Archive for the ‘Survivor’s Guide’ Category

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Government/local government hotlines – Ministry of Justice

January 3, 2013

Now it is not often I bother to visit the Ministry of Justice website, but the New Year is always a good time to do so as that is when many passed laws are always planned to come into force.

I was prompted to do so when I realised that the administrative changes to (unmoveable) property rights is now in effect and a hotline for concerned citizens introduced – Blimey!

Perhaps I should visit the Ministry of Justice website more often, as it does seem to be rather busy.

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The on-going kidnap saga of Anhar Kochneva in Syria

December 19, 2012

For those of you who have no idea who Anhar Kochneva is, she is a Ukrainian translator who went to Syria with a Russian TV channel in late September and was subsequently kidnapped on or just before 15th October.

kochneva

She remains kidnapped by “Syrian rebels” for want of a better label, and was thought to have been executed on 16th December, only for there to have been a change of mind amongst those who are holding her.

During this time, according to those who are holding her, negotiations with the Ukrainian Embassy in Syria (and by default the Ukrainian Government) have been filled with broken promises – or what is equally as likely, misunderstandings and misinterpretations of what seem to be less than specific demands to achieve her release.

By less than specific demands, from what I am to understand, there is no definite “ransom $ figure” or other “definite demand”.  It appears those holding her are trying to discover what is “on offer” from Ukraine to gain her release.

On the assumption that Ukraine as a State will negotiate officially or otherwise with those who kidnap its citizens and then blackmail the State, and even those nations that officially declare they don’t, normally do, either covertly or via third parties/nations, then it must be very hard to negotiate the release of a captured citizen when there are no defined demands from kidnappers that appear to be trying simply to get “something” from Ukraine – the “optimum something” naturally.

Since 16th December those holding Anhar Kochneva have held an interview with TSN Channel, the contents of which are now with the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, again in which no clear demands are made to secure her release.

Naturally what is available in the public realm will not be anything like as detailed or nuanced compared to what is known to those in the Ukrainian Embassy in Syria, and this undoubtedly will be a case where releasing everything for the sake of “public interest” may not best serve Anhar Kochneva or the Ukrainian State – for now.

I am not sure of the labels used in main stream media relating to the reporting of this incident either.  At what point do the actions “Syrian rebels” become what I would define as an act of terrorism?

Terrorism for me, in a less than academic explanation, would be the act of violence (and kidnapping is violence against those subjected to it) carried out against a victim(s) who the terrorists are strong enough to wield sufficient strength against, whilst those they do so against are not the intended target – but are the responsibility of an entity that is far too great for them to attack directly and is the target.

The general point is to commit a crime against something or somebody you are capable of doing so against, that the real target far too big to attack directly, has a responsibility to protect – thus creating a climate of both fear, rage and belittling the target through its failure to protect.  In short, publicly undermine the powerful entity without tackling it head on.

Another driver is to generate a response from the far greater entity based upon its natural profound anger and aggression from your act, that causes the powerful entity to lose its perceived moral authority via engaging in a response far greater than is perceived as necessary by an on-looking world.

Generally though, such acts have as a route cause, some form of grievance against the powerful entity where those who carry out the act feel they have been humiliated or shown a lack of respect – thus it is a method to display their displeasure and go some way to righting the wrong against them.

To my knowledge, Ukraine has carried out no actions to belittle the “Syrian rebels” in any definitive way.  Maybe it has, but I am not aware of any.  Thus this incident to me would not be classed as an act of terrorism despite it having some hallmarks of what fit my less than academic definition of terrorism.

Is this merely an opportunist crime carried out amidst an otherwise entirely separate civil struggle for which those responsible are now trying to belatedly shift the mens rea to something more befitting their larger struggle?

It will be interesting to see how this works itself out, what if any concessions are given by Ukraine and for what reasons etc.

Whatever the outcome though, we have to hope that Anhar Kocheva comes out of this alive and well!

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No I didn’t forget and never would I!

November 11, 2012

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Domestic violence – Council of Europe and Ukraine

October 11, 2012

The world is full of good causes and those in need of assistance – regardless of whether a nation is developed, developing, or indeed not much more than a failed state.

For me it has always been a bit of a dilemma what to support and what I won’t.  When I ran my companies in the UK, as a board, we decided to nominate and sponsor 3 charities each year and simply rebuff any other approaches.  It made life relatively simple and tended to give all staff a justified reason to repel all other charity approaches – which were a regular occurrence.

It is not so easy to be so clinical now I have been living in Ukraine for a decade and am free from the rat race of corporate life.  I have plenty of time to see causes all around me worthy of support in a very direct way.

