September 24, 2021



Parliament passes bill banning anti-Semitism

Ukraine’s parliament has passed a law defining anti-Semitism and banning it in the country. The Verkhovna Rada on September 22 approved a second reading of the bill by 283 votes with the required minimum of 226, sending it to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for his signature to become law. Mr. Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, has said he lost relatives in the Holocaust. An estimated 0.2 percent of Ukraine’s population of 41 million is Jewish. The legislation defines anti-Semitism as hatred of Jews, calling for or justifying attacks on the minority, making false or hateful statements about Jews and denying the mass extermination of Jews during the Holocaust. Damaging buildings, monuments, or religious institutions would also fall under the definition of anti-Semitism. “The lack of a clear definition of anti-Semitism in Ukrainian legislation does not allow for the proper classification of crimes committed on its basis,” the law’s authors said. “In practice, this leads to the actual impunity of offenders,” they said. Under the bill, victims can claim compensation for material and moral damage and violators may face penalties under existing hate-crime laws. An estimated 1.5 million of Ukraine’s pre-World War II Jewish population was killed in the Nazi Holocaust. In one of the worst atrocities, nearly 34,000 Jewish men, women and children were killed in mass shootings on the edge of the capital, Kyiv, on September 29-30, 1941, in what is known as the Babyn Yar massacre. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters and Kyiv Post)


Ukraine extends state of emergency

Ukraine’s government has extended the country’s state of emergency until the end of the year as officials deal with a surge in coronavirus infections. The government said on September 20 that it would announce a so-called “yellow” epidemic level from September 22, which imposes limits on the number of people who can be at public venues or attend mass events, and includes mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing. The “yellow” level restrictions will not apply if all participants and at least 80 percent of the staff have one or two vaccine doses or a “negative” PCR or rapid antibody test no older than 72 hours. The decision comes after the number of confirmed new cases of COVID-19 increased last week by 68 percent, while hospitalizations rose by 51 percent. “It’s true, we are seeing an increase in the number of new cases of COVID-19, but thanks to vaccination we have a margin of safety,” Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said. “The medical system is ready to respond to the new wave of infections, but the best way to save your life and health is to get vaccinated at the first opportunity available,” he added. Ukraine has registered some 2.35 million COVID-19 cases and 54,919 related deaths since the start of the pandemic, while fewer than 5.2 million of the country’s 41 million inhabitants have received two vaccine doses. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Diplomats concerned on judicial reforms

Western diplomats have expressed concern over Ukraine’s delay in implementing recently passed judicial legislation that is seen in Washington and Brussels as crucial to improving the nation’s rule of law and cleaning up corruption. Following a meeting on September 16 at President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office in Kyiv with senior members of Ukraine’s parliament and judicial bodies, diplomats from the Group of Seven (G-7) industrial nations and the European Union backed a joint statement demanding judicial reforms move forward. The G-7 diplomats warned against attempts to delay reforms “aimed at strengthening the rule of law, increasing public confidence in the judiciary, attracting foreign investment and bringing Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic future closer,” according to a copy of the statement distributed by Ukraine’s presidential office. Ukraine’s parliament in July passed two bills to revamp the nation’s judicial system in a long-awaited move applauded by Washington and Brussels. The nation’s judicial system is plagued by corruption, undermining political and economic progress. Western nations have tied future financial aid to its overhaul. The legislation calls for the creation of panels to oversee the two bodies responsible for selecting and choosing candidates for judicial vacancies. The panels would consist of six experts each, including three Ukrainian citizens chosen by the nation’s Council of Judges and three foreigners picked by G-7 nations. Ukraine’s judiciary has opposed the reforms, saying the inclusion of foreign experts in the selection process compromises the nation’s sovereignty. It wants to amend the legislation. In a move seen as an attempt to delay its implementation, the Council of Judges failed to name three experts for one of the two panels by the September 13 deadline. That prompted Mr. Zelenskyy to call the meeting with representatives of the G-7 countries – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. In a statement, the U.S. State Department said the Council of Judges’ refusal to nominate Ukrainian judges to participate in the process “threatens to derail the promise of real judicial reform in Ukraine.” “We remain firmly committed to assisting in this critical reform so that the people of Ukraine may trust their courts and judges and so that Ukraine can continue on its path toward Euro-Atlantic integration,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. Civil society activists say outside experts are necessary because the nation’s judicial system is controlled by tycoons and other powerful special interests. Pointing to past failures to get rid of compromised judges, they say Ukraine’s judiciary is incapable of reforming itself. Ukraine has a history of failing to implement legislation deemed critical to its aspirations of joining Euro-Atlantic organizations because of opposition by special interests. During the September 16 meeting, Nicolas Harrocks, the deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Kyiv, called on Ukrainian officials to move forward with what he called “high-quality” legislation. Matti Maasikas, the head of the EU delegation to Ukraine, told the meeting that the fate of judicial reforms will impact Ukraine’s ability to attract aid and foreign investment. Bohdan Monich, chairman of the Council of Judges, said his organization is “determined to implement this law.” But he also stated that it had prepared amendments to the bill for choosing members of the panels. The meeting was chaired by Andriy Smyrnov, the deputy head of the presidential office. Tetiana Shevchuk, legal counsel for the Kyiv-based Anti-Corruption Action Center, told RFE/RL the meeting seemed to generate “no meaningful progress” on the standoff between the judiciary and proponents of reforms. “The office of the president and the parliament showed their commitment to the reform, but it’s unclear whether this will be enough to unblock it,” she said. (RFE/RL)


