©2003 RFE/RL, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

With the kind permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, InfoUkes Inc. has been given rights to electronically re-print these articles on our web site. Visit the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service page for more information. Also visit the RFE/RL home page for news stories on other Eastern European and FSU countries.

Return to Main RFE News Page
InfoUkes Home Page

ukraine-related news stories from RFE


PROSECUTOR SENTENCED, AMNESTIED IN CASE OF SLAIN JOURNALIST. A court in Kyiv on 6 May sentenced Serhiy Obozov, a former public prosecutor in Tarashcha Raion, Kyiv Oblast, to 2 1/2 years in prison for abuse of office and forgery in connection with the case of slain Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, whose headless body was found near Tarashcha in November 2000, Interfax reported. The court found Obozov guilty of violating proper procedure and falsifying documents connected with the case. Simultaneously, the court excused Obozov from punishment, saying he was protected by an amnesty law at the time he committed his crimes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May)

UKRAINIAN DIASPORA TARGETS PULITZER PRIZEWINNER. The Ukrainian diaspora on 1 May launched a campaign aimed at seeing the late U.S. journalist Walter Duranty stripped of his 1932 Pulitzer Prize, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Duranty, then a correspondent for "The New York Times," received his prize for a series of articles he published in 1931 on Stalin's plans to reform the Soviet economy. Duranty subsequently maintained silence in his writings about a man-made famine in Ukraine in 1932-33, in which an estimated 5 million-10 million people died. "[Duranty] completely ignored the Ukrainian famine; he even went as far as to lie that there was no famine, there was no genocide of the Ukrainian people," Ukrainian Congress Committee of America President Michael Sawkiw told RFE/RL. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)

U.S. RIGHTS GROUP SIGNALS PRESS FREEDOM STILL WEAK IN CENTRAL, EASTERN EUROPE... Freedom House released its "Freedom of the Press 2003" report on 30 April, noting that press freedom "suffered notable worldwide deterioration in 2002, due in part to political and armed conflicts and increased government-backed restrictions on independent media outlets," according to the group's website ( The conclusions include classification of countries' media as "Free" (0-30 points), "Partly Free" (31-60 points), or "Not Free" (61-100 points). "Of the 27 countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, nine (33 percent) are rated Free, eight (30 percent) are Partly Free, and 10 (37 percent) are Not Free," the group said. Ratings in Central and Eastern Europe, listed alphabetically, are: Belarus (82), Czech Republic (23), Estonia (17), Hungary (23), Latvia (18), Lithuania (18), Poland (18), Slovakia (21), and Ukraine (67). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)

...AND IN DECLINE IN RUSSIA AND UKRAINE. Freedom House named Ukraine among 11 countries where ratings dropped from the "Partly Free" to "Not Free," according to the group's website. "Among the most serious developments were major setbacks for press freedom in Russia, Ukraine, and Venezuela," the group noted in a press release accompanying the survey. Freedom House said several Ukrainian journalists were targeted by politically motivated libel lawsuits or punitive tax audits last year. "Russian and Ukrainian reporters who investigated official corruption were routinely intimidated and sometimes violently attacked," the group said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May)


RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 5, No. 18, 13 May 2003

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

WARSAW PREPARES TO COMMAND MILITARY ZONE IN IRAQ. Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski announced on 12 May that the Polish stabilization force in Iraq will be deployed in a sector between Baghdad and Basra, that is, between a British-administered sector in the south and a U.S.-administered sector in the north. "We have made a decision, and as a result the Polish division is to operate in the upper southern zone; we have just begun negotiating with our potential partners in this zone," Szmajdzinski said. He added that the negotiations on which countries are to participate in the Polish sector will continue until 22-23 May, when a conference on the issue is to be held in Warsaw.

Szmajdzinski said that Warsaw has requested NATO to provide support for its mission in Iraq, recalling that the trans-Atlantic alliance had got involved in the 4,500-strong International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. "It is a normal and a natural thing for Poland to request the allied countries to have informal talks about the possibility of making use of instruments that the alliance has -- to provide help with the shaping of the operational plans for setting up communications systems and sharing the intelligence of the allied states.... Should these instruments be made available to us, this would mean the acceptance by the 19 states of such actions," Szmajdzinski said.

