Ukrainian news round-up 5/26/09 – Putin calls Ukraine ‘Little Russia’, Crimea Tartars struggle in Russian-dominate Crimea and remembering Bykivnya

“Any move by the West towards the former Soviet republics is seen as damaging Russia’s interests" the Russian media quoted Putin, "He has a discussion there about Big Russia and Little Russia — Ukraine" quoting a White Army commander during the Bolshevik Revolution. Putin’s reference on Sunday to "Little Russia" — a term used during the Russian Empire to describe parts of modern-day Ukraine that came under Tsarist rule — has raised hackles in Ukraine, where many consider it demeaning and offensive. A political analyst remarked"Russia is engaged in a propaganda war against Ukraine, designed to convince the West not to support Ukraine. Russia doesn’t understand cooperation with equals, only with subordinates."

Ukraine and Russia are again in the midst of a heated battle — this time, about the countries’ shared Soviet past. As Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko this week lamented that Ukraine had become "a hostage in the fight between two totalitarian regimes — fascist and communist" and called for Soviet-era symbols around the country to be torn down. He also called for Ukraine to "finally purge itself of the symbols of a regime that destroyed millions of innocent people," saying that 400 such monuments were taken down last year. His Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev ordered the creation of a presidential commission "to counter attempts to harm Russian interests by falsifying history". Last Tuesday, Medvedev announced the creation of a presidential commission to work to protect Russia’s history from being revised or re-evaluated in any way that tarnishes Russia’s image, but intellectuals fear a manipulation of Russia’s past.

65 years ago, after being falsely accused by Stalin of mass collaboration with the Nazi German invaders, the entire Crimean Tatar population was loaded onto trains and deported to Central Asia over a period of just three days in May 1944. Almost half would die over the following year. Twenty years since they first began to return, there are over 250,000 Tatars in Crimea, around 13% of the population. Once back, though, the Tatars’ troubles were hardly ended. The houses many had once owned or lived in were now occupied by Russian settlers. The State Security Service of Ukraine is establishing a special unit to investigate Stalin-era crimes against Crimean Tatars.

Viktor Yushchenko ordered state archives to declassify, publish, and study all documents relating to Holodomor, the Ukrainian independence movement, and political repressions during the Soviet period from 1917 to 1991. There’s a lot of work for Mr. Vyatrovych and his colleagues to get through: He estimates there are 800,000 documents from which to remove the "secret" seal. The country’s history, for centuries intertwined with its eastern neighbor Russia, is politically sensitive because of the polar opposite interpretations that people follow. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army, or UPA, for example, which fought in World War II, was portrayed in the Soviet Union as Nazi collaborators. To many in Ukraine, however, they are freedom fighters and symbols of the anti-Soviet independence movement. While Yushchenko has pushed a highly critical approach to Soviet history, Russia has in recent years gone some way towards rehabilitating Stalin’s image, portraying him in school textbooks as an "effective manager" whose actions were "entirely rational."

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made the point exceedingly clear. "The Russian Federation has not given any assurances and will not give any," he said after requests from the European side that the January gas crisis — when Russia cut off supplies to Ukraine for over a payment dispute — not be repeated. Yulia Tymoshenko said on Friday she expects to reach agreement with Russia on gas storage issues, which are crucial to energy security in Europe.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former parliament speaker and foreign minister of Ukraine, turns 35 on May 22, clearing the way for him to run as a candidate in the January 2010 Ukrainian presidential elections.

With her sizeable bump on show, this is Elizabeth Adeney – Britain’s oldest mother-to-be. At 66, she is four years older than the previous record holder. Mrs Adeney, who is around eight months pregnant, is believed to have undergone IVF abroad because most British clinics will not treat women over the age of 50. A friend said she had been desperate to conceive for years. Last year, she traveled to the Ukraine, where a controversial IVF clinic has helped countless women get pregnant using donor eggs and sperm. “Elizabeth has had a pretty good pregnancy. She has been very well, considering her age – I’m amazed how she keeps going.”

Microsoft’s Ukrainian CEO: “Recently Ukraine government made another move toward an open source software. As anyone would expect Microsoft has something to say and something to offer.” Many European governments have been making the switch to open source software to bring down costs and Microsoft’s expensive monopoly.

Shakhtar Donetsk’s victory in the UEFA Cup final will have no bearing on whether Ukraine retains full co-hosting rights for the 2012 European Championship, UEFA president Michel Platini said Thursday.

Yuri Shcherbak, Kyiv’s former ambassador in Washington, says that some Russian leaders are actively considering the possibility of seizing all or part of Ukraine and are preparing public opinion in Eurasia and the West for such a move by pushing the notion that Ukraine has become “a failed state.”

Vitaliy Kuchkovskiy was just a 10-year-old boy when his family moved from Ukraine to Fresno. He spoke two languages, but neither was English. In school, Vitaliy was excused from fifth-grade spelling and reading — but the next year he was expected to keep up. Now, at 17, Vitaliy has raced past his peers. He has earned a high school diploma — the first graduate of Design Science High School in Fresno — and an associate’s degree in general studies from Fresno City College. Vitaliy is modest about his success, and he freely credits God. His next academic step is an engineering program at Fresno State, but he also wants to attend a Christian seminary.

Yulia Tymoshenko sought to oust two cabinet allies of President Viktor Yushchenko on Wednesday in a fresh attack on her estranged ally. Another Ukrainian official has resigned to protest President Viktor Yushchenko’s decision to run for re-election.

Thousands came to the Bykivnya mass grave northeast of Kyiv on May 17 to remember an estimated 100,000 victims of Stalin’s repressions. Late at night at the end of the 1930s, tram number 23 would rattle its way from Kyiv to Brovary with a grim cargo on board: dead bodies. Victims of the NKVD, the predecessor of the KGB, they were on the way to be tossed into mass graves at Bykivnya forest.

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