Thousands march for LGBT rights

Thousands of people including diplomats marched peacefully through the Ukrainian capital in an annual gay pride parade that spurred a smaller counterprotest. Participants carried the rainbow-colored flag that symbolizes the LGBT movement, Ukrainian flags, as well as signs calling for equal rights as they walked through the center of Kyiv. About 7,000 people took part in the September 19 demonstration, according to organizers, down from the record high of 8,000 in 2019. The gay pride parade, launched a decade ago, was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The parade, whose participants included staff from the U.S. and U.K. embassies, was accompanied by a strong police presence. There were no reports of any incidents. An anti-LGBT protest held the same day by religious groups and nationalists attracted about 700 people, a reporter for RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service estimated. “We salute law enforcement for ensuring participants’ safety,” the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said in a tweet. Homophobia is widespread in Ukraine, according to a survey by the sociological group “Rating” published in August, which said 47 percent of respondents had a negative view of the LGBT community. Kyiv has increased support for LGBT rights since Western-backed leaders came to power in 2014. Parliament passed legislation in 2015 to ban discrimination in the workplace, but it does not allow for same-sex marriage or adoption of children. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Emergency service’s spokeswoman killed

A car explosion killed the spokeswoman of a regional emergencies service and her companion in Ukraine’s southeastern city of Dnipro, the country’s National Police said on September 15. The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear, but the State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said it has launched a probe into a terrorist act over the deadly blast, which took place on Bohdan Khmelnitsky Avenue in Ukraine’s fourth-largest city. The State Emergency Service in the Dnipropetrovsk region identified the victims of the explosion as its 35-year-old spokeswoman, Darya Hrechyshcheva, and a member of the Ukrainian Legion public group, a paramedic Oleksiy Kavlak. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Top presidential aid targeted

A hail of bullets ripped through a car transporting Serhiy Shefir, a top aide of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in what senior officials have called an attempt to intimidate the country’s leadership as it tries to tackle corruption. Mr. Shefir was unharmed when more than 10 bullets tore into his car in the attack at around 10 a.m. local time on September 22 in the village of Lisnykiy just outside of Kyiv. Local media said almost double that number of bullet holes were visible on the driver’s side of the car. Police said the driver was wounded but gave no further details. There were no other passengers in the car, which did not have armor plating. Mr. Shefir leads a group of advisers to Mr. Zelenskyy, who was elected in 2019 in part on a platform of tackling the country’s notorious deep-seated corruption, including the undue influence of powerful businessmen known as oligarchs, and cleaning up the court system. Police said they were investigating the case as attempted murder and mentioned three possible motives. They include an attempt to pressure the country’s leadership, create political destabilization, or an attack engineered by a foreign intelligence service. “The aim of this crime was not simply to intimidate, but to assassinate the Ukrainian president’s top aide,” Internal Affairs Minister Denys Monastyr­skiy told journalists in Kyiv. “I would like to stress that the presidential team of Ukraine cannot be intimidated. All of the initiated reforms, including the fight against organized crime, will be continued,” he added. On July 1, Mr. Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party approved in the first reading a draft bill – known as “the oligarch law” – that seeks to introduce a legal definition for a tycoon and impose limitations, including blocking them from financing political parties. Parliament is due to debate the law directed at limiting the influence of oligarchs. The United States has long called on Ukraine to tackle the handful of tycoons who wield enormous political influence from behind the scenes to the detriment of the country and its citizens. Mr. Zelenskyy, who was in the United States to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, vowed a “strong response” to the shooting, which occurred as the car passed by a wooded area. “It is weakness to say ‘hello’ to me by shooting at my friend’s car from a forest. But the response will be strong,” Mr. Zelenskyy said in a video statement from New York, adding that he would be doubling down on his planned reforms rather than backing off. Mr. Shefir, who called the attack nothing more than an attempt at “intimidation,” and Mr. Zelens­kyy have worked together for years. In 2003 he co-founded a production company called Kvartal 95 with his brother Boris and Mr. Zelenskyy, who was then a comedic actor. Mr. Shefir produced and wrote “The Servant of The People,” a show in which Mr. Zelens­kyy portrayed a schoolteacher who becomes president and which eventually launched his political career. Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said on Facebook that police had opened an investigation into attempted murder. “The intentions of the criminals were quite serious,” National Police Chief Ihor Klymenko said. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by Reuters, TASS, and AFP)