My involvement in a disabled charity which was fairly large some years ago when it first registered, is now minimal, as I am a firm believer that any Ukrainian cause should be driven by Ukrainian people.  Thus as that particular charity is now being driven quite well by Ukrainian people, I have all-but bowed out.

Disability is one of those causes that has always struck a chord with me.  Others are human trafficking, domestic violence and local government issues.

As regular readers of this blog will know, in the past month or so, I have been approached by some Ukrainian civic minded people to get involved in new NGOs dealing with human trafficking, domestic violence and local government.

In order to set up an effective NGO, internal systems, external contacts and all the other operational matters, quite simply it is a lot of work to do one – let alone three.

So having looked at what exists in Odessa already, local government was struck from the list – for now anyway – leaving human trafficking and domestic violence as the two potential NGOs for which I have been approached that I would happily get involved in.

I eventually decided to progress with those wanting to set up a human trafficking NGO in Odessa rather than domestic violence – although it was a difficult decision.

The reasons for human trafficking coming out on top are simply that my knowledge of English will be more of a benefit when dealing with foreign NGOs of similar leaning, my diplomatic, political and “other persons of influence” connections pretty much cover most of the EU, Turkey, Ukraine, Russia and Egypt.  All areas relevant to human trafficking from and through Ukraine.

Hopefully this new NGO will become reality in the new year when NGO registration becomes much easier to do and the new laws relating to NGOs come into effect.  We will see.

Anyway, returning to domestic violence, something from which no nation on earth is immune, it seems the Council of Europe (PACE) and Ukraine are to take steps to address the issue.

It seems that legislation will be amended, agencies forced to take particular notice of the issue, and a general awareness campaign launched – which is all necessary and jolly good – except when I was doing my due diligence over which NGOs were needed, and more importantly which I would and could be most useful for, much more than upgrading legislation,the reeducation/focusing of agencies and public on the issue needs to be done in far more practical ways.

None of the above will have much, if any effect on the prevention of domestic violence.  It may only have little additional  benefits via the judicial and law enforcement agencies reactively as well.

In Odessa I found no short term sheltered accommodation (with or without security) for victims of domestic violence to stay for a few days whilst wounds heal and clear thoughts for the future could be formulated by the victims.

Upon asking several departments of the police here, it appears there are no dedicated domestic violence units.  It also appeared on speaking to them there are few multi-agency meetings over such matters.  Panic alarms if they exist are never fitted in cases where serious potential harm may occur when offenders are still at large.  Pretty much everything you would expect to find in every UK constabulary by way of specially trained officers, sheltered accommodation, dedicated multi-agency approaches et al – simply doesn’t exist – or if it does, nobody I spoke with knew of its existence.

Again, I will caveat the above two paragraphs by stating that just because those I spoke to, who I felt should know of, but didn’t know of any facilities or standard multi-agency approaches, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t exist.  They may well do – it’s just that it could be more or less an unofficial secret for some unbeknown reason – like so many things in Ukraine to be honest.

This website does exist, however when I called the helpline to find out what assistance it offers, I got no reply.  Maybe they were busy as to be fair I only called once.

However, on the presumption those I spoke to should know and would know, seriously, no place of safety for victims to go for a few days in the absence of anywhere else?  Victims of domestic violence have a choice of the street or remaining in a place where they are abused?  Not everybody has friends or family that would or could accommodate them, and even if they did, not every victim would want to take those options for a multitude of reasons.

Of course most people will think of domestic violence towards women in particular, and as that is undoubtedly the largest group subjected to domestic violence it is only natural, thus the PACE scheme specifically targeting that group, however I am also thinking about violence towards pensioners who quite often live with their children and inherited in-laws, children indirectly suffering within abusive relationships, and of course men.  Men are not immune from being the victim either.

So, whilst it is all very good, and indeed necessary, to create new laws, amend existing laws, focus the priorities of Ukraine’s agencies on this issue etc, there seems to be a serious need for very practical and very real physical assets to be  created/set aside/dedicated to actually address both the immediate aftermath of domestic violence as well as longer term assistance with the most difficult and serious of cases that often are quite protracted in their resolution.  Not to mention an equally important preventative program as well.

Without that very real social safety net and awareness, the domestic homicide rate will remain unnecessarily high, as will assaults resulting in extremely serious injury – and ultimately Ukraine will fail to meet the standards of PACE should it ever actually sign and ratify what is currently only an initialed Council of Europe Convention by Ukraine.

A lot to do here for Ukraine as a government (of which ever colour or stripe) both national and regional, for civil society, for philanthropists and for society and the volunteers within – because as with anything that will actually work, it will have to ultimately be Ukrainian led – top down and bottom up, in tandem – both with regards to prevention and the aftermath.

