RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 2, No. 23, 20 June 2000

A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team

CEMETERY OF NKVD VICTIMS OPENED IN KHARKIV. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, attended a 17 June ceremony opening a Polish military cemetery in Kharkiv, Ukraine. The cemetery contains the remains of some 3,800 Polish officers imprisoned after the Soviet aggression against Poland on 17 September 1939. In the spring of 1940, following a decision by the Soviet Politburo, the NKVD murdered Polish army officers and border guards who had been imprisoned in a camp at Starobelsk. The remains of some 5,000 Ukrainian victims of the Stalinist genocide are also at the cemetery in Kharkiv. "We are standing at a place which witnessed the anti-human crimes of Stalin's regime.... Let Kharkiv be a sacred place for both nations...a monument and warning for the future," Reuters quoted Yushchenko as saying.

SOME LAWMAKERS MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS? "You don't need any money. You don't. We will ensure that you have full access to the people, to whom you will be able to show yourselves and speak about your policies."

This is how Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka promised to help deputies of the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives be re-elected in this fall's parliamentary ballot (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 April 2000). He openly declared that he wants current deputies to be re-elected and pledged to create equal conditions for their re-election. However, not all of them seem to have believed or trusted the president's assurances.

RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 14 June that lawmaker Ivan Pashkevich, who is also an aide to presidential staff chief Mikhail Myasnikovich, has already begun his election campaign in Stolin (Brest Oblast)--where he was born and elected deputy--without even waiting for the announcement of an election schedule. Pashkevich recently presented four checks totaling $2,000 to his fellow countrymen for the construction of three village churches. In Belarus, where the monthly average wage is below $40 and the president officially earns $185 a month (see below), that sum is impressive, to say the least. Pashkevich told RFE/RL that he raised the money following requests from Stolin residents, but he declined to identify the sponsors.

An RFE/RL correspondent from Brest Oblast reported that at his own expense, Pashkevich has also recently given 1,000 Stolin residents subscriptions to the district official newspaper "Naviny Palessya." In this case, too, Pashkevich refused to say where he obtained the money for those subscriptions.

Central Electoral Commission Secretary Ivan Likhach said Pashkevich has not violated the election law by making such donations. "New elections have not been called, therefore one may do what one likes.... [Pashkevich] is currently a free citizen, not a candidate," Likhach noted.


TYMOSHENKO TAKES STAND AGAINST OLIGARCHS. Most commentators will almost certainly agree that the energy sector in Ukraine is a source of both the country's direst problems and the shadow economy's greatest fortunes. However, the state of affairs related to the supply and distribution of energy resources--electricity, natural gas, oil, and coal--is so complicated and, presumably, mired in corruption that, for the time being, neither the government nor the parliament has a clear plan on how to improve the situation in the sector and avert the threat of massive cuts in electricity, gas, and heating during the coming winter.

On 17 June, the parliament held hearings on the situation in energy sector. Those hearings resulted in a resolution requesting Viktor Yushchenko's cabinet to work out a long-term strategy for developing the energy sector. The parliament did not suggest any immediate actions or list any names of those responsible for Ukraine's chronic energy shortage. According to Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, who is in charge of reform in the energy sector, the country needs $13 billion hryvni ($2.4 billion) this year to ensure the smooth functioning of the energy sector and survive the coming winter. She assured the lawmakers that the government will manage to collect this sum as payment for electricity. Tymoshenko said the main reason for the current energy crisis in Ukraine was last year's siphoning off of some 5 billion cubic meters of Russian transit gas by Naftohaz Ukrayiny. Owing to that move, Russia has stopped gas payments for Russian supplies transiting Ukrainian territory.

On 8 June, the situation in the energy sector was discussed by Ukraine's Council of National Security and Defense. Council head Yevhen Marchuk reported to President Leonid Kuchma that Ukraine's power grid is on the verge of collapse and there is virtually no chance to avert that collapse if Tymoshenko's policies in the energy sector are continued. Stopping short of demanding Tymoshenko's dismissal, Marchuk stated that the situation in the sector cannot be improved without the president's intervention.

Kuchma's assessment of the government's performance was harsh. He said Ukraine's debt for Russian gas supplies for the first five months of this year amounted to $700 million. He noted that Ukraine has illegally siphoned off 13 billion cubic meters of Russian gas from pipelines crossing its territory, adding that Russia has the right to take Ukraine to an international court over the issue. However, he took no personnel action, leaving that decision to the premier. So far, Tymoshenko has remained in the government. But on the eve of the parliamentary hearings on the energy sector, Fuel and Energy Minister Serhiy Tulub tendered his resignation. Some commentators suggest that Tymoshenk'o ouster is a matter of time.

Tymoshenko told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 10 June that Ukraine's main problem in the energy sector is that each year energy suppliers "leave 1 billion hryvni [$183 million] in the shadow economy." According to Tymoshenko, the distribution and supplies of oil and gas is controlled by such shadow economy oligarchs as Ihor Bakay (former chief of Naftohaz Ukrayiny) and Oleksandr Volkov (a Ukrainian media mogul and lawmaker, whose leverage in Ukrainian politics has earned him the nickname of the "executive director" of the Ukrainian parliament). As for the supply and distribution of electricity, it is controlled by Hryhoriy Surkis (a media mogul and honorary president of the Dynamo Kyiv soccer club) and deputy parliamentary speaker Viktor Medvedchuk.

Tymoshenko said the electricity deliveries, which involve middlemen from the "oblenergos" (oblast energy supplying companies), are paid for by means of various barter schemes that enable the oligarchs to generate big revenues in the shadow economy. But as a result, electricity producers obtain cash only for a small part of the power they generate. "Every month from 150 to 450 million hryvni is left at the disposition of the Surkis-Medvedchuk team. Do you think they are going to part with such sums without problems?" Tymoshenko asked in his interview with RFE/RL.

That opinion is shared by Yuriy Kostenko, leader of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh. "The characteristic trait of these [shadow schemes in the energy sector] is a departure from cash payments in favor of various ersatz settlements: barter deals, promissory notes, setoffs. As a result, huge sums have been deposited in private accounts abroad, while the Ukrainian economy has gone into decline," Kostenko told "Kievskii telegraf."

"RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.

End Note: UKRAINIAN POLICY SHUTS OUT MANY ASYLUM SEEKERS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

RUSSIAN SONGS BARRED FROM PUBLIC PLACES IN LVIV. The Lviv City Council has introduced a moratorium on retranslating and performing Russian-language songs on the city's streets and squares, as well as in public means of transportation, restaurants, and cafes, Interfax reported on 19 June. The moratorium will be in force until the council adopts "regulations on the protection of the audio environment" in the city. A draft of those regulations is to be drawn up by 1 August. The council introduced the moratorium following demands made by many Ukrainian radical organizations in connection with last month's death in Lviv of Ukrainian composer Ihor Bilozir. Bilozir died because of a fatal injury he sustained in an attack by Russian speakers who did not like his singing Ukrainian songs in a Lviv cafe (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 and 13 June 2000). JM


Elkana Gale gets stopped several times a day by the police. He says they have strip-searched, insulted, and beaten him and have even threatened his life.

Gale is a refugee from torture in Sudan. Yet these violations of his human rights happened in Ukraine, where Gale sought asylum three years ago. On paper, Ukraine granted him sanctuary. In reality, he, along with many other refugees seeking shelter there, say they have exchanged one form of torture and repression for another.

"I came [to Ukraine] by mistake," Gale told RFE/RL. "I had to run away from the war. I just had to go to where it was possible. I wanted a Christian country so that I could have a rest. I found myself in Ukraine. I didn't know anything about Ukraine. But when I came here, I found out that though there is war at home, home is the best."

Ukraine's refugee policy is one of the most liberal of former Soviet republics--many of which have no refugee legislation at all. Ukraine has accepted more than 3,500 refugees since 1996, while Russia has accepted just 400.

But Ukraine has not signed the 1951 UN convention that lays down guidelines for asylum refugee policy worldwide. And because of inadequate legislation, Ukraine turns down large numbers of UN-recognized asylum seekers. Those it does accept, meanwhile, are not receiving adequate protection.

Refugee status is granted by Ukrainian local immigration authorities and has to be renewed every three months. Because of this three-month arrangement, even refugees who have been in Ukraine for years are still seen as temporary residents. The authorities do not provide them with housing or financial aid. They are not allowed to work legally. They are treated as unwelcome visitors, resented by locals, and constantly harassed by law-enforcement agencies.

According to a UN survey in Ukraine last year, more than half of refugees from Afghanistan, African countries, and former Soviet states are regularly treated disrespectfully by the police. A significant number said the militia had extorted money or confiscated possessions from them.

Mykola Yarina is head of the police department for migrants in the Interior Ministry. He told RFE/RL that police have to stop foreigners because they may be illegal migrants but that refugees are treated more leniently.

"There have been questions about the police illegally detaining foreigners," he said. "But it's different for refugees. The police are given special instructions. Every policeman, from the top downward, has orders how to behave with foreigners, whether refugees or illegal migrants, and they have to check their identification. At regular meetings, we provide militia heads with information about their rude attitude to foreigners and we provide them with written rules of behavior."

But many people classified under Ukrainian law as illegal migrants are, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, genuine asylum seekers. Yet because they came by way of a third country--usually Russia--Ukraine does not accept their applications and does not even grant temporary living status. But it also makes no provision for them to go elsewhere, not even back to Russia, with which Ukraine has no re-admission agreement.

Pierfrancesco Natta of the UNHCR's office in Kyiv told RFE/RL that "this is creating the problem of a limbo situation for many people. They are not able to return to the country where they were transiting, for example Russia, and basically are forced to stay in the country illegally and basically are under the continuous harassment from the police forces.... They have to request legal resident permits that these people cannot provide."

Earlier, asylum seekers could appeal to a government committee for migration if they were turned down by local migration authorities. But that committee was dissolved as part of government streamlining earlier this year--a move that would seem to indicate that refugees are not a high priority for the Ukrainian government.

Yarina and other Ukrainian officials say Ukraine cannot accept more refugees or offer them better conditions because of the country's desperate economic situation. But the UNHCR's Natta says the rest of the world cannot help financially until Ukraine signs the UN convention on refugees. As a result, he argues, Ukraine is finds itself in something of a "pariah situation." Even if the authorities have recognized 3,500 people, "basically no one would consider that a real figure. So the authorities are always expressing the willingness to accede to the convention, [but] unfortunately this never came true, and we feel that the authorities are reluctant due to the fear of additional financial obligations toward a category that is not really considered a priority."

The result, says Natta, is bad for the asylum seekers. Between October and December last year, the number of registered refugees in Ukraine fell from 3,560 to 2,697: Nearly a thousand, tired of the difficult life in Ukraine, crossed the border into Western Europe.

The UNHCR wants Ukraine to improve its refugee policy so that asylum seekers choose to remain in that country. It says Western countries would help Ukraine shoulder the economic burden if it meant saving the West from more asylum seekers.

The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Kyiv. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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