The Polish military sector in Iraq will encompass an area of some 80,000 square kilometers with 3 million inhabitants. The precise borders of the Polish zone are yet to be defined by a U.S. command center in Florida. Poland is reportedly planning to send 1,500-2,000 servicemen to Iraq. General Andrzej Tyszkiewicz, Poland's former envoy to NATO, has been named as the commander of a multinational division in the Polish sector in Iraq. The division is to encompass 6,000-7,000 servicemen; it has not been revealed what other countries could contribute to this force. Szmajdzinski's proposal last week that the stabilization force in the Polish sector in Iraq be based on NATO's Polish-German-Danish corps stationed in Szczecin has been rejected by both Germany and Denmark (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 May 2003).

Szmajdzinski said it would be better if Poland had a UN Security Council mandate for its mission in Iraq but added that the mission must be continued even without a UN resolution. "We cannot liberate the Iraqi people and then say: 'There is no resolution so we leave things as they are and pull out.' The point is to make it possible for the Iraqi people to take responsibility for their country in a democratic and sovereign way," Szmajdzinski explained.

While many Poles feel pride in their country's unexpected role as a major international player following the Iraq war, some Polish (and international) commentators warn that the Washington-fuelled "global ambitions" of Warsaw may backfire with unpleasant surprises in the European Union, which Poland is expected to join in a year.

First of all, since Poland's staunch backing of the United States so irritates the EU's heavyweights, Germany and France, these two countries may prove less keen in doling out EU aid to Poland. Such commentators point that in 2006 the EU is scheduled to renegotiate its regional-subsidies policy to accommodate new members. They claim that Poland may find it very hard to remain a net recipient of EU subsidies, particularly since Germany is the principal net contributor to the EU budget.

Polish commentators argue that, while Poland made a right strategic decision to side with the U.S. in the Iraq war and should justly expect political and economic benefits from this, Warsaw should not necessarily associate itself with all U.S. global interests. In particular, some analysts point that Washington's purported intention to erode the German-French anti-U.S. stance on Iraq with the help of Warsaw will prove unsuccessful and bring Poland only troubles in Europe. The daily "Rzeczpospolita" wrote on 12 May that Poland's European choice requires that the country become unambiguously involved in the building of the EU's common foreign policy and security, which in turn implies that Warsaw must seek rapprochement with Berlin and Paris.

A step in this direction was made last week by Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac in Wroclaw, within the so-called Weimar Triangle format. The summit did not produce much substance, but one thing did not pass unnoticed in Poland. Both Schroeder and Chirac declared that they want to see Poland as an equal partner in the EU. And it was also noticed that neither Berlin nor Paris wants Warsaw to be a broker in dealings between Europe and the U.S. "I do not get the impression that we need a bridge between the EU and the United States," Chirac told journalists in Wroclaw.

Even if Poland's involvement in the Iraq war has contributed to a significant rise in the country's international posture, it has simultaneously brought a host of additional problems -- of a diplomatic, financial, military, administrative, and other nature -- with which Warsaw must immediately and successfully cope if it wants to build on its surprising political elevation. It should not be forgotten that Poland still remains a nation in transition, which is plagued by nearly 20 percent unemployment and ruled by a minority government with approval ratings barely over 10 percent. There seems to be no immediate solution how to translate the country's bold and successful international policy into an equally bold and successful domestic one to uplift the mood of disappointed citizens. At the same time, any failure on the part of the government to live up to its present international challenge may not only turn deadly for the government itself but also bring about still wider disillusionment in the sense of the country's postcommunist transformation. (Jan Maksymiuk)


DECLASSIFIED KGB FILES SHOW AUTHORITIES KNEW OF CHORNOBYL'S FATAL FLAWS. The Ukrainian intelligence service, the SBU, has released a large number of previously secret documents that reveal the Chornobyl nuclear-power plant suffered from serious design and building flaws.

The documents show that the authorities ignored KGB warnings that the materials used in the plant's construction were substandard and that the technicians operating the plant often did not comply with safety regulations.

The SBU is the successor to the Soviet-era KGB of the Ukrainian SSR. Around 120 files composed of information sent at the time to Moscow KGB headquarters by its Ukrainian branch have been published by the SBU on the Internet (

The documents reveal there had been previous accidents at Chornobyl that released radioactive pollution into the atmosphere and that the KGB had warned the plant should be shut down only months before one of its reactors exploded on 26 April 1986. That explosion resulted in the world's worst civilian nuclear accident and spewed radiation across vast sections of Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Western Europe.

But now the agency wants to set the record straight. "For a long time, a section of the documents concerning Chornobyl was inaccessible to historians and, therefore, much of the published work that aimed at analyzing the causes of the catastrophe or to shed light on government actions [at the time] are based essentially on the memoirs and observations of the participants. Because of that, many are tendentious and obstruct an objective examination of the reasons and circumstances for the accident, especially in analyzing its consequences and the effectiveness of government bodies," Maryna Ostapenko, a spokeswoman for the SBU, told RFE/RL.

The bulk of the documents cover the 1986 accident and the cleanup efforts running through 1988. Ostapenko said the files also show that the plant, built in the 1970s, suffered 29 accidents between 1977 and 1981 and that the Ukrainian KGB had warned of the dangers posed by its continuing operation.

One KGB report, written in January 1979, said: "According to operational data, there were deviations from design and violations of technology procedures during building and assembling works. It may lead to accidents."

"This release [of KGB files] contains only documents," Ostapenko said, "and it speaks in the language of documents -- that is to say, a person who has these before him sees what actions were taken by the Ukrainian secret services to warn the country's ruling circles about the dangers of an accident and what actions were taken by the security services after the accident. These [documents] reveal a true picture of events at the time."

In September 1982, an accident at Chornobyl released what are described in the files as "significant quantities of radiation" into the atmosphere. Most accidents occurred through equipment failures. Chornobyl technicians warned about the high risk of accidents at the power station. One document deals with an inspection of the plant in early 1986 by engineers who urged that it be shut down.

"We hope to restore the historic truth by publishing documents about the station, its construction and the disaster itself," Ostapenko said.

The documents, Ostapenko said, point a finger of blame at the authorities in Moscow for failing to heed warnings about Chornobyl.

"You can find here letters written by the heads of the Ukrainian security services to the top leaders of the Soviet Union about the shortcomings in the construction and operation of the Chornobyl power station," she said.

Ostapenko added that one reason Soviet leaders failed to take action may have been because the information coming from Ukraine was just a small proportion of the intelligence coming from the KGB's offices throughout the Soviet Union.

"When this accident happened in 1986, the Ukrainian KGB was part of a big machine. Ukraine was one of 15 Soviet republics. Therefore, the reaction of the USSR leadership was not very attentive. The very way that documents were transmitted, the lapse of time and the conviction that such [an accident] could never happen played a big role," she said.

The release of the documents comes shortly after Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev said a new shelter should be built over the exploded reactor at Chornobyl. Russia is concerned it could be affected if the present, hastily built sarcophagus over the damaged reactor develops leaks or collapses, allowing contaminants to escape.

The Ukrainian government says there is no immediate danger at Chornobyl but is calling for more money from Western nations to erect a new shield around the damaged reactor. It also wants funds to complete construction of two new nuclear units to replace the Chornobyl plant, which finally closed at the urging of Western countries in 2000.

"During the past 13 years in Poland, all ruling teams without exception have spoken so often and so much that there cannot be a strong, independent Poland without a strong, independent Ukraine, that all the Poles, including children, have become convinced about this." -- Jacek Cichocki, director of the Warsaw-based, government-sponsored Center for Eastern Studies, during a meeting with Ukrainian opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko in Warsaw last week; quoted by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 9 May.

"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 AUTHORITIES AGAIN TARGETING OPPOSITION LEADERS? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

BELARUSIAN ENVIRONMENTALIST SAYS AUTHORITIES SPOILING ANCIENT FOREST. The head of a Belarusian environmental group has charged that authorities are engaged in an effort to cover up mismanagement of the Belavezha Forest, Belapan reported on 12 May. Valery Dranchuk heads the nongovernmental Terra-Kanventsyya organization, which sent letters to various government agencies in April to express concern over the alleged massive felling of trees in the ancient forest, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 February 2003). Terra-Kanventsyya also sent letters to the UNESCO office in Moscow, the UN and OSCE offices in Minsk, and most Western embassies in Belarus. Dranchuk said he has so far received replies from the Justice Ministry and the Council of Ministers, which insist that only blighted or wind-damaged trees are being felled. According to Dranchuk, the Justice Ministry and the Council of Ministers might be unaware of the true situation in the forest, where economic activities are fully controlled by the presidential administration. JM

UKRAINIAN OFFICIAL SAYS COUNTRY NEEDS 'INTERNAL CONSOLIDATION' AHEAD OF NATO MEMBERSHIP. Yevhen Marchuk, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, told television interviewers on 12 May that his country must travel "a rather complicated path to internal consolidation" before entering NATO, Interfax reported. "This must not be only a presidential or a government decision; it must be one backed by parliament and, most important, it must be backed by at least half of the Ukrainian population," Marchuk said, suggesting that NATO currently perceives Ukraine as an "unpredictable partner" because of weak support for NATO membership among Ukrainians. Marchuk also reiterated that Ukraine should deploy stabilization forces to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). JM

UKRAINIAN AVIATION IN A SHAMBLES. A Ukrainian airline-industry publication reported recently that the industry is in "a catastrophic state," plagued by a shortage of new pilots, and utterly distrusted internationally, Reuters reported on 12 May. "After a long string of accidents, any trust in Ukrainian aviation is almost destroyed," "Transpress" commented. "It is no secret that Ukrainian civil and military aviation is in a catastrophic state." The publication added: "For the last two years not a single military pilot has graduated. The best schools training pilots and aviation engineers have been destroyed." According to unidentified analysts cited by the agency, last week's air disaster in Congo only added to growing international distrust in Ukrainian aviation. On 8 May, the doors of a Ukrainian-owned Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane with a Ukrainian crew opened in midair, leading to the deaths of an unconfirmed number of passengers. Initial reports claimed that as many as 120 people were sucked out of the aircraft and killed, while Congolese Information Minister Kikaya bin Karubi said the death toll would probably rise above 14. In December, a Ukrainian An-140 aircraft crashed in Iran, killing all 46 Ukrainian aviation engineers and experts on board. In July 2002, 83 people were killed in Lviv in the world's worst air-show disaster, when an Su-27 fighter jet crashed into the crowd. JM

POLAND ASKS NATO FOR HELP RUNNING MILITARY ZONE IN IRAQ. Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski announced on 12 May that the Polish stabilization force in Iraq will be deployed in a sector between Baghdad and Al-Basrah, that is, between a British-administered sector in the south and a U.S.-administered sector in the north, Polish media reported. Szmajdzinski said Warsaw has requested that NATO provide support for its mission in Iraq. "It is a normal and a natural thing for Poland to request the allied countries to have informal talks about the possibility of making use of instruments that the alliance has -- to provide help with the shaping of the operational plans for setting up communications systems and sharing the intelligence of the allied states," Szmajdzinski told journalists. Poland is expected to assume command of a 6,000-7,000-strong multinational stabilization force in its sector in Iraq. Szmajdzinski said negotiations on which countries will participate in the Polish sector will continue until 22-23 May, when a conference on the issue is to be held in Warsaw (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 7 and 13 May 2003). JM


In late 2001, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma issued a lengthy decree outlining measures to ensure that the March 2002 parliamentary elections would be free and fair. In his state-of-the-nation address to parliament last month, Kuchma likewise promised that the October 2004 presidential elections will be conducted in a "civilized, democratic manner in full compliance with current legislation."

But as is so often the case in Ukraine and other CIS states, reality diverges from official rhetoric. During the 2002 campaign, the presidential administration abused its administration resources to favor the For a United Ukraine bloc, and the media failed to ensure a level playing field for all candidates. A secret document from the presidential administration that outlined detailed measures against the opposition was leaked to the opposition and the OSCE election-monitoring mission.

It is therefore hardly surprising that the electorate is skeptical of Kuchma's latest claim that next year's presidential election will be democratic. A March Razumkov Center poll found that as many as 51 percent of Ukrainians believe the 2004 elections will be not free and fair, while only 20 percent think they will be. Kuchma's claim that he will guarantee a free and fair election is unconvincing in the light of the activities of the presidential administration, especially since Viktor Medvedchuk was named to head that body in May 2002.

