The streets of downtown Kyiv keep the memory alive that fewer than four years ago, under president Viktor Yanukovych’s regime, this capital city of Europe’s second largest country was on fire.
Ukrainian protesters were bludgeoned and shot by soldiers, police, secret service and even civilians called “titushky,” who were hired to support the police. Protesters saw many in their number picked off by snipers in surrounding buildings.
The protesters were almost all unarmed and fought back with whatever they had at hand, defending themselves with rocks, crude shields and burning tires.
Today, on sidewalks, there are chalk-white outlines of fallen protesters. Nearby, along a street renamed Heavenly Hundred Heroes Avenue, markers with photographs, candles, flowers and mementoes line the sidewalk to commemorate the known tally: 123 dead, including 17 police officers, and 27 missing.
It is not a case of “Lest we forget,” as much as “Never again.” Known as “The Ukrainian Revolution of 2014” and “The Revolution of Dignity,” its protests began on Euromaidan, also known as Independence Square in downtown Kyiv.
A BBC timeline with video of the violence and ferocity — Ukrainian to Ukrainian — shows how a protest turned into a revolt and then a revolution that toppled a Russian-backed government. It also shows how the Kyiv protest resulted in Russia taking over Crimea and waging war in east Ukraine in aggression Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko recently described as similar to Moscow’s policies in Aleppo, Syria.
The protest started out as a simple demonstration by Ukrainians against their government because of a broken promise. Outrage at the betrayal, and then at the violent suppression, eventually drew between 800,000 and one million Ukrainians, many from other regions, to Kyiv’s Euromaidan. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions more protested around the country between November 2013 and February 2014.
They succeeded in doing something they didn’t think possible: Overthrowing their government, internationally infamous for its corruption, in a matter of weeks. They forced their president, Yanukovych, to flee. Unverified grainy CCTV film footage shows him and his aides being whisked away by helicopters, and trucks being loaded with a vast array of his possessions.
The BBC reported Russian President Vladimir Putin’s later comments: “I invited the leaders of our special services and the defence ministry to the Kremlin and set them the task of saving the life of the president of Ukraine, who would simply have been liquidated.”
He told members of the Valdai discussion club in Sochi that then-president Yanukovych had been removed from power by force after protests in February 2014 in which 100 people were killed. “I will say it openly — he asked to be driven away to Russia, which we did.”
By a combination of helicopter, truck and possibly boat, Yanukovych flew to eastern Ukraine and eventually arrived in Russia where he now lives in exile. He has publicly stated he wants to return to Ukraine.
Yanukovych was already known as Moscow’s man when he triggered the protest and his own fall from power after he broke his promise to sign the western-leaning European Union Association Agreement to form a framework for political, economic and security ties between Ukraine and the EU.
Putin had already backed Yanukovych into a corner to halt the Ukrainians’ plan to re-establish their European roots.
Russia’s customs service halted all products from Ukraine coming into Russia. That further decreased income in an economy still suffering from the 2008 recession. Further, Russia outbid the EU on cash offerings: Russia would buy $15 billion of Ukraine’s debt and cut gas prices by one third. It was something Europe, heavily dependent on Russian gas, could not offer.
Yanukovych’s betrayal killed the hopes of many Ukrainians to move towards Europe and away from their subservient Soviet past and their Russia-dependent present.
The protesters, discontent with negotiations to end the protest, finally demanded Yanukovych’s resignation, stormed his opulent residence outside Kyiv and forced him to flee the city.
Putin: “Return Crimea to Russia”
At the end of a Feb. 22, 2014 overnight meeting with his top security chiefs to plan how to extract Yanukovych from Ukraine, Putin announced: “We must start working on returning Crimea to Russia.” Pro-Russian demonstrations were followed a few days later by masked, insignia-free Russian troops that took over key sites in Crimea, installed a pro-Russian government and declared Crimea an independent nation.
Crimea’s legislature and Sevastopol held a referendum in March whose overwhelming pro-secession results were disputed over wording and legality and the presence of Russian soldiers during the vote. A United Nations Security Council resolution declaring it invalid was vetoed by Russia, with China abstaining. In a UN General Assembly resolution vote, 100 countries declared it invalid and affirmed Ukraine’s territorial integrity; 11 voted against and 58 abstained.
Official referendum results (not OSCE-monitored) showed 96.55 per cent of voters wanted to join the Russian Federation. There are many ethnic Russians in Crimea because of the Russian naval base and they make up 60 per cent of the population, while 16 per cent are ethnic Ukrainians and 12 per cent are Crimean Tatars. Some Tatars, a Muslim people, were reported to have boycotted the referendum as Crimea was their ancestral land until Stalin had them brutally rounded up, packed in cattle cars and exiled thousands of kilometres away to Uzbekistan. More than 10,000 had fought with the Nazis, which poisoned Stalin against the entire population.
It was this expulsion that Susana Alimivna Jamaladinova, who goes by the stage name Jamala, a Ukrainian of Tatar ancestry, sang about in her song, “1944,” winning the Eurovision song contest in Stockholm in May.
