Ukraine Monthly Digest: Eurovision scandal, and early presidential polls4 min read
– According to the 2019 Freedom in the World Index, released on February 4th, Ukraine remains partly free. The country lost two points from the previous year because of the rising number of attacks on activists and journalists, and continuing hostility to minorities. The attack on activist Kateryna Gandziuk, which led to her death, was the most prominent case of 2018 (read our November digest and ’Ukrainian Civil Society under attack’ to learn more). In addition, Freedom House has prepared a separate report for Crimea since 2015; this year, the peninsula scored eight points out of 100, making it one of the least free regions in the world.
– On February 5th, Ulana Suprun, Ukraine’s acting Health Minister, was banned from exercising her duties by a Kyiv court on the basis of her ‘incompetency’, following a lawsuit filed by an MP from the Radical Party. This was seen by many as an effort to prevent Suprun from carrying out her health care reforms, which included anti-corruption measures and changes to hospital financing.
The Cabinet of Ministers issued a statement in support of Suprun, while the Ministry of Justice appealed the court decision. Suprun’s backers claimed her reforms had achieved the greatest success in healthcare in the country since 1991, and that the whole issue was an act of revenge for her progress in fighting corruption. In addition, her removal from office caused delays in medicine supply.
On February 14th, Suprun’s ministerial powers were restored, and her reforms are back on track.
– On February 10th, Mr Jones, a film of Polish-British-Ukrainian production directed by Agnieszka Holland, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival. It tells the story of a Welsh journalist who travelled to the Soviet Union in 1933 to expose the the crimes of the Stalinist regime and the man-made famine Holodomor in Ukraine. Ukraine’s Minister of Culture said that there had been no movie on this topic of such a scale before, both in terms of quality and financing. Before the screening, the creative team held a rally in support of Oleh Sentsov, a Ukrainian director currently in Russian prison.
– On February 26th, the Ukrainian Constitutional Court decriminalized ‘unjust enrichment’, ostensibly to preserve the assumption of innocence. This law had been the basis of over 50 corruption cases in Ukraine, involving some top politicians. It was passed in 2015 as a condition of receiving loans from the IMF and of enjoying visa-free travel with the EU. The decision to annul the law came several days after a media investigation was published examining alleged embezzlement of state funds by the son of one of President Petro Poroshenko’s main allies.
– On February 27th, Ukraine’s National Public Television and Radio Company announced the country will not participate in the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. The decision came after a scandal at the domestic selection process on February 23rd, where the singer Maruv took the first place: she refused to sign a contract with the Company requiring her to cancel her performances in Russia and refrain from any ‘statements that may call into question the issue of the territorial integrity and security of Ukraine’. This caused the Company to declare Maruv not patriotic enough.
In her turn, Maruv claimed the Company had demanded too much control over her work, since the failure to comply with any of the rules of the contract meant she had to pay UAH 2mln (USD 76,000). The singers who came in second, third, and fourth all refused to participate in Eurovision when approached by the Company.
– On February 28th, as part of a countdown to Ukraine’s 2019 presidential elections, Radio Free Liberty issued a voter’s guide to the top candidates. This year’s vote will feature a record 44 presidential candidates set to clash on March 31st when the country takes to the polls. The current favourite is Volodymyr Zelenskyi, a comedian and actor, who, remarkably, once played a schoolteacher who becomes president in a popular TV series. Zelenskyi enjoys some 25 percent of support according to a latest poll, despite lacking a clear political platform. The current president Petro Poroshenko is currently polling at 16.6 per cent, overtaking opposition politician Yuliya Tymoshenko, who slid back to 16.2 per cent.