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9 questions about Ukraine you were too embarrassed to ask

9 questions about Ukraine you were too embarrassed to ask
Ukraine’s language divide. Data source: 2001 national census. (Laris Karklis/Washington Post)

Ukrainians have been protesting since Nov. 21, when President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a deal for closer integration with the European Union, instead drawing the country closer to Russia. They are still in the streets in huge numbers and have seized regional government buildings in several parts of the country. In Kiev, the capital, clashes between protesters and security forces have become violent, killing several people. On Tuesday, the prime minister resigned. No one is quite sure what will happen next.

What’s happening in Ukraine is really important, but it can also be confusing and difficult to follow for outsiders who don’t know the history that led up to – and, in some crucial ways, explains – this crisis. Here, then, are the most basic answers to your most basic questions. First, a disclaimer: this is not an exhaustive or definitive account of Ukraine’s story, just some background, written so that anyone can understand it.

1. What is Ukraine?

Ukraine – not “the Ukraine” – is a country in Eastern Europe, between Russia and Central Europe. It’s big: about the area of Texas, with a little less than twice the population. Its history goes back thousands of years – the first domesticated horses were here – and has long been characterized by intersections between “east” and “west.” That’s continued right up to today’s crisis.

Ukraine has a long history of being subjugated by foreign powers. This is even reflected in its name, which many scholars believe means “borderland” and is part of why it used to be called “the Ukraine.” (Other scholars, though, believe it means “homeland.”) It’s only been independent since 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and it broke away. The last time it was independent (for a few short years right after World War I; before that, briefly in the 1600s), it had different borders and very different demographics. That turns out to be really important.

2. Why are so many Ukrainians protesting?

The protests started, mostly in the capital of Kiev, when President Yanukovych rejected an expected deal for greater economic integration with the European Union. The deal was popular with Ukrainians, particularly in Kiev and that part of the country (although not as popular as you may have heard: about 42 or 43 percent support it).

But this is about much more than just a trade deal. Symbolically, Yanukovych’s decision was seen as a turn away from Europe and toward Moscow, which rewarded Ukraine with a “stimulus” worth billions of dollars and a promise of cheaper gas exports. Moscow had subjugated or outright ruled Ukraine for generations, so you can see why this could hit a nerve.

But this is about more than just geopolitics. Yanukovych and his government, since taking power in 2010, have mismanaged the economy and have been increasingly seen as corrupt. In 2004, there had been mass protests against Yanukovych when he won the presidential election under widespread suspicions of fraud; those protests, which succeeded in blocking him from office, were called the “Orange Revolution” and considered a big deal at the time. But now he’s back.

The protests had actually been dying down until Jan. 16, when Yanukovych signed an “anti-protest law” that also deeply restricts free speech, the media (especially from criticizing the government), driving in a group of more than five cars, even wearing a helmet. Protests kicked back up with a vengeance, not just in Kiev but in a number of regional capitals, outright seizing government administration buildings in some.

3. I heard this was about Ukrainians wanting ties with Europe and their government selling out to Moscow. Is it?

That’s sort of true – lots of Ukrainians want their country to be “European” rather than linked with Russia, and Yanukovych is sure buddying up to Moscow – but it’s also sort of wrong. Yes, about half of Ukrainians say they want the European Union deal. But another third say they’d prefer integrating with the Russian-dominated Eurasian Customs Union. So it’s more split than you’d think.

Here’s the thing you have to understand: Ukraine is divided. Deeply, deeply divided by language, by history and by politics. One-third of the country speaks Russian as its native language, and in practice even more use it day-to-day. The Russian-speakers mostly live in one half of the country; the Ukrainian-speakers live in another. You can see that clear-as-day divide in the map at the top of this page.

It’s not just that Ukraine has two halves that predominantly speak different languages. They have different politics – and different visions for their country. Check out this composite of four maps: the top two show the language and ethnic divide, the bottom two show the election results for the 2004 and 2010 presidential elections. The lines are identical!
Top left: Ukraine’s Russian-speakers in blue. Top right: Major ethnic and linguistic groups. Bottom left: 2004 presidential election results. Bottom right: 2010 presidential results.

Top left: Ukraine’s Russian-speakers in blue. Top right: Major ethnic and linguistic groups. Bottom left: 2004 presidential election results. Bottom right: 2010 presidential results. The western half of the country voted overwhelmingly against Yanukovcyh; that’s also where, until very recently, most of the protests have been.

The Russian-speaking, eastern half of Ukraine tends to be, big surprise, more pro-Russian. Yanukovych is from that part of the country, has most of his support there, and did not even speak Ukrainian until he was in his 50s.

The pro-E.U.-deal protests have mostly been in the Ukrainian-speaking, western half. That’s also the half that voted overwhelmingly against Yanukovych in 2010. (That has been changing since the anti-protest law, which inflamed nationwide anger with Yanukovych.)

This divide has been a challenge for Ukraine since it won independence in 1991. Elections have been near-evenly split between the two halves, pulling the country in opposite directions. As the Ukraine-focused political scientist Leonid Peisakhin put it, Ukraine “has never been and is not yet a coherent national unit with a common narrative or a set of more or less commonly shared political aspirations.”

In some ways, this crisis is about popular anger against a president who mishandled the economy and whose attempts to quash protests have edged into authoritarianism. But it’s also about Ukraine’s long-unresolved national identity crisis. This story is often framed as Ukraine being pulled by Moscow on one end and Europe on the other. But Ukrainians themselves are doing a lot of the pulling: a 22-year tug-of-war between two halves and two identities.

4. Wow. How did Ukraine get so divided?

Ukraine was conquered and divided for centuries by neighboring powers: the Polish, the Austrians and most of all the Russians. But Russian rulers didn’t just want to rule Ukraine, they wanted to make it Russian.

The Russification of Ukraine began 250 years ago with Catherine the Great, who oversaw Russia’s “golden age” in the late 1700s. At first, she controlled only eastern Ukraine, where she developed vast coal and iron industries to feed Russia’s expansion. Though she later took the west as well, she and subsequent Russian rulers focused overwhelmingly on the east, which also happens to be some of the most productive farmland in the world.

