In journalistic circles, it is customary at year end to reflect upon the top major news stories of the past year. I have sometimes subscribed to this practice in past years and propose to do so again in this column as I survey the top ten major events that transpired in 2018 that fell under the broad category of Ukrainian news. Because this is a Canadian publication, I have decided to spotlight five things that took place in Ukraine and five that involve a Canadian angle. First, let’s look at what happened in Ukraine.
- Undoubtedly, the most important development was the creation of an independent and canonical Orthodox church in Ukraine. On December 15, an agreement was reached uniting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyivan Patriarchate (KP), the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and a small number of dioceses of the Moscow Patriarchate. The elected head of the new church is the young 39 year-old Metropolitan Epiphanius (Serhii Dumenko) of Pereyaslav and Bila Tserkva. This ends centuries of ecclesiastical domination of Ukraine’s Orthodox faithful by Moscow. A formal “Tomos” recognizing the new church will be presented to Metropolitan Epiphanius in early January in Istanbul by Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew.
- On November 25, Russian naval forces fired upon and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels entering the Sea of Azov, thereby escalating the Russia-Ukraine conflict another notch. It is obvious that Putin will keep upping the ante in his attacks on Ukraine until NATO and the rest of the free world take more decisive action against his blatant and criminal aggression.
- On November 4, Kateryna Handziuk, a tireless crusading, anti-corruption activist from Kherson died of complications after a savage acid attack by hired thugs. Her death pointed out the risks and seriousness of the continuing anti-corruption struggle in Ukraine, a struggle that the Ukrainian government has been slow and ineffective in addressing.
- The plight of Ukrainian film director and political prisoner in Russia, Oleg Sentsov, has become an international cause that continues to give the Putin regime a black eye. Sentsov received a number of human rights awards over the past year including the Magnitsky and Sakharov prizes. Currently there are over seventy Ukrainian political prisoners being held illegally in Russia and Crimea.
- The maneuvering and campaigning has already begun for the 2019 Presidential elections in Ukraine. Polls show that some 70% of the Ukrainian electorate are dissatisfied with the policies (or lack thereof) of the current government. As in previous such elections there are dozens of would be candidates, with Yulia Tymoshenko currently leading polls, though with only 14% support. The fact that an actor and showman by the name of Volodymyr Zelensky is in second place, reflects some of the farcical elements of this race, with current President Poroshenko in third place. It is difficult to predict at this point who will ultimately succeed, but the current choices are less than inspiring.
Moving on to the Canadian side of the Top Ten:
- The performance of Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland over the past year has earned her international kudos, and the distinction of being arguably the most talented and successful Canadian politician of Ukrainian origin ever.
- Several months ago, Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj announced his retirement from political life, marking the end of a distinguished political career. His accomplishments as a politician, businessman and humanitarian have contributed much to the Ukrainian community both here in Canada as well as Ukraine, and his involvement will be much missed.
- Prof. Lubomyr Luciuk of Kingston, Ontario received the St. Volodymyr the Great medal from the Ukrainian World Congress at their recent convention in Kyiv, in recognition primarily of his tireless efforts in getting the Canadian Government to official recognize the injustice of the Internment Operations carried out against Ukrainian Canadians during the First World War.
- At the same convention in Kyiv, Paul Grod, the former President of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) was elected President of the Ukrainian World Congress. Paul Grod has been instrumental in building the UCC into a powerful and effective Ukrainian organization here in Canada, and his elevation to the world stage is much deserved. He will now face growing pressure from diaspora Ukrainians for the UWC to be more forceful in demanding that the Ukrainian government be more serious and aggressive in their anti-corruption and reform efforts.
- The Canadian government recently announced that it will once again be organizing and providing funding for several hundred Canadian observers to act as election observers in the upcoming elections in Ukraine in 2019.