July 30, 2021



First woman conductor at Bayreuth
Ukrainian-born maestra Oksana Lyniv became the first woman to conduct a production in the 145-year history of Germany’s renowned Bayreuth opera festival. Ms. Lyniv opened the festival on July 25 with the premiere of The Flying Dutchman, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband in the audience. When asked what she thought of the festival having its first female conductor, Ms. Merkel simply said, “Finally!” Bayreuth is one of the world’s best-known music festivals dedicated to the works of 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner. Born in Brody, in western Ukraine, to a family of musicians, Ms. Lyniv has spent a good part of the past two decades in the German-speaking world. The 44-year-old has been leading orchestras worldwide and since 2017 has been the principal conductor at the Graz Opera and of the Graz Philharmonic Orchestra in Austria. But she has also continued to be devoted to the development of classical music in Ukraine, establishing in 2016 the LvivMozArt International Classical Music Festival in Lviv and the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. The festival’s 2020 season was canceled due to the coronavirus. This year, the number of tickets on sale have been reduced and people attending must be fully vaccinated, test negative, or show they have recovered from COVID-19. (RFE/RL, with reporting by AFP and dpa)

Plane crash kills four
A small plane crashed in western Ukraine, killing the local pilot and three U.S. citizens on board. Police said an Aerospool WT10 Advantic aircraft crashed into a house in the village of Sheparovtsy, in the Ivano-Frankivsk region, in the early afternoon on July 29. The three passengers were Hasidic Jews from the United States, the United Jewish Community of Ukraine said. A woman and two children who were inside the house managed to escape unhurt from the crash, police said. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Biden urged to reschedule Zelenskyy trip
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has called on the administration of Joe Biden to reschedule a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in order to allow Congress an opportunity to meet the head of state, saying the White House appears to be “play[ing] politics.” The Biden administration said this week that Mr. Zelenskyy would make his long-awaited first official visit to Washington since taking office more than two years ago on August 30, when Congress is on summer recess. In a July 22 letter to Mr. Biden, the four co-chairs of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus said the White House “seems [to be] seeking to prevent the Congress from directly engaging President Zelenskyy” by scheduling the meeting during the recess. Ukraine has historically enjoyed strong, bipartisan support in Congress since winning its independence from Moscow nearly 30 years ago and some of its presidents have met with U.S. lawmakers during their visits. Mr. Zelenskyy’s Western-leaning predecessors – former Presidents Viktor Yushchenko and Petro Poroshenko – both addressed full sessions of Congress on their first official visits to Washington. The Biden administration made the announcement of the visit on July 21, the same day it said it had reached an agreement with Germany over the completion of a controversial Russian natural-gas pipeline designed to circumvent Ukraine. Congress has vehemently opposed Nord Stream 2, as the pipeline is known, saying it will deprive Ukraine of crucial transit revenue – estimated to be as much as $2 billion a year – and threaten its national security. It has twice passed sanctions legislation to stop the completion of the pipeline with overwhelming bipartisan support, delaying its launch by at least a year. However, in its July 21 deal with Germany, the Biden administration agreed not to impose new sanctions to try to stop the project’s completion in exchange for a series of steps by Berlin to help Ukraine. Those measures include attempts by Germany to push Russia to continue to use Ukraine as a transit nation for another decade once the current contract expires at the end of 2024. The Biden administration contends that Nord Stream 2 would be completed regardless of it imposing more sanctions and it would only serve to hurt relations with Germany, a key NATO ally. Nonetheless, many U.S. lawmakers as well as Ukrainian officials have expressed opposition to the deal with Germany. Mr. Zelenskyy last month said he was disappointed to hear that Mr. Biden did not intend to stop the project. Analysts say the Biden administration doesn’t like the optics of Mr. Zelenskyy meeting with Congress to jointly oppose the deal it had reached with Germany. In their July 22 letter, Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), and Andy Harris (R-Md.), said they were also “troubled by the appearance” that the Biden administration was using a White House meeting to “persuade” Ukraine to accept the Nord Stream 2 deal. During a call with the media on July 21, a senior State Department official denied any pressure on Ukraine to accept the U.S.-Germany deal and said the publication of the date of Mr. Zelenskyy’s visit on the same day was coincidental. Mr. Zelenskyy, a former comedian and political novice, has been seeking a White House visit since he took office in May 2019 to demonstrate U.S. support for his administration. The United States has been Ukraine’s staunchest supporter in its seven-year war against Russia-backed rebels in the east that has cost the lives of more than 13,200 people and a White House visit would help his image at home and abroad, analysts have said. Former U.S. President Donald Trump invited Mr. Zelenskyy to the White House in 2019, but that meeting never took place after the U.S. leader was accused of pressuring his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate the Kyiv activities of Hunter Biden, the son of his main Democratic rival at the time. The executive branch “on both sides of the aisle should no longer play politics with a meeting with Ukraine’s president,” the representatives said in their letter. (RFE/RL)

