UkraineAlert

On Sunday, March 3, Ukraine’s police dispersed more than one hundred protesters and disbanded their tent camps outside of the Ukrainian parliament amid significant criticism. Several dozen tents had stood for more than four months, blocking a major thoroughfare in Kyiv, Ukraine. Behind the protests were former opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili and former soldiers who had been demanding that President Petro Poroshenko resign. Semen Semenchenko and Yegor Soboliev, two deputies from the Lviv-based Samopomich party, had been involved in the protest movement as well, although the party never sanctioned their actions.

When police finally broke up the tent camps, they reportedly found nine grenades, Molotov cocktails, and five smoke bombs.

At least twenty people were injured in the skirmish, including two journalists. Yet everyone who is now bewailing the end of this latest "Maidan" and comparing the actions of the police to the thuggish ways of former President Viktor Yanukovych, the "Berkut" riot police unit, and the real Maidan are besmirching the events of four years ago when Ukrainians rose up and overthrew a real dictator.

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Oleksiy Kanarskyy, a twenty-five-year old Ukrainian, never thought he would celebrate January 1 in freedom. His hopes had faded during three years of detention in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, after endless promises of a prisoners' exchange between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatists. But on December 27, 2017, the largest prisoner swap since the conflict broke out in 2014 brought him and seventy-three other Ukrainian detainees to freedom, in exchange for over 200 insurgents.

"I did not believe them at first,” Kanarskyy says, repeating a common phrase among the prisoners.

When Kanarskyy recollects how his little fingers were bound with bare wire and how he was tortured with electric current during his detention, he convulses. He had to lie to his torturers to tell them what they wanted to hear. He fabricated a story of his service in the Ukrainian army. In fact, Kanarskyy had never been drafted.

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Energy tariffs are a serious concern in Ukraine. Before the 2014 Euromaidan, gas prices were too low and cost the government 8 percent of GDP in subsidies. Worse, most of that went to a few privileged gas traders. Low electricity tariffs left the owners of generation and distribution companies no incentive to invest. From 2014-17, gas tariffs rose sharply, though the International Monetary Fund (IMF) complains that gas prices for households have fallen behind.

More recently, ordinary people complain that the tariffs for the generation of electricity have been hiked too high, and they account for a significant part of household outlays. The current uproar concerns a planned increase in the tariffs for the distribution of electricity from April 1.

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Ukraine received a useful fillip on February 28 when the Stockholm Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the state gas supply and transit company, Naftogaz, and against its Russian counterpart, Gazprom, in a four-year dispute over gas transit. The court awarded Naftogaz $4.63 billion in damages, finding that Gazprom failed to pump agreed upon volumes through Ukraine’s pipeline system, thereby depriving it of transit revenues. An earlier ruling against Ukraine over the 2009 “take or pay” gas supply contract for $2 billion means the net payment due to Naftogaz is $2.56 billion, or more than 3 percent of Ukraine’s GDP.

No two ways about it, this is a major win for Ukraine.

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Russia has downplayed its military support for its proxies in eastern Ukraine by portraying the conflict as a “civil war” between Russian and Ukrainian language speakers. Western media often mistakenly portray the war in eastern Ukraine as a cultural war between Ukrainian and Russian speakers, drawing on the deeply held stereotype of a country divided between “eastern Russian-speaking” and “western Ukrainian-speaking” regions.

In portraying the conflict as a civil war, Russia conveniently ignores facts and public opinion. Only 5 percent of Ukrainians believe Russia intervened in Crimea and Donbas because of the violation of the rights of Russian speakers, while 42-46 percent believe it was to prevent Ukraine from leaving Russia’s sphere of influence, Russia’s inability to accept Ukraine as an independent state, and Russian opposition to Ukraine’s European integration. Meanwhile, only 16 percent of Ukrainians view the conflict in the Donbas as a civil war, while 60 percent see it as Russian-supported separatism and a war between Russia and Ukraine.

The truth is that the majority of civilian and military casualties in Ukraine are Russian speakers.

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"We do not feel any pressure from the government,” says Vitaly Sych, the chief editor of Ukraine’s most ambitious independent media holding. “Sometimes we have a dialogue with the authorities, but that is healthy. We recently published a lead article that was highly critical of Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko. He contacted me personally and we met for a long discussion about his work and his background. I do not see anything wrong in that. He didn’t send men in balaclavas after me.”

Forty-two-year old industry veteran Sych speaks with authority when it comes to the rough and tumble of the Ukrainian media scene. He first cut his teeth in the late 1990s as a reporter at the English-language Kyiv Post newspaper, before rising to national prominence as chief editor of Russian-language weekly Korrespondent magazine. Since 2014 he has headed up the Novoye Vremya (literally “New Time”) holding, a new and expanding post-Maidan multimedia platform backed by Ukraine’s leading investment bank that aims to set the standard for professional journalism in the country while serving as a flagship for the values that drove the Revolution of Dignity.

Sych is busy preparing for the launch of a nationwide talk radio station that will join Novoye Vremya’s existing portfolio of weekly Russian-language current affairs magazine and bilingual news website. This expansion into radio is part of a conscious effort to chip away at the dominant position enjoyed by the handful of oligarchs who control the lion’s share of Ukraine’s media market.

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In the summer of 2013, Alex Ryabchyn completed his master’s degree at Sussex University in the United Kingdom, then moved back with his wife and daughter to teach at Donetsk National University in eastern Ukraine.

That December, the Maidan erupted and he watched from afar with concern. Then in March 2014, after little green men seized Crimea and Russian-backed troops appeared in eastern Ukraine, his life changed.

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Three years ago, Boris Nemtsov, one of the top Russian politicians during the 1990s and a vocal dissident throughout Vladimir Putin’s long reign, was shot dead near the Kremlin in Moscow. The death of this talented, passionate, and charismatic patriot shocked liberal and progressive communities in Russia and abroad. Tragically, Nemtsov joins a long list of political dissidents who were killed in Russia over the past two decades, including Anna Politkovskaya, Stanislav Markelov, Natalia Estemirova, and many others. Nonetheless, Nemtsov’s murder stands out from the rest because he once was a member of Russia’s political elite and his trajectory was highly unusual in the Russian context.

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Editor’s note: Russian politician Boris Nemtsov was assassinated on February 27, 2015, in Moscow, Russia. Below his friend and fellow activist Vladimir Kara-Murza remembers the slain leader.

Throughout his political life, Boris Nemtsov was a maverick, a “white crow,” as we say in Russian, always choosing principles over political expediency—as when he took on the Communist establishment in the last Soviet elections (and won); when, as governor, he shepherded his Nizhny Novgorod region onto the path of liberal and free market reforms; when, as deputy prime minister of Russia, he challenged the all-powerful “oligarchs” and the system of political nepotism they represented. But it was the rise to power of Vladimir Putin and the solidification of his authoritarian regime that proved Nemtsov to be almost unique among Russian politicians—including those who styled themselves as “democrats” but quickly adapted to new political realities, accepting lush positions in government and state corporations—in staying true to his beliefs, regardless of the risk.

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Canada assumed the G7 presidency on January 1, 2018, and this platform offers a valuable opportunity to inject some new energy into the international response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine.

Under Canada’s leadership, the G7 can spotlight human rights violations in both annexed Crimea and the occupied Donbas.

Canada is a good candidate to lead the process, with approximately 1.3 million Canadians—or 3.6 percent of the population—claiming Ukrainian ancestry. Indeed, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is herself Ukrainian-Canadian and an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin.

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