Ukraine Live Day 613: Elections on Sunday Unlikely to Solve Problems, and May Bring More

October 23, 2015
Activists block the printing of election ballots in Mariupol. They claimed more were being printed than necessary in order to falsify the election result. Photograph: Irina Gorbasyova/EPA

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‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ Forces Doctors Without Borders to Leave Donbass

The French group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or Doctors without Borders received written notification from the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) that its permit to operate in territory under its control had been withdrawn, MSF said in a press release today circulated by email. No reason was given for the move.

The statement said:

MSF has up until now coordinated all its activities with the authorities and is willing to continue this collaboration for the sake of the health of thousands of vulnerable citizens of DPR.

“We are extremely concerned by this move, which will deprive thousands of people of life-saving medical assistance,” said Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations. “This decision will have life-threatening consequences for the patients MSF is now leaving behind. We are urging the DPR Humanitarian Committee to reconsider the decision without delay in order for us to resume providing much-needed healthcare.”

 “We are almost the only organization providing treatment for tuberculosis in prisons, insulin for diabetic patients and haemodialysis products to treat kidney failure,” said Janssens. “With the termination of our activities from one day to the next, thousands of patients suffering from chronic, potentially fatal diseases will now be left with little or no assistance.”

The DNR authorities have blocked humanitarian workers in the past, and in April and May kidnapped and then expelled workers from the International Rescue Committee.

MSF has provided aid to medical clinics in southeastern Ukraine and treated war-wounded as well as those with chronic diseases unable to get help with the breakdown of the health care system in the war. The organization began work in the region in 2011, caring for multi-drug resistance tuberculosis patients in the prisons.  The region is vulnerable to major health crises without outside assistance.

Three polio cases in southeastern Ukraine in a setting where where immunization is feared and inoculation has been inconsistent have officials worried over the possibility of a major outbreak.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Elections on Sunday October 25 in Ukraine Unlikely to Solve Problems, and May Bring More
Ukrainians go to the polls on Sunday, October 25 in local elections in
which a number of key mayoral and gubernatorial contests could decide
the direction of future reforms.

Election in the regions controlled by the self-proclaimed “Donetsk
and Lugansk People’s Republics” have been postponed until February. The
Central Elections Commission had earlier ruled that these areas as well
as some frontline towns that continued to be under attack even after
several “ceasefires” were not safe enough for voting. Elections will go
forward in Mariupol, despite Russian tanks within an hour’s drive away,
in a town where democrats have protested about pressure and manipulation
from pro-Russian politicians.

Energy tycoon Rinat Akhmetov who has played an ambiguous role
throughout the conflict in the Donbass is supporting Vadim Boychenko
who is running for mayor on the Opposition Bloc ticket — a party rife
with pro-Russian Yanukovych supporters Boychenko is director of
personnel and social Issues at Metinvest, one of Akhmetov’s largest
companies. Yet in a Vice News interview, Boychenko is coy about his

Boychenko is running as the candidate for Opposition Bloc, a
political party rife with former Yanukovych supporters. But he
emphasized that his allegiances were to the metalworkers and people of
Mariupol, despite his financial backers.

“Our country is made
that way, that politicians are mixed with businessmen. But I cannot
prove that Akhmetov sponsors Opposition Bloc, just like I cannot prove
that [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko sponsors Solydarnist [his
political faction].”

of anything is difficult in Ukrainian elections. Earlier this week,
angry protesters stormed into the ballot printing building, claiming
Opposition Bloc operatives had failed to destroy extra ballots marked as
mistakes, which they could use to cast fraudulent votes for Bloc

In a number of towns, the “Party of Regions” of deposed president
Viktor Yanukovych has made a comeback amid the failure to push through
reforms and the losses of war.

In Kharkiv, 11,000 police will be deployed to maintain order in a
city where there have been violent clashes between Maidan supporters and
pro-Russian groups in the past.

The revanchism of the Party of Regions has prompted a backlash. The
Ukrop Party, so named for the pejorative term Russians use about
Ukrainians (the word is an acronym for Ukrainian Association of
Patriots), is supported by oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, removed from his
post as governor of Dnepropetrovsk Region after a number of violent
incidents involving his security forces.

Ukrop has called for the dismissal of Mikhail Okhendovsky, head of the
Central Elections Commission, because he came to his position as part of
the quota of the Party of Region in the past, and is claimed to be
responsible for massive election violations in the past, reported.

The mechanics of the elections have been watched closely as many suspect there will be tampering. For example, ballots only just arrived tonight in Uzhgorod,
the capital of Zakarpattia (Trans Carpathia), delayed because of a
truck breakdown due to a sharp turn on the region’s mountain crossings.
They have yet to be distributed to the local precincts. The town of
Mukachevo in Zakarpattia was the scene of a violent shoot-out earlier
this year between Right Sector militants and a parliamentarian from the
region evidently part of a turf war over lucrative smuggling routes.

There is still the aftermath of Maidan to cope with. Last week the
news broke that Yevgeny Antonov, the commander of the Berkut spetsnaz
known for authorizing his men to use physical force on demonstrations on
December 1, 2013, was still at his job. An Interior Ministry official has now explained that
this is because he served in the ATO in May, and the law requiring
removal of such persons involved in the crackdown on protesters passed
only in September, and stipulated that police in the ATO were considered
to have already “passed” the “lustration” or vetting process.

Already analysts are saying that another area where hopes may be dashed with these elections is progress on the Minsk Accords.

Ukrainian legal analysts have debated whether the Minsk accords are
binding international law, and whether the sequence in them — first
elections and Constitutional reform, then recovery by Ukraine of its own
border, now controlled by Russia — is valid, reports.

While opinions differ, politically at any rate, and in relations
with Western powers, the Minsk accords are viewed as a valid pledge by
Kiev and the sequencing is not challenged. At the time the agreements
were made, the urgent priorities were to get a ceasefire, pull-back of
heavy weapons and exchange of POWs. The wording about how Kiev and the
separatists were to “consult” was vague, and the expectation that
Ukraine would undergo constitutional reform and de facto federalization
misplaced, given Kiev’s own political pressures from nationalists — and
violent ultranationalists.

The Minsk agreements are therefore seen as a “trap” that Kiev
cannot get out of without losing Western credibility, but essentially
forcing Ukraine to cede territory at the barrel of a gun. Russia
insisted on the extra step of a UN Security Council resolution to
approve the Minsk documents precisely because of the uncertain status of
agreements generated by two parallel but not identical processes — the
“Normandy quartet” of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germay and the
“Trilateral Group,” facilitated by the OSCE, of former president Leonid
Kuchma, the separatist leaders, and the Russian ambassador to Kiev.

By placing the relinquishing of the border last in the process, the
West has essentially forced Ukraine to accept the reality that Russia
can bring about constitutional change in its interests by force.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick