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COURT OUSTS COMMUNIST LEADER FROM ELECTION RACE IN CRIMEA. A district court in Simferopol on 25 February canceled the registration of Crimean Supreme Council Chairman Leonid Hrach, the leader of the Crimean branch of the Communist Party of Ukraine, as a candidate in the 31 March elections to the Crimean autonomous legislature, UNIAN and the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. The court concurred with a complaint filed by the proxy of a candidate running in the same constituency with Hrach in Simferopol that Hrach had misinformed the election commission about his income and possessions as well as failed to suspend his activity in the post of Crimean speaker for the duration of the election campaign period, as is required by the law on the election to the Crimean Supreme Council. Hrach is the leader of the Crimean Bloc of Leonid Hrach, one of the two major groups vying for seats in the 100-member Crimean legislature. Hrach remains No. 14 on the election list of the Communist Party of Ukraine in the elections to the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv. JM

U.S. OFFICIAL SAYS WASHINGTON HAS NO PROOF OF ALLEGED UKRAINIAN ARMS TRADE WITH AFGHANISTAN. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer said in Kyiv on 24 February that the U.S. "enthusiastically" supports Ukraine's intention to join the World Trade Organization, Ukrainian Television reported. Pifer stressed that Washington attaches great importance to the development of close relations with Kyiv, and may consider revoking the economic sanctions against Ukraine if it strictly adheres to all the points in the recently adopted law on combating CD piracy. Pifer also said that the U.S. does not possess any information that would confirm that Ukraine supplied arms to Afghanistan's Taliban. In January, Ukrainian lawmakers urged prosecutors to probe such allegations, which were voiced last year in some foreign media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2002). JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DECREES PAY RAISE FOR SERVICEMEN, MOVES TO SHORTEN SERVICE. Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree to increase wages for Ukrainian senior officers by 50 percent and to lower-rank servicemen by 100 percent as of 1 January 2003, Interfax reported. By virtue of another decree, Kuchma ordered the government to submit a bill to the parliament proposing to reduce compulsory military service in Ukraine to 12 months as of 2005. JM

UKRAINIAN TELEVISION URGES PARTIES TO REFRAIN FROM 'FOUL LANGUAGE' IN CAMPAIGN SPOTS. Former presidential adviser Ihor Storozhuk, the head of the Ukrainian National Television Company, advised parliamentary election candidates against "resorting to foul language, trading insults, and making groundless allegations" in state-sponsored election broadcasts that the company is obliged to carry under the election law, Ukrainian Television reported. Storozhuk's appeal was followed by a program commenting on the Socialist Party's election broadcast on 21 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2002). The broadcast featured excerpts from recordings made by former presidential security guard Mykola Melnychenko, in which a voice similar to that of President Kuchma was heard using extremely foul language and attacking his opponents. JM

CONTENTIOUS ISLAND BECOMES PART OF UKRAINIAN REGION. The Serpents Island (Zmiyinyy Ostrov) in the Black Sea has officially become part of Kyliyskyy District of Odesa Oblast, Ukrainian Television reported on 23 February. Kyiv and Bucharest have long been in dispute over this rocky islet and over how to divide the oil- and gas-bearing continental shelf around it (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 December 2001). The report added that Ukraine has built and installed some "necessary facilities" on the islet, including a post office and a payphone. JM

UKRAINIAN BROADCASTER REQUESTS SECURITY SERVICE PROTECTION. Serhiy Sholokh, the director of Kiev-based Radio Kontynent, has said that he and his family are under threat of "physical elimination," UNIAN reported on 22 February, quoting from Sholokh's letter to Security Service head Volodymyr Radchenko. Sholokh said the previous day that "an unknown person who refused to identify himself called me and made threats," adding that Sholokh and his family need to leave the country immediately. Sholokh asked the Security Service to take measures to protect his family. Radio Kontynent is a rebroadcaster of the BBC and Deutsche Welle, and has previously encountered difficulties with the authorities, including a temporary license revocation last year. JM

Croatia____________3_______1_______0_______4 Bulgaria___________0_______1_______2_______3 Estonia____________1_______1_______1_______3 Czech Rep._________1_______0_______1_______2 Poland_____________0_______1_______1_______2 Belarus____________0_______0_______1_______1 Slovenia___________0_______0_______1_______1 Bosnia-Herzeg.______0_______0_______0_______0 Hungary___________0_______0_______0_______0 Latvia_____________0_______0_______0_______0 Lithuania__________0_______0_______0_______0 Macedonia_________0_______0_______0_______0 Moldova___________0_______0_______0_______0 Romania___________0_______0_______0_______0 Slovakia___________0_______0_______0_______0 Ukraine____________0_______0_______0_______0 Yugoslavia_________0_______0_______0_______0


Ukraine will hold a parliamentary election on 31 March at a time when public trust in the media is relatively low, as it is in state institutions generally. Ukrainians who fully trust the media range from a low of 11.6 to 15.5 percent, depending on region, according to a January poll by the Center for Economic and Political Studies. One reason why the media is not trusted is because it is mainly controlled by the executive and oligarchs who are preventing equal access for all 35 election parties and blocs, especially those in opposition to President Leonid Kuchma. Recognizing this problem, parliament last month approved a resolution "On Securing Citizen's Right to Information" during the elections.

