NEWS FROM UKRAINE - ANOTHER WEEK OF ESCALATION, THE HARSH LESSONS OF WAR, A WORLD WAY, FRIENDSHIP - BUT NOT TO ALL...

06.05.17


UD. 6 May 2017.  

By Iryna Terlecky.

A week in which the world’s eyes turn to Ukraine – but for Eurovision, not the continuing war… 

Another week of escalation

The Ukrainian military reports that last week saw a new surge in attacks from Russian-backed forces in the temporarily occupied areas of Donbas. 

The intensity of enemy shellings increased by 30%, while the share of the heavy weapons use increased by 69%. 

Ukrainian forces saw, on average, almost 150 attacks a day.

9 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in action and 30 servicemen were wounded. One death was directly linked to booby-trap explosions. 

Four civilian men were wounded in the conflict area last week - three incurred injuries from enemy fire in Maryinka, and one was wounded in a booby-trap explosion near Zaytseve in the Donetsk sector.

Ukraine’s Defence Ministry believes that the increase in attacks is directly linked to fresh deliveries of equipment and ammunition from Russia. 

Russia delivered about 650 tons of fuel to Rovenky by train. 

Ukrainian military intelligence recorded the arrival of more than 100 members of so-called “Russian Kazaky units” to Donetsk. It was established they went to Eastern Ukraine directly from the Kadamovsky training area in the Rostov region, Russia, where they had previously undergone heavy military drills. 

Additionally, on 27 April a so-called “humanitarian convoy” including 31 trucks, with most of its cargo unidentified, entered Eastern Ukraine. 

Satellite imagery widely shared on social media showed the trucks unloading at a depot near Luhansk, with a convoy of army vehicles then arriving to load and remove what had been delivered. 

There are no reports relating to the content of the ‘humanitarian aid’ and Russia continues to refuse access to the Red Cross and Ukrainian authorities to verify the cargoes on the border. 

In contrast, Ukrainian authorities arranged for access and safe passage of 47 trucks with humanitarian aid for civilians living in the occupied territories. 

The aid was provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Representative in Ukraine and a charitable foundation. The total payload of aid exceeded 900 tons of food, building materials, personal hygiene products and medicine. 

The areas of most intense ceasefire violations are around Mariupol and Avdiyivka. 

The most recent update is that on 1 May a further three Ukrainian soldiers were killed in action and four were wounded; three of the killed and wounded were caught in a shelling incident near Luhanske village where a group of Ukrainian soldiers came under a powerful shelling attack. 

As a result, several of them were wounded and three died while trying to evacuate their wounded colleagues.

The harsh lessons of war

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine has faced many challenges in its work, being regularly denied access to verify the removal of heavy weaponry – as required by the Minsk Agreements – and denied access to all but three of the border crossings between Ukraine and Russia. 

However, their job is becoming even more dangerous as the Russian proxy forces lay more landmines throughout the war zone. 

On 23 April, OSCE members were on patrol in the separatist-held village of Pryshyb in the Luhansk region when their vehicle struck a mine and exploded, killing an OSCE paramedic – who was an American citizen - and injuring two other monitors. 

In its statement released late on 23 April, the US State Department said it was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the death of the American citizen “when his vehicle struck an explosive in separatist-controlled territory.”

“This death underscores the increasingly dangerous conditions under which these courageous monitors work, including access restrictions, threats, and harassment,” the statement said. 

“The United States urges Russia to use its influence with the separatists to allow the OSCE to conduct a full, transparent, and timely investigation.”

While this is the first death of an OSCE monitor, it is not the first death from landmines laid by the separatists. 

On 11 March, a 12-year old boy picked up a small object on his way home from school in Vuhledar, a coal mining town of about 15,000 in the Donetsk region. Shortly afterwards, it exploded in his hands. 

When the police arrived he was lying in the street: another civilian casualty of the three-year-old conflict.

As a result, children in the region are being taught new lessons. 

The staff of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM), raise awareness about the dangers of landmines and other explosives as a priority on patrols and in presentations for school children and other groups. 

