in 2019, which is reflected in the relevant register of legal entities,” the SBU’s statement said. When asked about the Spanish State Register’s statement confirming the company was still listed as functioning with Mr. Bakanov as its sole administrator, the press service said that “work to clarify the issue will be done.” The deadline for submitting property and income declarations by Ukrainian officials to the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption is June 1. According to amendments to the legislation introduced last fall, the SBU leadership must make all income declarations public. However, President Zelenskyy submitted an “urgent” bill to the Verkhovna Rada in March that would again classify the SBU leadership’s income and property declarations. Mr. Zelenskyy promised to discuss the issue with Mr. Bakanov, whom he calls “the most honest SBU chief,” when asked about the move during a press conference on May 20. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)