Ukraine pressured to drop Xinjiang scrutiny
Ukraine succumbed to Chinese pressure to remove its name from an international statement about human rights abuses in China’s western Xinjiang region by threatening to limit trade and withhold access to COVID-19 vaccines, Ukrainian officials and lawmakers with knowledge of the issue told RFE/RL. After initially joining with more than 40 other countries on June 22, Kyiv withdrew its signature two days later from a statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that called for China to allow independent observers immediate access to Xinjiang, where Beijing is operating a camp system that U.N. officials estimate has interned more than 1 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities. The incident was first reported by the AP citing Western diplomats speaking anonymously. RFE/RL has since spoken to three Ukrainian lawmakers and a senior government official who confirmed the report and provided new details. Andriy Sharaskin, a Ukrainian lawmaker from the opposition Holos party who sits on parliament’s Foreign Policy and Interpar­lia­mentary Cooperation Commit­tee, told RFE/RL that Ukraine gave in to strong diplomatic pressure from China to withdraw its signature from the statement. “[The Chinese Foreign Ministry] demanded that Ukraine withdraw its signature from the international statement on Uyghurs,” Mr. Sharaskin said. “This [pressure] continued until the signature was revoked.” A senior Ukrainian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, also confirmed this version of events to RFE/RL. The official said China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry blocked export documents for Chinese vaccines and that Beijing officials “hinted at the reason” for the shots being withheld. As soon as Kyiv withdrew its signature from the statement, he said, the documents were processed and Ukraine received its expected batch of Chinese-made Sinovac vaccines. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Yevhen Solonya and Reid Standish)

Russia files case against Ukraine
Russia has filed a complaint against Ukraine with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) saying Kyiv is responsible for the 2014 crash of a Malaysian airliner and civilian deaths and human rights abuses in Russia and Ukraine. The filing of the case on July 22 comes exactly five months after Ukraine filed its latest in a series of legal complaints against Moscow at the same court, which hears complaints over alleged breaches of the conventions on human rights. In its complaint, Russia lists a litany of alleged transgressions, blaming Kyiv for civilian deaths during the Euro-Maidan uprising in 2014 and a conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east that has claimed thousands of lives. Moscow also said that shelling by Ukrainian armed forces in eastern Ukraine had killed and wounded people in southern Russia. The filing appears to be part of an effort by Russia to flood the ECHR with cases against Ukraine. An investigation by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, published in April, showed lawyers based in Russia and in parts of eastern Ukraine held by Moscow-backed separatists had filed around 6,000 claims related to the conflict in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, often referred to as the Donbas. More than 13,200 people have been killed and thousands more wounded in the war that erupted in the Donbas in April 2014, a month after Russia’s armed takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Russia denies involvement, despite ample evidence showing it has provided arms, fighters, financing and other aid to the separatists. Ukrainian Justice Minister Denys Malyuska mocked Russia’s case, calling it “completely ridiculous.” He said Moscow had confused the Strasbourg-based court with “a show on Russian television.” The complaint to the court “laid out all the myths of Russian propaganda,” he wrote on Facebook, adding: “From a legal point of view, inevitable defeat awaits them.” Ukraine itself has filed nine cases against Russia, including one over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014. The flight was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was downed by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by separatists in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew. A team of international investigators concluded in May 2018 that the missile launcher used to shoot down the aircraft belonged to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade. During the 2014 Euro-Maidan anti-government rallies that toppled Ukraine’s Russian-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, 104 people were killed and 2,500 injured as a result of violent crackdowns against the protesters. Mr. Yanukovych abandoned power and fled Kyiv on February 21, 2014. The former president, who was secretly flown to Russia and remains there, denies that he ordered police to fire on protesters, saying that the violence was the result of a “planned operation” to overthrow his government. Ukrainian prosecutors, however, blame Mr. Yanukovich for the violence. (RFE/RL’s Russian Service and Current Time)

Russian, Armenian nationals jailed
A court in Russia’s southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don has sentenced to lengthy prison terms two men for the illegal sale of parts of an S-300 missile complex to Ukraine. The court on July 28 found Russian Denis Lobov and Armenian Ararat Khachat­rian guilty of smuggling military equipment that is considered a “state secret” to Ukraine. Mr. Lobov was sentenced to 9 1/2 years in prison while Mr. Khachat­rian was given 10 years and five months. In recent years, Russia has arrested and convicted several men and women, including Ukrainian and Russian citizens, on charges of spying for Ukraine or providing Kyiv with classified information. Relations between Moscow and Kyiv have been tense since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and began backing separatists in a conflict in eastern Ukraine which has left more than 13,200 people dead. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

Czech court sentences Belarusian
An appeals court in the Czech Republic has sentenced a 41-year-old Belarusian citizen to 21 years in prison for taking part in the war in eastern Ukraine on the side of pro-Russian separatists. Alyaksey Fadzeeu was found guilty of terrorism. The court reviewed and increased Mr. Fadzeeu’s sentence after he had initially been sentenced in September to 4 1/2 years in prison for collaborating with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. But after an appeal by the prosecutor, who considered the sentence too lenient, Mr. Fadzeeu was found guilty of terrorism on July 22 and sentenced to 21 years in prison, according to Czech media reports. From October 2014 to May 2016, prosecutors said he repeatedly traveled to eastern Ukraine to support separatist groups and served in the armed forces of one of the separatist entities. Mr. Fadzeeu has lived in the Czech Republic for many years. (RFE/RL’s Russian Service and Current Time)