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  • Hannia
    THE ECONOMIST Oct 11th 2018
    Along the contact line
    Avdiivka & Donetsk
    Peace in eastern Ukraine seems as far away as ever

    DO YOU know where youre heading? asks Andrei, a wide-eyed Ukrainian soldier stationed at the edge of government-controlled territory in the countrys war-torn east. On the other side of the front line, Artyom, a burly border guard in the Russian-backed separatist enclave, passes his days in a booth adorned with a Donetsk Peoples Republic emblem and two portraitsVladimir Putin, Russias president, and Ramzan Kadyrov, the brutal ruler of Chechnya. There Artyom interrogates arrivals who arouse his suspicions, inquiring about their allegiance while rubbing a combat knife strapped to his left thigh.

    As the war in Ukraine drags into its fifth year, there is still no end in sight. Large swathes of the Donbas region remain under the control of separatists. A 500-km contact line, bristling with landmines, cuts through it. More than 10,000 people have been killed there since 2014. Casualties continue to pile up, although at a slower rate than in the past. Earlier this month, three schoolboys were blown up by a landmine not far from Artyoms post. In Avdiivka, a front-line town in Ukrainian government-controlled territory, even a recent stretch of relatively quiet months seems ominous: When things are calm for a long time, it usually ends badly, says Olga, a doctor stationed there. Talks aimed at resolving the conflict have ground to a halt ahead of Ukraines presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

    Although the worlds attention has shifted, Ukrainians still see the war as the countrys most important issue, surpassing corruption and the economy. Petro Poroshenko, Ukraines president, has employed a slogan: We stopped the aggressor and defended the country! Yet few place much faith in the Minsk II agreement, the accords signed in 2015 that call for the separatist-held territories to return to Ukrainian control and be granted a nebulous special status. These comprise large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Disputes over implementation have been stuck in a vicious circle for years: Ukraine argues that security and control over the border with Russia should come before political steps; Russia insists on receiving political guarantees before relinquishing control of the territory it holds. Many in Ukraine believe the accords, imposed during a ferocious Russian advance, are a rotten deal. Continuing to rely on them is like riding a dead horse, argues one MP.

    Privately officials acknowledge that the Minsk agreements will need to be amended, expanded or even replaced before a settlement can be reached. One addition under discussion is a UN peacekeeping mission. Kurt Volker, the American special representative for Ukraine, says several countries have already agreed to contribute forces, among them Sweden, Finland, Belarus, Turkey and Austria. Yet negotiations with Russia over the mandate have ground to a halt. Until Mr Putin decides otherwise, the smouldering status quo will endure. There has been no meeting between Mr Volker and his Russian counterpart, Vladislav Surkov, since January. Plainly, Russia has decided to wait to see what happens at the elections, hoping to end up with more pliable counterparts in Kiev, if not as president, then at least controlling a large chunk of parliament.

    In the meantime, the separatist republic in Donetsk plans to hold its own pseudo-elections this November, following the assassination of its nominal head, Alexander Zakharchenko, at a caf in Donetsk in Augustthe latest of several commanders to meet untimely deaths on their home turf. While Russian and separatist officials blame his killing on Kiev and the West, an inside job looks more likely, with Russia seeking to clear away troublesome local leaders. Yet throughout Donetsk, Mr Zakharchenkos likeness still adorns billboards, alongside such quotes as We have one motherland and that is Russia.

    Though the division of the Donbas is artificial, the longer the rupture remains, the harder reintegration will become. The sides seem determined to reinforce their positions on the ground and their physical separation from each other, argues a recent report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based watchdog.

    Even if the troops eventually retreat, the basic steps necessary for political reconciliation, such as drawing up voter lists for credible elections, will be devilishly difficult. Over 1.5m people have been displaced. Crossing the contact line illustrates the estrangement: those leaving Ukrainian government-held territory have their passports stamped as if leaving the country; visitors to separatist-held territory are issued migration cards, copies of a document handed out in Russia. The separatist authorities have commandeered telecoms infrastructure and launched a local phone network called Phoenix, which, symbolically, cannot connect with Ukranian cell-phone networks.

