Weekly Ukrainian media digest, June 21 – June 27, 2016

Situation in the Antiterrorist Operation Zone 
Situation in ATO zone over the last week was calmer than in the previous week, however it remains tense. ATO staff registered a total of 317 attacks made from the occupied areas of Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Four Ukrainian servicemen were killed in action and 30 were wounded in action.

Joint Russian and militant troops continue their attacks upon Ukrainian forces in the Donetsk and Mariupol sectors. According to the ATO Staff over the last day they fired various kinds of weapons upon Ukrainian positions near the towns of Maryinka, Novotroyitske, Hranitne, Starohanitivka, Taramchuk, Vodiane, Talakivka and Chermalyk in the Mariupol sector; near Troitske, Novoselivka Druha, Avdiivka, Zaitseve, Novhorodske, Putylivksa “Butivka” mine and Opytne in the Donetsk sector; near Popasna, Novooleksandrivka and Novozvanivka in the Luhansk sector (report on the situation in ATO zone of June 26 in English). Russia’s proxies keep using heavy weapons, automatic grenade launchers, 82-mm mortars and 122-mm artillery (news in English).

Alexander Hug, Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine said the number of ceasefire violations in Donbas decreased over the past week. SMM reported a 35% decrease in the total number of ceasefire violations, following four consecutive weeks of an increasing number of violations. Hug stated: “The decrease was particularly noted in the old hotspots – around Donetsk airport, the Yasynuvata-Avdiivka area and on the Svitlodarsk-Debaltseve road.”

Political negotiations. Situation in the occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions is not improving, that’s why parties to negotiations in the Normandy and Minsk formats need to estimate what has been achieved and what has not, said Rebecca Harms, MEP from Germany, Co-Chair of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament, in an interview to the Radio Liberty. “Serious combats with the use of heavy weapons continue in Donbas. We have witnessed escalation numerous times, especially in May. It raises serious concerns, so that western partners in the Minsk process need to really make Russia and surely Ukraine return to the negotiations table. Reports by the OSCE monitoring mission show that it is the mercenaries and separatists mostly responsible for the violations. It should be one of the issues that we need to discuss with Moscow,” pointed Harms.

Elections in Donbas. Leader of Russia-backed Donetsk militants Aleksandr Zakharchenko stated that Ukrainian authorities have to adopt the law on local elections in Donbas before July 14, 2016 having agreed it beforehand with the so-called “DPR” militant group. Otherwise elections date will be defined unilaterally. “This law must be agreed with representatives of Donbas. In case such a law is not adopted we will be deciding on the local elections on our own,” Zakharchenko said.

New hostages. Militants from the so-called “LPR” group say they have detained a Ukrainian journalist of “Holos-Info” media, resident of Ivano-Frankivsk Olha Bohdanova. Representatives of the militant group state that “tasked by Ukrainian Security Service she was collecting and passing on political and military information in the self-proclaimed “LPR” using personal contact with a fighter at one of the republic’s units”. Ukraine’s Security Service disproves the information that the journalist is cooperating with the agency and said the accusations put forward by the self-proclaimed “LPR” as to the alleged spying by the journalist for the Security Service are fake.

Security Service of Ukraine. Russian officer of the Joint Control and Coordination Center (JCCC) Vladimir Cheban was expelled out of Ukraine and banned entry into the country for five years. Ukraine’s Security Service states that his actions contradict national security and the Minsk agreements. According to Ukraine’s Security Service he passed monthly plans and flight routes of OSCE unmanned aerial vehicles to the deputy head of staff of the first army corps of “DPR” militant organization nicknamed “Yakub”. Based on this information militants were able to hide from international monitors their firing positions as well as deployment spots of heavy weapons and equipment. Russian side to the JCCC says Ukraine’s actions are an attempt to derail the work of the center.

The patrol of OSCE’s special monitoring mission in Donbas was caught in mortar fire on June 22 as it was visiting government-controlled Vodiane (94km south of Donetsk). The monitors have immediately contacted members of an SMM mirror patrol in “DPR”-controlled Kominternove (23km north-east of Mariupol), which was escorted by a Russian Federation Armed Forces representative to the JCCC, to try to facilitate a ceasefire (news in English).

Military drills
Massive joint Ukraine-U.S. military drills Rapid Trident-2016 start at the Yavoriv training ground in Lviv region today. According to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry over 1800 servicemen from 14 countries will take part in the drills. It will be mostly colleagues from NATO member states to share their military experience with Ukrainian servicemen. Armored vehicles and military aviation is to be deployed, training with the use of small arms is also to take place.

Human rights: Ukrainian political prisoners
Ukraine citizen Oleksandr Kolchenko held in a penal colony of Chelyabinsk, Russia is being forced to take the Russian citizenship, report members of the civic monitoring mission. Ukraine’s Consul is being denied access to him, authorities say that Kolchenko is a Russian citizen although he has got a Ukrainian passport only.

Four court hearings of the Crimean Muslims cases charged with alleged connections with “Hizb ut-Tahrir” Islamic organization are due to take place in Rostov-on-Don, Russia this week, reported lawyer Emil Kurbedinov.

Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry expressed a protest to Russia against denial of access for Ukraine’s Consuls to Ukrainian citizens taken from Crimea and kept in Russia. They are Ruslan Zeitulayve, Nuri Primov, Rustem Vaitov and Ferat Sayfullayev who were illegally detained in the occupied Crimea and transferred to Russia. “We consider purposeful impeding of consular contact of the Ukrainian state with its citizens not only as a blatant violation of their lawful rights but also as an attempt of the Russian side to hide from the world the obviousness of fabricated nature of the criminal case open against them,” states the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Crimean journalist Mykola Semena, contributor of Radio Liberty whom the Russian Federal Security Service has charged with extremism, is subject to criminal persecution in the occupied Crimea. Semena’s lawyer Oleksandr Popkov said that Russian authorities often give suspended sentence to those charged with extremism, fine them, conduct “preventive work” or ban them from leaving Russia. Mykola Semena has provided a written consent not to travel outside of Russia.

Economy: successful Ukrainian start-ups and increased cost of living
According to the Ukrainian Venture Capital and Private equity association (UVCA) a total of USD 132 million was invested in Ukrainian companies in 2015. These are private and venture capital investments into IT companies. According to the research undertaken by the Association a total of 66 deals were concluded in 2015 but the total investment amount exceeds that of 2014 by 257 percent. Ukrainian IT companies attract more and more international investors while keeping the interest of domestic investors high. Almost half of the deals (48 percent) were made with participation of international funds. It demonstrates international interest to Ukraine’s IT sector.

Cumulative expenses on food as well as on payments of bills on housing, water, electricity, gas and other utilities constitute 57,9 percent of all expenses of Ukraine’s households in the first quarter of 2016, reports Ukraine’s Statistical Service.

Thirty four solar power plants are to be constructed in Ukraine due to local and foreign investment, states the Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Ostap Semerak. He also recalled that three new big power plants were put into operation in Ukraine in 2015. He said according to Ukraine’s commitments towards the EU the share of renewable energy sources in the country’s energy balance is due to reach 11 percent by 2020.

Macroeconomic stabilization. The National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) lowered the discount rate for the second time in 2016. From June 24, the bank rate will be 16.5 percent. The NBU Board motivated their decision by encouraging inflation expectations and stable situation on the currency market. As of May, the official inflation was 7.5 percent; foreign currency earnings increased. As to the future, the NBU claims with muted optimism that consumer inflation will be at the level of 12 percent + / – 3 p. p. at the end of 2016, and 8 percent + / – 2 p. p. at the end of 2017.

Public procurement reform. From procurement to sales: the system of electronic public procurement ProZorro increases the area of its activity. This time it concerns approaches to selling the property of banks under liquidation. The topic is more than urgent, because the banking system is undergoing clearing, so many disappear because of liquidation procedures, and then the question of how to sell their property arises. The price of the question is more than $ 440 billion. On the other hand, the process of selling such property leads to periodic complaints due to lack of transparency. So, ProZorro approaches which proved to be effective in public procurement will be applied to solving problems in the banking system. Technically, this intention will be realized through organization of decentralized auctions – similar to ProZorro auctions, but they will aim at higher prices. The system is 95% ready to be launched in test mode – thus, we will feel the results by the end of this year.

To learn more about reforms in Ukraine check out UCMC’s weekly reform digest.

Police reform. Head of the National Police Khatia Dekanoidze admitted that new police authorities fail “to eliminate all corruption elements” in police. She explained such results with the lack of motivation on the part of police officers, poor technical equipment (not everybody is provided with uniforms or vehicles) and with the lack of unity of the law enforcement system. She also noted that despite the slow reform path citizens’ confidence in police remains high: about 48 percent of Ukrainian citizens confide in the National Police. Prior to when the reforms started only 5-6 percent confided in police.

