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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Ukraine Live Day 616

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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Were More Ukrainian Soldiers Killed and Wounded Today in Battle Near Peski?
When Vladimir Seleznev, spokesman for the Ukrainian General Staff announced at first that there was no shelling near Peski today (he later corrected his statement and said there was), a Twitter user countered his claim with a screenshot of a ruined home in Peski and a soldier's Facebook post about shelling of their position.

2015-10-27 01:22:49
A group of Belarusian volunteers fighting alongside the Ukrainian army named Zgurtavanne Partryyotau
reported on their Facebook page that more soldiers may have been killed, using the term "200" which means those killed in battle (translation by The Interpreter):

This morning separatist Grads fired on the town of Peski. They fired from the area of the airport on our "mechanic" and "night-light" position. The 93rd Brigade reports there are 8 200s and numerous wounded. Friggin' ceasefire...

Since as we reported earlier, the ATO had not made any report of killings, and only Channel 24 had reported the one soldier's death, readers doubted the accuracy of the information.

The page's editors replied later that their fellow fighter had called from the 93rd Brigade and given this report, and they had no reason to believe him. "We're not a news agency and we don't have a staff of journalists," said the editors.

They then tried to call him back but the connection was lost. Without his permission, they don't want to cite his name as a source. There were several factors that made them trust the report, as they recounted:

- [Separatist leader Aleksandr] Zakharchenko's statement about the continuation of combat;

- Wounded people are brought to the hospital every day, but the ATO headquarters give statements about the lack of losses

- And finally: on August 10, 2015, there was a failed attempt to storm two villages near Starognatovka by the forces of the 72nd Brigade and the 5th Separate Battalion of the Right Sector Volunteer Ukrainian Corps, in which our guys took part. We lost three of our men that day and one later died in the hospital, and the 72nd Brigade lost 4 men, and a working tank was abandoned. The operation did not achieve the goals set. The ATO spokesmen announced the success of the operation and the lost of one (!) soldier. Do these official lies differ in any way from Since there is no trust in the official information, people use unofficial sources. Refute it yourself, we're not Reuters.

On October 23, Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-declared "Donetsk People's Republic" announced at a meeting with doctors that they should prepare for an influx of wounded, reported.

There will be some very heavy periods of military actions still...In any event, we will take Slavyansk, Kramatorks, Mariupol and so on...Unfortunately, conducting negotiationson the political plane isn't working out as we had wanted...You yourselves observe how the quiet regime is observerd only by us, but yesterday we began to reply actively...they don't understand the position of good, they only understand the position of strength. Therefore, we are preparing, military actions most likely will continue.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian-Backed Militants Resume Shelling Near Donetsk Airport; One Ukrainian Soldier Reported Killed

After some days of quiet, Russian-backed militants began firing on Ukrainian positions near the Donetsk Airport, reported, citing the ATO [Anti-Terrorism Operation] Center's Facebook page. Channel 24 later reported that one Ukrainian soldier had been killed.

Ukrainian army positions near Opytnoye and Peski were shelled. While at first Vladislav Seleznyev, spokesman for the General Staff said there was no shelling in Peski, later he confirmed there had been on his Twitter account.

Translation: Correction! Literally an hour after my report, information came into the staff about shelling near Peski and Opytnoye.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
'East-West Divide' Seen in Ukrainian Elections; 90% of Votes Counted

An 'East-West divide" is being reported in exit polls of the Ukrainian local elections, AP reported. This morning about 30% of the votes have been counted from all precincts AP reported, but by 20:00 Kiev time this evening, nearly 90% were counted, reported, citing the Interior Ministry. Police were guarding the remaining 10% until the tally was finished.

As AP reported:

Four exit polls from Ukraine's local elections released Monday indicated the governing coalition would retain its dominant position in the west and center of the country despite widespread disappointment with the government of President Petro Poroshenko.

In the south and east, voters favored the Opposition Bloc, formed from the remnants of the party of the former pro-Russia president, who was overthrown in early 2014 after months of street protests.