The survivors and their descendants, numbering 250,000, only began to return to their Crimean homeland in the late 1980s when Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the USSR, gave permission. In April 2014, Putin announced: “I have signed a decree to rehabilitate the Crimean Tatar population, the Armenian population, Germans, Greeks — all those who suffered (in Crimea) during Stalin’s repressions.”
Late in 2015, after years of what they said was peaceful but fruitless opposition to repression, some Crimean Tatars joined with Ukrainian nationalist paramilitary groups opposed to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. They imposed a trade blockade, stopping cars and confiscating some goods. Waging what is described as a low-level insurgency, they are believed to have been the saboteurs who cut power lines. It took more than a month to restore all electricity to Crimea’s two million residents. Their demands were for political repression to end and for political prisoners to be released.
The BBC reported that the referendum vote results produced great rejoicing in Crimea by huge ethnic Russian crowds. Britain’s Telegraph newspaper estimates between 15,000 and 30,000 Tatars have left Crimea since Russia annexed it. Weldar Shukurdiyev, a Tatar, said he was taken out of his house in Crimea and brought to a police station where two men beat him. “There were constant threats: they said they would make me eat the Ukrainian flag. Every five minutes somebody would enter and shout more insults.” He now lives in Kyiv. Many Tatars believe the Russian government in Crimea is trying to harass and drive their people out of Crimea, for the second time.
Tatars are now the “target of an escalating campaign of repression mounted by their new overlords,” says the newspaper, including the outlawing of Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar’s representative body “supposedly because it had been taken over by Muslim ‘extremists’.”
By the end of August this year, Russia had 29,000 troops in Crimea.
In its May-June 2016 issue, Foreign Affairs published an article by Daniel Treisman titled, “Why Putin Took Crimea.” Treisman concluded, based on interviews, that Putin worried that Ukraine’s new government would cancel Russia’s Black Sea Fleet’s extended lease and expel the fleet.
In a highly unpopular move, Yanukovych had extended the lease to 2042, from its 2017 expiry date, in return for cheaper Russian natural gas. He gave Russia a further five-year renewable term. He said the deal was struck because “it was important for our Russian colleagues and friends,” Ukraine’s Unian news agency reported at the time.
Putin’s fear of losing the naval base “seems plausible,” Treisman wrote, “since the Black Sea Fleet is crucial to Russia’s ability to project force into the Black and Mediterranean seas.” He asks: If the West and Ukraine had been willing to go along with the extended lease on the naval base in Sevastopol, would the loss of all of Crimea have been avoided?
Deadly civil war in eastern Ukraine
According to UN data, 31,400 people fell victim to the war in east Ukraine — more than 9,500 killed and 21,900 injured, with close to 1,000 unidentified bodies in Ukrainian morgues.
The staff of Ukraine’s defence ministry reports an average of 17 Ukrainian soldiers are killed each week and 57 are wounded in action.
Western nations rejected the referendum and the annexation. They cited the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, which promised territorial integrity for Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan in exchange for turning over their nuclear arsenal to Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signed the memorandum before it went to the UN.
Ukrainian government soldiers are locked in a battle of nerves and attrition, injury and death, on their eastern border with Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists. The Ukrainian defence ministry provides round-the-clock information — a video and military briefing delivered by a general, on troop movements, weaponry, injuries and deaths (http://uacrisis.org/?s=lysenko).
The separatists on Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia, in the industrial Donbas region’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, are largely ethnic Russians. According to the ministry of defence, at the end of August, Russian or pro-Russian Ukrainian fighters in Donbas totalled 35,300. Of those, 6,100 are troops from the Russian Armed Forces.
The term “little green men” came to apply to the many green-uniformed, masked Russian soldiers whose insignia were stripped off. Putin denied for months they were, in fact, Russian soldiers until finally, matter-of-factly, he admitted it.
The war in Donbas is active and vastly under-reported in the western media, despite the fact it has driven the West’s ongoing punishing sanctions against Russia for invading Crimea and its provocation and support of the civil war. Its statistics are grim — 2,500 Ukrainian armed forces, national and border guards and law enforcement officers killed since April 2014, among them 2,110 slain armed forces members and 6,868 wounded.
These statistics, of course, don’t include Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam. It was shot down in rebel-held territory in July 2014 near the village of Grabove in east Ukraine killing 298 people. The Dutch Safety Board concluded it was shot down by a Russian-built Buk surface-to-air missile over Eastern Ukraine. The final report to determine whether it was shot down by Russian soldiers or pro-Russian separatists is not complete. Russia blames the Ukrainian army.
Observers say it may be another frozen conflict that Putin is using to form his New Russia from former USSR satellite countries with large Slavic populations seeking the benefits of Russian citizenship and/or residence.
Putin uses “passportization” as the wedge, inviting ethnic Russians to renounce their host country, trade passports and become Russian Federation citizens instead.
J. Paul de B. Taillon, adjunct professor at the Royal Military College in Kingston and at Joint Special Operations University in Tampa, explains Russia’s recent actions in an article published in 2014 by the Toronto-based Mackenzie Institute.
