Ukraine – Update 2August 16, 2015
A series of wildfires have been registered in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and several hundred firemen along with trucks and aircrafts are battling the blazes that until now have swept through about 600 hectares. Officially, there are a number of localized fires but considering the trustworthiness of Ukrainian authorities one cannot rule out that the flames will spread further.
This is already the second emergency after on April 28 a massive fire broke out 16 kilometers from the nuclear plant. The first fire was the largest in Ukraine since 1992 and more than 300 firefighters were deployed to stop it spreading.
If the trees around Chernobyl, which have been absorbing radioactivity for almost 30 years, are on fire, then radioactive particles may be disbursed with the wind over long distances and they will have a cumulative negative effect on the health of those who breathe them in or eat contaminated food.
An air sample taken on June 30 in the fire area near the abandoned settlement of Poleskoye contained a level of Caesium-137 (which has a half-life of 30 years) one order of magnitude higher than what is considered to be safe.
The head of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine Nikolay Chechetkin said that up to 70 percent of all the wildfires in Chernobyl exclusion zone are due to arson.
The SBU (Ukrainian Security Service) has seized a shipment of uranium in the western Ivano-Frankovskaya Oblast region and arrested four men attempting to sell the material. The four gang members were caught red-handed in the middle of a sale. Preliminary forensic reports suggest the material seized is Uranium-238.
The incident comes on the heels of recent fighting in western Ukraine, as Pravy Sektor members clashed with local police. The epicenter of the fighting was in Mukachevo, a city in the southwest of the country.
The ultranationalists are refusing to lay down arms and negotiations with the government are in a stalemate. 6,000 Pravy Sektor supporters marched in central Kiev, calling for the administration’s resignation — a sign of the continued fracturing in Ukraine. According to recent polls the Pravy Sektor’s popular support now stands at 5.4 percent, while President Pedro Poroshenkos popularity has fallen to 26.9 percent and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s popularity to just 2.8 percent.
The Mukachevo standoff has compelled President Poroshenko to order the disarming of all illegal fighting units in the country. However, unrest persists across Ukraine. Three rural councils were set ablaze in the western Prikarpatye region on August 2. The following day, hooligans in Kharkov attacked the offices of the Party of Regions.
About the ATO (Anti Terrorist Operation):
The Military Prosecutor of Ukraine Anatoly Matios recently acknowledged that his department has listed eight thousand law enforcement officers and military personnel who defected to the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic.
On August 12 the city of Donetsk was hit by a record 800 artillery shells. The Telmanovo suburb was struck particularly hard, but the shelling was also very violent in the airport region. The Novorussian intelligence services reported a steady movement of Ukrainian forces towards the line of contact. These forces included tanks, artillery systems, and multiple rocket launchers. The next day a group of 8 tanks backed by armored personnel carriers attacked Novorussian positions but were beaten back. Ukrainian hospitals are filling up with wounded, suggesting serious casualties on the Ukrainian side.
The logical conclusion would be that an Ukrainian offensive is imminent and that the current attacks are probing the Novorussian defenses.
But mass resistance by young men against military conscription is a major impediment to Kiev’s war efforts in eastern Ukraine. Segodnya news reported that during the fifth mobilization drive only one in 12 recipients who received their conscription notice appeared at the recruitment office.
On June 19 the Ukrainian government and military embarked upon their sixth wave of military conscription since April 2014. Novoye Vremya magazine reports that the results are bad and that Vladimir Kydon, military commissioner for Kiev, is worrying about the situation. “The mobilization is difficult,” he admits. “It’s summer, people are on vacation.”
Stanislav Gurak, Deputy Head of the Defense and Security Policy Center think tank in Kiev, explained to the magazine: “People do not see the point of this war and do not want to risk their lives.”
“Unfortunately, we have very poor motivation. It is frustrating for people — it’s not clear what we are fighting for or against whom we are fighting.”
The newspaper Vesti reported on August 3 that the sixth wave of conscription is faltering. The conscription service in Kyiv has reporting results of only 23 percent in the city. In Cherkassy, half of those who could potentially be conscripted are hiding in Belarus while the other half is hiding in Kyiv.”
Recruiters are routinely raiding public spaces to hunt down and grab men of conscription age. They block exits to shopping centers, transit vehicles, parks, and other public spaces and then conduct identification checks. Those found to have dodged service or whose call-up dates are approaching are hauled away.
