October 2, 2020



Military plane crash in Ukraine kills 26

Twenty six people including air force cadets were killed when a military transport plane crashed in eastern Ukraine on the evening of September 25, the military said. The Antonov An-26 aircraft carrying 27 crew and cadets crashed during landing in the northeastern Kharkiv region, the Ukrainian Air Force said. Officials later said a pilot of the plane reported an engine problem just before landing. Two men managed to survive the crash, and were hospitalized. Officials later said one had died. The military said most of the dead were cadets at the Kharkiv National Air Force University. Video posted by Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Anton Gerashchenko on Facebook showed the plane in flames lying near a road. An investigation has started into what caused the crash. “A state commission is set up to find out all the circumstances and causes of this catastrophe,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a statement. (RFE/RL, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Zelenskyy declares day of mourning

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared September 26 to be a day of mourning for the crash victims and ordered that flights of all Antonov-26 planes be halted pending investigation into the cause of the crash that occurred on the evening of September 25 in the Kharkiv region. Mr. Zelenskyy visited the crash area on September 26 and called for a full assessment of the condition of the country’s military equipment. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal called for an official report on the crash by October 25. “Yesterday we lost young cadets and experienced military men, who had their whole lives and, I am sure, more than one military feat ahead of them,” Mr. Zelenskyy said in a statement released by his office. “The whole country will mourn today with their families.” The An-26 is a transport plane used by both military and civilian operators. Nearly 1,400 of the planes were manufactured from 1969 to 1986, according to the company’s website. Defense Minister Andriy Taran said the plane that crashed was built in 1977. (RFE/RL, with reporting by AP, Interfax and TASS)


More than 4,000 COVID cases in one day

Ukraine has registered more than 4,000 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours – the highest number registered in a day since the pandemic broke out in mid-March. Health Minister Maksym Stepanov told reporters in Kyiv on September 30 that of the 4,027 individuals who tested positive for the coronavirus, 276 are children and 171 are medical personnel. According to Mr. Stepanov, 733 individuals were hospitalized. As of September 30, the total number of coronavirus cases registered in Ukraine is 202,959, including 4,129 deaths. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Zelenskyy fires Fokin from TCG delegation

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelen­skyy has dismissed Vitold Fokin from his post as deputy head of Ukraine’s delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG), which encompasses Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Office of the President reported on September 30. A day earlier, speaking at a committee hearing in the Verkhovna Rada, Mr. Fokin claimed, “I have not yet seen any confirmation, that there is a war there between Ukraine and Russia.” Following Mr. Fokin’s statements, the parliamentary committee at which he spoke adopted a motion asking President Zelenskyy to dismiss Mr. Fokin from the TCG. President Zelenskyy had appointed the 87-year-old Mr. Fokin, a former prime minister of Ukraine (1991-1992) to the Trilateral Contact Group on August 18. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)


Canada, U.K. announce Belarus sanctions

Canada and the United Kingdom have announced sanctions on several senior officials in Belarus, including its authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, as international pressure continues to build over a disputed presidential election last month and subsequent police crackdown on opposition members, media and protesters. The two Commonwealth nations on September 29 announced joint sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freeze “to send a clear message” to Mr. Lukashenka’s “violent and fraudulent regime.” U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, “We will hold those responsible for the thuggery deployed against the Belarusian people to account and we will stand up for our values of democracy and human rights.” Canada’s Department of Global Affairs added in a statement: “Since the fraudulent presidential elections in August 2020, the government of Belarus has conducted a systematic campaign of repression and state-sponsored violence against public protests and the activities of opposition groups.” Those sanctioned are Mr. Lukashenka, his son Viktar, Presidential Chief of Staff Ihar Syarheyenka, Internal Affairs Minister Yury Karayeu, Deputy Internal Affairs Ministers Alyaksandr Barsukou and Yury Nazaranka, Deputy Internal Troop Commander Khazalbek Atabekau and Minsk Riot Police Chief Dzmitry Balaba. The sanctions announcement came hours after French President Emmanuel Macron promised Europe’s help in mediating the political crisis in Belarus after meeting with opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Lithuania. The Internal Affairs Ministry of Belarus said more than 350 people were detained during nationwide protests on September 27, bringing the total number of detentions over the weekend to about 500. (RFE/RL’s Belarus Service)


