State defence graft scandal, and presidential election finalists4 min read
– Andriy Kobolyev, the CEO of Ukraine’s oil monopoly Naftogaz, announced on March 1st that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague had ordered Russia to compensate the company for the assets Naftogaz lost following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The amount to be paid to Naftogaz will be decided at the next stage of the trial. Russia seized Naftogaz assets as part of the annexation, according to the company. Naftogaz estimates the value of its lost assets on the peninsula and the Black Sea shelf at USD 5 billion (EUR 4.4 billion). Earlier this year, Ukraine’s state bank Privatbank was awarded compensation from Russia by the Court in a similar case.
– On March 8th, International Women’s Day, hundreds of Ukrainians took part in Kyiv’s Women’s March to celebrate ‘Solidarity and Diversity’, this year’s motto. Carrying posters such as ‘Flowers are for flower beds, rights are for women!’, ‘Love sex, hate sexism!’, and ‘My body – my business’, participants walked through the centre of the city, protected by several dozen police officers. Members of far-right groups were also present to protest the March, including women from the anti-feminist Sisterhood of St. Olha organisation.
Ukraine has still a long way to go to adequately ensure women’s rights. A new law on sexual consent was a progressive, albeit somewhat symbolic step in combating violence against women (read more about the law in our January digest). Last year, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman claimed that in Ukraine, a woman’s average monthly salary amounted to 80 percent of a man’s. Ukraine also ranks low in political representation of women (For an analysis of Ukrainian women officeholders, read ‘Women can talk politics too’ by Blerta Cela, deputy country director of the United Nations Development Program in Ukraine).
– Kyiv-based annual International Book Arsenal Festival was named Literary Festival of the Year at the London Book Fair International Excellence Awards on March 12th. This award was founded by the London Book Fair and the UK Publishers Association and honours achievements in publishing outside of the UK. Book Arsenal is the largest literary and art festival in Ukraine, celebrating the country’s publishing sphere and hosting readings, discussions, exhibitions, and performances to draw attention to urgent societal issues. The 2019 Book Arsenal will take place on May 22-26 at the Mystetskyi Arsenal Art Centre and will focus on the topic of co-existence.
– Also on March 12th, Ukrainian journalistic project Bihus.info published the final part of its massive exposure of graft schemes in defence sphere. The investigation shows that top officials of Ukroboronprom, Ukraine’s state conglomerate of defence companies, embezzled state funds on a large scale when purchasing military equipment. In addition, the investigation claims used military equipment and its parts were smuggled from Russia and knowingly bought by Ukroboronprom at inflated prices. Journalists from Bihus.info also allege that the country’s top institutions, including the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, helped cover up the corruption schemes, and that one of their key figures was the son of an ally of President Poroshenko.
– On March 22nd, a Russian court sentenced Pavlo Hryb, a 20-year-old Ukrainian political prisoner, to six years in prison for ‘inciting a third person to terrorist activity’. Hryb disappeared in August 2017 while visiting his girlfriend in Belarus and was later discovered in a pre-detention facility in Krasnodar, Russia. He has been imprisoned since. Hryb suffers from a rare chronic disease that requires daily medication and a special diet, but his parents claim that he is not being provided with medical treatment and is not allowed to receive the medicine they send to him. His health is therefore deteriorating quickly. The EU and US have issued statements of concern regarding Hryb’s ill treatment.
– On March 31st, Ukrainians began choosing their next president out of a record 39 candidates. None of the presidential hopefuls managed to secure over 50 percent of votes, meaning that the nation will go to polls again. The two candidates who will meet in the second tour on April 21st are comedian and actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who received 30.24 percent of votes, and the incumbent leader Petro Poroshenko with 15.95 percent. The two candidates are preparing for a public debate to be held before the runoff: they each posted video announcements affirming their wish to debate and took drug and alcohol tests.