Having written all that, it is easy to feel I have chosen to get involved with the easier of the NGOs when it comes to their dedicated task – and maybe I have – however, it is the one that fits the “who I know and what I can do” category more effectively when it comes to the benefits the NGO would get from asking me to get involved – and if the human trafficking NGO doesn’t fly for whatever reason, maybe the newly forming domestic violence NGO will still want my help in some way.

Anyway, it seems that both the Council of Europe and Ukraine are going to attempt to do something together – which may or may not actually be better than nothing.  We will see.

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Devaluation pressure on the hryvnia continues

August 22, 2012

I am not an economist, nor am I a banker, financial analyst, Forex trader, or a particularly interested fiscal and monetary watcher.

However, I have mentioned the devaluation of the Hryvnia several times in the past 12 months, most recently here, and maybe somewhat bravely (or foolishly) predicted a Hryvnia/US$ rate of 9.5 – 10 before the middle of 2013 in several dots within cyberspace as well.

A significant devaluation from the Hryvnia/US$ rate of UAH 8/1 US$ of today.

As I have said, such events will not occur until after the elections at the end of October this year if they occur at all.  Having predicted for more than 12 months that it will happen, I am not about to state otherwise now as nothing has changed for the better as far as I can see.

In fact, recent moves by the National Bank of Ukraine have only reinforced my opinion.  It is a move which does nothing other than confirm my longstanding forecasts of devaluation after the October elections.

What’s more, I really don’t think the NBU policy will work.  It is simply too easy to circumvent it.

I have already put my money where my mouth is some time ago and moved out of the Hryvnia and into GBP Sterling, US$ and Swiss Franc.  It still appears to me to have been a wise decision.

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Hryvnia devaluation coming soon?

July 1, 2012

Here is a bit of crystal ball gazing, or maybe navel gazing, and quite possibly a completely misguided forecast for the period November 2012 and following months relating to the Ukrainian currency, the Hryvina.

Whilst no doubt the Hrynia will remain relatively stable against other currencies over the summer, primarily due to the parliamentary elections in October, although there are other factors as well, there are a number of indicators that would suggest the Hryvnia will devalue quite dramatically thereafter.

It is already noticeable that the National Bank of Ukraine is acting far more slowly when intervening in the monetary markets to support the unofficial Hryvnia/US$ peg.  It has, in the space of a few weeks, dropped from UAH 8 to $1 and now exchanges on the streets at UAH 8.1 to the $1.  A slide that seems likely to continue.

The question is how far?

Aside from the National Bank of Ukraine’s deliberate slow interventions, there is the matter of the IMF.  Not the suspended tranches that could possibly be used to artificially peg the Hryvnia to the US$ at 8/1 as the National Bank of Ukraine still has the capability to do that.  As I say it is a deliberately slow intervention by the NBU and a sign of what is to come.

I am not referring to the on-going stand-off between the current government of Ukraine, who having raised the prices of electricity and gas 50% at IMF insistence already, refusing to do so again – at IMF insistence – again.

The IMF is currently zeroed in on Article IV of the IMF Articles of Agreement to which Ukraine is subject.

In short, the IMF is pushing Ukraine to allow the Hryvnia to free float on the currency exchanges and if the NBU is not going to unofficially and artificially prop up the Hryvnia through intervention on the currency markets then devaluation is going to be the obvious result. (Not that the NBU is in a position to intervene ad infinitum anyway.)

The question is probably one of how far and how fast this devaluation will occur once the October parliamentary elections are over, rather than whether devaluation will be avoided.

If I had to put a provisional figure on it, I would estimate UAH 9 – 9.5 to the US$ – but it may be more, possibly even UAH 10.

And yes, I have put my money where my mouth is and sacrificed the extremely good interest rates on Hryvnia this week, changing all into Sterling, US$ and Swiss Franc, a policy I will continue until all becomes clear when a new parliament and new budget for 2013 become apparent, the dust settles, and a governmental policy becomes clearer.

As much as I do enjoy the very good interests on the Hryvnia and it pains me to act before the masses and any restrictions that may yet come in doing so, my good lady is rather pleased.  She thinks Sterling and the Swiss Franc are very pretty!

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The Gods of Internet strike thee down!

May 26, 2012

Apologise for not having written anything yesterday and only this brief statement today, but to plagerise Ezekiel 25:17. The path to the Internet in Ukraine is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men and poor coverage. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness and repairs my Internet at 2115 on a Saturday night. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children and technically challenged bloggers. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brother or stop him reading my daily ruminations.

Normal service resumed tomorrow!

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