The Central Election Committee said it had received data from only 30 percent of the vote by Monday morning, reflecting the challenge of calculating the results of elections for more than 10,700 local councils as well as mayors. More than 130 parties fielded candidates. Complete results were expected Nov. 4.

Poroshenko's party and others in his coalition had hoped to expand their influence through the local elections, but this proved not so easy to do, political analyst Vladimir Fesenko said. "The disposition of forces shows that the country is divided," he said.

The elections also were seen as a test of strength for oligarchs accustomed to holding sway in their own regions.

Vitali Klitschko, the heavyweight boxing champion who was elected mayor after the Maidan demonstrations had a "strong lead," said AP. Others such as a protoge of Ihor Kolomoisky in Dnipropetrovsk faced a second round.

Meanwhile, President Petro Poroshenko himself said that most votes went to democratic candidates, reported (translation by The Interpreter):

I perceive this as a step toward support of reform, in support of decentralization, the increase of responsibility for local councils, and I'm pleased that the majority of voters confirmed and supported these approaches.

He said this was the third election providing Ukrainians a chance to "reset" their system, a legacy of the Soviet era.

On Twitter, the Ukrainian leader put it more forcefully:

Translation: The efforts of Russia to create a fifth column have failed. This is the main achievement of the elections!

The "East-West divide" is one of the cliches most disliked by Ukrainians, as they feel it does not explain the complexities of a country where about 10% of the population lives in the areas of the Donbass controlled by the Russian-backed separatists, and opinion polls show that even people who live in the Donbass do not support the separatists who have brought destruction, poverty, and displacement to their towns.

In the Russian-speaking areas not involved in the conflict, there are people who have fought on the side of the Kiev government and support Kiev, although they are unhappy about continuing corruption and the hold of oligarchs over the economy and politics.

Some Western reporters have too casually characterized Ukraine as split down the middle, although in this election, support by people disaffected by weak reforms for the Opposition Bloc is a real phenomenon.

Maxim Eristavi, a Ukrainian journalist, published a piece on Medium recently describing the myths about Ukraine which are in part fueled by Russian propaganda. Eristavi points out that Westerners are schooled to think of "truth as somewhere in the middle" when they encounter biased situations, but in fact, there's a difference between bias and the actual fabrications of the Russian state media. "The truth is always in between two biases, but never in between bias and pure lies," he comments:

Because of Russian propaganda and Ukrainian media bias, the balkanization of the news market has reached unbelievably horrible proportions. In one remarkable study by New York University’s assistant professor Leonid Peisakhin, he used quasi-random variation in the availability of the analog Russian television signal along the Ukrainian-Russian border. Using precinct-level data from the two national elections in 2014, he found that Russian television significantly increased electoral support for pro-Russian parties at the expense of pro-Western parties. However, he also found that Russian television affects different types of voters very differently: it persuades voters with pre-existing pro-Russian political preferences, but pushes away those with pro-Western political preferences. The overall effect of exposure to biased media is therefore increased voter polarization.

Eristavi also criticized the self-censorship of Ukrainians and what he saw as "Russian-style tools" of media warfare by banning foreign journalists and creating a "Ministry of Information" which evoked Orwell.

The problem of lack of media diversity directly affected the coverage of campaigns and how people voted, and was called out by OSCE observers who faulted the "vested interests" of the oligarchs. Oligarch television isn't the only problem, however, as Peisakhin found -- Russian TV has a significant influence. The US government recently gifted Ukraine with radio transmitters to help Kiev reach the Russian speakers in the Donbass who have become alienated from the capital. As in the past with Central Asia, a plan for independent Internet-based TV seemed elusive.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
OSCE Says Elections 'Generally Respected Democratic Process' But Reform Needed To Counter 'Vested Interests'

The Organization for Security and Cooperation for Europe (OSCE) has released its preliminary assessment of the local elections in Ukraine, noting they "generally respected democratic process, but additional efforts were needed "to enhance public confidence."

