What's Up Ukraine

New president sworn in and marine tribunal rules on captured sailors4 min read

– On May 15th, Ukraine responded to Moscow’s ban on the sale and transportation of Ukrainian produce by introducing economic sanctions on certain Russian goods. The list of sanctioned goods includes Russian cement, plywood, mineral fertilizers, vehicles, and some other products. According to Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, all these goods can be either fully produced in Ukraine or replaced. Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, economic sanctions and import duties have become a significant way of response for Ukraine. However, Kyiv places much more hope into the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU and the US. On June 5, President Volodymyr Zelensky called on the EU to strengthen its Russian sanctions “to get peace back in Ukraine”.

Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, frontman of Ukrainian rock band Okean Elzy, announced on May 16th that he was establishing a political party to run in the next parliamentary elections. The name of the new party, Holos, means both ‘voice’ and ‘vote’ in Ukrainian. Vakarchuk has previously showed his interest in politics; in 2007, he served as a lawmaker, while in the run-up to the 2019 presidential elections many expected him to put out his candidacy. The main message of Holos is a promise to change the way ‘old politics’ is done, as well as its lack of oligarch support.

Man wears a Crimean Tatar coat of arms t-shirt and holds a Crimean Tatar flag during a rally in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 18, 2019. Source: HromadskePeople attend an event honoring the victims of the Soviet Union’s mass deportations of Crimean Tatars that took place at the Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 18, 2019. Source: Hromadske

– On May 18th, Ukraine marked the Day of Commemoration of the Victims of 1944 Crimean Tatars Deportation. In Kyiv, several hundreds of people took to the city’s main square to honour more than 190,000 Crimean Tatars, who had been evicted and deported by the Soviet authorities to Central Asia and Siberia. The reason for the deportation, which was notoriously cruel and caused tens of thousands deaths, was the allegation of Crimean Tatars’ mass collaboration with Nazis. Ukraine considers the deportations to be a genocide of Crimean Tatars.

In Crimea’s Simferopol, about a hundred people marked the anniversary of the deportations, gathering for an event not authorised by the Russian authorities. The situation with the Crimean Tatars rights on their native peninsula, currently annexed by Russia, is still worrying. In its recent report on religious freedom worldwide, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said that “[in] Russian-occupied Crimea, the Russian authorities continued to kidnap, torture, and imprison Crimean Tatar Muslims at will”.

Volodymyr Zelensky during his inauguration ceremony. Source: Presidential Administration of Ukraine

– On May 20th, Volodymyr Zelensky was sworn in as Ukraine’s sixth president after a record landslide victory on April 21. During his inauguration speech, Zelensky said he was dissolving the parliament and calling for snap parliamentary elections. He also urged lawmakers to adopt laws on impeachment and the criminalisation of ‘unjust enrichment’, and to make party lists open ahead of the parliamentary elections. Zelensky also called on the government to step down, however, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman survived a no confidence vote in the Parliament and retained his position. On May 22nd, Zelensky announced appointees to key positions in his administration, which included members from his inner circle, most of them new to public service.

– On May 25th, the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled that 24 Ukrainian sailors held in Russian custody must be released. The sailors, alongside three Ukrainian naval vessels, were captured by the Russian Navy last November in the Kerch Strait between Crimea and southern Russia. Ukraine has repeatedly demanded the release of the sailors and return of the ships, while the EU and a number of international organisations voiced similar calls (Read more about this in our December edition).

Now the Tribunal’s ruling requires Russia to release the sailors and the vessels, as it is legally binding. At the same time, it has no real power to enforce its arbitration. Russia’s Foreign Ministry stated on the same day that the Tribunal’s ruling cannot be applied to the Kerch incident in question.

Main Sources: Hromadske (EN), Kyiv Post (EN), RFE/RL (EN)

Sasha Mishcheriakova holds a Master’s degree in the CEERES program from the University of Glasgow, Scotland. Her dissertation research focused on the politics of memory and attitudes to historical events in Ukraine. Her interests include human rights and multilingualism in post-Soviet states.