“The soft annexation of these two provinces was facilitated by the distribution of Russian passports — a process known as passportization — and the subsequent installation of Russian officials into government posts. Putin’s stratagem is to provide Russian passports to Ukrainians of Russian origin, as he would then be “obligated” to step in to protect Russian citizens, as well as ethnic Russians, in his perceived role as a protector of all Russians.
“The Russian consulate in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, recently abetted the annexation by providing Crimea’s ethnic Russians with access to Russian passports.
“By accepting a Russian passport, the receiver is legally included in the Russian body politic, with all the rights of a Russian citizen. By the time the five-day Russo-Georgian conflict commenced, 90 per cent of the population of the two provinces were documented Russians; however, the territory belonged to Georgia.
“This issue of Russian citizenship provided an excuse for Russia’s intervention and annexation of Georgia. Importantly, this incident was foretelling the event in Crimea and possibly the future of eastern Ukraine.”
An official EU report on casualties in Georgia: 170 soldiers, 14 police officers and 228 civilians from Georgia were killed and 1,747 wounded; 67 Russian soldiers were killed, 283 were wounded and 365 South Ossetian soldiers and civilians (combined) were killed.
Those two provinces are officially still part of Georgia, but are Russian-supported and have Russian “peacekeepers.” UN observers left when, at the UN Security Council, Russia exercised its veto to prevent their staying on. In January, The Hague’s International Criminal Court authorized an investigation into possible war crimes by the forces from Russia, Georgia and South Ossetia.
Real-politik analysts say NATO countries may, next year, lighten sanctions they put on Russia for annexing Crimea and its invasion of Ukraine. NATO’s 28 members are themselves split — despite the recent unanimous decision to extend sanctions against Russia into 2017, Italy, Greece and Hungary have reportedly voiced concerns.
Stalin’s death-by-hunger campaign
Ukrainians, especially those outside the Donbas Region, have a dispute with Russia, generations old, but still raw, known as Holodomor or “death by hunger.” The USSR had suppressed not only Ukrainian culture and political freedoms but, Joseph Stalin massively, genocidally, punished Ukrainians for their adherence to their own culture and because he feared their nationalism.
In July, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the Holodomor memorial, and also the Babi Yar Monument commemorating the ravine where an estimated 100,000 people, mostly Jews, as well as Roma, Communists and Soviet war prisoners, were killed by Nazis and Ukrainian collaborators during the Second World War.
In 1932 and 1933, Stalin systematically starved to death 10 million Ukrainians. Peasants, there and in some regions of the North Caucasus, were forced to meet punishing crop quotas for export in exchange for machinery for Stalin’s rapid industrialization policy. Anyone caught hiding food or “stealing” even a few grains was imprisoned, deported or shot — even as vast stores of food waiting for transport rotted before their eyes. Survivors were the ones who mistrusted the Soviets’ promise to share the food they produced — those who buried or hid food.
To this day, Ukraine contains 25-30 per cent of the world’s humus-rich “chernozem” black soil. Often described as “Europe’s bread basket,” it has the world’s eighth-largest farming area, equal to one third of the EU. And in 2014, it was the world’s No. 3 exporter of corn and barley, No. 6 exporter of wheat and is the world’s No. 1 sunflower oil exporter. Canada is investing $13 million to equip Ukrainian farms with a system of grain co-operatives like those used in Western Canada.
Ukraine’s identity surge
Language in every country of mixed ethnic populations is often a trigger point and with the historical suppression of Ukraine’s language and current policy switches on the status of the Russian language, it is a particularly contentious issue.
According to writer Britt Peterson, in the Boston Globe, “When the new Ukrainian Parliament abruptly vetoed legislation that had granted Russian official-language status in many parts of the country, Putin was quick to claim discrimination. In fact, the charge that Russian-speakers in Crimea were under threat was a prime excuse for the invasion. Like much in Russia’s long narrative of Ukrainian intervention, it was more useful fiction than linguistic reality.”
The new Ukrainian government has subsequently reversed that official language legislation.
Even as Putin is openly reconstituting his Slavic, ethnic Russian member states, some Ukrainians say it is not the Russian language, but rather Ukrainian that has been castigated and discouraged.
Anastasiia Shapkina, media relations officer at the Administration of the President of Ukraine and a tour guide for visiting journalists, described the dominance of the Russian language and social stigma attached to speaking Ukrainian.
“For more than 300 years, Dnipropetrovsk [now Dnipro] the city was under great influence of the imposed Russian culture, so only very few people there spoke Ukrainian. It was considered very lame and, in a way, unworthy to speak Ukrainian.
“When I moved from my native town of Tsarychanka, where people speak the language of surzhyk [a mix of Ukrainian and Russian] to my college city of Dnipropetrovsk, I decided to use proper Russian so as to be accepted and fit in.
“However, after the second year of education, I went to the western Ukraine for a week-long trip. I was so amazed by what I saw and experienced — people, culture, cuisine, sights — that for the first time in my life I felt truly Ukrainian, and more, I felt very proud for being Ukrainian.” She spoke Ukrainian thereafter and lived with the resulting “looks of disdain.”
Floundering economy and Canada’s boost
Since 1991, Canada has given more than $493 million for Ukraine’s development, mostly directed at economics and democratic and governance reform.
Trudeau visited Kyiv in July, where he and President Petro Poroshenko witnessed the signing of the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement. Its goal, beyond increasing mutual trade and investment, is to support Ukraine’s turn westward.
In 2015, Canada exported more than $210 million to Ukraine, including fish and seafood, coal and pharmaceuticals, while Canada’s imports totalled more than $67 million, including iron and steel, anthracite coal and fertilizers.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper visited Ukraine several times, and was the first G7 leader to visit after Russia annexed Crimea. He and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced the agreement valued in July 2015 at $41 million to Canada.
Since January 2014, Canada has pledged more than $700 million in assistance, which includes a low-interest loan of $400 million and $240 million to boost democracy and economic growth.
Large donors to Ukraine are NGOs, such as the Toronto-based Friends of Ukraine Defence Forces Fund that raised $3 million recently to buy supplies for Ukrainian soldiers, including body armour, medical kits, water purification equipment and vehicles.
Citing a special country-to-country bond, the Ukrainian government has repeatedly thanked Canada for financial aid and its contribution to Ukraine’s self-defence military campaign, including ballistic face shields, night vision goggles, body armour, helmets, sleeping bags and cold-weather clothing worth $23.5 million. And under Operation Unifier, expected to cost $32 million, soldiers of the 1st Battalion from Petawawa’s Royal Canadian Regiment are teaching military skills and combat medicine. The U.S., Poland, Australia, Britain, China, Slovak Republic, Turkey, Norway, France and the Netherlands have variously contributed medical equipment, meal packs, body armour, power generators worth more than $56 million, according to the Ukraine defence ministry’s 2015 calculations.
With the economic downturn of 2008, the country was already struggling financially and now has the added costs of defending itself against Russia’s incursions. Russia has announced it will sue Ukraine for defaulting on a $3-billion loan.
The World Bank puts Ukraine’s average GDP per capita for 2015 at $2,115 US, down from $3,990 in 2013, when the country wasn’t involved in this civil and foreign war. Tradingeconomics.com places Ukraine’s GDP per capita, taking into account purchasing power parity, at $7,449.77. According to the State Statistics Committee, the average monthly salary in Ukraine is about $140 US.
Prices are steeply increasing and interest rates are high. Some of the euphoria from the heady days of the protests has worn off in a country long schooled in cynicism about government corruption.
The Corruption Perception Index 2014 by Transparency International noted: “Ukraine did not overcome the threshold of ‘corruption disgrace.’ Having received only one additional point, in comparison with 2013, Ukraine remains in the club of the most corrupt countries.” In the 2014 index, Ukraine was in 142nd place of 175. In 2015, its score improved to 130, putting it on a par with Cameroon, Iran, Nepal, Nicaragua and Paraguay.
Corruption is part of the reason members of the European Union have persistently refused to open full membership to Ukraine, however embattled it is by its Russian neighbour.
Ukraine took a new hit after the EU-Ukraine agreement removing trade barriers was ratified by 27 of the 28 countries. A voter referendum in April in the Netherlands rejected the EU partnership with Ukraine, despite the fact the Netherlands’ parliament already approved it.
It doesn’t help dampen cynicism that Ukrainians can, and do, in astounding numbers, visit Yanukovych’s palatial residence, Mexhyhirya Residence Museum outside Kyiv, complete with zoo and antique car collection. Wrote one tourist in TripAdvisor: “Golf course, amazing opulence, gold, gold and more gold, boxing ring, ten-pin bowling alley.” It is one of Ukraine’s top tourist attractions.
Judges under fire for corruption
In March, in the continuing new era of citizen protest over corruption, the Kyiv Post (whose motto is Independence. Community. Trust) published the huge headline: Corrupt Courts Keep Crooked Judges.
The story’s lead paragraph: “Ukraine had just finished marking the two-year anniversary of the murders of more than 100 protesters during the Euromaidan Revolution, crimes that remain unpunished, when a court on March 1 decided it was too late to fire judges who made illegal rulings during the three-month uprising that toppled President Viktor Yanukovych.”
The newspaper published names and photos of judges and a court administrator, including one who approved jailing of a demonstrator for two months, and another who ruled police could storm the protester-held Kyiv City Hall in December 2013.
Eye-witness account of Euromaidan
Like hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, a young tour operator named Svitozar Moiseiv went with his friends to Maidan Square, even one day ferrying tires in his car to supply the fiery barricades.
This is his description: “When the protests grew into Maidan barricades, when winter came, and brought the first frosts, and violence, we were there delivering hot food, tea, warmer clothes, medicine, of course, all acquired at our own expense. We would also help to patrol the night streets, as the city was then full with Yanukovych-side summoned half-criminals, mainly from the eastern regions of Ukraine.
“The latter would ravage the city, create horror, even abduct and kill people. Many days would pass like this, and for many of my friends, it had become an almost daily, or nightly, volunteer job. Millions of residents of Kyiv would do this, as the capital was 90 per cent anti-Yanukovych.
“I witnessed unprecedented growth of people’s consciousness as citizens, union, dedication. I saw strong faith. I saw Facebook, or other online media groups co-ordinating themselves, giving agile and exact answers on what to do first. I witnessed despair, I saw violence, I saw dead bodies on the Maidan Square, wrapped in blankets, and piled under February snow.
“Those who stayed on the main square all winter came mainly from west Ukraine. They were provided with really nice outdoor kitchens, and hot soups, sandwiches, cheese, sausage in variety, hot teas and cakes. All was organized perfectly well, not only for them, but also thousands of homeless and poor people could have perfect dinners on the Maidan Square any time.
“When there was no evident threat of assault, the main square hosted around 1,000 people in and around the tents. If an attack was expected, usually at night, there could be 50,000 at the time. Those from Kyiv would sleep at their homes, of course, and the rotation of people on the square was immense.”
The young man owns Kyiv City Guided Tours in English, as well as an English translation service. The in-depth historical and political background he delivers on his city tours comes naturally. His father writes books on Ukrainian and world culture and literature and his mother was a history teacher.
On Ukraine’s current situation, he said: “I expect more social protests later this fall. Those will be related to the housing, gas, electricity prices, which have risen immensely the last two years.
“I don’t think we shall see many more displaced people unless another big offensive campaign in eastern Ukraine from Russia follows. Mentally, east Ukraine residents tend to rely on ‘a bigger boss,’ rather than try to change the circumstances.
“I see Putin continue to destabilize Ukraine, no matter what happens [driven by] his obsessive idea of gathering back ‘one nation, one people’ — Ukraine, Russia, Belarus….”
Russia ‘lied to the whole world’
Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze gave this interview to Diplomat Magazine in March when she was a Ukrainian MP and deputy chair of the foreign affairs committee. She has since been named vice prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine. This is an edited version of her remarks.
On Russia’s annexation of Crimea
A member of the UN Security Council is attacking you, pretending there is nothing happening — bluntly lying to the whole world about taking part of your territory. And us just watching on TV these helicopters flying into Crimea. One, Two. Three. Four. Eight. Twelve. And we were not at that point [ready]. We didn’t have any force to respond.
I am sorry we couldn’t get a grip on ourselves from our wound that we had from Maidan [the protest that met with deadly government force] after the loss of our people. So they just came in to take our Crimea.
And then, after a year, [Russian President Vladimir Putin] saying on TV “Yes, we did have to bring in our little green men”
So I am eternally grateful to everyone who has responded in the east [the Donbas region where Russian soldiers and volunteers and pro-Russian Ukrainians are fighting with Ukraine’s nationalist forces.]
On defending eastern Ukraine from Russia
Our minister of defence was of Russian citizenship. When we had the invasion, we only had about 4,000 troops capable of facing the attack. Now, a lot of volunteers have gone to the front to protect the country. If weren’t for volunteer soldiers, medical staff and volunteers organizing equipment, food and ammunition, we wouldn’t have been able to [fend them off.]
Totally Russian-speaking people from different parts Ukraine are actually dying to protect Ukraine in the east, going as volunteers to protect the country from Russian aggression. This is totally not about the language.
Internally displaced people (IDP)
We have 1.5 million people internally displaced here and 1 million have emigrated. The country’s policy is to put the burden more on local authorities. We don’t have a comprehensive system for providing for them. With 65 million refugees in the world, we are not contributing to European problems.
We are trying to solve it here on our own, however difficult our situation is. We are not getting directed and focused international support to deal with our IDPs.
People here started providing them with shelter, clothing, dishes, children’s clothes — everything. Or they find someone to pay for electricity. Everybody is helping in a way.
We did what we could, every single person did. Now it’s more organized, locally and internationally.
We have to go through austerity measures, which are not enjoyed by the society. [Gas and electricity prices] rose 400 per cent, so it’s huge. At the same time, we had a devaluation of our currency. We put a tax of 15 per cent on pensions to survive.
The economy is in a very difficult state because we lost 20 per cent of it with the loss of Donbas. There are difficulties in getting pensions to people in the occupied territories, yes, unfortunately, even those trying to secede.
We are making it so people in the occupied territories can decide their future — local elections with Russians out and security on the spot, following the process [set out] in the Minsk Agreement [to halt the war in Donetsk and Lugansk provinces in Donbas.]
We are getting money from the World Bank, the European Bank of Reconstruction, the EU, the U.S. and Canadian governments.
The top donor is the IMF, then the World Bank, then the EU, then the U.S. but the U.S. is No. 3 if we consider guarantees we can borrow against.
Sending Ukraine offensive weapons
European governments [decided] that they and NATO can help with defensive weapons or equipment such as [protective] vests and night-vision goggles. Some are helping [with offensive weapons.] We bought ammunition from Great Britain and smaller amounts from Estonia, Lithuania and Poland.