Opinion polling: whose is Crimea?
Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation in cooperation with the sociological service of the Razumkov Center conducted a public opinion poll on the future of Crimea. The poll was held on May 11-16, 2016. A total of 2016 respondents older than 18 years were interviewed in all regions of Ukraine except for Crimea itself and occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Overwhelming majority of Ukraine’s citizens – 69 percent, voiced their opinion that Crimea needs to be part of Ukraine, 12 percent of them support the idea of an autonomous status for Crimea and only seven percent of the interviewed agreed to the fact that Crimea should be part of Russia. Number of persons supporting Crimea’s allegiance to Ukraine is considerably higher in the west and in the center (84 and 79 percent respectively). Although recognition that Crimea belongs to Ukraine prevails also in the south, east and in Donbas the figures are lower: 49, 56 and 52 respectively.

In contrast to Ukraine absolute majority of Russian citizens – 87 percent, are convinced that Crimea needs to be part of Russia, while only three percent are of the opinion that Crimea needs to be part of Ukraine (based on the opinion poll conducted by Russia’s Levada Center in April 2016).

Optimistic forecast as to the prospects of Crimea’s reintegration into Ukraine generally prevails over the pessimistic forecast. A total of 54 percent believe that currently occupied Crimea may return to being part of Ukraine.

Those who believe that Crimea is going to be back make stakes on successful reforms and overall increase of living standards in Ukraine that will attract the Crimeans (35 percent). Important precondition to cause restoration of the Ukrainian statehood in Crimea is reinforcement of sanctions and of the pressure on Russia by the international community. As a result Ukrainian citizens expect that the Russian Federation is to return Crimea to Ukraine (34 percent), or that the president will change in Russia (32 percent), 30 percent hope that Crimea will return to Ukraine due to deterioration of internal political and economic situation in Russia. Complete text of the research.

Arts and culture
Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament) passed the law that sets mandatory quotas on the radio for songs and spoken words (news and entertainment) in Ukrainian language. Thus 35 percent of the songs played daily by radio stations should be in Ukrainian. For the stations that play 60 percent of their content in the official languages of EU member-states the quota of Ukrainian-language songs amounts to 25 percent. The broadcasters will now also have to make sure that 60 percent of their daily spoken content including news programs and entertainment is in Ukrainian. Implementation of the law foresees a transition period: the share of Ukrainian-language songs and spoken content is to be achieved over three years. (In English)

Over 90 museums remain in the annexed Crimea, over 45 in occupied areas of Donbas, the count for cultural monuments and sites in the above areas reaches hundreds of thousands. Their preservation and safety raise serious concerns. During an expert discussion at UCMC industry professionals and officials voiced possible ways to tackle the issue. To ensure protection of the cultural heritage in uncontrolled areas Ukraine could use the following legal tools: ratify the 2nd protocol to the Hague Convention’s Protection of the Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and call for the setup of an international monitoring mission under the aegis of UNESCO. (In English)

On July 8-10 Odesa will host the annual open-air silent film festival – biggest event of a kind in Eastern Europe. This year’s edition is dubbed “Mute Nights Festival of Silent Film and Contemporary Music: Femme Mute” and has women’s emancipation as a central theme. Silent films from Ukraine, China, the U.S., the UK and Germany will be accompanied by music of the Ukrainian, Belarusian and Mexican artists. Festival screenings include world re-premieres of two Ukrainian films that for a long time were considered lost. One of them is “Taras Tryasylo” of 1926 by Petro Chardynin that was rediscovered in France only in 1998 and restored by Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre. The film will be screened to the sounds of French jazz musician Thierry Maillard. (In English)

Review of Ukrainian English-language materials

“Pavlensky-Savchenko: Dialogues” – exclusive project of Hromadske TV, a dialogue of the two most well-known political prisoners. Subtitled in English, English text available on the web site

“How Brexit will affect the visa-free regime between the EU and Ukraine” – Ukraine Today
“EU extends sanctions against Russia for another six months” – Ukraine Today
“Activists publish striking evidence of Russian invasion in Donbas (photo, video)” – Ukraine Today
“Standoff between Odesa customs and State Fiscal Service is going into a dead-end” – KyivPost

Bellingcat publishes new photos of Russian Buk on day of MH17 downing – UNIAN

“Sanctions against Russia are a tool not an aim” – Ukraine Today’s interview with Ambassador of France to Ukraine Isabelle Dumont

“Brexit winner Putin” – Ingo Manntefeul’s op-ed for KyivPost

Analytical materials
“The impact of Brexit on Ukraine: four things you need to know” – Hromadske International
“Ukrainian start-ups attract record-high USD 132 million of investment in 2015” – KyivPost
“Why investors believe in Ukraine’s potential” – KyivPost
“How the Orthodox Council happening now in Greece can change the world” – Ukraine Today