Depressing situation with human rights, failing cooperation with the EU, and more: Weekly Update on Ukraine #48, 20 – 26 February 2018


­ Situation in the combat zone

Last week the combat zone in eastern Ukraine witnessed incessant combat actions of medium intensity. Russia-backed militants kept extensively using the weapons proscribed under the Minsk agreements, including 82-mm and 120-mm mortars, 122-mm artillery as well as 152-mm artillery used in the second half of the week. February 20 turned to be a black day for the Ukrainian Armed Forces: seven troops were wounded in action and a 23-year old female military medic was killed in a hostile attack as she was rendering help to civilians.

Human Rights in 2017: a report by Amnesty International

Human rights violations in temporarily occupied territories, inappropriate treatment by law enforcement officers, secret detention facilities, failure to ratify Istanbul Convention, pressure on anti-corruption activists, lack of tolerance to LGBT community and frequent impunity of perpetrators are mentioned as key human rights problems in Ukraine in 2017 in Amnesty International report.

Crimea. Amnesty International reports continued human rights violations in the Russia-occupied Crimea. “The clampdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly continued in Crimea. The authorities continued to predominantly target ethnic Crimean Tatars,” the report says. The organization also notes the ongoing arbitrary ban on the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, a self-governing body representing the ethnic Crimean Tatars.

Law enforcement. Ukraine’s law enforcement keep using torture and other ill-treatment methods, Amnesty International Ukraine claims. According to the report, representatives of the law enforcement agencies yet again took to torture and other ill-treatment practices. At the same time, the report goes, following the research on the secret detention facilities of Ukraine’s Security Service earlier released by Amnesty International, 20 persons were freed from such detention places. However, the appropriate investigation has failed to follow, the victims remained procedural witnesses in the respective cases.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice responds. Deputy Minister of Justice Denys Chernyshov stated in 2017 no cases of torture were recorded in the Ukrainian penitentiary system. He said, last year the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture completed its work in the country. They registered no cases of torture, and there is no single reason not to believe their conclusion.

Pressure on anticorruption NGOs. Human rights activists are concerned with the government’s growing pressure on anti-corruption activists and NGOs, in particular, the demand to submit e-declarations of assets and a draft law (not adopted yet) introducing some more complicated financial reports for NGOs.

Clampdown on the freedom of expression. The report also mentions the law enforcement raids to the offices of media group of companies “Vesti” and “”, deportation of four foreign journalists (two from Spain and two from Russia) on demand of Ukraine’s Security Service on allegation of “threatening Ukraine’s national interests”, as well as taking into custody freelance journalist Vasyl Muravytskyi, who cooperated with Russian media, on allegation of “spreading anti-Ukrainian materials”. Human rights defenders also point to the lack of progress in investigations into the murders of journalists Oles Buzyna (2015) and Pavel Sheremet (2016).

Failure to ratify the Istanbul Convention. Amnesty International calls to ratify the Istanbul Convention (the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) as quickly as possible in order to ensure higher efficiency in countering domestic violence.

Lack of tolerance to LGBT. The report welcomes the 2017 Equality March in Kyiv that turned to be the biggest in terms of the number of its participants and had all due security measures in place. At the same time, the report emphasizes, intolerance to LGBTI stays high in the society as in 2017 the number of violent attacks upon the representatives of this community grew.

The EU stops financing the modernization of border crossing points in Ukraine

Why was the modernization required? The projects set to upgrade the Ukrainian border crossing points (BCPs) at the country’s western border were started in 2014 to facilitate the customs procedures. The ultimate goal was to improve the economic cooperation between Ukraine and the EU member states.

Which border crossing points are in focus? The projects provided for the reconstruction of two BCPs at the border with Romania – Diakivtsi and Krasnoilsk, as well as the upgrade and reconstruction of four more BCPs: Ustyluh and Rava-Ruska bordering Poland, Uzhhorod at the border with Slovakia, and Luzhanka at the border with Hungary.

Why the financing stopped. The financing was cut because the project implementation was being delayed. The EU disbursed over EUR 29 million. Ukraine now has to return part of that money.

Expert vision. According to Oleksandr Lemenov, an expert of the anti-corruption group of the Reanimation Package of Reforms (RPR), the State Fiscal Service was not interested to have the projects implemented, its political will and determination were insufficient. “The State Fiscal Service is trying to slow down as much as they can whatever would decrease the corruption margin wherever this agency’s powers would stretch to. It may well be that such a control will make it too difficult to misappropriate this money,” the expert suggested while talking to DW.

Opinion polling: whom are Ukrainians going to choose?

An opinion poll by the “Rating” Sociological Group demonstrates that if the presidential elections were taking place now, the majority of voters would cast their votes for the Batkivshchyna leader Yulia Tymoshenko. She would thus get 18,7 percent of votes in the first round, while the incumbent Petro Poroshenko would enjoy the support of 15,6 percent of voters. The ranking then continues as follows: Yuriy Boiko of Opposition Bloc (the successor of the Party of Regions) would get 11,7 percent of votes, Oleh Liashko of the Radical Party – 8,7 percent, Vadym Rabinovych – 8,3 percent, Lviv city mayor Andriy Sadovyi of Samopomich Party – 6,4 percent, Oleh Tiahnybok of Svoboda Party – 3,9 percent, Arseniy Yatseniuk – 1,7 percent. The rest of the candidates would get the votes of a total of 15,3 percent of voters.

Culture: historical buildings in Luhansk region awarded the Belgian Heritage Abroad Award

A series of historical buildings in Lysychansk, Luhansk region, were awarded the 2017 Belgian Heritage Abroad Award – an annual prize handed out by the fund of the King of Belgium. The buildings were constructed in Lysychansk in the end of the 19th century by Belgian entrepreneurs who were investing into the industry of the region. The joint-stock company “Lyubimov, Solvay & Co” built a soda plant in the town as well as the social infrastructure around it including a hospital, a school, houses for Belgian construction workers and engineers as well as dormitories for local workers. Out of the 33 objects constructed back then, 30 have survived till our days. “We will continue planning how to support this heritage,” the Ambassador of Belgium to Ukraine Luc Jacobs said. As you may remember, the Belgian heritage in eastern Ukraine came in the spotlight in 2016 when the joint efforts of UCMC, collector Dmytro Pirkl, the Dmytro Yavornytskyi Dnipropetrovsk National Historical Museum and the Belgian Embassy in Ukraine led to a series of exhibitions uncovering the little-known pages of history of the Belgian investment into Ukraine in late 19th – early 20th century.

Read also: “Presentation of Valentyna Lazebnyk’s book “Steel in the Steppe. View from Ukraine” on investment and entrepreneurship of Belgium in Ukraine”

Sports: Ukrainian tennis player wins over a Russian competitor

Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina won a WTA tournament in Dubai, the UAE. She won over Daria Kasatkina – Russian athlete ranked 24th in the world ranking.

It comes to be the second title won by the Ukrainian in this season as well as the eleventh in her career. Back in January, she won a tournament in Brisbane, Australia. The prize fund for the tournament exceeds $2,5 million.