Ukraine Monthly Digest: Euromaidan Anniversary and Kerch Strait Confrontation5 min read
– On November 3rd, Ukraine made another step to the establishment of a unified local Orthodox Church when President Poroshenko signed an agreement on cooperation with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Istanbul-based leader of the worldwide Orthodox community. The move followed the October 11th decision of Bartholomew’s Patriarchate to proceed with granting the Ukrainian church autocephaly, or independence from the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), which has been officially in charge of Ukraine’s Orthodox believers for several centuries. However, the Ukraine branch of the ROC, which vehemently opposed the process, is refusing to participate in the Unification Council due to happen in mid December.
Tensions have also arisen regarding the question of ownership of Church property, since a considerable amount currently belongs to the ROC’s branch in Ukraine. On November 7th, Poroshenko transferred a historic state-owned Kyiv church to the Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarchate. A week later, four men attempted to firebomb the church and attacked a priest with a pepper spray. Moreover, in late November, Ukraine intelligence officers searched the home of a Moscow Patriarchate priest who was suspected of “inciting hatred”. More homes of priests and church buildings were searched on December 3rd and 4th.
– On November 6th, a parliamentary commission was set up to investigate the murder of Kateryna Handziuk, a civil activist who died in hospital on November 4th from the effects of an acid attack that had taken place some months earlier. Five people were detained on suspicion of carrying out the attack, of whom four have allegedly confessed. However, Handziuk’s friends and other civil activists are also demanding that authorities identify those who ordered and organised the murder .
Read our recent story about the attacks on Ukrainian civil society which have recently become more frequent.
– On November 6th, the European Court for Human Rights passed a judgment ordering Ukraine to pay damages to Roma victims of the 2002 pogrom conducted by a racist mob. The state investigation into the incident was called inadequate, and the government is now expected to pay EUR 177,000 in compensation.
– On November 13th, Ukrainians in many cities and towns took to the streets to protest the failure of authorities to provide heat and hot water amid below-zero temperatures. The country’s national gas company, Naftogaz, has recently increased gas prices, which, along with the company’s ongoing legal issues, has resulted in a delay in providing heating services. With the poor state of heating infrastructure and prospects of more price hikes, the public utilities situation threatens to remain unstable throughout the winter.
– On November 18, a group of far-right radicals attacked activists rallying for transgender rights in Kyiv, leaving three injured. Around 40 activists were preparing for a legally sanctioned march in support of transgender rights to be held in the capital when they were confronted by around 100 counterprotesters claiming to represent religious and far-right groups. The march was cancelled, with criticism arising towards the police for failure to ensure the security of the activists.
– On November 21st, Ukraine marked the fifth anniversary of Euromaidan, a peaceful demonstration which turned into a violent confrontation between civilians and riot police. The protests started after the then-President Yanukovych made a u-turn in Ukraine’s international course by refusing to sign a long-negotiated Association Agreement with the EU at the last moment. Over 100 protesters were killed along with thirteen security officers. Investigations into the killings have been constantly criticised for their slow pace and lack of results.
– November 22nd marked another grim anniversary as Ukraine remembered millions of victims of the Holodomor, a devastating famine in 1932-33. Ukraine together with over thirty other countries considers it to have been a genocide perpetrated by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
– The last days of November were dominated by the Russian-Ukrainian military confrontation in the Sea of Azov. Russia’s militarization of the sea became widely criticized in October. Then on November 25th, in the Kerch Strait, which separates Russia from the Crimean Peninsula and joins the Black and Azov Seas, a Russian coast guard ship rammed a Ukrainian tugboat and opened fire at several other Ukrainian ships, wounding six naval officers. Russia ended up seizing three vessels and capturing twenty-four Ukrainian sailors. Russia claims the ships entered its territorial waters without permission, whilst Ukraine insists that Moscow’s actions were a clear violation of international law, since a 2003 treaty designates the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters. Russia blocked the Kerch Strait for civilian ships after the incident.
Ukraine reacted by introducing martial law in ten provinces adjacent to Russia or the seas for 30 days. This means the possibility of limiting mass gathering and freedom of press, as well as bolstering security at borders, ports, and power plants. The government also called up the first wave of reserve servicemen to reinforce its defences. In a follow-up move, President Poroshenko banned Russian men aged 16 to 60 from entering Ukraine. He later warned of the amassing of Russian military forces along its border with Ukraine.
For almost a week there has been no contact with the captured Ukrainian sailors. On December 3rd, a lawyer for one of the sailors said that all twenty-four had been charged with illegal border crossing. Twenty-one of them were transferred to a detention facility in Moscow, whilst the three wounded sailors were undergoing medical treatment in a different facility. Western leaders, including the chief of NATO, have called on Moscow to release the detained Ukrainian sailors and return the ships it seized. G7 countries called Russia’s actions “unjustified”