SMM monitoring officers distribute pamphlets and calendars in Ukrainian and Russian warning about the dangers of landmines and helping residents recognise the various types that have been deployed in the region in the past three years.

These lessons are vital. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, at least 250 people have been killed and 470 injured by explosive remnants of war since the start of Russia’s war in Eastern Ukraine in mid-2014. 

Since December 2015, there has been an average of more than 50 casualties a month from mines and improvised devices, according to the HALO Trust.

A world away

In what seems like a world away from the war in Eastern Ukraine, Kyiv is fully geared up to welcome contestants, fans and the media from Europe and the rest of the world to the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest. This too has not been without its controversies. 

The row with Russia over the Ukrainian government’s ban on Yuliya Samoilova – though clearly manufactured by Russia – has drawn the ire of the organising committee, though it stopped short of requiring Ukraine to reverse its decision. 

Back in February, 21 of the core team organising the event resigned, saying that they were stripped of major responsibilities in December, when a new boss was appointed to the organising committee.

According to their resignation letter, they said that preparations had “stopped for almost two months” after the appointment of Eurovision co-ordinator Pavlo Hrytsak last year, adding, “the work of our team was completely blocked”. 

They also said that there were problems finalising arrangements with contractors, including those who were building the stage.

In spite of all the bumps along the way, Kyiv seems to be ready for the influx of people and media attention. 

The stage and venue are complete and the Eurovision Village – the official fan zone, opened on 4 May on Khreshchatyk, where around 20,000 fans are expected to visit daily.

The electronic public procurement system ProZorro has published the fees that Ukrainian celebrities will receive for performing at Eurovision 2017 on 9, 11 and 13 May. 

According to ProZorro, Crimean-born Jamala, who was the winner of Eurovision 2016, will be paid Hr 985,500 (around $37,205) to perform at the first semi-final on 9 May and grand final on 13 May.

Eurovision 2004 winner, Ruslana, will receive a more modest fee of Hr 393,652 ($14,868) for her comeback performance in the contest’s final, when she will perform her new single. 

Performances from the Ukrainian band Onuka along with the Ukrainian National Academic Orchestra of Folk Instruments will cost Ukraine a considerably smaller Hr 213,000 ($8,045). 

Friendship – but not to all

One of the most iconic landmarks in Kyiv, The Friendship of Nations Arch, temporarily adopts a new look and a new symbolic name – the Arch of Diversity. 

The arch has been repainted to resemble a huge orange-to-purple rainbow, Intended to send a powerful message to Kyiv’s locals and visitors: “Ukraine is proud to be diverse”. 

The project was made possible with the support of Kyiv City State Administration at a zero cost for the city. 

The monument itself is controversial. It was constructed in 1982 to honour the merger of territories in control of the Zaporizhian Cossacks with the Muscovite Tsardom that occurred in 1654. 

Soviet historic narrative presented the event as “unification of Ukraine with Russia” and this is particularly sensitive as the process of decommunisation continues. 

Although it was expected that the rainbow colours would cover the entire monument, its top segments remain unpainted. 

This is largely because of a backlash from some religious leaders and the right-wing ‘Praviy Sektor’ and ‘Svoboda’ parties that the rainbow was hidden propaganda for the gay community – turning Kyiv into ‘the capital of filth’. 

A Ukrainian Eurovision spokesman put on a brave face on this latest controversy and said that the unpainted section showcases Ukraine’s continuous and relentless efforts to break away from the Soviet and Russian legacy, to seek new meanings and pave its own path as an independent European state.

And finally…

The boxing world is full of praise for Wladimir Klitschko and his fine performance against Anthony Joshua. 

Although the veteran Ukrainian lost, it was a fight too close to call for eleven rounds. 

Rumour has it that Klitschko may seek a rematch to make up for the knockout he wasn’t able to achieve earlier in the bout…

Ukraine has honoured Jamala on the eve of the Eurovision finals with a stamp bearing her image. 

It goes on sale on 5 May and is worth four hryvnia. A representative of the Ukrainian postal service, Ukrpochta, said, “We take pride in the talent of Jamala, a Ukrainian people’s artist.”The rock group O Torvald will represent Ukraine this year with their song ‘Time’. We wish them well!


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