What’s up Ukraine? Hungary passport row and the Sakharov Prize nomination5 min read

Sasha Mishcheriakova

– On September 2nd, Ukrainian-Italian movie Easy (2017) received the Kinéo Movie Diamond Award at the Venice Film Festival for Best First Feature, while another Ukrainian film, Myth (2018), took best documentary award at the Figueira Film Art Festival in Portugal.

– On September 3rd, the first Ryanair flight took off from Ukraine’s major Boryspil airport to deliver passengers to Berlin. The Irish low-cost airline company reached an agreement with the airport in March following protracted negotiations. It is now expected to challenge the country’s airline monopolist, Ukraine International Airlines.

– On September 4th, children started to be evacuated from Armyansk, a town in Russian-occupied Crimea, following serious acid emissions from the local chemical plant Crimean Titan back on August 23rd. The occupying authorities were criticized for lack of an adequate response to the situation; despite reports of health problems and harmful effects on plants, they first denied the dangerous nature of the emissions. Four of the plant’s eight furnaces were turned off two weeks after the incident, with the operation shutting down completely on September 9th. The ecological situation in and around Armyansk remains grave, as over 4,000 children have been evacuated from areas on both sides of the Ukrainian-Crimean border. The state of emergency was lifted on September 23rd.

– On September 14th, Russia’s Orthodox Church announced its withdrawal from all Constantinople-led structures. This came after Patriarch Bartholomew, “first among equals” in the hierarchy of world Orthodox churches, said Constantinople intended to give autocephaly, or independence, to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Currently, the officially recognized Ukrainian Orthodox Church is part of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the possible establishment of a local church is seen as a way to reduce Russia’s influence in Ukraine. Leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church have repeatedly criticized these plans for religious independence. To understand more about Ukraine’s knotty religious scene, have a look at this RFE/RL video. Lossi 36 had also published an article on the topic a few months ago, have a look around here for more details!

– On September 18th, the city of Lviv banned all Russian-language books, films, songs and other “cultural content” from being publicly used or sold in response to Russia’s aggression in the country. According to the text of the decision, it sought to “overcome the consequences of prolonged linguistic Russification.” Lviv is considered by some Ukraine’s cultural capital, yet despite being predominantly Ukrainian-speaking, it is home to many Russian speakers. The ban was widely criticized both home and abroad. Canada’s ambassador to Ukraine blasted the move, calling it “just plain dumb.”

– The motion coincided with the 25th Lviv Publishers’ Forum, Ukraine’s largest literary and publishing event, kicking off on September 19th. This year, it hosted over 1,000 speakers from 25 countries, with over 50,000 visitors, and was attended by President Poroshenko. Although the Forum has apparently violated the ban by using Russian-language “cultural content” (such as by presenting a Ukrainian-published Russian-language book by Igor Pomerantsev), no repercussions have been reported. It is therefore still not clear how the moratorium will be implemented.

– On September 19th, UK defense secretary Gavin Williamson conducted a working visit to Ukraine to discuss the UK-Ukraine dialogue with President Petro Poroshenko as well as sanctions currently in place against Russia. Williamson also visited the contact line in Donbas. Britain vowed to bolster its military support to Ukraine and increase its presence in the Black Sea, as well as help improve its ally’s naval capabilities by appointing a permanent Naval Attaché.

– On September 19th, a video was posted online showing the Hungarian consulate in Berehove, a town in Ukraine’s westernmost Zakarpatia region, issuing Hungarian passports to Ukrainian citizens. The video then showed a consulate employee instructing the Ukrainians to conceal the receipt of documents from the Ukrainian authorities. Ukrainian constitution bars its nationals from having dual citizenship. The Ukraine-Hungary passport row led to tit-for-tat expulsions of consuls, while the Hungarian foreign minister voiced the possibility of obstructing Ukraine’s European integration plans. The scandal followed Hungary’s earlier attempt to appoint an authorized minister responsible for the development of the Zakarpatia region, while Ukraine’s previous decision to oblige all secondary school teacher to use only Ukrainian in class has been criticized by Hungary. Zakarpatia (Zakarpatska Oblast, or Transcarpathia) is a Ukrainian administrative unit home to 100-150 thousand ethnic Hungarians.

– On September 20th, Ukraine’s parliament voted for altering the country’s constitution to include its European and NATO integration aspirations and specify EU and NATO membership as its long-term goal. In 2014, the country overturned its non-aligned status amid the escalating conflict with Russia. The bill proceeded to the Constitutional Court to await consideration.

– Four years into the Russian-Ukrainian war, which left thousands of Ukrainians dead and millions forced to leave their homes, Ukraine decided not to extend the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership between the two countries. On September 21st, Kyiv handed a respective note to Moscow, ending the treaty which has been in effect since 1997. The Russian foreign ministry reported it had duly received the document.

– On September 28th, Oleh Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director who has just ended his 145-day-long hunger strike in a Russian prison, was nominated for the 2018 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Originally from Crimea, Sentsov spoke out against Russia’s annexation of the peninsula in 2014. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Russian court, following a verdict slammed as politically motivated by human rights groups, Western governments, international organizations, and members of the world filmmaking community. Another Ukrainian convicted in Russia, Volodymyr Balukh, has been on a hunger strike since March, and lawyers reported his health had seriously deteriorated. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry considers its 70 citizens to be illegally held in Russian prisons and campaigns with human rights groups for their release.

Main sources: 112 International (EN)Hromadske International (EN), Kyiv Post (EN), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (EN), Radio Svoboda (UKR), Reuters (EN) The New York Times (EN), UNIAN (EN).

Sasha Mishcheriakova is currently finishing her master’s degree in the CEERES program connected to both University of Glasgow, Scotland and University of Tartu, Estonia. She writes about human rights and multilingualism in post-Soviet states.