Mostly, it comes as non-lethal support. We are producing quite a few weapons. It was expensive to build [production.] Now we are one of the top-10 producers in the world.
Countries believe that providing us with weapons or military support — [she breaks off]. They don’t want to alienate Russia. We started to build a factory to produce bullets.
Corruption in Ukraine
Two answers. Yes, we do have a problem of corruption, but yes, we are fighting it. In 2015, bylaws established institutional capabilities for transparent competitions for choosing people. There were 10 judges behind bars for last year. Now we’re already investigating 80 cases, just judges. This means this will bear fruit.
We are the first country in the world to open registries of ownership. It was not done in any European countries and [since then] the European Union has come up with a directive that will be implemented in the European Union within two years — [showing] all ownership and property of official and public persons.
We had an NGO create a platform for electronic procurement, ProZorro. It was not obligatory last year, but quite a few ministries and local authorities started using it. It has reduced the amount of corruption. We spend 250 billion hryvnia ($12.7 billion) every year on state procurement and estimated that one-fifth of it is being stolen through corruption. If ProZorro is introduced for all public procurement in Ukraine, it will save about $1.5 billion annually. [ProZorro is a play on words — it means “transparently,” but also refers to Zorro, the black-masked hero fighting unjust rulers.]
Editor’s note: Just before Diplomat went to press, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze updated war and peace scenarios.
How is the war going and where is it headed?
Russia is consistently building powerful military strongholds in occupied Donbas and Crimea. [It is] ready to explode at any opportune moment, [which will] lead to a full-fledged European crisis. The Russian strategic command-post exercise called Caucasus-2016, which started on Sept. 5, is yet another direct military threat to Ukraine that undermines regional security.
Particularly dangerous are the Russian actions to prepare Crimea’s military infrastructure for the deployment of nuclear weapons, including refurbishing the infrastructure of Soviet-era nuclear warhead storage facilities. Potential carriers of nuclear weapons, such as warships, short-range missile systems and combat aircraft, have already been deployed in the Crimean Peninsula.
Russia is turning the Ukrainian resort area of Crimea into a military base. Moreover, it is becoming a grey zone, which is de facto not covered by the existing multilateral arms control agreements.
Has fear of annexation of Luhansk and Donesk in the Donbas region increased?
Russia aims to turn Donbas into a powerful leverage over [Ukrainian domestic and foreign] policy and a long-term destabilization tool targeting the Eastern Europe. Mainly by imposing selective or partial implementation of the Minsk agreements, it is actively promoting a number of scenarios, representing a strategic threat to peaceful settlement and stabilization in Ukraine, but also for European security.
The scenarios include:
1. The forced federalization of Ukraine through unbalanced and unfounded decentralization reform imposed by Russia. This could trigger a chain reaction of similar demands from the other regions across Ukraine and lead to stronger disintegration sentiment in Europe.
2. Local elections in Donbas under de facto Russian occupation without ensuring sustainable de-escalation and clear security will legalize terrorist entities, reinforce separatist political extremism and prevent reconciliation.
3. If it happens, the legalization of the 40,000-[member] army of militants under the full control and direct engagement of the Russian regular military and secret service would entrench and legalize a long-term source of immense military and terrorist threat to Ukraine and Europe, facilitating uncontrolled arms production and trafficking, including to terrorists.
4. The Russian strategy of bleeding Donbas by imposing on Kyiv full economic and financial responsibility for this intentionally devastated region without providing Ukraine with real control over these territories will cause Ukraine’s long-term exhaustion.
Nevertheless, [given] the unpredictable and dangerous actions of the Russian leadership [in recent] years, let us not exclude even the worst scenario of a full-scale Russian invasion.
What are the chances of peace, instead, with Russian withdrawal?
The lifting of sanctions against the background of continuing violations of fundamental international legal norms by Russia — [those] in the UN Charter and Helsinki Final Act — will [disrupt] the international security architecture with unpredictable consequences.
Sanctions are the only effective and peaceful instrument of deterrence of Russian aggression in Europe. Together with the other kinds of pressure, they have brought concrete results — Russian aggression in Donbas was localized.
Taking into account that Ukraine’s international partners refrain from supplying Ukraine with lethal weapons and [refrain from] helping to deter the Russian military offensive, sanctions are, in fact, the only viable instrument to support Ukraine.
Nevertheless, even the strongest sanctions can fail to stop Russia from escalation. To be realistic, only a clear signal [to Russia] that any aggressive actions would face immediate and resolute reaction by the democratic world, up to the use of military force, [could allow us to] avoid the worst scenario.
What do you most want from the west at this moment?
Since Russia unleashed an armed aggression against my country, many western countries, including Canada, have joined efforts in various [ways] to help Ukraine. Without this help, it would be very difficult for us to resist heavy attacks on all fronts — military, economic, humanitarian and information. I would like to express our sincere gratitude to Canada and other our friends for these priceless efforts.
My strongest appeal to the international community is to consolidate and maintain pressure on Russia until it stops aggression and returns to adherence [of] international law.
On Ukrainian defence
Diplomat contacted Ukraine’s defence ministry’s military intelligence, press service and public affairs office, which provided these answers in late August.
1. Could you supply up-to-date figures on war deaths and injuries in 2015 and 2016?
2,504 Ukrainian soldiers, within the Ukrainian armed forces, the National Guard, Border Guard and various law enforcement agencies have been killed. These include 2,110 armed forces troops killed in action and 6,868 wounded in action since the start of the Anti-Terrorist Operation, which began in April 2014. The average number of war casualties among Ukrainian troops is estimated at 17 killed and 57 wounded in action per week.
In 2016, 645 militants [pro-Kremlin Ukrainians, Russian volunteers and other pro-Russian fighters] were killed. 15,949 Russia-backed militants were killed in action since the start of the anti-terrorist operation.
2) Is it, in your estimation, a “hot” war?
President Poroshenko said Russian actions in eastern Ukraine are similar to Moscow’s aggressive policies in Aleppo, Syria, when talking to CNN. We have observed an escalation of ceasefire violations throughout August with more frequent fire from heavy weapons (mortars and cannons banned by the Minsk accords) and armoured vehicles against Ukrainian troops. Nevertheless, Ukrainian Armed Forces hold their positions and observe the Minsk agreements while being ready to fight off any advance of the enemy. According to Defence Minister Gen. Stepan Poltorak and Gen. Viktor Muzhenko, we do not rule out a full-scale Russian military invasion.
3) What are the numbers of Russian soldiers, as well as Russian and Ukrainian militants, in East Ukraine?
There are approximately 35,300 militants of the “DNR” [Donetsk] and “LNR” [Luhansk] in eastern Ukraine. Approximate numbers of military hardware on the occupied territories in Donbas: 480 tanks; 940 armoured military vehicles such as BTR armoured personnel carriers (APCs), BMP infantry fighting vehicles, 760 artillery systems; 210 multiple rocket-launcher systems; 400 anti-aircraft systems. The Russian proxy army in Ukraine does not possess military jets or helicopters so far.
The Russian military contingent in eastern Ukraine: Apart from Russia’s proxy army, there is a Russian contingent made up of active service members of the Russian armed forces. There are eight battalion tactical groups and six platoon tactical groups. The total number of Russian regulars on the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions is 6,100 members of the Russian Armed Forces.
Approximate numbers of military hardware on the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions: 197 tanks, 409 armoured military vehicles, such as APCs and IFVs, 139 artillery systems, 87 multiple rocket launchers, 66 anti-aircraft systems.
4) Where have injuries and deaths occurred?
Ukrainian soldiers contain aggressive actions of Russian regulars and their proxies along the whole front line, stretching from the Ukraine-Russia border through the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to areas east of Mariupol along the Azov Sea coastline.
5) How are the Minsk Accords working?
Russian proxy forces violate the ceasefire on a daily basis, targeting Ukrainian troops and civilian households in frontline towns and villages. The average number of militants’ violations are 60-70 shellings per day. All of them pursue the goal of escalating conflict by provoking Ukrainian troops to retaliate in order to use it later in Russian state-run propaganda portraying Ukrainian Armed Forces as violators of the ceasefire.
Ukrainian troops open fire only to suppress firing spots of the enemy and to safeguard the lives of service members and civilians if a mortal threat to their health arises.
Russia-backed militants systematically use heavy weapons, such as 82- and 120-millimetre mortars and 122- and 152-millimetre mortars and rocket artillery. All of these weapons are banned by the Minsk Accords.
Militants grossly violate the peace process by deploying heavy arms in close proximity to the front line and obstructing the work of the OSCE special monitoring mission.
6) How many Russian forces are massed at the Ukrainian border?
Russian troops close to Russia-Ukraine border: Approximately 10,700 troops. Military hardware includes 104 tanks, 412 armoured fighting vehicles, including armoured-personnel carriers (APCs) and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), 84 artillery systems, 60 multiple rocket launchers, 470 military jets and 300 helicopters.
Russian contingent in the occupied Crimea: Approximately 29,000 troops. Military hardware includes 40 tanks, 583 armoured fighting vehicles, including APCs and IFVs, 106 artillery systems, 56 multiple rocket launchers, 120 anti-aircraft systems, 16 coastal defence rocket systems, 101 military planes, 56 combat helicopters, 30 warships, 5 submarines.
Additional troops and military hardware transferred to the Russian-Ukrainian border and Crimea as part of the Kavkaz-2016 [Caucasus-2016] military drills: Approximately 2,500 troops, including one battalion of the 76th Airborne Division and approximately 500 troops of the Air Defence battalion of the 56th Airborne Brigade. The drill also features 102 military planes; 23 of them were deployed to Crimea.
7) What is the war action there?
Russian officers assumed control over the whole chain of command of the proxy army in eastern Ukraine (a list of detected Russian officers is published on Ukraine’s Military Intelligence website.)
Russian soldiers are also involved in electronic warfare and reconnaissance missions against Ukrainian troops. Russian National Guard units are regularly deployed to eastern Ukraine to boost the mood and morale of local militants and act as barrier troops.
In terms of direct combat actions, the Kremlin tries to hide its direct involvement and rarely puts its soldiers on the front line except for the key battles of the war.
Military intelligence reported the recent transportation of 168 members of the Russian Air Defence battalion from Vladivostok to eastern Ukraine. They are equipped with the Tor-M2U anti-aircraft system (NATO classification name: SA-15 “Gauntlet”) that has similar characteristics to the BUK missile system that Russian-backed militants used to down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014.
8) What does the Ukrainian government want from the west militarily and politically? And what should the Ukrainian government do to meet requirements by western countries to supply them?
We strongly believe that only co-operation between Ukraine and the West as well as a tough stance on Russia can restore peace and stability in the region.
Ukraine enjoys the unprecedented support of the west, starting from the universal condemnation of the Russian illegal annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the invasion of eastern Ukraine. The support for Ukraine was reaffirmed by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Barack Obama, as well as the EU leaders, particularly members of the peace talks — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande.
Western states provided military assistance to Ukraine — from night-vision goggles and gear to counter-battery equipment, drones, Humvee armoured vehicles and military hospitals.
The United States played a particularly important role in setting up training grounds and training brand new Special Operations Forces. The first 29 sergeant-instructors have graduated and now train the elite SOF units together with the U.S. advisers.
As a result of the NATO Summit in Warsaw last July, Ukraine has a NATO Comprehensive Assistance Package that tackles 40 different aspects of national security and defence reform.
Ukraine is already executing orders to modernize the armed forces. Just yesterday, Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak strongly argued for a rational and efficient use of resources provided by our western allies during a meeting with heads of military departments.
Ukraine has adopted fundamental military strategic documents, such as a national security strategy, military doctrine and strategic defence bulletin. This work involved NATO experts for the first time in the history of Ukraine and reflected our priorities of Euro-Atlantic integration and modern national security threats. Notably, Russia has been explicitly named as an aggressor in Ukraine’s military doctrine.
Ukrainian troops are eager to learn from their western counterparts. Ukrainian Armed Forces and the National Guard take part in multinational military exercises on Ukrainian and foreign soil. The multinational exercises include British training courses of Ukrainian infantrymen, Canadian courses for Ukrainian military engineers, as well as the largest war games in Eastern Europe – Anaconda-2016 (Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland). We are determined to ramp up our co-operation with NATO and individual member states to enhance the interoperability of our military units.
The first sign of integrating Ukrainian troops with NATO is a joint Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian brigade. So far, it has participated in Anaconda-2016 war games and showcased Ukraine’s western orientation by joining the military parade on independence day on Aug. 24.
A bloody airport battle
The battle for Donetsk Airport in eastern Ukraine has become one of the most famous of the war in Ukraine. A Ukrainian airborne platoon was the last to defend the airport. The soldiers who lived, fought and died there over the months had became known as “cyborgs” for their superhuman effort on little food, little sleep, too little equipment and, in the last days, undergoing bombardments night and day.
Sergei L. Loiko, a freelance photojournalist for The Los Angeles Times, covered the battle for the airport in its last days. His gripping story “How Ukraine’s outgunned ‘cyborgs’ lost Donetsk airport” in the Times is the story of that battle.
“For 242 days, they had held out against separatists who bombarded them from beyond the runways and prowled above and below them in the wreckage of a terminal at the airport,” he wrote. Finally, in mid-January 2015, they fled. “The battle had been lost.”
All the men were with the same airborne brigade that was the last to defend the terminal, an eight-month battle that had left dozens dead and hundreds wounded. He sent along these descriptions.
“When I was there, a separatist appeared on the second floor of the new terminal and shot a grenade from a grenade launcher into the door of a command room. The grenade stuck in the wall and exploded.
“Everyone inside suffered a concussion, including myself. And the guy who was killed after I left is in one of my images. I personally know about a dozen soldiers from the airport. I don’t know what happened to the others.
“What I’ve seen at Donetsk Airport, I haven’t seen in any war,” he told Christina Berdinskykh of Voices of Ukraine (nvua.net). This was his 25th mission to a war zone.
“The old terminal is open from all sides, it is just utter hell. And the new terminal is terrible in that there is a three-dimensional encirclement. The separatists are not only at the perimeter, they also sit in the basement and on the third floor. So the first and second floor are controlled by the Ukrainian army, and in the basement and on the third floor, there are separatists.
“Once in a while they jump out and make raids and so on. Both sides booby-trap the passages;, everyone walks around them, no-one knows where these mines are. In the airport, I have witnessed a lot of absolutely heroic episodes.”
He said the soldiers ate little, slept little; their staple was adrenalin. “They cherished water; it is as precious as ammunition.”
He told Berdinskykh that he was “struck by the soldiers’ eyes. The eyes are bright, they burn with an inner fire, intelligent, piercing.”
These photos, taken by Loiko, himself pictured at bottom right, were hanging in The National Museum of the History of the Great Patriotc War of 1941-1945 in Kyiv. They were the most memorable of the images seen on this journalist’s trip.
Donna Jacobs is Diplomat’s publisher.