Thursday, November 26, 2009

Carnage on the roads

Today it was reported that the well-known former Kyiv city mayor, now NUNS deputy, Oleksandr Omelchenko, was last night involved in a fatal driving 'accident' in his Mistubishi Pajero. He knocked down and killed a 48-year old pedestestrian.

The current Kyiv mayor, Leonid Chenovetsky, killed a pedestrian on the same road in 2003. Serious road 'accidents' involving high profile figures occur on a regular, almost weekly basis in Ukraine.

By coincidence I was looking at the World Health Organisation Global Status Report on Road Safety yesterday, comparing Ukraine's awful statistics with those of similar-sized countries in Europe.

In 2007 there were 9921 road traffic fatalities reported in Ukraine, 56% of which were pedestrians. So, over five and half thousand pedestrians were killed on the roads that year in the country.

In the United Kingdom by comparison, 2398 road deaths were reported in 2006, 21% of which were pedestrians, i.e. about 500 pedestrians were killed - 10 times less that in Ukraine, even though it has a larger population and many more vehicles on the road.

But more disturbing are the trends. In the U.K., as in most West European countries, road deaths have been declining for many years. In the last 20 years road deaths in the U.K. and other Western European countries, have halved. In Ukraine road deaths are increasing....

Many more pedestrians will be killed on the roads in Ukraine than will die from swine flu, but there's no political mileage to be gained from tackling this carnage is there?

Friday, November 20, 2009

It's not the's the way you tell 'em

This from AFP:

" [When president Putin was] Asked at a news conference [following his meeting with PM Tymoshenko] to comment on Saakashvili's current visit to Kiev, the Russian strongman premier known for his bad boy image and sharp tongue said the Georgian leader and his host, Ukraine's fiercely pro-Western president Viktor Yushchenko, should meet without ties.

"The two presidents would be better off holding a dinner -- if they are to hold it -- without ties. Ties are pricey these days... Well, you understand what I mean," he said, eliciting laughter from officials and journalists.

"Yushchenko's guest will scarf up his tie."

Putin was alluding to the widely-circulated footage in which Saakashvili put a tip of his tie into his mouth and chewed on it as he waited to be interviewed last year.

LEvko says sure, the Saakashvili video clip is funny, but Putin's stuttering George Bush-like delivery of a rather thin 'anyekdot' was so bad it's embarassing to watch.

Every comic knows: "It's not the jokes that are's the way you tell 'em." It's the second time this week Putin was maybe out of his comfort zone..

The coincidence of the Yushchenko-Saakashvili meeting, and that of the much earlier planned Intergovernmental Ukrainian-Russian economic co-operation commission meeting attended by prime ministers Tymoshenko and Putin, was unfortunate, to say the least, and may even have been deliberately contrived by the two presidents just a few days ago.

The attempt to "pi** on her parade" was an unneccessary diversion for PM Tymoshenko in what would have been difficult talks with Putin in any case.

Monday, November 16, 2009

President and PoR digging country deeper into hole

From the 'FT's' Lex column today:

"Europe is on tenterhooks over whether Russia will shut off gas to Ukraine and leave it shivering in January. If that happens, however, blame will fall on Kiev, not Moscow.

Recession-ravaged Ukraine’s political squabbling and populism has hit fever pitch ahead of presidential elections on January 17. That has led the International Monetary Fund to suspend co-operation and delay a $3.8bn loan payment, due on Sunday. The government had already backed off from commitments to increase long-subsidised domestic gas prices. The final straw was President Viktor Yushchenko signing into law, against IMF [and PM Tymoshenko's ] objections, a parliamentary bill [proposed by PoR] that will raise minimum wages and pensions by 20 per cent – costing 7 per cent of economic output in 2010.

Since Ukraine is reliant on IMF funding to make ends meet, it could struggle to pay its next two monthly gas bills – leading to another winter shut-off. It only just scraped together October’s payment. Yet, for all its bluster, Russia would rather keep the taps open. The Kremlin has belatedly realised the damage to its reputation from shut-offs, and last January’s interruption to European supplies cost state-run Gazprom dearly. Hence Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s exhortation that Brussels extend a loan to Ukraine.

And why meddle in Ukraine’s electoral process this time? Moscow’s bogeyman, Mr Yushchenko, trails badly in the polls. Either frontrunner, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko or Viktor Yanukovich, is more acceptable to Russia.

Ukraine still has $28bn in foreign currency reserves; the central bank will probably allow some to be used to pay for gas. A bigger question is whether it will plug the budgetary gap by printing money. If so, inflation will result; if not, wage arrears beckon. Either option may put pressure on Ukraine’s currency and asset prices. Europe’s gas consumers must hope they do not become collateral damage."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Akhmetov - masterful football tactician

Rinat Akhmetov, owner of Shakhtar Donetsk football club, in a great piece of PR, has offered to buy out all of the tickets for Wednesday's vitally important Ukraine-Greece second leg World cup qualifying match, to be played in Shakhtar's new stadium.

After yesterday's no-score draw in Greece, the result of this one game will decide whether it will be Ukraine or Greece that go to next year's World Cup football finals in South Africa.

The stupidly greedy Ukrainian Football Association has whacked up the prices for the match by so much there is a real possibility that the stadium could be half empty for this 'do or die' game.

If Akhmetov succeeds in his bid, he will put the tickets on sale at normal European club tournament match prices, at a loss of over $1m to his club.

No wonder he is so popular in Donbas. And if Ukraine do win, it will be Akhmetov and his Party of Regions' colleagues that will parade on the pitch before the nation's TV viewers to be reflected in the glory...And good luck to them..

Monday update... The Ukrainian Football Federation has declined Rinat Akhmetov's offer - as a a result the vital World Cup eliminator match may well be poorly attended. No home team likes to play in half-empty stadiums, and it makes no business sense either..

Friday, November 13, 2009

British papers on Holodomor

Two articles about British journalist Gareth Jones's reports on the Ukrainian Holodomor of the '30's, have appeared in the British papers today here and here.

Jones's diaries are currently being exhibited at Cambridge University and a documentary programme is being planned.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mevedev says Russia-Ukraine probs all Yush's fault

Below is part of an interesting interview with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev from the current English language version of "Der Spiegel"

SPIEGEL:...In accordance with your instructions, there is currently no Russian ambassador in Ukraine, and you are regularly engaged in disputes with Belarus. Why do you constantly try to solve problems with your neighbors with strong-arm tactics?

Medvedev: Are there no problems between EU countries? Germany also has problems with its neighbors. We are therefore no exception.

SPIEGEL: To say that an ambassador will only be sent when another country's president has been toppled -- that's really a pretty unique stance in Europe.

Medvedev: Many things are unique in this world. All of these difficulties have been created by just one man -- the current president of Ukraine. He is guided by anti-Russian ideas, and no compromises can be achieved with him. Everything that he has done over the past four years has been aimed at disrupting bilateral relations. He has breached economic agreements, he tries to rewrite history and he has expelled a number of Russian diplomats from the country. That was an unfriendly act that requires a robust reaction. Presidential elections will soon be held in Ukraine. I sincerely hope that politicians will come to power there who are more pragmatic in their approach to Russia. Then there will be a Russian ambassador in Kiev again.

SPIEGEL: That sounds as if the conflict between Ukraine and Russia could take a dramatic turn.

Medvedev: There is no conflict between our countries. Our peoples are brothers, linked by close relations and solid economic ties. Despite the crisis, we trade goods worth billions of dollars.

SPIEGEL: But are we in for a new round of the annual natural gas war?

Medvedev: A few days ago, Ukraine informed us that it had no funds to pay for our natural gas, despite the fact that, after the conflict in January, we had agreed on the rules of the game and that, if they were in financial difficulties, they would seek loans early enough -- or we would only deliver if Ukraine paid in advance. But there is an election campaign in Kiev, where everyone is trying to politically outsmart everyone else. I wish Ukraine stability and the capacity to act. Then cooperation will be easier for Russia and the EU." man, no problem.” Joseph Stalin

Monday, November 09, 2009

Scoring cheap points

My last blog on president Yushchenko's national address on the flu epidemic has been placed in Taras Kuzio's 'Ukrainska Pravda' Blog - There's has been quite a number of comments, some mentioning the impracticality of the president possibly cancelling last Wednesday's European Champion's League soccer game in Kyiv, even though the WHO had warned the epidemic was quickly spreading to the Kyiv area.

All I can say is that in response to a flu epidemic in Mexico City, which has about 20 million inhabitants, important soccer games and baseball games were played in empty stadiums, or in parts of the country less affected by flu last April, at great cost to the clubs and their owners.

