Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/4/2012 (1809 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda arrives in Kyiv today, some Canadians would have her visit jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, currently serving a seven-year term for abusing her office as Ukraine's prime minister in 2009.
And why not? There is last month's precedent of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird meeting with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi -- in the midst of her election campaign, no less.
Ukraine is not Myanmar, and Tymoshenko no Suu Kyi, but the braided Ukrainian beauty could really use some high-profile outside help these days, because President Viktor Yanukovych's regime is intent on establishing her as the foulest beast Ukraine has ever seen. Last week, the state prosecutors' office announced on national television it's investigating her alleged role in two high-profile gangland-style slayings dating back to the 1990s. These murder charges are the latest in a litany of crimes Yanukovych is pinning on the lady he defeated for the presidency by less than a million votes in 2010.
To be fair to Yanukovych, he did initiate legal changes that would decriminalize economic crimes and has hinted he might pardon Tymoshenko if she admits to the crimes. But the Yanukovych-loyal parliament rejected his ridiculous legislative innovation of permitting corruption, and it is highly unlikely the feisty Tymoshenko will ever concede she did anything wrong.
Canada has not been silent in the Tymoshenko affair. In February, it dispatched three volunteer doctors to evaluate her health in prison. The doctors were held in Kyiv's airport for 10 hours upon arrival and later complained about being prevented from seeing Tymoshenko in private and collecting samples for analysis.
The Ukrainian-Canadian doctors became subjects of a Soviet-style disinformation campaign where details, such as longer-than-average wait times at one practice, were used to discredit the medical mission. One of the doctors' credentials were questioned because he came from the "small town" of Mississauga.
On the heels of that mission, it's logical for Oda to raise the issue of Tymoshenko's health, but she could address the big-picture issue of selective justice as it is being meted out in Ukraine. A more forceful message would be sent if Oda paid a visit to Yuri Lutsenko, the former interior minister in Tymoshenko's cabinet who's serving a four-year sentence for crimes that include signing a ministerial order while on vacation and paying his driver a $5,000 bonus. (And if anybody needs medical attention, it's Lutsenko, who is suffering the effects of a hunger strike and has been diagnosed with pancreatitis.)
Oda might also want to visit Tymoshenko's former environment minister, Volodymyr Filipchuk, who last week got three years for following orders and hiring a law firm in a dispute over oil drilling in the Black Sea.
Tymoshenko's people may be no saints, but they're being turned into political martyrs. For if prosecutors and judges were to apply the same standards across the board in Ukraine, then pretty well everyone who has served in government in the last 20 years would be in jail.
If she finds the mood in Ukraine too oppressive, Oda could visit Tymoshenko's husband and her former economy minister, Bohdan Danylyshyn, who have been granted asylum in the Czech Republic.
Ukrainians fleeing Yanukovych's regime have ended up in Austria, Italy and Latvia.
But one stop Oda absolutely must make, and one that should be on the itinerary of every Canadian official visiting Ukraine before October, is a visit to the Central Election Commission. Canada has every right to, considering it has contributed $2.3 million toward the establishment of a national voter registry.
Canada should be asking tough questions about the gerrymandering underway to redraw electoral districts in favour of the pro-presidential Party of the Regions ahead of parliamentary elections in October. Is this what CIDA intended to happen when it committed millions to "strengthen democratic procedures?"
Ukraine experienced the analog equivalent of "robocalling" during the 2010 presidential race. Canadian election observers alerted media and the international community and provided proof of the plot to suppress the vote in several villages in Kyiv oblast: Letters purporting to be from the election commission were dropped in mailboxes the night before elections announcing the vote was postponed due to lack of state financing. Polling stations in Tymoshenko-friendly areas failed to open the following morning, leaving hundreds of voters disenfranchised. Tricks like substituting pens with disappearing ink were also discovered. The Canadian mission tallied that nearly 100 polling stations recorded uncharacteristically high spoiled ballot rates of 10 per cent or more, resulting in more than 11,000 votes lost.
That was 2010, when Yanukovych was still vying for power. Today, he's got a ride-'em-over-roughshod hold on it.
Canadian officials need to let their Ukrainian counterparts know they'll be watching the elections process very closely and back it up with a strong election observation mission. Otherwise, all of Tymoshenko's ministers and allies will end up in jail.
On a recent speaking tour across southern Ontario, the former head of Ukraine's election commission, Yaroslav Davydovych, the man who refused to sign off on election results declaring Yanukovych the winner of the 2004 presidential race (and sparking the Orange Revolution), said when it comes to democracy, Ukraine has regressed to the level of 1991, the year the Soviet Union fell apart.
That might not be far enough back for Yanukovych. With the re-emergence of political prisoners, Yanukovych seems to be aiming at least as far back as the USSR of the 1970s under Leonid Brezhnev. And we all remember how that ended. Does Yanukovych?
Stephen Bandera has returned to Canada after 10 years in Kyiv and works as a journalist and translator in Toronto.