The director of Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute, Serhii Plokhii, recently told National Geographic that the country is divided between a super-fertile steppe in the east and forestland in the west – an ecological split that lines up almost perfectly with the linguistic-political line in our maps above.

So many Russians swept in to Ukraine’s southeast – a number of them troops, to fight the neighboring Ottoman Empire – that it became known as “Novorossiya,” or “New Russia.” Russian leaders, hoping to make the territory permanently Russian, banned the Ukrainian language.

Then came Joseph Stalin. In the 1930s, the Soviet leader “collectivized” peasants into state-run farms, which caused several million Ukrainians to die of starvation. The governments of Ukraine and the United States consider it a deliberate act of genocide, though historians are more divided. In either case, after the famine, Stalin repopulated the devastated eastern farmlands by shipping in ethnic Russians.

Today, Ukraine is only about one-sixth ethnic Russian. But the cultural imprint goes much deeper, and not just because so many Ukrainians speak Russian as their first language. When the Western-oriented, Ukrainian-nationalist politician Viktor Yushchenko became president, in 2005, “about 60 percent of TV programming was in Russian and 40 percent in Ukrainian,” according to the Christian Science Monitor. By the time he left office in 2010, “that ratio [had] been roughly reversed.” Most magazines and newspapers were still in Russian. This came after five years of “Ukrainianization” so aggressive that, even though he spoke fluent Russian, he would only converse with Russian President Vladimir Putin through an interpreter.

5. This is getting complicated. Can we take a music break?

Great idea. Ukraine has a rich tradition of folk and popular music, but let’s listen to one of their many classical greats, Mykola Lysenko. A Ukrainian nationalist, and by his death in 1912 a major star, Lysenko loved to incorporate Ukrainian folk melodies into his compositions. Here’s his simple but beautiful Second Ukrainian Rhapsody for piano, performed by his now-deceased granddaughter Rada Lysenko:

Lysenko’s life, more than a century ago, charted many of the same issues driving today’s crisis. Ukraine was then a part of Imperial Russia, which pushed composers and musicians to use only the Russian language. Lysenko refused, composing two operas in Ukrainian (here’s one), which he refused to translate into Russian, even though this meant they could never be performed in Moscow. Because an 1876 czarist decree banned the use of Ukrainian in print, Lysenko had to have his scores printed in secret abroad. He died a hero to Ukrainians, his music cherished by contemporaries such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky, but recordings are criminally difficult to find today.

6. So I get that Russia used to rule Ukraine but doesn’t anymore. Why do I hear so much about its role in all this?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been highly aggressive in pushing Ukraine to reject the European Union and, he hopes, instead join the Moscow-led Eurasian Customs Union, which consists of a few other former Soviet states. That included threatening to impose economic sanctions on Ukraine. In 2004 and 2006, when the pro-Western Yushchenko was in power, Russia shut off natural gas exports to Ukraine over political disputes, doing serious damage to the economy.

But if Putin taketh away, he also giveth. A few weeks after Yanukovych rejected the E.U. deal, Putin offered Ukraine a stimulus package worth $15 billion and a 33 percent price cut for Russian natural gas. That will make it much tougher for Yanukovych to walk away from Putin’s embrace, particularly given how much of the popular discontent is driven by the poor economy.

7. Why does Russia care so much about Ukraine?

There are the surface reasons. The cultural connections are indeed deep, and Putin can’t not want to remain close to a country with so much shared history and so many Russians. The country, a source of food and a transit hub for Russian energy exports, is economically and strategically important to Russia. Putin is thought to personally care a great deal about the Eurasian Trade Union and sees it as his legacy.

And then there are the deeper reasons. Ukraine makes or breaks Russia’s self-image as a great power, which has fared poorly since the fall of the Berlin Wall. As Tufts political scientist Dan Drezner put it in Foreign Policy, “For all of Putin’s Middle East diplomacy, Ukraine is far more important to his great power ambitions. One of the very first sentences you’re taught to say in Foreign Policy Community College is, ‘Russia without Ukraine is a country; Russia with Ukraine is an empire.’ ”

Even if Putin can’t bring Ukraine in, he’d like to keep it out of the European Union, which he sees as an extension of a century-old Western conspiracy against Russia. There is a certain lingering suspicion in Moscow that the West wouldn’t mind Russia’s destruction, which is part of why it so opposes any Western intervention into another country, which it fears could be precedent for a similar attack on Russia some day. This is why, silly though it may sound, some security experts tend to emphasize Ukraine’s importance to Russia as a defensive buffer.

8. Why haven’t the U.S. or Europe fixed this?

Western countries could pressure Yanukovych to halt his authoritarian-tinged actions since the crisis began (the Ukrainian parliament rolled back most of the anti-protest law on Tuesday). But most of the power seems to be with Putin and with actual Ukrainians, so it’s not clear what the West could do. A New York Times op-ed by four (four!) former U.S. ambassadors to Ukraine mostly just called for the United States to issue statements, adding that it could follow those up with economic sanctions.

The danger, though, is that any Western action strong enough to make a difference risks triggering a backlash that would make things worse. If the West gets too aggressive about pushing Yanukovych, then the country’s eastern, Russian-facing half might see it as foreign meddling not so different from Russia’s involvement.

Ultimately, the deeper issues here are Ukraine’s troubled economy and its unresolved national identity. Outside countries (including Russia) can certainly help with the former, but the latter can be solved by only Ukrainians.

9. I skipped to the bottom. What’s going to happen next?

The parliament rolled back most of the anti-protest law that had so angered people; it also passed a blanket amnesty for protesters, provided they leave government buildings they’ve occupied.

Putin has put the $15 billion financial aid on hold, which could actually make it easier for Yanukovych to walk away from Putin and go back to the European Union deal.

Still, protests are spreading rapidly – including into the country’s Russian-speaking eastern regions. Right now, the immediate crisis is about more than the E.U. deal or the cultural divide or even the anti-protest law, even if all those things brought Ukraine’s crisis to this point. Yanukovych’s not-terribly-adept handling of the two-month crisis has forced him into a very tight little corner.

There is chatter among analysts, in Moscow as well as Washington, that if Yanukovych panics and calls in the military to disperse protesters it could lead to a civil war. That looks like an extremely remote possibility at this point; probably more likely that the government and opposition leaders strike a deal, the government muddles through and Yanukovych is voted out overwhelmingly in the February 2015 election. But the fact that civil war is being discussed at all shows the degree of international concern and uncertainty about what comes next for Ukraine.
Max Fisher is the Post’s foreign affairs blogger. He has a master’s degree in security studies from Johns Hopkins University. Sign up for his daily newsletter here. Also, follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Why are so many Ukrainians protesting? Max is missing the main reason: this is a revolution of dignity for respect of human values, Ukrainian culture and traditions, against corruption, money power and greed. It’s not just for European integration!!!

Bulatov’s kidnappers crucified him, cut off a piece of his ear and spoke with a Russian accent

Bulatov’s kidnappers crucified him, cut off a piece of his ear and spoke with a Russian accent

Written by: Валерій Дротенко
Published 30.01.2014, filed under EUROMAIDAN DIGEST, News, Top stories

Kyiv, January 30, 2014, 22:29

Following lengthy tortures, Automaidan leader was thrown out from a car in a Kyiv suburb.

Brutally beaten Bulatov was found outside on the outskirts of Kyiv. Credit:

One of the leaders of Automaidan Dmytro Bulatov, who disappeared for a lengthy period, was found on the evening of Thursday, January 30, in the village of Vyshenky, Boryspil District, outside of Kyiv.

As described by Bulatov himself, unknown persons were beating and torturing him, had cut off his ear, and even crucified him – he has puncture wounds on his hands, reports TSN correspondent Olga Koshelenko.

Automaidan leader does not know who kidnapped him, but noted that the men were speaking with a Russian accent.

Following lengthy tortures, he was driven away and thrown out from a car. The brutally beaten man was walking through the village and knocking on every door, until one of the local residents finally let him in. From there, Bulatov called his friends, who have already transported him to Kyiv.

This Neo- Nazi Klu Klux Klan lynching of Ukrainians will not go unavenged with God’s help!

Talks Stall As President Of Ukraine Takes a Leave

Talks Stall As President Of Ukraine Takes a Leave.

KIEV, Ukraine — Critical negotiations between the embattled Ukrainian government and opposition leaders were thrown into disarray on Thursday when President Viktor F. Yanukovych went on sick leave, complaining of a respiratory infection.

Ukraine has been in turmoil for months, since Mr. Yanukovych shocked much of the country by refusing to sign a trade deal with Europe and instead accepted a $15 billion loan package from Moscow. But he has found himself caught between the competing demands of the protesters in the streets of Kiev and other Ukrainian cities and his allies in the Kremlin, who suspended the loan deal on Wednesday after disbursing only $3 billion.

The nature and timing of the president’s illness raised immediate questions about his true motive for withdrawing from the political fray when negotiations with the opposition seemed to be gaining momentum. A statement on the president’s website said Mr. Yanukovych, 63, was taking time off because of “respiratory illness accompanied by a high temperature.” It offered no indication of how long he was expected to be absent.
Protesters remained in Independence Square in Kiev on Thursday. Maxim Shipenkov/European Pressphoto Agency

Some opposition figures speculated darkly that the president was removing himself from the scene in preparation for declaring a state of emergency, a last-ditch measure that the protesters have been warning against for weeks, saying it could ignite an all-out civil war.

“I remember from the Soviet Union it’s a bad sign — a bad sign because always if some Soviet Union leaders have to make an unpopular decision, they go to the hospital,” said Vitali Klitschko, the former boxing champion who leads the opposition party Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform.

Vitali Portnikov, an opposition journalist, suggested that rather than a virus, Mr. Yanukovych was falling prey to internal political pressures, perhaps losing power to a hard-line faction in his government, a development that could presage a coup d’état.

“I don’t remember official statements of Viktor Yanukovych having a cold,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “But I remember well that on the 19th of August, 1991, the vice president of the USSR, Gennady Yanayev, announced a serious illness of Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.” The next day, Mr. Gorbachev was arrested as part of a failed coup.

Other opposition leaders took a less alarmist view. Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, a leader of the Fatherland party, who was offered the position of prime minister over the weekend but declined, said Thursday in an interview that the government seemed to have adopted a policy of dragging its feet, hoping the momentum on the streets would wane.

Mr. Yatsenyuk said the opposition would not falter. “I wish President Yanukovych good health,” he added.

“We will try to seek a peaceful resolution,” Mr. Yatsenyuk said.

Mr. Yanukovych’s sick leave took effect before he could sign a bill repealing harsh restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly that were enacted this month. The repeal was passed by Parliament on Tuesday with support from the pro-government Party of Regions, a significant concession to the opposition but one that means little unless the president signs it.

The rollback and other measures negotiated with the opposition this week had seemed to open the way for a possible ceding of some power by the government, potentially quieting the crisis atmosphere that has enveloped the capital for weeks.

The president, though, is facing pressure from Russia to take a harder line with protesters, rather than continue negotiations. The loans were suspended, the Kremlin said, until it became clear what sort of government would emerge from the current negotiations.

In Berlin, the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, called in unusually blunt terms for Mr. Yanukovych and his allies to stop “playing for time.” Germany has followed the drama in Ukraine closely, with several news media outlets and politicians hastening to Kiev.

Last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany was “outraged to the utmost” by Ukraine’s insistence on limiting freedom to demonstrate and by the use of violence against protesters.

Imagine Sen.McCain, Catherine Aston, the asst sec of state, Victoria Nuland, appearing in, for example Brazil, urging them to join NATO, and…

This all could have been avoided if politics weren’t so deaf to the citizens voice. After all, Power belongs to citizens or I’ve got it all…

It took decades to create the Soviet system and it is taking decades to dismantle it – by the citizems themselves – go Ukrainian people!…

On Wednesday, she opened a speech to Parliament with a renewed appeal to Ukrainians to stick to peaceful resolutions and demanded that the Ukrainian government not ignore the “many people who have shown in courageous demonstrations that they are not willing to turn away from Europe.”

