Weekly overview of the Ukrainian media between July 14, 2015 and July 20, 2015

Situation in ATO zone
The situation in the ATO zone in Luhansk and Donetsk regions remains tense. Russia-backed militant groups intensified artillery shelling of towns with remaining civilians.

On July 19, 75 attacks conducted by Russia-backed militants were recorded. ATO forces were shelled near the towns of Mykolaivka, Pisky, Mayorsk, Zaitseve, Shchastia, Hranitne, Krasnohorivka, Kirove, Stanytsia Luhanska and Lebedynske. Ukrainian troops were shelled approximately 30 times near Maryinka. According to the ATO Staff, Russia-backed militants used 152-mm and 122-mm artillery six times, 120 mm mortars 18 times and fired from tanks six times.

Militants fired at ATO forces a total of 535 times using various types of weapons between July 13 and 19.

Logistical centers at the delimitation line between the occupied areas and Ukraine-controlled territories will begin operating in Donetsk region on July 24. It is expected that they will help eliminate the traffic of smuggled goods.

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission can increase number of its observers in Ukraine up to one thousand, stated OSCE Chairperson in Office Ivica Dacic. “It will not be done overnight though,” he emphasized. It is not only about accommodating mission observers but also to secure their safety.

Russia-backed militants are “nationalizing” property of Ukrainian enterprises on occupied territories and will close mines in Horlivka. According to Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesperson of the Administration of the President of Ukraine on ATO-related issues, the economic situation in the occupied territories is worsening.

Trilateral Contact Group for settlement of the situation in Donbas will meet in Minsk on July 21. OSCE Chairperson in Office Ivica Dacic will participate in the meeting.


MH17 tragedy
Exclusive interview with Paul Guard, whose parents were among MH17 passengers, where he speaks on his perception of the tragedy.

“I shall never forget it, especially when I am on the plane”: Exclusive interview with Alexander Hug, Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, one year after the MH17 tragedy.

The Netherlands is leading the investigation of the Boeing 777 Malaysia Airlines crash and will soon provide the technical investigation’s conclusions. Ukraine’s position over the year has been that the Flight МН17 was shot down by pro-Russian militants – Vice Prime Minister Hennadiy Zubko, head of the State Commission on Investigating the Causes of the Boeing 777.

Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament) adopted draft amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine on decentralization, passed the new law on local elections and set October 25, 2015 as the date for holding these elections during the law’s first reading. The changes were sent to the Constitutional Court for approval. Whether local elections of 2015 are to be held in particular towns of Donetsk or Luhansk region in government-controlled areas is up to the Central Elections Commission based on respective suggestions submitted by military-civilian administrations. The law is receiving widespread media attention.

Suggested amendments to the Constitution stipulate that dissolution of local councils is a power shared by the President, Constitutional Court and the Parliament. If a local council adopts a decision threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and national security, the President will have the right to suspend its powers immediately. The Constitutional Court will then review the issue. As the next step the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) will adopt a decision on setting extraordinary elections to respective council or of the community head, the President explained. The President is convinced that those advocating for decentralization without this extremely important preventive mechanism are actually offering federalization.

Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, emphasized the importance of the constitutional amendments and expressed support of the U.S. to Ukraine. “Ukraine is doing its job. There is no excuses for the other side to break the agreement.”


Combating corruption
MPs voted on a draft law amending some legal acts on prevention and counteraction to political corruption after its first reading. The law introduces a mechanism for financing political parties from the state budget. This provision will allow the parties to receive a financing alternative to funding from oligarchs. The introduction of this law is scheduled for 2017. However, the parties will have to submit quarterly reports on private donations received starting next year.

The Verkhovna Rada opened access to proprietorship registries in Ukraine. All citizens now have access to information on property registered to any individual free of charge. This will serve as a tool to combat corruption by revealing discrepancies between officials’ stated income and their expenses.

The newly appointed Head of Zakarpatska Regional State Administration Hennadiy Moskal spoke on how he intends to combat smuggling the illegal lumbar industry. He promised to block all routes currently used by smugglers. Moskal will invite border services from Romania, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to join the fight against cigarette and drug smuggling, as well as illegal migration. Moskal will conduct monthly data verification with participating countries’ border services.

In the framework of the fight aginst corruption, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk suggested contracting out management of particular customs houses to a British company. Negotiations are underway.

Over the upcoming two months, U.S. customs officers will come to Ukraine to share their experience with Ukrainian colleagues based on agreements with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said Head of the State Fiscal Service Roman Nasirov. U.S. officers will work in Kyiv and Odessa customs houses.


Gas and energy
In June 2015, Ukraine decreased its consumption of natural gas by 26.1 percent compared to June 2014, reported the State Service of Statistics office. According to the Head of Ukrtransgaz, Ihor Prokopiv, the decrease in gas consumption results from occupied areas in Donbas being cut off from Ukraine’s energy system as well as from decreaseing industrial production.

International financial organizations are willing to disburse around USD 1 billion to Ukraine to purchase natural gas and place it in storage facilities, said the Minister for Coal Industry and Energy, Volodymyr Demchyshyn.

The Verkhovna Rada registered a draft law suggesting decreasing rent on gas extraction starting October 1, 2015. “The governmental draft law on rent was approved at the meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers and registered in the Parliament. The draft law worked out by the Finance Ministry suggests decreasing rent from 55 percent to 29 percent for deposits less than 5000 meters deep an d from 28 percent to 14 percent for deposits deeper than 5000 meters effective October 1, 2015,” said Deputy Finance Minister Olena Makeyeva. Rent of 20 percent and 10 percent respectively for developing new deposits are suggested for introduction on January 1, 2016. At the same time, the current plan is to keep the actual income tax rate and additional 30 percent increase to the income tax. Potential extraction of natural gas from 2016-2020 may increase 2-2.5 times, said Makeyeva.


Public opinion polls
Ukrainians think that lustration (replacing authorities) is not happening. According to the results of the public opinion poll TNS On-line TRACK held in June 2015, over half of respondents (67 percent) are convinced that authorities only imitate the process, while each tenth interviewed reports seeing results of replacing authorities under new reforms. Such low scores may be a result from the fact that in most corrupt agencies, which in the opinion of Ukrainians include courts, police and the prosecutor’s office, only minimal changes have taken place. The majority of those interviewed (63 percent) also report they do not feel any affects from reform in Ukraine.

The Pew Research Center released a new research report on the main concerns of the world’s inhabitants. Over 45,000 people in 40 countries were interviewed in course of the research from May 25-27, 2015. According to the results 43 percent of Americans are concerned with deteriorating relations with Russia (against 68 percent who are afraid of ISIS). In Germany, these figures are 40 percent (Russia) and 70 percent (ISIS). Sixty-two percent of Ukrainians perceive Russia as a threat. Research text in English.


Ukraine’s Finance Minister Nathalie Jaresko provided a positive assessment of negotiations with creditors on restructuring of the state debt. The meeting took place in Washington, D.C. Alhough no final decision has been made, major changes have been settled. Despite Jaresko’s optimistic assessment, there is still a possibility that the Ukrainian government could introduce a moratorium on paying external debts.

From January-May 2015, Ukrainian metallurgic exports decreased by 26.3 percent compared to a similar period in 2014.

Other news
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group released an analytical report on “separatism” in Lviv.

The Atlantic Council presented its report proving presence of the Russian troops in the eastern Ukraine with an aim to secure Vladimir Putin’s control over Ukraine.

StopFake debunked a fake news report from the Russian media stating that Yatsenyuk was on the Right Sector’s side following the conflict in Mukacheve.