Ukraine’s local elections were competitive and well organized overall, and the campaign generally showed respect for the democratic process, international observers concluded in a statement issued today. Nevertheless, the complexity of the legal framework, the dominance of powerful economic groups, threats and physical attacks against candidates, and the fact that virtually all campaign coverage in the media was paid for all underscore the need for further reform. Additional efforts are needed to further enhance the integrity of and public confidence in the electoral process, the observers said.

The observers stressed that the elections took place in a challenging political, economic, humanitarian and security environment, characterized by the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation and the temporary control of parts of the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts by illegal armed groups. This made it impossible for more than 5 million voters in these areas to vote. Despite resolute efforts by the Central Election Commission (CEC) to organize elections throughout the country, they could not be held in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts or on the Crimean peninsula.

The hold of Ukrainian oligarchs over the political process was of particular concern:

“In most of the country, despite the obscurity of the election law, polling staff largely managed to ensure voters the right to cast their ballots,” said Tana de Zulueta, Head of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission. “There is an urgent need for harmonized and consistent election legislation, together with provisions designed to limit the power of money and vested interests both in the electoral process and over the media.”

The OSCE praised the Central Elections Commission, saying it operated "collegially" and "met legal deadlines" and did not comment directly about the reasons for the ballot scandal in Mariupol although the statement referred obliquely to "political and business interests controlling the media":

Despite the lack of clarity in the procedural provisions in the election law, the voting and counting processes on election day were transparent and largely well organized in most of the country. Elections were not held in Mariupol, Krasnoarmiisk and Svavote. The printing and distribution of ballots proved problematic in many parts of the country. Tabulation was still ongoing at the time of the statement’s release.

The local elections were seen within the framework of Ukraine's economic and political reforms, and with reference to "decentralization," the goals of the Minsk agreement, although elections did not take place in separatist-controlled territory:

“Yesterday’s local elections were the starting points of decentralization and territorial reform in Ukraine. Despite difficult circumstances, these elections were organized, by and large, in a satisfactory manner,” said Gudrun Mosler-Törnström, Head of the delegation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. “For the next elections, we encourage the authorities to revise the existing legislation in order to better reflect the voters’ will at the grassroots level and, in particular, to allow for independent candidates in all races.”

The full statement is here.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Observers Blame Donetsk Governor as Well as Local Election Officials for Failure to Hold Mariupol Elections

The head of Ukraine's Central Elections Commission (CEC) said in a meeting with US, UK and Canadian ambassadors today that only the Verkhovna Rada or parliament could create a mechanism for holding local elections in Mariupol and Krasnoarmeysk, two cities where voting did not take place yesterday due to disputes about ballots, reported.

As we reported, pro-Kiev activists objected to the printing of the ballots at a printing press owned by controversial oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, who is backing the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc candidate for mayor of Mariupol, Vadim Boychenko.

Mariupol is the largest city that remains under Kiev's control in the Donbass, largely occupied by Russian-backed separatists. Okhendovsky blamed "systematic unlawful actions by certain members of the Mariupol city and Krasnoarmeysk city electoral commissions" for the failure to run the elections, and specifically their refusal to approve ballots for distribution to 213 and 37 precincts, respectively.

For weeks, the issue of the ballot printing threatened the vote in Mariupol, as the Kiev Post reported:

“I don’t trust them to print ballots here because this place is owned by Akhmetov,” says one observer from the Power of the People party. “He owns Metinvest, and members of Metinvest are running for office. Now we have Metinvest employees printing electoral ballots at a Metinvest-owned printing press. You can imagine how easy it would be to manipulate the process.”

The question is how that manipulation would take place if the Territorial Electoral Commission had oversight of the process.

Okhendovsky pointed out that the printing of the ballots in Mariupol had been approved by the CEC and a court, and their format was the same as in other Ukrainian precincts and was recognized as such; it was only the figure of Akhmetov that was at issue. Law-enforcement should determine whether certain individuals should be charged with obstruction of the vote, he said.

The Ukrainian voting procedure is somewhat cumbersome but has many of the same elements of voting in Western countries.

Unlike the US and EU, Ukrainians must present their internal passport as identification to vote. The process was cumbersome mainly due to paper ballots and a large number of candidates at different levels.

According to election monitors, voters are given 4 or in some cases more ballots -- one for the regional head, or governor; one for the district head, one for village head or city mayor and one for village or city council. Some districts may have only 3 ballots or as many as 6. Each ballot is numbered. The election workers stamp each ballot and there is a counterfoil receipt to each ballot which the voter signs.

A journalist from Hromadske TV followed one voter through the process -- although he was stopped by election workers who told him no filming was allowed near the voting booths.

While the procedure contains a certain number of checks against fraud -- and free media coverage and exit polls can back that up -- at the stage of counting of ballots and approving them at a district level to pass on for the region tally, fraud can occur, as it is easy to fake the numbers and stamps.

Halya Cornyash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group asked in a blog post, "So will anybody answer for the non-election fiasco in Mariupol?" and said it had been characterized as a "squalid sabotage":

The disruption to the elections, both in Mariupol and in Krasnoarmiysk, had been predicted.  It is less clear whether it could have been prevented.  The signs of trouble had been present for some time, yet just a few days ago OPORA stated that it saw no reason for the elections not to be held. 

Commentator Adrian Karatnycky from the Atlantic Council was scathing about the mess. He wrote that “weeks of manipulations and scandalously irresponsible behaviour by affiliates of Ukraine’s ruling parties in the Donbas, has disenfranchised the voters of Mariupol and Krasnoarmiysk.”.  He attributed a fair share of the blame to the Donetsk governor Pavlo Zhebrivsky, asserting that he had been trying for weeks to disrupt the vote.

Karatnycky called for Zhebrivsky's dismissal and feared the scandal could alienate Kiev's supporters:

The main cheerleader for this has been the carpetbagger governor of Donetsk Pavlo Zhebrivsky, who for weeks has been trying to disrupt the vote. The refusal of the Ukrainian parliament to give 1.2 million internally displaced victims of the Russian aggression the right to vote in local elections further contributes to their alienation. This ill-considered behavior will only serve to drive support of eastern voters to the Opposition bloc, many of whose candidates have questionable loyalty to the Ukrainian state. President Poroshenko should support Ukraine's Central Election Commission and ensure an early election in Mariupol and Krasnoarmiysk. He also should summarily fire Mr. Zhebrivsky for his anti-election cheerleading.

But reported that according to local deputy Yegor Firsov, there was a plan to print two sets of ballots -- one to be sent to the CEC and one to be sent to territorial and precinct commission. While the local Territorial Elections Commission (TEC) had a majority of members from democratic parties that were attempting to prevent what they saw as a "machination" by the Opposition Bloc, Okhendovsky was to blame for accepting last-minute changes in the TEC's membership that enabled the plan to print the two sets of ballots. 

Ultimately the TEC ruled that the ballots were invalid following the objection to Akhmetov's involvement:

The previous night at the printing company responsible for the ballot papers, the TEC passed a decision to declare the papers invalid and to block them from being delivered to polling stations.
The Deutsche Welle Ukrainian Service notes that the scandals over the TEC began two weeks ago, with the members changed three times, and the chair replaced twice.

Members of the TEC worked without the proper documents and candidates were not issued with ID.  Serhiy Zakharov, the Donetsk artist twice held hostage by Kremlin-backed militants and now candidate for mayor of Mariupol, drew his own ID document in order to demonstrate how the law was being infringed even in such details as ID.

There are conflicting stories about 22 ballot papers which either had the same party on the list twice, or had been opened.  Whatever the fault, it was with 22 papers only, yet was was used to block all ballot papers leaving the press.

It is not clear yet when the re-vote will take place in Mariupol and Krasnoarmeysk, but there is concern that more attention should be addressed to the political factors that caused the fiasco.

Aleksandr Klyuzhev of OPORA called on the Verkhovna Rada to ensure the citizens of Mariupol and Krasnoarmeysk their voting rights, reported. He urged that a repetition of all stations of the elections be held in these towns, not just a re-vote.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick