Ukraine Monthly Digest: new law on sexual consent and public broadcaster dismissed4 min read
– On January 1st, a Ukrainian soldier was killed, despite the ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia. The Ukrainian military regularly reports casualties in attacks by Russian-led troops in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Meanwhile, UNICEF has expressed concern about the deepening humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine. On January 30th, the organization reported 3.2 million people in the region having limited access to drinking water and electricity, and some 500,000 children in urgent need of health care and psychological support.
A report by Kyiv Post’s Illia Ponomarenko documents the difficult conditions that civilians have to endure in eastern Ukraine: “And while fruitless negotiations have continued for years in Minsk, local civilians trapped between hammer and anvil of war, notably elderly people left on their own, are suffering from immense poverty and deprivation, expecting no hope in the future.”
– On January 6th the Orthodox Church of Ukraine became an officially recognized independent church after Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the leader of the world Orthodox Christian community, presented Ukraine with a ceremonial independence decree. The new church installed 40-year-old Epifaniy as its first leader. Ukraine’s recent move to create an independent Orthodox Church has been controversial – read more about it in the previous edition of “What’s Up Ukraine?”
– On January 11th Ukraine criminalized domestic violence and redefined rape as sex without consent in a progressive piece of legislation. This enforced the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The move attempts to address the fact that many sex crimes are not reported in Ukraine, as victims often fear their claims will not be treated with proper attention by police and in court. Now, according to the law, mutual consent to sex must be given. The law also increased the prison sentence for rape committed by a spouse, ex-spouse, or partner.
– On January 17th Ukrainian comic and actor Volodymyr Zelenskyi, who is running for president in the upcoming elections, was found to have connections to Russian movie and TV production companies. This is according to an investigative report by Skhemy. The companies Vaisberg Pictures, Platinumfilms, and Green Films were founded by the Cyprus-registered Green Family Ltd; another company co-founded by Green Family Ltd is Kvartal 95, owned by Zelenskyi. The presidential hopeful stated he had no affiliation with any Russian businesses, and took to Instagram to refute the allegations. However, he later admitted the information was true and said he was giving up ownership of Kvartal 95. The issue of Ukrainian politicians benefiting from Russian-based companies is a controversial one given the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its involvement in the military actions in eastern Ukraine.
Presidential elections are set to take place on March 31st. Although the official list of candidates is still pending publication, this vote will have the largest number of candidates ever, with 28 applications already approved. Some 850 OSCE observers are expected to monitor the vote.
– January 22nd marked the Day of Unity, the 100th anniversary of the unification of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic and the Ukrainian People’s Republic – the two independent, albeit short-lived, interwar Ukrainian states. A traditional part of the celebration is forming human chains in cities and towns across the country.
– On January 24th Ukraine’s fugitive former president Viktor Yanukovych was found guilty in absentia of high treason and aiding in waging an aggressive war and sentenced to 13 years in prison. The defense vowed to file an appeal against the verdict, as well as to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Yanukovych is currently out of reach of Ukrainian law enforcement: he lives in Russia after fleeing his residence near Kyiv in February 2014 amid the Euromaidan protests. A letter from Yanukovych to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking to send Russian troops to Ukraine was considered one of the main pieces of evidence in the case.
– On January 31st Zurab Alasania was dismissed as the CEO of Ukraine’s public broadcaster Suspilne Telebachennia by the channel’s supervisory board, which provided no explanation for the decision. The board voted to sack Alasania at a closed, unscheduled meeting; this and the proximity of presidential elections prompted many to suspect political motives. Alasania is famous for airing programs that investigate corruption among Ukrainian officials and oligarchs. To protest the dismissal, Ukrainian independent journalists created a group called Initiative 34, invoking the number of the constitutional article on the freedom of speech. The group published a statement condemning the sacking of Alasania.