NEWS FROM UKRAINE - THE FORGOTTEN WAR, A NEW CEASEFIRE, JOHNSON IN KYIV, IMF, UKRAINE'S PARALYMPIANS

17.09.16


UD. 17 September 2016.  By Iryna Terlecky.

Yet another ‘ceasefire’ in Eastern Ukraine, with the IMF and Ukraine’s paralympians providing a much needed bright spot.

The forgotten war

It seems as if western media has forgotten the war in Eastern Ukraine as focus is concentrated on the humanitarian crisis and devastation in Aleppo and the ceasefire supported by the US and Russia due to come into effect.

A ceasfire agreed to begin on 1 September to coincide with the start of the new school year was breached almost before it began, with heavy fighting been reported at various points along the front line in the Donetsk region. 

Mortar attacks were reported at Shyrokine, numerous attacks with heavy weaponry that should have been withdrawn according to the Minsk agreement. 

Two intense attacks lasting around seven hours were launched in the Avdiivka industrial area in Luhansk, with more than 200 mortar shells launched in a single two hour period. 

Sniper attacks continue to dominate in the Mariupol area while 5 unmanned aerial reconaissance flights launched from Russia were recorded. 

Four Ukrainian servicemen were killed in action this week along with at least 3 separatists.

Another batch of reinforcements arrived for separatists from Russia according to Ukrainian military intelligence. 

Five railway cars with ammunition – mortar shells, artillery missiles, rockets from Grad MRLS arrived at Ilovaisk station, and eight platforms carrying military equipment – T-72 tanks, armored personnel carriers BMP-2, Grad MRLS came to Khartsyzk. 

12 fuel tanks with diesel arrived at Rovenky railway station and three trucks with ammunition to Sverdlovsk.

The UN released a new report which said that the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ukraine had worsened over the summer and remains ‘deeply unstable’, with a further 188 civilian deaths over the last three months pushing the total killed as a result of the war to 9,640. 

A new ceasefire 

On 14 September, during a visit to Kyiv for talks with President Poroshenko, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier announced that Russia had accepted a unilateral seven-day ceasefire in Ukraine on behalf of the separatist leaders that it has been backing for the past two years.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, France’s Foreign Minister, said an attempt to revive a ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine could set the scene for agreement next week on further peace moves. 

Ayrault said that he also expected both sides to sign an agreement next week to withdraw their troops from the lines of conflict in three hotspots.

If the ceasefire holds and the agreement is signed as expected, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia could meet in New York next week on the sidelines of a meeting of the UN General Assembly, which could herald a return to further talks in the so-called ‘Normandy’ format.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov – predictably - expressed optimism that the Ukraine’s government would fulfill its own ceasefire promises, including elections in the east as part of the plan to give the territory more autonomy. 

Ukrainian government officials say that Ukraine cannot hold the elections until security conditions allow for them and national forces have regained control of the border with Russia - another point of the Minsk agreement not yet implemented.

The issue of special status in Donbas remains a controversial issue for many Ukrainians. During their visit to Ukraine, Steinmeier and Ayrault visited Kramatorsk, and were met by dozens of protesters holding placards saying, “We Say No To Special Status of Donbas” and “We Are Ukraine!”

Johnson visits Kyiv

After his widely reported remarks during the Brexit campaign when he blamed EU ‘pretensions’ for the crisis in Ukraine, Boris Johnson, the UK Foreign Secretary, made his first visit to Kyiv for meetings with Ukrainian Foreign Minster Pavlo Klimkim and President Poroshenko.

Johnson reiterated the UK’s support for continued Western sanctions against Russia. 

“Brexit or not, it makes no difference to us,” he said. “We continue to be a major player, as I’ve always said, in common foreign and security policy. It’s inconceivable that the UK would not be involved in that kind of conversation about sanctions.” 

He said that the Minsk process was progressing at a “snail’s pace” but remained the only way of resolving the conflict in the Donbas region. 

