Brian Bonner: Ukraine’s Friend & Foe of the Week

Editor’s Note: This feature separates Ukraine’s friends from its enemies. The Order of Yaroslav the Wise has been given since 1995 for distinguished service to the nation. It is named after the Kyivan Rus leader from 1019-1054, when the medieval empire reached its zenith. The Order of Lenin was the highest decoration bestowed by the Soviet Union, whose demise Russian President Vladimir Putin mourns. It is named after Vladimir Lenin, whose corpse still rots on the Kremlin’s Red Square, more than 100 years after the October Revolution he led.

Marta Kolomayets

It’s a tremendous oversight that we never anointed Marta Kolomayets as Ukraine’s Friend of the Week since we started the feature several years ago.

We do so now posthumously, unfortunately, after Kolomayets succumbed to diabetes-related ailments on Aug. 16 and died at the age of 61 in her beloved Kyiv.

The truth is that she was Ukraine’s friend every week of her life. She had been in Kyiv so long – one of Ukraine’s original expatriates since 1991 – that it was easy to think of her as Ukrainian, rather than what she was — a Ukrainian American who grew up in Chicago.

She was a journalist for the U.S.-based Ukrainian Weekly from 1991 to 1997. She wrote hundreds of stories for the English-language newspaper and other news organizations, including the Associated Press and Newsweek, that helped the world understand the birth of independent Ukraine.

She went on to work for U.S. Aid for International Development, the National Democratic Institute, the Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation, and in her final professional role, as Ukraine director of the Institute of International Education, which administers the U.S. Fulbright exchange program. The program has sent 1,000 Ukrainians to study in America, while 650 U.S. scholars have come to Ukraine.

Her commitment to Ukraine and America stood out in all the positions she held. In a 2013 interview with me for the Kyiv Post, she said the Fulbright job allowed her to engage in two of her strongest passions: For Ukraine to make progress as a nation and for Americans to gain a better understanding of Ukraine.

People could be fooled by her gentle and sunny disposition. But she was tough when she wanted to be, as when she spoke of sexism and corruption in Ukraine.

“I just think Ukrainian men in power are not open to women becoming decision-makers. That’s wrong,” she told the Kyiv Post seven years ago. “A lot of Ukraine men are into having power to collect riches. Women are less corrupt, more tolerant and more open to trying to reach a peaceful agreement.”

Just three months before the start of the EuroMaidan Revolution that would topple President Viktor Yanukovych, she lamented that Ukraine “has never had leaders who cared about the good of the people.”

Her response, as usual, was to take action. She was the chairwoman of the board of directors of the Ukrainian Women’s Fund, which seeks to develop female leaders. Before that, as she told the Kyiv Post in another interview with the Kyiv Post in 2006, she was working with a group called First Step to Success – a mentoring program for young women ages 16-20.

Typical of her modest understatement, she said: “I try to help other people who may not be as fortunate as I am.”

For her lifetime of achievement, the Kyiv Post humbly awards Marta Kolomayets the Order of Yaroslav the Wise. We regret that we can no longer honor her in person.

Alexander Lukashenko

The buffoon from Belarus looks like his days as dictator are finally dwindling after 26 years of killing, kidnapping or imprisoning anyone who got in his way. He has gotten so used to doing what he wants and taking what he wants that he seems generally befuddled that the nation of 10 million has finally risen up against him.

In trying to keep Belarus as a living museum to Soviet ways, Lukashenko won only one election honestly – in 1994 when he ousted first president Stanislav Shushkevich.

Since then, he’s cheated all the way.

I have some personal experience in Belarus. In 2000, I was a political analyst during the Belarusian parliamentary election. I represented the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s election-watchdog unit, the Office of Democratic Initiatives and Human Rights, or ODIHR.

His methods then were crude but effective. I watched his thugs beat up protesters in front of my eyes. Since much of the economy was in government hands, his direct subordinates staffed the election commissions around the nation. There was nothing resembling an honest vote count. Moreover, he controlled most media outlets and disqualified any candidates who posed a threat to his rule.

It turned out to be the last time I was in Belarus. I was invited back by ODIHR in 2001 for the presidential election, but the Belarusian government denied my entry visa without explanation. However, one can easily surmise that, as an American journalist who took part in the 2000 election observation mission that delivered stinging criticism of him, Batka’s minions had plenty of reasons to never see the likes of me in Belarus again.

I am heartened to see the new Belarus, unafraid of him, rising up to throw him out. I hope they succeed. In 2000, when I was there, Lukashenko did seem to have genuine support among a good share of the people. Now, 20 years later, he appears to have squandered all of it.

I watched with bemusement as he fooled the West, when his relations with Russia got rocky, into thinking he was becoming a democrat.

No chance. He’s a dictator, through and through, with no redeeming qualities. As far as I’m concerned, whatever disputes he had with his Russian dictatorial counterpart Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko ruled like a political appendage of Moscow.

He was also never a friend of Ukraine. He never stood up for Ukraine in Russia’s ongoing six-year war or its annexation of Crimea. As he recently showed when he returned 33 Russian mercenaries of the Wagner group to Russia rather than extradite them for war crimes to Ukraine, he always took the Kremlin’s side. It’s a fitting disgrace that the failed peace agreements to end Russia’s war bear the name of the Belarusian capital of Minsk.

The game is up – nobody in the West or in Belarus can be fooled any longer. Maybe he and Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s toppled president, can share a one-room apartment together in Russian exile and work on their memoirs.

Lukashenko, congratulations on being a multiple winner of Ukraine’s Foe of the Week. Send us a forwarding address and we’ll ship out your deserved prize: the Order of Lenin.

(c) KyivPost

One comment

  • “The game is up – nobody in the West or in Belarus can be fooled any longer. Maybe he and Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s toppled president, can share a one-room apartment together in Russian exile and work on their memoirs.”

    That’s too good for him, he deserves to end his days like Ceaușescu, at the wrong end of a firing squad.

    Liked by 3 people

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