It is not my intention to down-play the effects of the current flu epidemic in Ukraine - several friends of mine and their families have been seriously affected.

Many people will suffer from swine flu even in those countries were large sums of money have been spent to provide adequate supplies of antiviral drugs, vaccines, intensive care facilities, and laboratories to quickly identify new strains of flu virus in patients. In Ukraine, where there are serious shortages in all of these, swine flu is inevitably going to hit hard. And sadly, there is no reason to expect the medical profession in the country to be any less corrupt or uphold ethical standards better than other members of Ukrainian society.

But Ukraine's leading politicians and parties should not use the epidemic for scoring cheap political points against their rivals. Most of the electorate know that no-one would have performed any better that their rivals in this situation.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Send for the men in white coats...

Tonight president Yushchenko made a stutteringly delivered, alarmist, outrageous address to the nation in which he blames PM Tymoshenko, parliamentary leaders, and leaders of the opposition for inactivity when they were supposedly already aware of the flu epidemic taking a grip of the Western parts of the country.

Without providing any medical evidence, he claims that in Ukraine new hybrid strains of flu are beginning to materialise.

In particular, he blames his main political rivals in the presidential campaign of organising large rallies in Kyiv on 24th October, by which time 10 victims had died of flu-like illnesses in the town of Ternopil. [Whether these deaths were due to swine flu, or the seasonal flu, whether the victims had underlying medical conditions, whether they were children or adults, all quite significant in swine flu outbreaks, he does not say.]

Quite scandalously he suggests: "This is directly reminiscent of the Mayday parade in Kyiv [several days] after the [nuclear] accident in Chernobil [when the city had been showered with nuclear material]."

But most worryingly, he declares: "It is necessary to change the system of organisation of state authority in Ukraine...The principal centre of decision-making should be the National Security and Defence Council, [which he heads, naturally]

LEvko's prescription: He should lie down in a quiet room, take some deep breaths, cold towel on his forehead, have a sip of herbal tea..with honey. Or the men in white coats may be coming for him soon too...

Serious US commentators consider the tough measures undertaken by the Ukrainian government to combat the flu outbreak to be excessive, and warn against politicisation of this health problem. 'Der Spiegel' suspects the sudden concern by Ukraine's politicians for the health of its citizens could just be electioneering. And the pesky swine flu virus may be not as tough as first thought...

P.s. The World Health Organisation yesterday reported: "Regions in western Ukraine continue to show the highest rates of acute respiratory illness/influenza-like illness. The level of activity in the Kyiv area is also increasing rapidly."

If the president is so concerned about the spread of flu at mass meetings then why oh why did he not use his powers to postpone or cancel tonight's European Champion's League soccer game in Kyiv? [Doh! Never thought of that!]

The WHO report "strongly recommends early treatment with the antiviral drugs", [which are currently in worryingly short supply in Ukraine], but also says: "Given the potential significance of this outbreak as an early warning signal, WHO commends the government of Ukraine for its transparent reporting and open sharing of samples. WHO continues to recommend no closing of borders and no restrictions on international travel, including to Ukraine. Experience shows that such measures will not stop further spread of the virus."

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Authorities will be blamed if flu epidemic worsens

Reports in newspapers from Western Ukrainian, where the current epidemic is most serious, describe the near state of panic gripping the local population. This despite Ukraine's government introducing some of the strictest measures in the world to combat swine flu.

For example, in Lviv all shops in which staff are not wearing face masks will be closed from today; and schools have already closed their doors for three weeks. But discos were still open for Halloween parties.

Both 'Vysokiy Zamok' and 'Lvivska Hazeta's' reporters admit to the shortage of diagnostic laboratories in the area, and to a lack of "technological possiblities to gather samples for analysis". Your blogger thinks that the lack of clearcut evidence as to whether the current flu outbreak is swine flu rather than normal seasonal flu is fuelling anxiety, and shortages of antiviral drugs like Tamiflu, which help alleviate the worst effects of illness, is certainly a worry.

'Lvivska Hazeta', in their article entitled: "Inactivity of the authorities is more frightening that the swine flu virus", is already blaming the authorities.

If the epidemic gets worse then those in power will pay a political price - and the blame game has already begun. It doesn't help that the head of the Lviv oblast health administration, Viktor Kimakovych, is taking a holiday in Egypt at as the crisis mounts..