Nadiya Savchenko Is Free!

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Savchenko seated in the cockpit on the way home.

After two years of illegal detention in Russia, Ukrainian national hero Nadiya Savchenko has been released in a prisoner swap for two Russian soldiers captured by Ukrainian Anti-terrorism forces. Savchenko, a pilot in the Ukrainian air force, had been captured by Russian soldiers operating in Eastern Ukraine. She was spirited across the border into Russia and charged with the murder of two Russian journalists. Ironically, she was also charged with entering Russia illegally.

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President Poroshenko, Left with Nadiya Savchenko, Right.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko met with Savchenko after her liberation from Russian prison and return to Ukraine. He awarded her the title of the Gold Star of the Hero of Ukraine.

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In his remarks the Ukrainian president said, “We have been worrying, praying, working actively and organizing protest rallies for long 709 days in order to make this day come true. The day when Nadiya Savchenko, hope and faith in our victory return to Ukraine. Just as we have brought Nadiya back, we will return Donbas and Crimea under the Ukrainian sovereignty.”

Poroshenko emphasized that Nadiya Savchenko “has become a symbol of pride and unbroken spirit”. “This is what Ukraine is. This is what a Ukrainian woman is. This is what an officer of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is. We are proud of Nadiya’s behavior in captivity of the Russian aggressor.”

Poroshenko added, “However, this is only the beginning, because we are waiting for the return of Yuri Soloshenko, Hennadiy Afanasyev, Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko and many other Ukrainians retained in Russia and the occupied territories.”

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Savchenko with her family upon arrival at Kyiv (Kiev).

In a move likely motivated by the desire to see Western sanctions end, Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned Savchenko prior to her release. In return, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko also pardoned the two Russian soldiers, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev. The two men, who admitted to serving in Russia’s special forces, were shown on Russian state television arriving at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport. Vnukovo, one of Moscow’s three international airports, is where the Russian state fleet is based.

Given the statements of both men about their feelings of being abandoned by the government who claimed that they were operating in Ukraine without Kremlin consent, it is unclear how they will be treated. It is crime in Russia for citizens to acknowledge the war with Ukraine.

The relatives of the two Russian journalists killed had appealed to Russian President Putin to pardon Savchenko. On Wednesday (25 May 2016) the president met with Yekaterina Kornelyuk, widow of VGTRK special correspondent Igor Kornelyuk, and Marianna Voloshina, the sister of Rossiya TV channel sound operator Anton Voloshin to inform them that Savchenko had been pardoned and was being returned to Ukraine.

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Relatives of the slain Russian journalists met with Putin.

Putin thanked them for their appeals on Savchenko’s behalf. Putin said that their appeal “was an expression of the hope that decisions such as this, motivated above all by considerations of humanity, will help to reduce the confrontation in the conflict zone.”

Victory Day 2016 in Russia

Russia’s 71st annual Victory Day celebration has come and gone. While each year offers a slightly different feel on a familiar theme, this year apparently carried the theme of military hardware and modernization. Moscow often uses the parade to sent a message to the West regarding Russian military might.

As the parade has grown over the years, special tickets are necessary to attend and security is very tight. Most Russians watch the parade on television, and coverage is mandated on the Kremlin controlled media. The parade was smaller this year with only 10,000 troops marching.

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The parade of military hardware on Red Square featured over 130 displays, from Tigr multipurpose vehicles, T-90 and Armata tanks, BTR-82A armoured personnel carriers, BMP-3 infantry combat vehicles, Msta-S self-propelled howitzers, and Buk-M2, Pantsir-S and Yars air defense systems. The airborne feature of the parade was led by a group of Mi-26 transport helicopters, the world’s largest.

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The parade included an updated version of the Buk antiaircraft missile system, as now identified by Dutch investigators as responsible for shooting down a civilian airliner (Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17) over Eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014.

Russia’s Commander-in-Chief of the Land Forces Oleg Salyukov was in charge of the parade. The traditional inspection of troops was conducted by Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu.

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Russian President Putin told the audience on Red Square that the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 (WWII) “will always be a sacred deed of our people, a call to live honestly, hold high the bar of truth and justice….”

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Some of Putin’s remarks dealt with the world-wide threat of terrorism: “Today, civilization is again facing cruelty and violence: terrorism has become a global threat. We must defeat this evil; Russia is open to joining efforts with all states and is ready to work on creating a modern, non-aligned system of international security.”

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The annual Victory Day celebration includes parades, ceremonies, displays and parties in parks. There is a time honoured tradition of citizens giving flowers to veterans. The veterans are decked out, many still able to fit into their wartime uniforms, often glistening with medals.

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President Putin also took part in the Immortal Regiment Procession, an event that began in the Russian city of Tomsk in 2012. Relatives of soldiers who fought in the war carry placards with a photograph and the name of their relative.

Hardly a Soviet family was spared the pain of losing multiple family members. It is estimated that 28 to 30 million citizens perished; approximately 10 million of the lives lost were military personnel.

Prior to the war, Stalin’s purges of the 1930s had decimated the Red Army leadership. The surviving generals were typically young, inexperienced, and not as well educated in the art of warfare. They were simply outclassed by a superior leadership corp that marked the Nazi military leadership.

Poor leadership and decision making, as Stalin often dictated even the smallest of strategy details, is estimated to have led to millions of deaths. Especially in the early phases of the war, the surviving Generals of the Red Army who had experience were often mere instruments for Stalin’s directives.

