Judge not, that ye be not judged – Ukraine’s constitutional court attacks anti-corruption laws | Europe

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Observers Criticise Ukraine’s Zelensky Over Election Side Poll

International observers said Monday that local elections in Ukraine were “well-organised and transparent”, but criticised a survey organised near polling stations at the initiative of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

On Sunday, the ex-Soviet state of some 40 million people voted to elect mayors and local councils, with no polls in Russia-annexed Crimea and eastern regions controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Several days before the election, Zelensky announced that voters would be asked to answer five questions on social issues, including the legalisation of medical cannabis.

Analysts and the opposition denounced the move as an attempt by Zelensky to mobilise his party base.

The poll “appeared to create an undue political advantage on election day and blurred the separation of state and party”, observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said in a statement.

On October 25, 2020, Ukraine voted to elect mayors and local councils, with no polls in Russia-annexed Crimea and eastern regions controlled by pro-Russian separatists

The OSCE added that the “voting process was generally calm, well-organised and transparent”.

Despite its landslide win last year, Zelensky’s Servant of the People party suffered a setback in Sunday’s vote, being edged out by rivals in most major cities, exit polls say.

Final results are expected in three to five days, according to the election commission.

Some 5 million Ukrainians took part in the non-binding “opinion poll”.

After analysing three quarters of the questionnaires, the presidential party said that 65 percent of voters approved legalising marijuana for medical purposes while 83 percent were in favour of a life sentence for high-level corruption.

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Lock up the small fry—for a start – Ukraine’s anti-corruption court bares its teeth | Europe

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On Ukraine’s Border, the Coronavirus Ends a Hasidic Pilgrimage

VINNYTSIA, Ukraine — Thousands of Hasidic pilgrims who set out to celebrate the Jewish New Year at the grave in Ukraine of a revered rabbi started heading home on Friday, after being prevented from entering from Belarus due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

The pilgrims began piling up on the border between Belarus and Ukraine on Monday. Ukraine, with support from Israel, had closed the border and canceled the pilgrimage that typically draws tens of thousands of people, fearing a superspreader event.

After sleeping in the open and in buses for days in the buffer area between two border checkpoints, by late afternoon on Friday most of the about 2,500 pilgrims had given up and turned back to Belarus, according to Ukrainian border guards.

The tradition of visiting the grave, in the Ukrainian city of Uman, began in 1811 after the death of Rabbi Nachman, the founder of the Breslov branch of Hasid Judaism. Pilgrimages were put on hold for decades in the Soviet period, but resumed in the late 1980s.

In recent years, as many as 30,000 pilgrims have arrived at the site for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. But Israeli health officials asked the Ukrainian Government to forbid the celebrations this year. The mayor of Uman, Oleksandr Tsebriy, had also asked that the pilgrimage be banned to prevent infection and said he was disappointed the border was not closed sooner.

Many pilgrims made it into Ukraine before the border closed and some were found to be infected, the mayor said, leading adding to fears about the spread of the virus.

Local officials estimate that 3,000 worshipers are in the city this week. Tests on 460 pilgrims in Uman have returned 10 positive results, they said.

Yechiel Stern, a pilgrim from Israel, said that praying at Rabbi Nachman’s grave was especially important this year.,

“We pray not just for ourselves,” said Mr. Stern, who arrived in Uman by air before the border was closed. “We connect the whole world. This year with the pandemic it’s particularly important and this is why we didn’t give up.”

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, has blamed authorities in Belarus for adding to the chaos at the border by “spreading false and encouraging statements” that the pilgrims might cross, despite the travel ban.

Meanwhile, Belarus’ president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, facing criticism in the West for a crackdown on street demonstrators, used the occasion to blame Ukraine for what he said were human rights abuses for barring the pilgrims.

Seeking to calm some of the public fears about pilgrims bringing in the virus, the chief rabbi of Ukraine, Moshe Azman, donated 2.5 million hryvnia, or about $90,000, to a hospital in Uman to help treat coronavirus patients.

“Lots of people were calling me from the border and asking for help,” to get into Ukraine, he said. “I could not help them all. But I was trying to improve relationships with local authorities.”

Around Uman, hundreds of police set up checkpoints to limit the number of pilgrims already in Ukraine from entering the city.

“I feel pain for all those who didn’t make it,” Gavriel Boehm, 33, who traveled to Uman from Los Angeles, said in a telephone interview.

Earlier this month, some determined pilgrims tried to demolish a fence set up around the rabbi’s grave intended to prevent a crowd from congregating there, and two were arrested.

Access is still allowed to Rabbi Nachman’s grave, for those in the vicinity. But those approaching the site have their temperatures taken and are told to wear masks.

For days, the pilgrims marooned at the border pleaded with guards, seeking to explain the importance of praying at the grave. On Thursday evening, some donned Ukrainian costumes and sang the national anthem, to no avail.

Some went farther. Seven Hasidic pilgrims from the United States and Israel were arrested Thursday night trying to cross the border on a back road in a minibus, with two Ukrainian guides.

Only by Friday afternoon did the majority of those at the border give up and return crestfallen toward Belarus.

“It was very hard,” Rabbi Avraham Klatzky said in by telephone after turning back from the border. “We hoped until the very last second they would open the border.”

He added: “I know we did the best we could.”

Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting from Moscow.

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I would repeat Belarus presidential election, Ukraine’s leader Zelensky says

Belarus”s President Alexander Lukashenko should have the confidence to call fresh elections, his counterpart in Ukraine has said.

President Volodymyr Zelensky told Euronews in an exclusive interview to be broadcast on Tuesday that if he were in the Belarusian leader’s place he would “definitely” hold the vote in one month — and invite foreign groups to observe it.

“Let’s imagine that I am confident about myself, I am confident in the people’s vote, that I am a confident person. How can I calm everyone down?” he said.

“I would definitely say: ‘in one month there will be a new vote. And I am running for the new election. Whoever wants to run — go ahead!’`

“I would invite everyone, all international observers, all of them.”

The Ukrainian leader’s remarks came after the European Union and other Western countries said they did not recognise the result of August 9 presidential election, which gave Lukashenko 80% of the vote.

Supporters of opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya maintain she was the true victor. Official figures gave her just 10%. She has since fled to Lithuania, saying she fears for her safety.

Zelensky said any candidate should be allowed to run in a repeat election.

“I’d tell the people of Belarus: ‘Please, elect whoever you want’,`” he told Euronews.

“And after that result, there would be no more questions. I’m convinced about it.”

“If Lukashenko won, he’d win; if someone else won, then it’s someone else. But everyone would be calm, without blood [being shed], it would be fair and would make history.”

The full interview with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky will be shown on Global Conversation on Euronews on Tuesday 25 August.

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