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Ukraine 2018

Ukraine 2018

On Tuesday evening, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman took to Facebook to accuse Russia of murdering dissident journalist Arkady Babchenko in Kyiv. Hours later, Babchenko (pictured above) walked into a press conference to announce that Ukrainian security services had, in fact, staged his “murder” to flush out a Russian hit squad operating in Kyiv.


The government’s story makes little sense — did they really need to fake a murder to catch a would-be killer? — and media organizations have roundly condemned the Ukrainian government for this stunt. But the Babchenko story highlights the confusion, deception, and (often justified) paranoia that still make Ukrainian politics so colorful.

As it happens, your Friday author has just returned from 10 days travelling around Ukraine. A few trip highlights underline other aspects of life in today’s Ukraine:

Courting Europe: The Maidan, Kyiv’s central square, still features improvised shrines to dozens of civilians killed there during the 2014 protests that ousted then-president Viktor Yanukovych. But the battle-cries heard last weekend came from football fans in town to support Liverpool and Real Madrid at the UEFA Champions League Final. As with last year’s Eurovision Song Contest, Kyiv continues to host major European events in hopes of strengthening tieswith the EU.

Urban Promise: We saw countless active construction sites in the capital, the well-preserved pre-Bolshevik beauty of Odesa, and the buzz of young people filling restaurants every evening in Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv.

Rural poverty and alcoholism: “Ukrainian Sheriffs” is an award-winning documentary that offers a sad and funny account of daily life in the rural village of Stara Zburyevka as Russian-backed militias wage war in the country’s east. Spoiler alert: poverty and alcoholism, not Russians, are the biggest threats. See a trailer here.

Corruption: Yanukovych’s Mezhyhirya palace, where the former president hid his stolen wealth and questionable taste, sits on an estate outside Kyiv. Visitors can enjoy Yanukovych’s hidden mansion, his ostrich enclosurethe reservoir where his men dumped damning documents during the protests, and the guesthouse sauna protesters used to dry them out after Yanukovych fled to Moscow. Unfortunately, corruption is a thing of the present. In 2017, Transparency International ranked Ukraine #130 in the world for corruption, just five places higher than Russia.

Internal tensions: We passed the trade union building in Odesa consumed by fire on May 2, 2014. Russia’s push into Crimea weeks earlier had begun with “spontaneous” pro-Russian demonstrations in Crimean streets. A similar attempt to stir trouble provoked gunplay in Odesa — and 42 pro-Russian protesters burned alive in this building where they sought refuge. Four years later, an investigation of the incident grinds on.

Nationalism: We enjoyed dumplings in an unmarked restaurant in Lviv, which you enter only with a password (Glory to the Heroes!). The maître d’ carries a machine gun, you dine inside a bunker that once housed Ukrainian fighters battling both Nazis and Soviets, and you pay extra to shoot pellets at a picture of Putin. The restaurant, open 24 hours, is pure kitsch, and everyone is smiling, but it reflects an underlying nationalism, particularly in Western Ukraine, that sometimes treats “others” as suspect.

This week’s phony assassination story helps Russians question the credibility of Ukraine’s government and security services, reinforcing a message I heard from Ukrainian friends during my visit: “The Russians want to carve us up, but it’s the corruption and ineptitude of our own leaders that really stand in our way.”

Bottom-line: Too many of Ukraine’s wounds are still self-inflicted.

A decade ago, Bank of America established the Global Ambassadors Program with Vital Voices, and the results are phenomenal. We've provided 8,000 hours of training and mentoring, engaging 400 women from 85 countries and helping women around the world build their businesses.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a lot of foreign governments really mad. Let's call the roll.

Europe. The EU is angry that Turkey is drilling for oil in the eastern Mediterranean, and NATO is furious that member Turkey has defied its protests to purchase S-400 missiles from Russia. Erdogan has repeatedly rejected pushback from EU leaders by calling them fascists and Islamophobes.

Just this week, Erdogan refused to express sympathy with France following the beheading of a French schoolteacher by an Islamist extremist, attacked Macron's own response to the murder, suggested the French president needed "some sort of mental treatment," and countered Macron's vow to crack down on Islamist radicals with calls for a boycott of French products.

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Less than a week before the US election, President Donald Trump is repeatedly questioning the legitimacy of the vote (if he doesn't win) over largely unsubstantiated claims of potential fraud in universal mail-in voting. But with absentee ballots coming in all-time highs in all states due to the coronavirus pandemic, some Americans worry that the system itself may not be able to handle such an influx of ballots, including those already cast by a record number of early voters. Whether or not you agree, Gallup data show that US citizens are now less confident that the election will be conducted accurately — and more concerned about election irregularities and voter suppression — than they were four years ago. We take a look at how Americans' views on these electoral integrity issues have changed from 2016 to 2020.

Belarus on strike: In recent days, the Belarusian streets have turned up the heat on strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, as thousands of state factory workers and students in Belarus heeded a call from opposition leader Svyatlana Tikhanouskaya to join a general strike. Protests have roiled the country since August, when Lukashenko, in power since 1994, won a presidential election widely regarded as rigged. Last Sunday, 100,000 people turned up in Minsk, the capital. Tikhanouskaya — who ran against Lukashenko in that election and is currently exiled in neighboring Lithuania — had demanded the president resign by October 26. When he didn't, the walkout began. In one of the most iconic moments of protest so far, a striking worker at a refrigerator factory climbed the plant's tower to record a dramatic call for Lukashenko to step down. Belarus has been hit with sanctions from the US and EU, both of which are calling on him to hold new elections, but so far he has shown no signs of backing down, deploying his riot police with the usual fury. Something's got to give, soon.

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Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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