“Clearly it’s up to the Russians primarily to make progress on the security side, but it’s up to all sides I think in this conversation to make progress together.”

During his visit, Johnson also visited the UK-funded HALO Trust demining project working to achieve long-term recovery in Eastern Ukraine, and announced a further £2m grant towards their work until 2018, as well as committing to continue support to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and Ukraine’s reform efforts.

Welcome news from the IMF

On 15 September, Ukraine finally received a long-delayed emergency payment of $1 billion from the International Monetary Fund, part of a $17.5 billion aid package from the IMF, which has been withheld for almost a year because of slow progress in tackling corruption and budget issues.

“Ukraine is showing welcome signs of recovery, notwithstanding a difficult external environment and a severe economic crisis,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in a news release. 

“Determined policy implementation, however, remains critical to achieve programme objectives, given the significant challenges ahead.” 

Ms. Lagarde said that Ukraine’s government still had work to do on key issues, from tax to pension reforms.

According to the Ukrainian State Statistics Service, the economy grew 1.3% in the second quarter compared with the same period in 2015. 

The World Bank expects growth of 1% in 2016. Inflation, which reached 48.7% in 2015 according to the World Bank, has slowed. The country even saw deflation last month.

While the latest funds from the IMF are less than the originally anticipated tranche of closer to $2 billion, the money is a welcome development for Ukraine’s government, as it faces continued criticism for its sluggish fight against corruption and renewed tensions in the east. 

Nevertheless, President Poroshenko, who said on social media that he had crossed himself to pray for the release of IMF funds, was clearly relieved when he made a statement.

“The positive decision of the IMF suggests that the world recognizes that there are reforms in Ukraine, there is qualitative and positive change in Ukraine, and the country is moving in the right direction.” 

The next IMF milestone comes in December, with a further loan tranche of $1.3 billion due, and without which, Ukraine will be unable to reach its foreign reserves target. 

Central bank chief Valeriia Gontareva was, however, upbeat and said that she saw no reason why Ukraine should not meet the conditions for the further tranche that the IMF has set.

World recognition for Ukraine’s paralympians

While the Ukrainian Olympics team turned in their worst medal performance since independence, the Paralympics team has been stunning the world with their (current) third place in the medals table behind China and the UK. 

The question is how this performance has been possible with a fraction of the funding that other countries provide to their paralympians. 

In an interview with the BBC, Ukraine’s Paralympic chief, Valeriy Sushkevych, is credited with much of the success, through a programme he developed called Invasport, which works by having schools and facilities dedicated to Paralympic sports in every oblast (region) of Ukraine.

“In Ukraine we have set up the best system of physical education, sport and rehabilitation for people with disability,” Mr Sushkevych told the BBC.

“There is infrastructure in all regions of Ukraine, with schools for children with disabilities. This system works and brings results. But the system can’t work without people… people who withstand all these problems: lack of money, political crisis, war and all other troubles. And these people are extremely dedicated.”

The way that Invasport works means that facilities and recruitment are spread throughout the country, rather than concentrated in one area. 

As Mr Sushkevych told the BBC, this meant that Ukraine’s Paralympians were able to come even when the main training base, the Yevpatoria facility in Crimea, was taken over by Russia in 2014.

Powerlifter Lidiya Solovyova, a gold medal winner who was born with dwarfism, says that her main motivation to succeed is the fact that Ukraine does not offer many opportunities to people with disabilities outside of sport. 

After the loss of the Yevpatoria camp, she has been training at her hotel - which she acknowledges may have affected some of her teammates and prevented them from achieving even more.

Mr Sushkevych agreed that the level of preparation was “not the highest possible”.

“The world sees the successful side of my team, what has been achieved - but no-one sees what has not been achieved. I can definitely tell you that we could have performed better if there was no war in Ukraine. And the aim for my whole team in the Ukrainian Paralympics movement is to show the best possible as it is so important for my country.”

As the Paralympic Games draw to a close, we and many other Ukrainians will continue to give respect to the strength of spirit that has shown what can be achieved in spite of adversity.

 



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