Ukraine Monthly Digest: President Zelenskyy to meet with Putin, and movie depicting the Holodomor premiers7 min read

 In Eastern Europe, News, Politics

– On October 1st, news broke that representatives from Ukraine, Russia, the separatist territories of Luhansk and Donetsk, and the OSCE had signed the Steinmeier Formula, a slimmer, simplified version of the Minsk Agreement, put forward in 2016 by then-Foreign Minister and now President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as a solution to the deadlock of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. The Formula calls for elections to be held in the separatist territories of Donetsk and Luhansk under Ukrainian legislation and the supervision of OSCE. If the elections are deemed free and fair by the OSCE, a special self-governing status for the territories will be initiated and Ukraine will take back control of its easternmost border. 

The news sparked a lot of questions and criticism, but in a press conference held by President Zelenskyy, he clarified that “There won’t be any elections under the barrel of a gun” meaning that even though Ukraine had agreed to hold local elections under Ukrainian law, this will only happened once Russian forces are withdrawn and Ukraine regains control over its state border.  

Zelenskyy also outlined further steps taken by his administration to conform to the Minsk Process. These included an agreement to withdraw troops from the towns of Petrivske and Zolote, the construction of a pedestrian bridge at Stanytsia Luhanska, opened on November 20th, and preparing for a summit in the Normandy Format, which is to be held on December 8th

Viktor Trepak was appointed as the new deputy prosecutor general in October. Image Source

-When asked to comment on his appointment as deputy general prosecutor on October 9th, Viktor Trepak said “I see this new position as a unique opportunity to realize my maximum potential and effectiveness for the work I’ve been doing for the last 20 years. Right now, a new law enforcement system for Ukraine is in development, and the prosecutorial system plays a key role in this development.” 

Trepak has made a name for himself as a stark anti-corruption fighter, working as the First Deputy Chief for Anti-Corruption and Organized Crimes in the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), a position he eventually resigned from as a protest to political interference into his work. The appointment of Trepak means that Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Rouslan Riaboshapka, appointed earlier this year, will be joined by a man of similar background, as both display strong anti-corruption credentials and histories of combating corruption. 

– On October 22nd Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseev was sentenced to one year in prison in the seperatist Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). According to local authorities, Aseev was passing on data about the DPR People’s Militia to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) as well as recruiting pro-Ukrainian social network users to collect and transmit information about the militia. 

Ihor Kolomoisky, one of the most powerful men in Ukraine outside of the government and the former owner of Ukraine’s largest bank PrivatBank. Image source

– Throughout October and November, the disputed ownership of Ukraine’s largest bank, PrivatBank has made the news. Back in 2016, it was revealed that 5.5 billion US dollars were missing from the bank (essentially 5% of the country’s GDP), rendering it insolvent. Former owners of the bank Ihor Kolomoisky and Hennadiy Boholyubov were accused of having used PrivatBank funds to loan money to their other businesses, allegations which they both have denied.  

As a consequence, PrivatBank was taken over by the state, which initiated a process to nationalize it. Since then, Kolomoisky has launched several court suits in order to regain possession of the bank, which he states has been illegally taken from him. What is causing controversy is that the Kyiv District Administrative Court found the transferal of ownership and the subsequent nationalizing of the bank to be illegal. Because of an appeal made by the government, the final judgement in the case, which was scheduled for October 17th, has been postponed until December 19th. 

President Zelenskyy’s chief of staff Andriy Bohdan has stated that despite any court decision “there is no basis for the return of the nationalized Privatbank to its former shareholder”. The government has invested 6.1 billion US dollars into PrivatBank following its nationalization. According to anonymous sources quoted by Reuters, the government is working on a bill that would prohibit the bank from being returned to its former owners. The Board of the National Bank of Ukraine has made an official statement that Kolomoisky is pressuring the institution by staging “paid” protests. On November 23rd, Kolomoisky told the Kyiv Post that in “the near future” PrivatBank will be returned to him. 

The question over PrivatBank is politically sensitive as Kolomoisky is not only seen as the most powerful man outside of the Ukranian government, but also a patron of Zelenskyy. 

– In Kyiv on November 17th two men suffered fatal injuries in a hand grenade explosion. According to eyewitnesses, the two men, identified as a security guard and a construction worker, “were playing with a grenade in their hands, at one point it fell out of their hands, and an explosion occurred”. A woman passing by at the moment of the explosion was also injured and taken to hospital. The case was initially investigated as a potential homicide, however, law enforcement later concluded the primary cause was “negligent handling of an exploded grenade”. 

– On November 21st six years ago, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Kyiv after the government unexpectedly announced that they were suspending plans to enter into a political and trade deal with the European Union, aimed at furthering the country’s integration into the EU. The protests, which grew after police used excessive force on the peaceful demonstrators, have gone down in history as the Euromaidan Revolution.They effectively ended the rule of the then-President Viktor Yanokovich and resulted in the overthrow of the Ukrainian government. During the protests, 120 people were killed and hundreds injured. Justice has still not been served for those abused and killed during the protests, Human Rights Watch reports

– President Volodymyr Zelenzkyy’s popularity has decreased from 73% in September to 52% in late November. According to the poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology 32% of Ukrainians don’t approve of the president’s activities. However, not only Zelenzkyy is struggling with decreasing popularity – Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk’s negative rating increased by 16% in the same time period. Finally, the poll showed that 51% of the participants think that the new government is unsuccessful in their promise to solve the conflict in Donbass, while 40% think that they are successful (Pollsters came from all over Ukraine, excluding the occupied areas).

– November 28th saw the premier of Mr Jones, a movie directed by Polish oscar-nominated director Agnieszka Holland and a co-production of Ukraine, Poland and the United Kingdom. As the Kyiv Post reported, it is a movie that brings attention to one of the darkest tragedies in Ukranian history. 

The story is based on the real life of Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, who travelled to the Soviet Union in 1933 determined to get an interview with Stalin. Upon arriving in Moscow, his focus shifts as he discovers that foreign journalists are restricted to the city and explicitly forbidden to enter Ukraine. Jones decides to secretly travel to the forbidden area only to discover the man-made mass starvation, known to history as the Holodomor. Director Holland has stated that the “evidence of the Holodomor is largely unknown and many innocent victims of communist crimes never entered the global consciousness”. The mass starvation occurred in 1933-34 and killed millions of Ukrainians. 

– German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron will be mediators in the negotiations between President Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin, scheduled to take place on December 8th. Though the meeting might help push the two countries in the right direction of solving their territorial conflict, no major breakthrough is expected. It is the first time since 2016 that the heads of states from Ukraine and Russia will meet. Even though Zelenskyy focused his election campaign on ending the conflict with Russia, analyst Tim Ash told the Washington Post that Zelenskyy has “little to give to Putin, otherwise he risks destabilizing domestic politics,” and that “Putin seemed to want to convey willingness to seem reasonable, without giving up much.”

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

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