Ukraine. At the beginning of the year, fighting in eastern Ukraine intensified between the Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces. The Ukrainian side reinforced at the front, and according to Kiev, thousands of Russian soldiers fought with tanks and other heavy weapons on the separatists’ side. After prolonged fighting, the Ukrainian army lost control of Donetsk airport, and the city of Debaltseve was captured by the separatists.
In February, the leaders of France and Germany tried to negotiate a peace plan. At a summit in Minsk, the day after some of the toughest battles during the war, Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the separatists and the European Cooperation Organization OSCE signed a new ceasefire with the participation of Germany and France. A buffer zone and heavy weapons withdrawal were agreed. Local elections would be held in the areas the separatists controlled, but the Kiev government would then gain control of the border with the Russian Federation. Later, the Kiev parliament approved increased autonomy for the territories of the separatists when elections were held under Ukrainian law. Ukraine claimed to have made huge losses in the days following the agreement in fighting in which the separatists received Russian reinforcements, which were condemned from the West. The country’s economy was in free fall with a GDP decline of more than 17% in the first quarter. In February, the central bank let the hryvnia hryvnia float, which led to a valuation of close to one-third against the dollar. The policy rate was gradually increased to 30% and the currency rate was halted. From the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ukraine was granted the equivalent of approximately SEK 150 billion as the first phase of an international support package of approximately SEK 350 billion. In exchange, the IMF demanded painful budget cuts. During the year, the Ukrainian state got a fifth of its debt written off and installments deferred.
Kiev is the capital of Ukraine which is located in Eastern Europe. Both Ukraine and the separatists were accused by Human Rights Watch of violating the laws of war through the use of so-called cluster bombs. Amnesty accused the separatists of executions of prisoners of war.
In the spring, President Petro Poroshenko appointed Georgia’s former President Micheil Saakashvili as adviser and then governor of the Odessa region, after Saakashvili obtained Ukrainian citizenship. The Chief of Defense Staff, in turn, appointed the leader of the High Sector as its advisor. The right-wing movement provided the army with volunteers in the war against the separatists. Parliament voted in April for a controversial recognition of the role of the Ukrainian nationalist movement in World War II, a movement that cooperated with the German Nazis against Stalin’s Red Army.
The government explained that the country’s security policy must aim for a future NATO membership as a protection against the Russian threat. The regime marked its ties to the west also when Poroshenko spoke at the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War about precisely the Second World War instead of the old Soviet description, the Great Patriotic War. US support for the Ukrainian military increased. In the spring, hundreds of American soldiers came to train Ukrainian counterparts. In July, an international exercise began in western Ukraine with a number of NATO countries present, and drills continued during the summer. The US also led the training of a new Ukrainian police force, a step in combating the severe police corruption.
The Russian-Ukrainian gas price negotiations failed, and at the end of the year, Ukraine canceled its Russian gas purchases. Gazprom stopped its deliveries and accused Kiev of unpaid bills. Since the regime change in Kiev in 2014, Ukraine had to pay higher gas prices than before.
In July, the Ukrainian fighter pilot Nadezhda Savchenko was brought to trial in the Russian Federation. She had participated in a Ukrainian volunteer force on the ground and was accused of interference when two Russian journalists were killed in grenade shooting in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Savchenko risked 25 years in prison, and the trial against her was symbolically important because in Ukraine she was considered innocent and hailed as a hero. She was also accused of illegally crossing the border into the Russian Federation, while, according to Ukraine, she was captured by separatists and taken there. EU Foreign Ministers called for release when she carried out a long hunger strike at the beginning of the year.
The United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF warned in July that residents of eastern Ukraine were threatened by severe water shortages due to the war, some rain and a hot summer. According to UNICEF, more than 5 million people needed humanitarian assistance, 1.7 million of whom were children. Over a million people had left their homes because of the war, but UNICEF had received only a fifth of their financial needs for the area.
After many violations of the ceasefire, talks were held in Minsk between the parties, and in early September the fighting subsided. Assessors assumed that Moscow was behind, as the Kremlin needed to focus on the new military battlefield in Syria.
Ultranationalists led by the Svoboda Party protested outside the parliament in Kiev, when the people elected in August voted to change the constitution so that the separatist-controlled areas and other regions could gain greater autonomy. A grenade was thrown at the police, demanding the life of three National Guard. More than 100 people were injured, most of them police. Many protesters were arrested. It was the worst violence in Kiev since the old regime was overthrown in 2014. Svoboda and the Right Sector blamed Poroshenko and the government for the violence, but they accused the nationalists of opening a second front against the government under attack by Russian forces. One of the right-wing parties, the Radical Party, left the coalition government in protest of increased self-government for the regions.
According to analysts, the militarization of society through the war led to increased radicalization among nationalists. Among other things, violent attacks on the participants in this summer’s Pride Parade in Kiev.
In the autumn, separatists banned Doctors Without Borders, the UN Food Program and several UN agencies from operating in their areas. MSF had provided important care to patients in critical situations.
The Donetsk and Luhansk separatists did not participate in the Ukrainian local elections in October, but planned to hold their own elections a week later. Kiev responded with stepped-up sanctions against individuals and businesses in eastern Ukraine, prompting separatists to postpone their local elections to the following year.
Kiev and Moscow stepped up the sanctions against each other. Moscow threatened to boycott Ukrainian food from New Year, the airspace was closed to each other’s airlines and the state railways interrupted freight cooperation.
After several votes against, the Kiev parliament in November voted in favor of a change in labor legislation that prohibits discrimination against homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals in the workplace. The law also prohibits discrimination on grounds such as race, skin color, political or religious beliefs. The EU had demanded such a law as one of the conditions for granting visa freedom to Ukrainian citizens.