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UKRAINE


 

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 49,537 41,380 37,600 55
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 970 770 720 137
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Ukraine




Update No: 323 - (26/11/07)

Ukraine more democratic than Russia
Democracy, ushered in by the Orange Revolution three years ago, has produced impressive results: a stream of competitive elections, vibrant media, and a robust opposition. It has certainly known its share of democracy's problems, like hung parliaments, the need for coalitions and open leadership struggles. Having lived under centuries of Russian Czarist rule, 70 years of Soviet communism and a bleak decade of post-Soviet stagnation, today's Ukraine is in many ways Russia's antithesis. 

In Russia, critics complain of increasingly heavy-handed rule. Opposition rallies are violently dispersed, election results are all but known in advance and everything is taken very seriously.
In Ukraine, the more hotly contested an election is, the better. The tone was set in 2004 with the Orange Revolution, when the presidential election was rigged in favour of the Kremlin-backed candidate. Protesters jammed Kiev's streets for weeks, overturned the fraudulent vote and brought the pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko to power.

Since then there have been three or four national elections, depending on how you count, with the latest only two months ago. But it is unlike in Russia, where an uncertain outcome is perceived by many as a threat to stability and security.

Ukraine's young democracy is anything but boring. Ukrainians seem to thrive on cliffhangers.

In the September 30th parliamentary election, none of the three main parties won enough votes to form a government, and complex coalition talks are taking place. Yet life goes on. Someone did try to set a polling station on fire in western Ukraine, where Tymoshenko's party did extremely well. Her supporters were quick to blame Yanukovych's party. His party denied it.

Then came the vote count, and election officials were determined that it would be beyond reproach. They took 2 1/2 days to count 99.5 percent of the votes, and another 2 1/2 days to count the remaining 0.5 percent.

The result has finally been validated by a court, but peace and quiet are nowhere in sight. While Tymoshenko is poised to return as prime minister, her opponents have threatened lawsuits, street protests or a boycott of parliament to challenge her victory.

Media scrutiny is harsh; while protests are rife, unlike in Russia
The media, once toothless, are now free to grill Ukraine's leaders on anything from their tax returns to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's criminal record. He served time in jail as a young man for robbery and assault, but both convictions were later overturned.

Nothing, it seems, is off-limits. Yulia Tymoshenko, the glamorous Orange Revolution heroine, is asked at a news conference whether her 'signature' rich blond hair, braided peasant-style, is real. It is, she insists.

President Yushchenko is asked on live television about failures to deliver on Orange Revolution promises. Tymoshenko is grilled on allegations of corruption in her party. Yanukovych is given to barnyard epithets that add a certain earthiness to the campaign trail.

Multi-coloured protest tents pop up regularly in central Kiev, sometimes right in front of the presidential administration building - something that would be unthinkable in Moscow, where such protests tend to be broken up before anybody notices them. Ukrainians rally against anything from foreign policy to city construction plans and not necessarily spontaneously - after all somebody pays for those tents and the field kitchens. And nobody seems to mind.

Party tricks
But it is not all serious. Natalia Vitrenko, known for going barefoot and staging fiery protests, appeared on a TV talk show to claim that votes for her aggressively pro-Russian, anti-American party were stolen, with a high-tech mechanism funded by U.S. billionaire George Soros.

As her host struggles to keep a straight face, Vitrenko produces a ballot cast for Tymoshenko's bloc and says it was actually checked for her party until the mechanism moved the tick to the wrong box.
In Ukraine, lurid claims are a bipartisan thing. As the September 30 election neared, a Tymoshenko supporter said her opponents could resort to dirty tricks such as spraying voting slips with a mysterious liquid that would set them on fire in the ballot box. Yanukovych's team hit back by accusing Tymoshenko of hiring a psychic to brainwash voters.

Disasters strike
The last few weeks have seen several tragic accidents in Ukraine. An oil tanker going down in the already heavily- polluted Black Sea, along with several other ships; followed by a mine blast in the Donetz, trapping and killing a still unknown number of miners.

These types of distressing event are more common in FSU countries, notably Ukraine, than in the West. The Soviet Union had no independent unions to monitor working conditions. The workers were in charge theoretically, but not in reality. Incompetent and ignorant bureaucrats and technicians prevailed. Chernobyl after all occurred in Ukraine in 1985, just as Gorbachev came to power. He at least ensured it being promptly disclosed and tackled. Disasters now get major media attention in Ukraine. 

Putin sends condolences to Yushchenko over coalmine tragedy 
The USSR was renowned for the poor safety record of its mining industry, in which accidents were common, notably in Ukraine, which has some of the deepest coalmines in the world where methane accidents are more prevalent. The same is still true. A terrible disaster occurred in the Donetsk region in mid-November. A mixture of air and methane exploded at 3:11 a.m. on November 18 in the Zasyadko mine there at a depth of 1,078 metres. There were 456 miners underground, 186 in the disaster area. 

Meanwhile, 357 survivors have been raised to the surface, and 28 of them have been hospitalized - 27 with gas poisoning and one with burns and injuries. 

How to avoid repetitions is an urgent task. Even the US has its share of such accidents - and as for China….!. The world perhaps needs to close all its mines for ecological reasons, their carbon imprint being massive. But even the US keeps not a few open, although certain states are becoming more environmentally-conscious.

The costs of the Black Sea disaster
The cost of environmental damage from the Black Sea oil disaster has reached $US13 billion and may rise even higher. Solvents are now being used to try and break up the massive oil spill, with 7000 tonnes removed since mid-November.

Russian and Ukrainian emergency ministries have counted first losses caused by a strong storm in the Black Sea and in the Sea of Azov. Two of the ships, which sank, were carrying cargos of granulated sulphur; they have still not been located. 

Ecologists say it will take at least ten years to eliminate the effects of the storm.


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