    For civilians on both sides, the political games have gone on far too long. Most want an end to the conflict, whatever the final configuration may be. Despite the fighting, they try to hang on to the pleasures of normal life. In Avdiivka, Evgeniy, a sandy-haired teenager, skips home from school past a shrapnel-scarred apartment block, though he admits that the nights are still scary. Long passes soar over a football pitch nearby where locals still play. Across the line in Donetsk, maintenance workers keep central gardens neatly sculpted. The opera theatre advertises new autumn productions, including Turandot and Alexander Pushkins The Queen of Spades. Yet like the elusive Ace in Pushkins drama, peace for the people of eastern Ukraine is out of reach.

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  • Hannia
    Quarter of Ukrainian IDPs suffer from depression, few get help
    EUROMAIDAN PRESS 2018/10/10 - 12:52
    Ukraine has taken the ninth place in the world in IDP numbers as residents of Donbas and Crimea flee from the violence. Photo: AP

    A high percentage of Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) and non-IDPs in Ukraine suffer from mental health issues but only few of them receive psychological help

    On World Mental Health Day 10th of October it is important to address the questions of not only how many people suffer from mental health issues but also if they have the opportunities to receive professional help.

    The research designed by the University of Birmingham and conducted by SocioInform in August-September 2018 surveyed 1000 IDPs and 1000 people aged 18 and over who was not affected by the conflict, who reside in the 24 regions of Ukraine under government control. Furthermore, interviews with mental health professionals and IDPs were conducted. The data shows the very high level of mental health issues within both groups and a reluctance to seek professional help.

    The general anxiety diagnosis found that around 20 percent of IDPs and 12 percent of non IDPs fall into the clinically significant moderately severe or severe anxiety category (comparing with the UK 4.3%*). 25 percent of IDPs were found to be moderately severe or severely depressed compared to 15 percent of non IDPs (comparing with the UK 4.9%**). Despite this, only a few informants self-reported mental health issues. Only 23 percent of IDPs and 11 percent of non-IDPs suffering from moderately severe to severe anxiety and/or depression received professional help. In most of the cases it was a one-time consultation which is not enough to tackle significant mental health issues.

    The research also reveals that international organisations play an important role in providing urgent psychological support to IDPs and people living in so-called grey zone near the contact line with non-government control territories. However, very often IDPs, after moving to other parts of Ukraine having to cope with financial issues and settling in a new environment, do not prioritise their mental health, which together with everyday stresses ensures that the problems worsen. Elderly people, who are majority of those displaced, are very vulnerable in regards to their mental health condition as they are exacerbated by physical health conditions, which often they struggle to get treatment for, and socio-economic problems due to the suspension of pensions and limited opportunities for employment.

    Among the most common tactics within IDPs and non IDPs to deal with long-term anxiety and stress are talking with friends (63.7 %), music/films (45 %), walking/hiking (35.3 %). Alcohol and smoking are popular ways to deal with stress for 16.7 % of informants, while addressing psychologists among the least used practices with only 2.8 % of informants approaching them, highly only that those who engage with healers (1.2 %).

    Survey was designed by the University of Birmingham (Dr Irina Kuznetsova, Dr Jon Catling, Dr John Round) and conducted by SocioInform in August-September 2018.

    The research was funded by the UK Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund. For more information please get in touch (enquires in English, Russian and Ukrainian are welcome)

    *Lwe, B., Decker, O., Mller, S., Brhler, E., Schellberg, D., Herzog, W., & Herzberg, P. Y. (2008). Validation and standardization of the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Screener (GAD-7) in the general population. Medical care, 266-274.

    **Kocalevent, R. D., Hinz, A., & Brhler, E. (2013). Standardization of the depression screener patient health questionnaire (PHQ-9) in the general population. General hospital psychiatry, 35(5), 551-5

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  • Hannia

    Ukrainians prefer comedian to current president and other insights from pre-election polls
    EUROMAIDAN PRESS Olen Makarenko 2018/10/10 - 01:09

    In the last four years many things have changed in Ukraine it experienced a de-facto war with Russia, reforms (both successful and not really), the birth of civil society. But the political landscape has barely changed. Ukrainians will choose the president from nearly the same set of people as four years ago. These people are failing their expectations, and this gives ground for disappointment.

    One detail which strikes the eye on the eve of the 2019 Presidential elections in Ukraine is the low ratings of all the candidates. The Head of the Center for Civil Society Studies Vitaliy Kulik analyzed the results of the latest pre-election surveys conducted by the Rating Sociological Group. Euromaidan Press publishes some of them.

    The survey says that 17.0% have not determined with the choice yet. According to Kulyk, this makes the work of political technologists [political technologists is a term used mostly in post Soviet countries to describe political campaign specialists OM] much harder as they have to identify the group of favorites and to calculate the campaign strategy.

    It is clear now that Yuliya Tymoshenko (rating 13.2%) and Petro Poroshenko (6.8%) who will make it to the the second tour of the elections. Even though the fight for second place is strained, odds are that it will be taken by Poroshenko.

    Kulyk assumes that blurring of the niche of the so-called third power plays in favor for incumbent President Poroshenko. The concept of third power in Ukraine usually applies to a force which allegedly goes beyond traditional discourse like Russia vs the West and proposes an alternative way for Ukraine. Mostly, the niche is occupied by ex-allies of the runaway president Viktor Yanukovych. Often its slogans promote the idea of a so-called compromise for Ukraine. In fact, these slogans are whispered from Kremlin. It is beneficial for Poroshenko who portrays himself as a bearer of predictable strength and stability. His opponents from the right-liberal camp look like dangerous experimenters against his background. The expert is confident that votes in their favor will be wasted, and voters opting for the third option will not vote at all or will see Poroshenko as the least evil.

    Tymoshenko is trying to gain the voices of people who havent made a choice yet or those who not going to vote at all. This benefits Tymoshenko, as nobody else works with these voters, who despite saying they wont vote usually come to elections and make irrational choices at the last moment.

    On this background of the total disappointment in politicians unexpected characters appear on the political scene. For about a year, Ukrainian society is discussing the possibility of two show-business stars participating in the presidential election. One is the rock-singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk [the frontman of Okean Elzy]. The other is a comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyi. He is the main character of the TV-series called Sluga Naroda [A Public Servant] telling about an ordinary teacher who suddenly became president. The series ironize over the features of Ukrainian politics. Neither Vakarchuk, nor Zelenskyi expressed a desire to run for the presidency. Nevertheless, their statements and personalities do influence Ukrainian politics. So all the surveys measure their possible ratings like if they were campaigning. According to the abovementioned poll, so far Vakarchuk rates at 5% while Zelenskyi even holds second place with 7.8%.

    Kulyk explains this popularity:

    Voters perceive Sluga Naroda as a figure capable of resisting the system. And he does it in an amusing way. However, our voters forget that an actors role in a film and beyond the stage, in real life, are two different things. Zelenskyi is just an actor who plays a role he didnt write. He is talented in voicing over the replicas of a script. In the political theater of modern Ukraine the author of his play is [oligarch] Ihor Kolomoyskyi, says the researcher.

    Other political experts also relate Zelenskyi to the figure of Kolomoyskyi. The oligarch from Dnipro plays a significant role in the processes taking place in Ukraine. In 2014 he was appointed as governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Then, he was praised for saving the oblast bordering with Donetsk oblast from the expansion of the Russian proxy republics. He also owns one of four main media groups in the country Zelenskyis show 95th Kvartal is broadcast on one of its channels. His calling card used to be one of the main banks in Ukraine PrivatBank. But in the end of 2016 it was nationalized one of signs of the worsening relationships between the oligarch and Poroshenko.

    Kulyk suggests that because of Kolomoyskyis complicated relationships with the government, he needs Zelenskiy to bargain a beneficial negotiation position. And as soon as Kolomoyskyi receives what he wants Zelenskiy will come back to being just a showman without political ambitions.
    Edited by: Alya Shandra

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  • Hannia

    Russia loses battle for PACE: resolution allowing sanctions to be lifted fails vote
    EUROMAIDAN PRESS European Pravda 2018/10/09 - 22:44

    On October 9, Russia lost the battle for PACE: the resolution which would have allowed sanctions on the delegation to be lifted in January 2019 was not approved by the delegates. Moreover, for the first time, PACE delegates started discussing whether Russia has a place in the Assembly. Serhiy Sydorenko from European Pravda reported from Strassbourg; we offer an English-language summary.

    As the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) gathered for their autumn session in Strasbourg, all eyes were on the vote for the resolution Strengthening the decision-making process of the Parliamentary Assembly concerning credentials and voting. Despite having no reference to Russia in its text, it was designed to allow sanctions to be lifted on the Russian delegation in 2019.

    At the evening session on 9 October 2018, PACE delegates did not gather enough votes to change the sanctions rules and postponed this question until the next year.

    The debates in the Assembly showed that there are insufficient votes to change the sanctions rules as Russia had demanded this would have required two-thirds of the votes of the delegates.

    A failed vote would have meant that the resolution was killed. To avoid this, rapporteur Petra de Sutter proposed to stop the debates and postpone the discussion until January, referring the draft resolution back to the committee, European Pravda reported.

    I heard very emotional arguments, even anger [about the attempts to forgive Russia ed]. There were constructive arguments as well. But we see that there will be no votes. So I propose postponing the discussion until January, she explained.

    99 delegates voted in favor, 79 against this proposal, and 16 abstained.

    This means that Russian delegation will remain under sanctions for at least a year. The Ukrainian delegation saw the vote as a victory. However, the victory is for the battle, not the war.

    The push to return Russia to PACE
    Last year, under Russian pressure, PACE started the process of reassessing its own procedures. The delegates were ready to limit themselves so that the Russian delegation would return to the assembly.

    Starting from the winter of 2015, the delegation stopped traveling to PACE in protest of the political sanctions, which prohibit the Russians from voting for PACE decisions, participating in elections observation missions, participating in PACE ruling organs etc. These sanctions had been active until the end of 2014; in 2015 PACE extended them for a year. Starting from 2016, the sanctions were formally inactive, since there was no delegation to apply them to: the Russians withdrew from the work of the Assembly.

    In 2017, Russia exacerbated the crisis by stopping paying their membership fees to the budget of the entire Council of Europe and warned that they could stop recognizing its other organs such as the European Court of Human Rights, members of which are elected currently without the participation of the Russian delegation.

    The Russians demanded they return without the threat of sanctions being renewed, without implementing any of PACEs demands at least seven resolutions calling upon Russia to deoccupy Crimea and get out of eastern Ukraine.

    Then Russia would resume payments to the Council of Europe 33 mn annually; or 7% of the CoE budget. And stop threatening the Council of Europe with Russias complete withdrawal from the institution a red line for European diplomats.

    To make this happen, the very possibility of sanctioning delegations had to be canceled or significantly complicated which is what the resolution aimed to achieve.