Medvedchuk is the long time head of the Union of Ukrainian Lawyers (as well as the Social Democratic Party-united, or SDPU-o). Even though censorship is banned by the Ukrainian Constitution and parliament recently amended the law on the media to criminalize censorship, last summer the presidential administration began sending secret instructions ("temnyky") to television stations advising them which political issues they should cover and which should be ignored.

Public skepticism has been reinforced by the government's seemingly selective use of corruption charges against former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko and aides to former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko. Both Tymoshenko and Yushchenko now head opposition political blocs. The corruption charges against Volodymyr Bondar, former deputy head of the National Bank, are widely perceived as aimed at discrediting Yushchenko, who headed the National Bank in the 1990s. High-ranking Our Ukraine member Oleh Rybachuk accused the SDPU-o of being behind the Bondar case, which has dragged on for five years and is, Rybachuk claims, "completely political." Four of the five banking "experts" who testified in the case have never worked in the banking system.

Oleksandr Yelyashkevych, a former deputy head of the parliamentary Committee on Finances and Banking who was granted asylum in the United States last year, has evidence that Kuchma and Medvedchuk -- who was then first deputy parliamentary speaker -- made the decision to relaunch the Bondar case in February 2000, only three months into the Yushchenko government.

Tymoshenko has also been targeted by the authorities since 2001. In a May Sotsiopolis poll that asked which parties are the most influential in Ukraine, Tymoshenko's eponymous bloc ranked first with 31 percent. Polls for the 2004 elections give Yushchenko and Tymoshenko a combined rating of approximately 35 percent. This is far higher than the very low preelection ratings for potential pro-presidential candidates such as Medvechuk or current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukevych.

Tymoshenko's husband, Oleksandr, was arrested in August 2000 as a way of pressuring Tymoshenko, who was then deputy prime minister for energy issues, to halt her energy-sector reforms. Those reforms returned billions of dollars from the oligarchs to the state budget, where the money was used by the Yushchenko government to repay wage and pension arrears. In June 2002, four former executives of Unified Energy Systems (EES), which Tymoshenko headed under Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko (who fled to the United States in 1999), were extradited from Turkey. The Ukrainian authorities also sought Russia's assistance in the Tymoshenko case, and a criminal case was launched against Colonel General Georgii Oleinik, former chief financier of the Russian Defense Ministry, on charges of accepting bribes from Tymoshenko when she headed EES.

The authorities first attempted to pin a corruption charge on Tymoshenko in mid February 2001 when she was arrested and spent several weeks in prison. She was released in late March 2001 under a court ruling that the Supreme Court upheld. In April 2002, a Kyiv district court ruled that four counts brought against her be dropped, as well as three of the counts brought against her husband.

In March, the same district court ruled the Prosecutor-General's Office had acted unlawfully, and on 9 April the Kyiv Municipal Appeals Court dismissed all the charges against both Tymoshenko and her husband. The Prosecutor-General's Office has appealed these decisions and continues to ask parliament to strip Tymoshenko of her immunity as a parliament deputy.

The driving force behind Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun's campaign against Tymoshenko is the presidential administration. Since becoming prosecutor-general in July 2002, Piskun has issued 100 appeals on the Tymoshenko case, and since January 2003, he has held 12 briefings. Even though the case has repeatedly been thrown out of court, the Prosecutor-General's Office has itself -- in pro-presidential media outlets -- pronounced both Tymoshenkos guilty as charged.

A vote to lift Tymoshenko's immunity is unlikely to obtain the necessary 227 votes. The only time this has happened was in early 1999 in the case of Lazarenko. Even pro-presidential oligarch Oleksandr Volkov, whose oil-importing business was destroyed by the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko government, opposes the removal of her immunity. Although Volkov uses legalistic arguments, he -- like some of his allies -- is aware that if deputies were to lift Tymoshenko's immunity, they might act the same way with regard to other prominent officials.

The authorities have, according to Tymoshenko, offered on many occasions to drop the case against her and her family completely if she agrees not to contest the 2004 elections in an alliance with Yushchenko. In that event, the authorities would provide her with access to the media, thereby dividing the opposition and enabling a pro-presidential candidate to break through to the second round. At present, opinion polls show that it is more likely that Yushchenko would face Communist leader Petro Symonenko in a presidential runoff.

Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow in the Centre for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Toronto.