Macron meets with Belarus opposition leader

French President Emmanuel Macron met with opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Lithuania on September 30 and called for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to handle mediation on Belarus, which has seen weeks of mass demonstrations triggered by a disputed August 9 presidential election. Ms. Tsikhanouskaya said the French president “promised us to do everything to help with negotiations [during] this political crisis in our country… and he will do everything to help to release all the political prisoners.” The opposition leader told AFP that she had accepted an invitation to speak at the French Parliament, where officials said she would address the lower house’s Foreign Affairs Committee. No further details were provided. Meanwhile, her press secretary, Anna Krasulina, told Reuters the opposition leader planned to visit Berlin on October 5-6 and that a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel was being considered during the trip. (RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, with reporting by AFP, Reuters, DPA and TASS)


Tsikhanouskaya naming Shadow Cabinet

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Belaru­sian opposition candidate who supporters say won a presidential election that was instead stolen by long-ruling strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has begun creating a Shadow Cabinet as she takes refuge in neighboring Lithuania. Ms. Tsikhanou­s­kaya’s aides said on an opposition Telegram channel on September 30 that well-known human rights lawyer Hary Pahanyayla, who has defended many prominent right activists and journalists in Belarus, is Ms. Tsikhanouskaya’s representative on human rights issues, while economic expert Ales Alyakhnovich was appointed as her representative on economic reforms. The statement also quotes Ms. Tsikhanouskaya as saying that “Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime is not just illegitimate, but also is not capable of carrying out its duties.” A day after she held talks with visiting French President Emmanuel Macron in Vilnius, Ms. Tsikha­nouskaya said: “We cannot remain inactive anymore and watch how the country is further drowning in a crisis. That is why, in order to secure a new election, I continue my activities to unite all democratic forces of Belarusian society.” Ms. Tsikhanouskaya fled to Lithuania amid a crackdown on protesters and media by Mr. Lukashenka, who has refused to admit defeat in the August 9 presidential vote. Mr. Lukashenka had himself secretly sworn in on September 23, sparking further outrage at home and abroad. Western governments have refused to recognize Mr. Lukashenka, who has refused to negotiate with the opposition, as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have called on him to peacefully transfer power. Protesters have demanded Mr. Lukashen­ka’s resignation since electoral officials announced him the winner with just over 80 percent of the vote. Opposition leaders, including Ms. Tsikhanouskaya, have formed a Coordination Council to facilitate the transfer of power. Ms. Tsikha­nouskaya ran for president in place of her husband, who had been arrested prior to the election. She said she would hold a new presidential election upon taking power. (RFE/RL)


Athlete who joined Belarus protests is jailed

Basketball player Alena Leuchanka, one of Belarus’s best-known athletes, has been sentenced to 15 days in jail for taking part in ongoing protests against authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Judge Maryna Zapasnik of the Lenin district court in Minsk sentenced Ms. Leuchanka on September 30 after finding her guilty of violating regulations on public gatherings. Earlier in the day, Ms. Leuchanka, a member of the Free Association of Athletes (SOS BY) movement, was detained at the Minsk airport as she attempted to leave the country for medical treatment. Ms. Leuchanka is one of the best-known Belarusian athletes, having played basketball for the national team, as well as in Russia’s Superleague and the WNBA in the United States. In August, nearly 350 Belarusian athletes and other members of the sports community threw down the gauntlet to Mr. Lukashenka by signing an open letter calling for the August 9 presidential election to be annulled and for all “political prisoners” and those detained during mass demonstrations that followed to be released. The demonstrators say the vote was rigged in Mr. Lukashenka’s favor and are demanding that he step down and hold new elections. (RFE/RL’s Belarus Service)


Independent news portal is banned

The independent Belarusian news site Tut.by said authorities have banned it for three months, the latest clampdown by officials on non-state media coverings the country’s ongoing political turmoil. Tut.by said in an article posted September 29 on its website that, as of October 1, the site would be stripped of its status as a registered media outlet for at least three months. There was no immediate confirmation of the ban from Belarusian authorities. Tut.by, which said it had received four separate warnings, said it would continue to publish and report despite the order. The move could pose a risk for Tut.by’s reporters and photographers, who potentially could face fines or detention. Belarus has been gripped by political crisis since August 9, when officials declared Alyaksandr Lukashenka the winner of the presidential election. Opposition figures called the vote flawed and there have been near daily protests by masses of Belarusians calling for a new vote. Russia has strongly endorsed Mr. Lukashenka. Amid the street protests and political turmoil, Belarusian authorities have moved to strip accreditations for reporters and photographers for major international news outlets, and have detained some reporters, including those from RFE/RL, for working without accreditation. (RFE/RL)


MP quits Servant of the People party

Ukrainian Member of Parliament Mykola Halushko (District No. 97, Kyiv Oblast) announced he is leaving the Servant of the People party, alleging that “in the local elections all the spaces in the candidates’ lists of political party Servant of the People were sold, and the call to take part in the election to fight with corrupt people and old local elites are, unfortunately, only words.” He added, “It’s enough to look at the list of Servant of the People in my district, and everything will be understood by everyone. Neither I nor my team will continue to participate in this kind of political party.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)


Pro-Kremlin writers irked by Crimea book

When Bulgarian writer Svetoslav Nahum’s book “Escape From Crimea” was published in Sofia last year, he expected support from the Union of Bulgarian Writers (SBP). Mr. Nahum’s book depicts the tribulations faced by Ukrainians who fled their homes in Crimea after the territory was occupied by Russian military forces in 2014 and illegally annexed by the Kremlin. Instead of support, the 49-year-old Mr. Nahum says, the pro-Kremlin leadership of the SBP tried to undermine the promotion of the book and launched a media campaign in Bulgaria to discredit his work. He resigned from the SBP in protest. Mr. Nahum then sought support from the Bulgarian PEN Center – the Sofia-based chapter of PEN International, a global nongovernmental organization that champions human rights and freedom of expression. As a member of the Bulgarian PEN Center’s managing board, Mr. Nahum in February had proposed a declaration condemning Russia’s seizure and annexation of Crimea. The declaration denounced “the information war that Moscow is waging against Bulgaria’s national sovereignty” as part of a “hybrid war” that promotes the Kremlin’s geopolitical agenda. It also called for the immediate release of Ukrainian writers, journalists and filmmakers who’d been imprisoned in Russia and in Russia-occupied Crimea after they’d opposed the annexation of Crimea. But the Bulgarian PEN Center’s management board rejected Mr. Nahum’s declaration by a 25-4 vote. Some members accused Mr. Nahum of accepting payments from the Ukrainian Embassy in Sofia to write what they called “anti-Russian propaganda” – a charge he dismisses as “ridiculous.” This month, Mr. Nahum’s book came out in Ukrainian. It is being praised in Kyiv as a bold attempt to counter Kremlin propaganda by telling the truth about events in Russia-occupied Crimea. “We were interested in the fact that, for the first time, a Bulgarian writer has dared to talk about the situation in Ukraine as it really is, and not as our [Russian] neighbors claim that it is,” says the Ukrainian translation’s publisher, Mykola Martinyuk, head of the Tverdynia Publishing House. There were 1,500 copies of the first edition in Ukrainian – a print run that is nearly sold out after less than a month. A second edition of 2,000 has already been printed. “I hope this book will also draw attention in the West to the suffering that so many Ukrainians have been through because of the Russian occupation and because of Russia’s military aggression in eastern Ukraine,” the author says. In a letter to the Bulgarian PEN Center, PEN Ukraine’s executive board accuses the Union of Bulgarian Writers of “demonstrat[ing] a downright negative attitude to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and European choice of Ukraine.” PEN Ukraine’s letter also states: “We are very concerned that the leaders of major writers’ organizations of Bulgaria have openly taken the side of the aggressor state by condemning Bulgarian colleagues who express their humanitarian position, and who advocate against violence and propaganda from the Russian Federation.” Meanwhile, Mr. Nahum says he’s been “targeted by a campaign aimed at discrediting me” and “also been threatened – indirectly – with so-called ‘friendly advice.’ ”An SBP member warned him: “You might eat Novichok just like Sergei Skripal.” (Ron Synovitz of RFE/RL)