(photos: Presidential Press Service and the Mendeleyev Journal)

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Loose Cannons in Russian Army

The Russian city of Novosibirsk has been a major staging area for sending Russian army regulars to fight in Eastern Ukraine. Stripped of insignia and anything that would identify the Russian military, men and equipment regularly make the trek from this city to Ukraine.

On 8 May however the Russians discovered a loose cannon in their ranks-literally. While rounding a corner to take the highway out of the city, one cannon broke loose and provided for a little excitement on the streets of Novosibirsk.

Authorities claim the unmarked equipment was en route to a Victory Day parade.

Orthodox Easter 2016

It is Easter weekend in most of the Eastern world. The word in Russian for Easter is пасха (Paskha), the same as in Greek Πάσχα. The initials “XB” are for Христос воскрес (Christ risen!).

We invite you to enjoy our page on Orthodox Easter as found here.

Putin and Poroshenko Agree to Release Savchenko

Poroshenko Savchenko mom sister bTuesday was a busy day for Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. Just the day before, on Monday, he had made an offer to Russian president Vladimir Putin via telephone to release two Russian soldiers in exchange for Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko. In addition to speaking of the possible exchange, Poroshenko and Putin agreed that Ukraine’s consul general in Rostov-on-Don will be granted access to Savchenko in the near future.

Savchenko has been on a hunger strike after recently being sentenced to 22 years in a Russian prison. In June 2014 she had been captured by Russian soldiers operating in Eastern Ukraine, and was illegally taken across the border into Russia as a hostage.

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Savchenko’s mother, Mariya Ivanivna.

Poroshenko met with Nadiya Savchenko’s mother Mariya Ivanivna and her sister Vira to speak with the Ukrainian pilot from the Ukrainian presidential office. After the call, President Poroshenko released a statement saying that the two countries will do a prisoner swap.

Savchenko will likely be traded for a couple of Russian soldiers who were recently tried in a Ukrainian court and sentenced to 14 years in prison. In March she was sentenced to 22 years in a Russian prison.

The two Russian soldiers, Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Alexandrov, were captured by Ukrainian forces and then tried and convicted of terrorism against Ukraine. As is common when Russian soldiers are captured, Moscow claims that the men were volunteers, and simply using their holiday time to fight in Ukraine.

During the call President Poroshenko complimented Savchenko on her courage, urged her to end the current hunger strike, and promised to send the presidential plane to Moscow for her as soon as details of the release were agreed upon by Russia.

At this time neither side has announced a date for the exchange, and while the Ukrainian side seems confident of the pending release, the Kremlin will only admit that Putin and Poroshenko have spoken about the pilot’s condition.

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Putin on Hillary Clinton

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Apparently the Russian love affair with Bill Clinton, mostly remembered during the Yeltsin years, is officially over. Certainly you can still find souvenir matryoshka nesting dolls in the likeness of Bill Clinton for sale at some street kiosks, but the days when Russians admired the saxophone playing, womanizing and vodka-loving American politician as one of us are gone.

During President Putin’s recent nationwide call-in show last Thursday, one caller asked Mr. Putin about American democracy, and about Hillary Clinton in particular.

Putin employed the old Russian proverb that the “Husband and wife are the same devil” in responding to the caller who asked his thoughts on current American presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Putin noted the length of time the Bush and Clinton families have been in power and opined, “Where is the diversity?” He avoided the obvious correlation to the tenure of Putin-Medvedev-Putin.

The annual live broadcast averages about 3.5 hours in length and is broadcast on all the major television and radio networks across Russia.

The Moscow Times reported that approximately three million questions were submitted for Putin’s traditional telephone marathon. The Presidential Press office selects which questions are asked during the show via studio guests, video messaging, telephone, or email.

During a January debate of Democratic presidential candidates, NBC anchor Lester Holt had asked Mrs. Clinton about her relationship with Putin to which she replied, Well, my relationship with him, it’s um, it’s interesting.” Clinton went on to describe Putin as a bully.

Several members of the Russian Duma (parliament) have suggested that Mr. Putin place travel sanctions on Mrs. Clinton stemming from the arrest of a Russian pilot while she was the American Secretary of State.

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Moscow’s Disappearing Street Kiosks

Near the Square where the Paveletskaya Metro and Train stations are located, there is a typical Moscow street kiosk. In an effort to beautify to city, many of these types of small vendor kiosks are being demolished. Many of them disappear overnight, with no warning to the owners.

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These signs indicate that shoes are repaired and keys made on the spot. Other products such as batteries, flashlights, electrical strip outlets, USB adapters and phone cords are sold here.

Immediately across the street is a fruit and vegetable kiosk. What will happen to the small business person who operates this vendor stand when the city takes it away?

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One must wonder what becomes of the persons who found employment at these kiosks, and to local customers who need them? For local residents, and especially pensioners who need close and convenient access, who depended on easy access to such products and services, these kiosks were a necessary lifeline.

Why does the government give little or no notice to these small business owners when their stands, considered legal for many years and generate local sales taxes, are about to be razed? Why is there no compensation when these kiosks are destroyed overnight?

The most likely answer is found that in their place, the erection of chain stores with connections to Russian Oligarchs come into these neighborhoods quickly. Unlike the long and arduous process of red tape required for approval, the chain stores just seem to pop up with none of the hassle or legal expense that these folk experienced.

Connections, we suspect, is the real cause for the removal of these small businesses. One could argue that these kiosks are part of what makes Moscow beautiful. Chain stores owned by Oligarchs–not so much.