The regular flouting of media legislation by parliamentary deputies and the executive is a second reason why there is a low level of public trust in the media. The honorary president of the television station Inter is Oleksandr Zinchenko, head of the oligarchic Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (SDPU-O) parliamentary faction and chairman of the parliamentary committee on Freedom of Speech and Information. Inter, which broadcasts mainly in Russian, regularly flouts Article 9 of the law "On Television and Radio," which states that 50 percent of programming should be in the state language, Ukrainian.

At a meeting this month with the Central Election Commission, the National Television and Radio Council (NRTR) complained that the greatest number of legal violations had been undertaken by foreign (i.e. Western) media subleasing broadcasting time from Ukrainian media and warned that the licenses of these Ukrainian media outlets would be revoked. This kind of official hostility to foreign media only applies to Western -- not Russian -- media.

The election law prohibits election campaigning by foreign media, although these articles have never been applied against the extensive Russian print and television media available in Ukraine. The NRTR did not threaten Ukrainian television stations, such as Inter, which re-broadcast Russian programs. Russian TV and radio programs support pro-Kuchma and oligarchic blocs and are not favorably disposed to the anti-Kuchma opposition or to former Prime Minister Viktor Yushhenko's Our Ukraine. The main target for the NRTR are Western radio stations, such as the BBC, Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and Deutsche Welle. These stations are far more objective, more willing to expose election malpractices, and therefore less positively disposed to the "party of power" and the oligarchs.

Official media policies in general -- and especially during elections -- do not grant equal access to all political forces. Both the moderate and the radical opposition to Kuchma and to the oligarchs are at a great disadvantage in the current elections in obtaining access to the media. The authorities are using every method at their disposal to prevent Oleksandr Moroz's Socialists and the Yuliya Tymoshenko radical opposition blocs from obtaining access to the media in order to restrict popular support for these two blocs. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine faces fewer media restrictions because it is only anti-oligarch, not anti-Kuchma, but it also faces severe problems.

The executive and the oligarchs control most of the country's media. The most popular television stations in Ukraine -- which cover between 70 and 90 percent of the country -- are 1+1 and Inter on channels two and three respectively. Both television stations are controlled by the SDPU-O and its ally, the oligarchic Democratic Union. The Labor Ukraine oligarchic party controls the ICTV and Era television stations.

In addition to restricting access to the media, the executive and oligarchs have also undertaken a number of concerted actions against independent media or those sympathetic to the opposition. In Odesa, 15 journalists on the Hot Line television station were fired after they openly stated their intention of maintaining neutrality in the elections. The decision was a warning to journalists that they should only work for pro-presidential parties. In Luhansk, the Efir-1 television company was closed by the city council after it refused to endorse the dismissal of Mayor Anatoliy Yahoferov, a sympathizer of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine.

In November 2001, presidential spokesman Ihor Storozhuk was appointed head of the National Television Company to ensure that the executive fully controlled this important station. The only Ukrainian-language newspaper in the Crimea, "Krymska Svitlytsia," stopped receiving state funds in November 2001 because it never hid its support for Yushchenko. Ivan Drach, a leading member of the Our Ukraine bloc, was replaced as chairman of the State Committee on Information, Television, and Radio on 7 February by Ivan Chyzh, a defector from Oleksandr Moroz's Socialists. It was important to the executive branch that Drach and the Our Ukraine bloc have no influence over the State Committee during the election campaign.

Tymoshenko and Moroz, radical oppositionists to Kuchma, have encountered the greatest difficulties in receiving media coverage of their programs. In Cherkasy, journalists on the Socialist newspaper "Rubezh" went on hunger strike on 30 January because printing facilities had suddenly stopped being available to them. Tymoshenko has been unable to place a single paid advertisement on any state or commercial television station; on 14 February the Tymoshenko bloc sent an open letter to the heads of television stations complaining of an "information blockade" because of her opposition to Kuchma. Kyiv printing houses cancelled their contracts to print Tymoshenko's "Slovo Batkivshchyny" and "Vechirni Visti" newspapers and she had to relocate their printing operation to western Ukraine. Serhiy Pravdenko, editor of the parliamentary daily newspaper "Holos Ukraiiny" and a candidate for the Tymoshenko bloc, was accused of the misuse of funds and a criminal case has been launched against him.

The STB and Novy Kanal TV stations, which cover only 23-28 percent of Ukraine's territory, are sympathetic or neutral to Yushchenko's Our Ukraine while other television stations controlled by the executive or oligarchs provide negative coverage. On a tour of Poltava, Mykolayiv, and Kirovohrad earlier this month Yushchenko was barred from appearing on oblast-level state television and radio. When he finally managed to insist on his right to appear on Mykolayiv Oblast state television, the electricity was cut off. Our Ukraine activists have been arrested for distributing and putting up leaflets "in the wrong place" by the militia in eastern Ukrainian cities. The militia does not apply these rules to the pro-Kuchma For a United Ukraine and SDPU-O election blocs whose posters are to be found everywhere.

All 35 parties and blocs are not being granted equal access to the media during the Ukrainian parliamentary elections campaign. Such unequal access to the media particularly applies to those election blocs which are anti-oligarch and/or anti-Kuchma. Preventing equal media access also contravenes President Leonid Kuchma's stated promise to Western governments and international organizations to allow free and fair elections.