    Up till 8 October, Russias arguments were persuasive, Sydorenko writes. At the closed meeting of the Joint Committee, which gathered key representatives from both PACE and the second wing of the Council of Europe, the Council of Ministers, Russias representative Ivan Soltanovsky had convinced the vast majority of ambassadors that if PACE would change its own regulations and complicate the sanctions mechanism, this would be a good step, but it still left a crack for the possibility to apply sanctions on Russia. More radical measures should follow: sanctions should be canceled, PACE delegates shouldnt have any levers for applying sanctions; all limitations should be approved by the ambassadors of 47 member countries; Russia should be included in the process.

    Otherwise, the future of the Council of Europe is in question, and I am not bluffing, Soltanovsky said, hinting that Russia was considering withdrawing from Europes largest human rights organization.

    According to Serhiy Sydorenko, editor at European Pravda, one of the reasons for this intermediary victory of the Ukrainian side are the excessively enthusiastic attempts of PACE Secretary General Thorbjrn Jagland to persuade the delegates to vote in favor of the resolution, making it much more difficult for the Assembly to impose sanctions on a delegation. Titled Strengthening the decision-making process of the Parliamentary Assembly concerning credentials and voting, the resolution proposed increasing the threshold of votes for applying sanctions to a delegation from 50% to 2/3, which would have made the reapplication of the sanctions applied to the Russian delegation after Russia occupied Crimea in January 2019 much more uncertain.

    The legal note which broke the camels back
    Up till the day of the vote on 9 October, the outcome was difficult to predict.
    However, Thorbjrn Jagland, who had openly lobbied for the return of the Russian delegation starting from 2017, tried a bit too hard resulting in the scales tipping to Ukraines favor.

    Prior to the session, he started promoting a legal note penned by Jrg Polakiewicz, Director of the Directorate of Legal Advice and Public International Law at PACE. The document was handed out to delegates one week before the session, and it is still classified. But its conclusions are categorical: PACE doesnt have a right to sanction any national delegation. Including, of course, Russia.

    According to Polakiewicz, in punishing the Russians, PACE had systematically abused its statute rights, Sydorenko, who has seen the document, writes. This practice must be stopped, i.e. PACE should overturn its own powers.

    This did not ring well with the PACE delegates, even those from Russias camp of supporters, who actively expressed their discontent with the document after the Secretary General presented it.

    If the sanctions mechanism was really illegal, why had PACE worked on its amendment for one and a half years? Why is the document so secretive and prepared without the involvement of PACE?

    Are we some kind of goofs? Hes telling us: go play with your toys, but, actually, you are nobody in PACE and have no authority in PACE. What kind of attitude is that? is how one of Ukraines friends described the situation to European Pravda.

    An unexpected outcome of the vote is that, for the first time, the issue of whether Russia should be excluded from the Council of Europe was laid on the table.

    They have no place in our ranks

    Russias harshest critics in PACE belong to two parties the liberals and conservatives. This time was no exception. Mart van de Ven from The Netherlands, who presented the liberals position, was the first to state: Russias threats to leave the Council of Europe could become a reality, but this should not stop PACE from prolonging sanctions.

    And the fact that Russia does not engage in dialogue, does not take steps towards this, does not send a good signal in this context, he added.

    Olivier Becht, his liberal colleague from France, developed this idea:

    If we vote against [changes to the sanctions procedure], we will push Russia to withdraw from the Council of Europe. And this will bea catastrophe. If we vote for it, then we will tell Russia: what it does can be forgiven. And this is also a catastrophe because its impossible to imagine something worse than what Russia has done in Ukraine, he said and reminded about Churchills quote that if one chooses between dishonor and war, whoever chooses dishonor will also receive war.

    The British conservatives and Laborists were even franker: they openly spoke about Russia crossing a red line, and its membership status in the Council of Europe has become quite urgent.

    Angela Smith, who represents the group of British socialists, started by saying that Russia had played the blackmail game for too long. I will not be intimidated. Such countries [as Russia] should not be in our ranks!

    Supporters of Russias exclusion from the Council of Europe were found also in Iceland. Sunna varsdttir, a delegate from Iceland socialists, called upon her colleagues to not hide from reality.

    Maybe its time to part ways with the Russian delegation? This would be more honest. It would be right to discuss if Russia could be a member of this club in the first place, and this dialogue should be held at all levels in the Council of Europe, she explained.

    In any case, the question of PACEs sanctions on Russia wont be actual in 2019. And in the meantime, a discussion could be held about Russias place in the Council of Europe.

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  • Hannia
    Russia hasnt formed a modern civic nation but rather an imperial one, Portnikov says
    EUROMAIDAN PRESS 2018/10/09 - 12:02

    There are three reasons why the Russian Federation is unlikely to fall apart in the near future, Ukrainian political analyst Vitaly Portnikov says.

    First among them is that while Russia hasnt been able to establish a contemporary political nation, it has created a certain imperial Russian nation which is the basis of the Kremlins Russian world.

    Second, he tells After Empires Slava Lindell, unlike the situation in 1990-1991, none of the regions of Russia feel themselves to be genuinely political subjects, a sharp contrast to the way people in the union and autonomous republics felt at the end of Soviet times.

    And third, while the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the USSR did not contradict the Yalta world as confirmed in Helsinki in 1975 because these states split apart into the states which constituted them, although at that time, they were only formally so. But now something has changed and not in Russias favor in many respects, Portnikov says.

    Moscow likes to accuse the West of revising the results of World War II, but in fact, it has been Russia that began to destroy those results, by creating the statelet of Transdniestria in the 1990s, using force to create the pseudo-independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and annexing Crimea.

    Therefore, Portnikov continues, the Yalta world has been destroyed, and now we do not know how Russia will be regionalized and disintegrated. In short, he says, Russia in fact itself created a world in which there are no more unresolved legal problems about its own dismantling.

    Pandoras box has been thrown open and now all kinds of self-proclaimed republics on [Russias] own territory are completely possible, making it almost impossible to predict what is going to happen there, another sharp contrast with the end of Soviet times when the dividing up of the USSR was obvious.

    In essence, Portnikov argues, Russia has again entered into a period of serious political turbulence or more precisely, in the Putin years, it could only exist in such a state. And any such turbulence, which by its nature does not guarantee development, will end in collapse.

    Ukraine, he says, might suffer more than many imagine for a sudden collapse of the Russian Federation; but in any case, it is now concentrating on European reforms and ideally it must proceed along that path in a synchronous way that sets itself up against this Russian turbulence.

    Many Ukrainians are asking how long the West will support Ukraine in this effort, Portnikov says, but that is not the issue. Instead, it is how long and how much Ukrainians will support it because it is still the case that there are two views in the country, one looking West to Europe and the other East to Moscow.

    If the first wins out, Ukraine will be a modern European country; if the second, it will remain a borderland of the empire. According to Portnikov, the paradox of Putins policy is that by his aggression he has forced Ukrainians to believe in their own independence and not to see themselves as part of the larger Russian nation and empire.

    I cannot predict, the Ukrainian analyst says, how many years it will take for the founding of a Ukrainian political nation; but in 2014, it successfully began. In the past, such a transformation might have taken several decades; but as the situation in Eastern Europe has shown, it now can occur far more quickly.

    This shift in Ukraines orientation is part of a far larger geopolitical movement, one that is leading to a Europe that ends at the Russian-Ukrainian border. Beyond that, he says, is Asia, a region that is coming to be dominated not by Russia but by China.

    Portnikov recalls a conversation he had with Boris Yeltsin in 1991. The Russian leader told him that if Ukraine leaves the post-Soviet space, then Russia will become an Asiatic country. I absolutely agree with this assessment. Of course, Russia could become part of Europe if it accepted European values; but there is little sign of that happening.

    Consequently, in the not too distant future, Europe will end in Kharkiv; and there is nothing horrible about that.
    Vitaly Portnikov, Ukrainian political analyst, journalist and writer

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