Consequently people are now creating online maps to mark the locations where recruiters commonly hunt. Men and their families use the maps as a guide to avoid these locations. “Before you go to a local shop, first check whether there is a patrol on your way, otherwise you may find yourself in the trenches of Donbass,” reads the instruction accompanying one of the regional maps. War resisters are also using online social networks to inform about the activities of the recruiters.
But the biggest obstacle to the mobilization efforts are the young men who are opting to “disappear” from the eyes of the authorities. They change their address and refuse to inform any branch of government. This phenomenon is now universal in large and small urban centers in Ukraine.
Many Ukrainian men, joined by their spouses in some cases, have taken refuge in Crimea, because it is relatively easy to pass into the now Russian territory and apart from very lengthy queues there are no formal barriers to entry. Even pro-Maidan nationalists who wholeheartedly supported the February 2014 coup but are too craven of fighting choose this destination. They enjoy the existing freedom of expression in Crimea, wear symbolic Ukrainian dresses and carry national flags and badges. No one touches them as long as they don’t provoke the locals.
A lot of Maidan nationalists from the upper and middle class write and post from tourist centers in Western Europe, but also from Thailand, Malaysia, India, Dubai, and other exotic places, calling upon Ukrainians at home to “defend the country” while living comfortably abroad.
There are a lot of jokes circulating on social media of how these “exile volunteer battalions,” consisting of children from rich families, are bravely defending Ukraine from “Russian aggression” as they write from Paris and London.
About the economy:
The shadow economy has further increased and is now officially estimated at 47 percent of total GDP, though knowledgable people think that it could be up to 70 percent.
40 banks have been declared insolvent since Maidan, with the country’s fourth largest lender, Delta Bank, being closed in March.
The latest IMF report is discouraging despite brave face, encouraging words, putting lipstick on a…
”Risks to the outlook remain exceptionally high. Risks to economic growth are predominantly on the downside reflecting uncertainty about the duration and depth of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine; prolongation of the discussions on the debt operation (which could disrupt capital flows) and slippages in policy implementation. In addition, confidence could fail to revive due to these factors, or due to a more protracted bank resolution process. Higher-than-expected inflation — due to inflation expectations becoming more entrenched — could reduce domestic demand further.”
Just the numbers:
• 2015 contraction: 9 percent (at the moment 14.7 percent)
• Real wages: down 15 percent
• Inflation: 61 percent
• Heating prices: up 67 percent
• Non-performing loans: 46 percent (broad definition)
• Debt to GDP: 150 percent
Ukrainians have a hard time and most will feel betrayed by the Maidan revolutionaries who promised prosperity and unlimited opportunities after being welcomed into the family of Western European nations. The promises came true only for a tiny class of disaster capitalists (the oligarchs and their sycophants) who profit from the political and social turmoil with criminal schemes. Anybody else struggles to make ends meet. Living in rebel controlled Donetsk and Luhansk may be even harder because of the economic blockade by Ukraine. According to the United Nations 4.8 million Ukrainians — almost one in eight — need humanitarian assistance.
Beyond that there is also a humanitarian crisis unfolding in middle and western Ukraine because of the persons uprooted by the war in the Donbass. 1.36 million people are registered as IDPs (internally displaced people) and this situation could last for years or even decades. Work is hard to find as more and more companies go bankrupt, most IDPs live from charity handouts and the negligible government allowance of 440 hryvnia (20 US$) a month. There is no adequate housing policy for the displaced and less than 4 percent of them live in special centers set up to accommodate IDPs.
The misery of the IPDs is aggravated by the government hate propaganda against Russia and ethnic Russians from eastern Ukraine. The IPDs are met with suspicion, they are suspected of sympathizing with the pro-Russian rebels, they are of course also unwanted competitors for scarce jobs.
A new survey commissioned by the IOM (International Organization for Migration) shows that eight per cent of Ukrainians (some 3.5 million people) are hoping to leave the country and work abroad. The IOM survey also reports a sharp rise in the proportion of Ukrainians working abroad who are doing so illegally. The proportion has risen from 28 percent in 2011 to 44 percent at the moment.
Poland acts as an important gateway to Western Europe. According to Eurostat, 236,700 Ukrainians were granted residency permits by EU states in 2013, and 171,800 of those permits were granted in Poland, one of the main routes for Ukrainians to travel to western Europe.”
At the moment though the EU has created a “cordon sanitaire,” summarily rejecting visa applications and asylum requests. Ukrainians in search of the promised land will have to wait for better times and they will probably have to wait many, many years.