There were signs in Kiev late on Wednesday that negotiations were unraveling. The Party of Regions passed a version of an amnesty law for protesters that lacked support from opposition lawmakers. It stipulated that the amnesty would not take effect until the prosecutor general certified that protesters had vacated all occupied administrative buildings, including provincial capitols that were seized last week, and it set a 15-day deadline, requiring police action after that to clear the buildings.

At least four demonstrators died during battles with the police last week, and evidence is mounting of kidnappings and abuse by the authorities or their surrogates. On Thursday, Dmitry Bulatov, a prominent opposition figure who had been missing since last week, turned up alive in a village outside Kiev, but photographs showed him bloodied and badly hurt.

The financial aid that Russia said it was halting had helped Ukraine avoid defaulting on its foreign debts. The Russian step was a signal of displeasure with the negotiations in Ukraine to resolve the crisis by bringing the pro-Western opposition into a coalition government to replace Prime Minister Mykola Azarov’s cabinet. It was dismissed when Mr. Azarov resigned on Tuesday.

Under the Constitution, if the president is incapacitated or dies, the prime minister serves as acting head of state. After Mr. Azarov resigned, Serhei Arbuzov became acting prime minister; both men are allies of Mr. Yanukovych. There was no indication on Thursday that Mr. Yanukovych intended to hand over authority to Mr. Arbuzov, even temporarily, because of the illness.

Among protesters on the streets of Kiev, though hardly a crowd wishing the best for the president, no one could be found who believed that Mr. Yanukovych was truly ill.

“Of course he is not sick,” concluded one protester on Independence Square, who offered only his first name, Oleksandr, and his job, a bartender. “He wants to look like he is ill and therefore cannot sign these laws. This is obvious.”

Alison Smale contributed reporting from Berlin, and Oksana Lyachynska from Kiev.

Mr Yanukovych needs a psychiatric evaluation first and then an international tribunal court for crimes against humanity- No one from Lenin on in the former Soviet Union space have been held accountable for their crimes against the Ukrainian people and other nations subjugated to their oppression! Lenin, Stalin, Yanukovych and their collaborators MUST BE MADE TO REPENT FOR THEIR SINS!

Love and Hatred in Kiev

Op-Ed Contributor
Love and Hatred in Kiev

January 29, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine — It has been severely cold here lately, with temperatures dipping below freezing night after night. What sustains the protesters at Independence Square in weather this bleak can only come from inside: an exceptionally hot mix of despair, hope, self-sacrifice and hatred.

Yes, hatred. Morality does not forbid hating murderers. Especially if the murderers are in power or in direct service of those in power — with batons, tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, and, starting Jan. 22, live ammunition.

That day, the news came about the first two protesters to be shot and killed by the police since the protests began in November. One of them, Serhiy Nihoyan, a 20-year-old Ukrainian of Armenian heritage, dreamed of becoming an actor. The other, Mikhail Zhiznevsky, a citizen of Belarus, was also young, just 25 years old. An ethnic Armenian and a Belarusian, giving their lives for the freedom of Ukrainians — this gives the lie to the fears, held by some in the West, that the democracy movement here is being hijacked by Ukrainian nationalists.

If anyone is promoting hatred it is the government. My friend Josef Zissels, chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, and vice president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote a few days ago that the website of Berkut, the special police force (and a final line of defense for the powers that be) had been “flooded with anti-Semitic materials that allege that the Jews are to blame for organizing at Maidan,” the central square, which has become synonymous with the protests.

Mr. Zissels wrote: “This is completely absurd, but those who are armed with batons and shields, now facing the protesters, believe this. They are brainwashed into believing that the Maidan is a Jewish project, and thus there is no need to take pity on anyone — you can beat them all.”

Beat them all. The police have beaten women and children, and even priests trying to intervene to stop the bloodshed. Berkut not only beats; it maims, tortures and kills. Its members like to pounce on individuals who have gotten separated from the crowd of protesters. Some have even posed for thecameras, their boots on the heads of victims lying on the ground. They proudly upload these photos and videos to their personal pages at social networking sites.

Article 21 of our Constitution states that “human rights and freedoms shall be inalienable and inviolable.”

The abuses by the ruling authorities, and their escalating use of violence, have threatened to make the Constitution a joke.

On Jan. 16, the government of President Viktor F. Yanukovych pushed through Parliament a package of laws severely curtailing freedom of speech and assembly. This week, the prime minister resigned, and the majority of the repressive laws were repealed, partly because of the wave of international condemnation.

It is precisely for their rights and freedoms — long and brazenly violated by the Yanukovych regime — that the Ukrainian people are now fighting. They have been given no other choice. Our national anthem says, “We will lay down our body and soul for our freedom.” On Jan. 19, the protests turned violent. But if no one resists the riot police, the thinking goes, Ukraine will be turned into one large prison in a matter of weeks.

This is why an acquaintance of mine, a translator of Kierkegaard and Ibsen, now spends her time making Molotov cocktails, and her young sons, classics majors, aged 17 and 19, throw their mother’s products in the direction of the wall of smoke on Hrushevsky Street, which runs past major government buildings.

This is why an 80-year-old Kiev grandmother brought her knitting needles to the protest headquarters and gave them to the first protester she saw with the words, “Take them, son. If you don’t kill the monster, maybe you’ll at least stop it.”

This is why even the Hare Krishnas in Kiev now carry baseball bats.

We are defending ourselves, our country, our future, Europe’s future — some with Molotov cocktails, some with knitting needles, some with paving stones, some with baseball bats, some with texts published on the Internet, some with photos documenting the atrocities.

The police have been targeting journalists as rabidly as they have targeted medics taking the wounded out of the scene of clashes. Berkut has been treating journalists with cameras and notebooks as the enemy. Several dozen journalists have been wounded, hit by stun grenades, tear gas or rubber bullets.

Recently, coordinators of the protest made an appeal across online social networks for medicine and diapers —which are excellent at absorbing blood. The people of Kiev began bringing drugs and nappies to the protest headquarters at such a scale that in just a few hours a new message went up online: “Enough medication for now! We don’t have enough storage space! But we urgently need warm clothes, bread, tea and coffee!” And again, people from all over Kiev brought everything they could to help.

The authorities can’t understand this. Recently, some unknown thugs in civilian clothes kidnapped an activist and spent the night torturing him, demanding: Who is funding the Maidan? Which Western sources? Is it the State Department, or someone else?

The regime’s mental system of coordinates cannot fit one simple fact: The Maidan funds itself, through its own love and its own hatred.

I have never loved my homeland as much as I love it now. Before, I had always been skeptical and restrained toward it. I am 53 years old, and had long put sentimentality behind me.

But these days I see our women, young and old, sorting with amazing efficiency the donated medications and food supplies, I see hipster students in hockey masks and camouflage pants fearlessly going onto the frontline barricades, I see our workers and farmers providing security for the Maidan protesters, our grannies and grandpas who keep bringing more and more hot food to Independence Square, and I feel a lump in my throat.

Yuri Andrukhovych is a poet, essayist, translator and the author of the novels “Perverzion” and “The Moscoviad.” This article was translated by Vitaly Chernetsky from the Ukrainian.

The Fascist Yanukovych regime is Ukrainophobic , Anti-Semitic and Pro-Russian!

Ukraine chaos unwelcome jolt for confident Putin

Ukraine chaos unwelcome jolt for confident Putin

(MOSCOW) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has been waging one of the most furious diplomatic battles of his career to keep Ukraine from signing an historic deal with the European Union.

But Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s sacking of his trusted prime minister in the face of two months of protests over his decision to keep closer ties with Russia now raises the prospect of the pro-EU opposition coming to head the government.

The sudden reversal of fortunes in Kiev puts the Russian leader’s seeming victory in doubt. Here is a closer look at what rests behind Putin’s fierce determination to keep Ukraine in the Kremlin’s orbit.

Why does Putin need Ukraine?

The Russian leader has made the formation of an economic alliance of ex-Soviet nations that could rival the European Union one of the defining goals of his 14-year rule.

Most analysts believe that Putin’s dream will shatter unless his bloc also includes Ukraine — a nation of 46 million with a strong industrial and agricultural base. Such membership would be impossible should Kiev and Brussels strike their own free trade deal.

“Putin’s economic union idea is much less serious without Ukraine,” noted Maria Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Centre.

Does Putin depend on Yanukovych?

Putin viewed Yanukovych as a pro-Russian ally when he recognised his victory in disputed 2004 elections that were annulled after weeks of protests that became known as the pro-democracy Orange Revolution.

Yanukovych has since shown a more independent streak that appears to take the views of Ukraine’s powerful billionaire tycoons into account as much as those of Moscow.

But Yanukovych has ultimately tied himself to the Kremlin by ditching the EU agreement and striking a $15-billion bailout deal with Putin that also slashes by a third the price Ukraine pays for the Russian natural gas imports on which its economy depends.

Will Russia still release Ukraine loan?

Putin said firmly in Brussels on Tuesday that Russia would honour the terms of the Ukrainian bailout no matter who came to head the Kiev government next.

But Russia’s powerful First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said on the sidelines of the Brussels meet that payment of the remaining $12 billion may be reconsidered if the new Ukrainian cabinet follows “a different agenda and different priorities”.

Putin seemed to muddy the waters further on Wednesday by saying that Russia will consider resuming the loan payments after the new Ukrainian government is formed — a statement some analysts read as a sign of confusion in Moscow’s ruling circles about their next move.

Why hasn’t Putin intervened in the crisis?

The two-month rallies in Kiev turned deadly after Yanukovych on January 17 signed into law hugely unpopular measures effectively making the street protests against him illegal.

Yet Putin — well-known for his tough talk and seeming disregard for diplomatic etiquette — was uncharacteristically reticent during the most heated days of the crisis and remained silent when the Ukrainian government stood down.

He argued on Tuesday that he “will never interfere” in Ukraine. Analysts believe that Putin decided to take a less blunt approach with Ukraine out of fear that the violence could get out of hand and possibly be blamed on Russia.

Have Sochi Games softened Putin’s tone?

Putin has staked both his reputation and prestige on the success of Winter Olympic Games in Sochi that kick off on February 7, but he has faced a chorus of international criticism over the Kremlin’s draconian new law against “homosexual propaganda”.

As he tries to boost Russia’s image ahead of the Games, the Kremlin chief who accused the West of charging into Ukraine wearing “colonial helmets” during the 2004 Orange Revolution has been much more muted in his criticism of both Brussels on Washington on this occasion.

“Putin understands that he cannot interfere in Ukraine too openly because this would ruin his Sochi project,” said independent political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin.

Pro-presidential majority approves amnesty law

Pro-presidential majority approves amnesty law

lawUkraine’s parliament passed an amnesty law at a late night session on Jan. 29. The law, authored by the president’s representative in parliament Yuriy Myroshnychenko, was denounced by the opposition as unacceptable because it imposes a deadline on the protesters for leaving the government buildings taken over in the past week across Ukraine.

“The law only affects the peaceful protesters,” Myroshnychenko said after the

Ukraine ‘on brink of civil war,’ ex-leader warns as protester amnesty debated

Ukraine ‘on brink of civil war,’ ex-leader warns as protester amnesty debated.HornetNest
Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) — Ukraine is on the brink of civil war, the Eastern European country’s first post-independence President warned Wednesday as parliament met again to debate a possible amnesty for protesters arrested during two months of demonstrations.

Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine’s President from 1991 to 1994, addressed a special parliamentary session to seek a way out of a deepening political crisis following weeks of mass protests that have crippled the capital, Kiev.

“Let’s be honest, the situation is dramatic. Both Ukraine and the world recognize the country is on the brink of civil war,” Kravchuk said.

Wednesday’s session comes after a day of political upheaval when Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his Cabinet resigned and draconian anti-protest laws were annulled.

Opposition politicians and activists welcomed the concessions made but said they were only a small step toward the change needed.
Journalist: The people are not satisfied
Tymoshenko: Yanukovych still in control
Ukraine protesters demand more
Ukranian Prime Minister resigns

They want to see wide-ranging constitutional reform and a shake-up of the Ukrainian political system to shift the balance of power back toward parliament.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms party, or UDAR, said on his party’s website that the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych would be “a logical step.”

Kiev’s snow-covered streets remained calm Wednesday, namely around the demonstrators’ makeshift barricades in the central Independence Square and a road leading up to parliament — the scene of violent confrontations last week.

“I think the people should not leave the barricades,” one Kiev resident told CNN. “Nothing is decided yet, let them decide — now they just promise but don’t make decisions. People are being tricked. They are tired of it.”

Amnesty debate

Ukraine’s parliament, or Verkhovna Rada, is considering legislation that might provide amnesty for more than 200 people arrested since the demonstrations began in late November, centered on Independence Square.

Debate began Tuesday but continued into Wednesday. “The amnesty issue is not simple and difficult negotiations continue,” state news agency Ukrinform quoted parliament’s chairman, Volodymyr Rybak, as saying Tuesday.

Nationalist opposition party Svoboda, or Freedom, led by Oleg Tiahnybok, said the main bone of contention is that the government insists protesters must leave Independence Square before any amnesty law can take effect.

“The opposition, of course, cannot accept this condition,” said a statement on the party’s website.

Klitschko told journalists he was opposed to any bloodshed, but that demands in the government’s proposed amnesty bill remained unacceptable.

“People took to the streets because they want to change the situation. A statement ‘We will free people, if they go home’ is unacceptable. It cannot be understood,” he is quoted as saying on the UDAR website.

“Today, the key issue is the confrontation between people and government. Withdrawal of charges and amnesty is not enough.”

Violent confrontations

Parliament’s vote Tuesday in favor of repealing the controversial anti-protest laws, rammed through January 16 in a show of hands by members of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, was overwhelming.

The repeal legislation has still to be signed off by Yanukovych.

Anger about the controversial anti-protest laws escalated the long-running protests into violent confrontations in the capital, with police and protesters fighting pitched battles among burning tires and barricades.

The legislation also prompted concern in the European Union and United States, where leaders condemned what appeared to be an attempt to limit freedom of speech and the right to protest.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton traveled to Kiev and met Yanukovych on Wednesday.

“It’s important to stop the senseless violence. … The dialogue that happens from time to time needs to become a real dialogue,” Ashton later told a news conference.

“It’s very clear that people are very keen to find a solution. …There is no question of the importance of finding a quick way forward.”

Vying for influence

Under Ukrainian law, Azarov’s resignation as prime minister triggered the resignation of his government with him.

But he and his Cabinet will continue in a caretaker function until a new government is formed, the presidential website said.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who heads the opposition Fatherland party, refused an offer from Yanukovych over the weekend to be prime minister.

Klitschko also turned down an offer to be vice prime minister of humanitarian affairs.

According to the law, a new government should be formed within 60 days.

Yanukovych’s representative in parliament, Party of Regions lawmaker Yuriy Miroshnychenko, told parliament Wednesday that discussions on the makeup of a new Cabinet could begin next week, Ukrinform reported.

“We cannot talk about the political color of the government, because there is no response from the opposition regarding seats on the Cabinet of Ministers, and it will be clear only after the talks whether this is a technical government or a political government,” he said, according to the news agency.

The next presidential election is due in March next year.

Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, is home to 45 million people. The recent clashes are an escalation of weeks of largely peaceful public protests prompted by Yanukovych’s decision in November to spurn a planned trade deal with the European Union and turn toward Russia.

He and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on a $15 billion deal for Russia to buy Ukrainian debt and slash the price of natural gas.

Putin has denied that Moscow is exerting undue influence in Ukraine.

“Russia has always respected, is respecting and will respect the sovereign rights of all the international entities including new states that emerged after breakdown of the Soviet Union,” Putin said, speaking after a summit Tuesday with senior EU figures in Belgium.

Putin also said Russia would stick to the loan and energy commitments to Ukraine — agreed in December — even if the opposition comes to power.

CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported in London and Diana Magnay reported from Kiev. CNN’s Khushbu Shah, Karen Smith, Marie-Louise Gumuchian and journalist Victoria Butenko contributed to this report.

Pray for Ukraine.

Thoughts from Kyiv – Jan 28, 2014

Thoughts from Kyiv – Jan 28, 2014

Maybe I’m imagining things, but I have the distinct impression that the mood on Maidan and Hrushevskoho St. changed significantly in the wake of today’s events in Parliament. The resignation of Prime Minister Azarov was accepted by the President today, and each minister in Ukraine’s government is now (as a result) an “acting minister”. The draconian laws passed with massive procedural irregularities on January 16 were also rescinded today by Parliament. Both of these events presumably should have been celebrated by the protesters – in fact, many are worried, twitchy, and apprehensive. Tension is particularly high near the barricades on Hrushevskoho St. where defenses are most comprehensive, but also where police lines are in plain view of the demonstrators. Standing next to a burning barrel (temperatures have dropped to about -15 C during the day) listening to conversations between helmet-clad young men, it seemed to me that a single “spark” (in whatever form) would be enough to rekindle violence.

One wonders how the good natured atmosphere of seemingly calm but determined protest that I experienced on Sunday could have transformed so quickly (by Tuesday). Demonstrators continue to cooperate, and their individual resolve certainly has not slackened, but the openness, collegiality, and implied trust in one’s fellow protestor seems to have become (temporarily – I hope) moderated. Clearly the problem is trust – or rather its absence – both in the leaders of Ukraine’s opposition parties and in the proclaimed promises of the Yanukovych regime. Everyone that I have spoken to recognizes the need for negotiations because the alternative is more violence, and more casualties. However, the ongoing negotiations between the regime and the opposition involve the opposition party leaders only (no representatives of the Maidan are present), and the implementation of negotiated concessions (of necessity in stages) requires a certain degree of trust not only of allies, but also of one’s opponents.

Few on Maidan rejoiced today after the announcement of Azarov’s resignation. Many (like me) were cautious that this might some sort of trap: before noon we pointed out that the resignation still needed to be accepted by Yanukovych; then the Presidential decree dismissing the government was published, and the Jan 16 laws were abrogated, but people are still asking “what’s the catch?” After all, Interior Ministry troops continue to be mobilized across the country; strange concrete barriers were set up overnight around key government buildings in the center of Kyiv, and then suddenly disbanded around noon; rumors abound regarding the contents of special telegrams being sent last night by the Presidential Administration to Army officers in the regions; oblast governors, who had previously remained relatively tranquil when faced with mass demonstrations in front of their administrative offices, today suddenly became more vocal in their demands for order; police attacks on AutoMaidan leaders continue with several now in jail, and Dmytro Bulatov still missing; ominously, today was the day that Ministry of the Interior Directive №1011 (originally passed 24 Oct. 2013) which legalizes the use of lethal rounds in firearms by Berkut special forces came into force. The demonstrators on Maidan have many reasons not to trust the regime, and many still believe a declaration of martial law is in the works. Furthermore, given that during the past 2 months of protests many on the Maidan have viewed the 3 opposition political party leaders as allies, rather than “team members”, they do not fully trust Klitschko, Yatseniuk and Tiahnybok. All of this (unfortunately, and according to my subjective impression) has led to a decreased level of interpersonal trust on Maidan.

The reality is that the regime changed its tune exceptionally quickly. Whereas yesterday the entire country seemed to be preparing for a declaration of martial law, suddenly today, Azarov was fired and the “dictatorial” legislation passed on 16 January was rescinded. As was the case with Yanukovych’s previous about-face with respect to EU Association, many are asking “why?” I have spent most of the day (like many others I expect) trying to figure out an answer to this question, and what follows is a theory that (I stress) is based on “educated speculation”. Please do not criticize me for providing insufficient evidence for my claims. I recognize that I am being insufficiently “scientific” in drawing conclusions – but these are revolutionary times, so I ask for some indulgence.

During a short telephone conversation this morning with a friend who is highly placed in the current government, the phrase “revolt of the oligarchs” was all that was offered as an answer to the query as to what is happening within the regime. It will come as no surprise to anyone that the ruling Party of Regions is not a monolithic political force: according to an article in the Ukrainian edition of Forbes magazine (Oct 2013), 7 identifiable groups exist within the parliamentary faction (187 MP’s), with four representing the core of the Party. Specifically:

1) The Firtash group, nominally led in Parliament by Serhiy Tihipko, but in fact (until last week) forming the base of support for Serhiy Liovochkin, Yanukovych’s Presidential Administration Head; Yuriy Boyko, Deputy PM responsible for energy, represents the interests of the gas tycoon Dmytro Firtash in relations with Russia.

2) The Akhmetov group which is represented in the Presidential Administration by Irina Akimova (as of Jan 17 she is the “President’s representative in the Cabinet of Ministers), in Parliament by Yuriy Voropayev, and in the government by Deputy PM Oleksander Vilkul, Health Minister Raisa Bohatyriova, Economics Minister Prasolov, and Sports Minister Safiulin

3) The Kliuyev group, led in Parliament by Serhiy Kliuyev, whose brother Andriy was until recently Secretary of the National Security Council, and last week replaced Liovochkin as Head of the Presidential Administration; Andriy Portnov (legal counsel of the Presidential Administration) is considered to be part of this group.

4) The Yanukovych group which represents the interests of the President directly – in Parliament, in the Executive and in Ukraine’s murky world of big business. First Deputy PM Arbuzov (now Acting Prime Minister), Justice Minister Olena Lukash, Interior Minister Zakharchenko, Defense Minister Lebedev and Revenue Minister Klymenko are all considered to be directly loyal to the Yanukovych “family”.

The three additional (less influential) groups within the PR include a) the Ivaniushchenko group – represented in the Azarov government by Agriculture Minister Prysiazhniuk and Ecology Minister Proskuriakov, b) the Russian lobby represented in Parliament by deputy Kolisnichenko (author of the Jan 16 laws), and in the executive by the notorious Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk, and c) the Luhansk group led by Parliamentary faction leader Yefremov, and represented in government by Social Services Minister Nataliya Korolevska.

Clearly the above characterization is “broad-brush”, but it seems to reflect some interesting cleavages within the Party of Regions. As we can see, prior to the current political crisis, the four main power groups seem to have found a means of balancing their interests against one another – effectively by dividing specific spheres of influence among themselves. This balance was delicate, but it held until the middle of January 2014 – although it had begun to unravel approximately 2 months before. The catalyst for the conflict seems to have been the EU Association Agreement turn-around: Firtash and Liovochkin had supported its signing whereas Kliuyev and the Russian lobby had opposed it. During the week before the Vilnius summit, Azarov sided with the latter group.

It is rumored (I have no evidence for this, except authoritative statements by “people in the know”) that Serhiy Liovochkin, Head of Yanukovych’s Presidential Administration, had in fact supported the initial Euromaidan student protests in the run-up to Vilnius. Immediately after the November 30 beatings of students on Independence Square (according to testimony by former Kyiv mayor Popov given to prosecutors, this attack had been ordered by Security Council Secretary Andriy Kliuyev), Liovochkin submitted his resignation, but it was not accepted by Yanukovych – likely because such a change would have tipped the balance between interest groups within the Party of Regions. Liovochkin’s resignation was finally accepted on January 17, and separate decrees firing the President’s press attaché Darka Chepak, and Andriy Yermolayev, the Director of the National Institute for Strategic Studies (both Liovochkin loyalists) were issued on the same day.

By pushing Liovochkin (and the pro-EU “doves”) out of the President’s inner circle, and simultaneously pushing through draconian laws through Parliament, it would seem that the Kliuyev group (considered the “hawks”) had scored a decisive victory, and that a forcible removal of protestors from the center of Kyiv was inevitable. It is for this reason that many insiders considered the initial violence on Hrushevskoho St. on Jan 19 to have been instigated deliberately – as a front that would provide an excuse for the future imposition of martial law.

However last Saturday, it would seem that Ukraine’s richest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov decided otherwise. The holding company System Capital Management (SCM) which he owns, issued a public statement condemning the use of force to resolve Ukraine’s ongoing political crisis. It offered “deepest condolences to the families and relatives of those who lost their lives” and called for “constructive negotiations” and “compromise” in the interests of the whole country. By Monday, swiftly organized negotiations between the President and the opposition had resulted in Yanukovych’s offer of the Prime Minister’s job to Arseniy Yatseniuk – an offer that has been rejected, but nevertheless was seen as a very real olive branch from the regime. Incidentally, influential journalist Serhiy Leshchenko today reported that a Swish bank had informed Akhmetov on Friday that due to the political situation in Ukraine, it would be forced to reevaluate its financing arrangements with SCM. In addition to irritants such as pickets in front of Akhmetov’s apartment in London, the warning of future difficulties accessing cheap loans may have been the final catalyst for the oligarch’s decision to press Yanukovych into real negotiations to end the violence.

What does all of this mean? Well, it shows that the Party of Regions is far from monolithic, nor is it completely pro-Russian. When negotiations begin on the formation of a new post-Azarov Cabinet of Ministers (according to the Constitution, Yanukovych has 60 days to submit a candidate for PM to Parliament for approval, but he has promised to do so within a week), we will see whether the pro-EU Firtash-Liovochkin group has been completely sidelined within the Party, or whether it reemerges with some representation in the executive. However, before this happens, the latent conflict between Akhmetov’s “doves” and Kliuyev’s “hawks” must be resolved.

Prior to the Azarov resignation this morning, the conflict had clearly not been resolved: some branches of Ukraine’s government were still preparing for martial law (e.g. setting up barricades, organizing a massive “Anti-Maidan” gathering in the park near Parliament) while others were working towards a peaceful solution. Some of the anxiety on Maidan may well be a reflection of a feeling in Kyiv that the conflict within Ukraine’s political elite is (perhaps) more dangerous to human lives than street fighting and protest.

There are two unknown elements within this elite power game that could dramatically affect the direction in which events evolve in the near future. Firstly, which side will the Yanukovych group within the Party of Regions choose to ally with? Yanukovych is clearly still in control, and he is surrounded by a loyal inner circle (including Acting Prime Minister Arbuzov), but the financial and political resources that his loyalist group controls are insufficient to maintain power without cooperating with others. So, will he choose the “hawks” and Russia, or Akhmetov’s “doves” and Europe? Both groups are composed of individuals from Donetsk with whom Yanukovych has long-standing ties, so the President’s decision will not be based on regional preferences – a fact that may make it even more difficult for him.

Secondly, in a post-Azarov world, how will Ukraine’s political-economic elites build a new balance of power? In other words, if an internal compromise cannot be found, and the President makes his choice (be it for Kliuyev or for Akhmetov), what does the losing side do? Could the current crisis gradually turn into a Godfather-style “hit the mattresses!” gang-war between former Party of Regions “business” partners? Recent Ukrainian history (and specifically Donetsk during the 1990’s) has seen precedents of this kind of open warfare between business groups. Indeed, such a gang war could actually be in Mr. Putin’s interests: with Ukraine descending into anarchy during the coming weeks he could move in as a legitimate peacemaker immediately after the Sochi Olympics. Then, Russian military intervention in Ukraine would not be masked under the questionably legitimate pretext of “helping brother Slavs” in border regions, but rather as a humanitarian mission aimed at ending uncontrolled street violence.

What worries me in all of this (and I suspect it worries many of the demonstrators freezing in Kyiv’s city center) is that resolution of the current crisis through either a war or a deal between the oligarchs leaves little space for the Maidan as an independent political actor. In order for the events of the past 10 weeks in Ukraine to truly transform into a revolution (i.e. systemic change in Ukraine’s society – including both its political and economic spheres), rather than a coup d’etat (i.e. a rotation of elites), the protestors must make themselves heard. The Maidan cannot remain a social force (however massive) that relies on having its political interests represented by the opposition party leaders. The Maidan must become an independent political force that is able to counter/ally with (as distasteful as this may sound) at least one of Ukraine’s oligarchic groups in addition to allying with the opposition.

One option might be to ally with oligarchs that are not represented in the Party of Regions (e.g. Viktor Pinchuk or Ihor Kolomoyskiy). Since the start of protests, they have largely remained politically neutral. The extent of their activism has been to allow journalists working for their media outlets to report on the situation in Kyiv without having the TV channel owner’s editorial preferences imposed upon them. However, given their political passivity under Yanukovych during the past 4 years, I believe that they are unlikely to become overt allies of Maidan during the coming end-game (except for Poroshenko who has already clearly demonstrated his political preferences and ambitions – other smaller oligarchs like Zhyvago or Bakhmatiuk may yet follow his lead).

So we are left with the distasteful prospect of cooperating with a group within the Party of Regions. Furthermore, if further violence and casualties are to be avoided, the Maidan may yet be forced to accept a Yanukovych presidency (although with reduced powers – the return of the 2004 Constitution seems to basically be a done deal) likely lasting until at least the end of 2014. In such a scenario, will the protestors remain on the Maidan? Will they remain united? For how long?

As I was leaving Independence Square today, the last thing I noticed was a large sign with the following questions:

1) Where are those who beat students on the night of Nov 30?

2) Where are those who beat journalists and wrecked property?

3) Where are those who kidnapped and killed Yuriy Verbitsky?

4) Where are those who killed Serhiy Nigoyan and others?

5) Where are those who have harassed and attacked Kyiv residents?

6) Where are those who destroy the property of AutoMaidan activists?

7) Where are those who enjoy abusing and then being photographed with nude Ukrainians?

Finding these people – these are the basic demands of the Maidan – not who is going to be responsible for what ministerial portfolio…

If we are to find the answers to the above questions, and if we are to duly prosecute those responsible, “we” on the world’s Maidans may have to make some difficult compromises; possibly allying ourselves with some distasteful people. The alternative (unfortunately) is to remain a social movement that delegates its political agency to the leaders of Ukraine’s opposition parties. To many, that prospect is even more distasteful…

God help us!

Mychailo Wynnyckyj PhD

Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

President Obama State of the Union Address -2014

Here it is- Obama’s statement about Ukraine during the State of Union Address:

Updated Map of Ukraine’s protest

map of ukraineThis map, in the Ukrainian language, shows the progress the move for democracy that has spread across the Ukraine. Every day more regions are joining the movement and we are looking forward to moving away from Russian President Putin’s control of our destiny to a democratic form of government.