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Russia’s challenges for Ukraine and world, First Lady fashion diplomacy, 2021 Europe prize| Week in review

A military camp south to the Russian city of Voronezh sprung up in the last week as Russia drew record numbers of troops and equipment to the Ukrainian border. Snapshot from Sky News report
Article by: Kyiv not Kiev
[editorial]KYIV NOT KIEV prepared a news digest about how Ukraine spent last week, covering the most interesting domestic political, diplomatic, and cultural events. Topics of this news digest are rising tensions on the borders between Russia and Ukraine, the Ukrainian city that has received the most prestigious award from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and fashion diplomacy of Ukraine’s First Lady.[/editorial]

Russia keeps creating challenges for Ukraine and the rest of the world

As of the beginning of this week, Russia had concentrated more troops near the border with Ukraine than in 2014, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. He did not name a specific number, but European Union Foreign Minister Josep Borrelll said that Russia had reportedly concentrated 150,000 troops near Ukraine and occupied Crimea.

On April 22, it became known that Russia will withdraw some amount of its troops from the border with Ukraine. However, it will not remove military equipment and armaments placed near the Ukrainian border. Western allies already responded to Russia’s intentions to allegedly withdraw troops from the borders. For example, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that Washington would “monitor very closely” the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border. “We’ve heard words. I think what we’ll be looking for is action,” he said.

Although Russia is trying hard to talk about Ukraine without Ukraine, since the beginning of the tension, Ukraine’s Western allies – the United States, the European Union, G7 and NATO – have expressed their support for Kyiv.

On April 15, US President Joe Biden signed a decree on a new package of sanctions against Russia. The White House clarified that sanctions are imposed for interfering in the US election and for cyberattacks on the United States. The White House said that the US had also imposed sanctions on eight companies and individuals involved in the occupation and repressions in annexed Crimea.

The culmination of international support was a meeting between Zelenskyy and Macron in Paris with Angela Merkel. She joined the conversation via video link. The leaders of Germany and France stressed the need for full implementation of the Minsk agreements from both sides and said that Germany and France would continue their efforts in the Normandy format.

However, is it possible to continue the Normandy format if one of its members does not declare itself a party to the conflict, completely ignores international law and all attempts to resolve the conflict? The question is open.

In addition to the deployment of troops in Crimea and near the borders with Ukraine, Russia continues to carry out brazen provocations. For example, only this weekend, the Russian FSB detained Ukrainian Consul Oleksandr Sosonyuk for several hours for allegedly receiving confidential information from law enforcement databases.

Ukraine didn’t hesitate to respond. The Russian diplomat was declared a Persona Non-Grata and was given 72 hours to leave Ukraine.

But this is not the only diplomatic scandal with Russian involvement that happened this week. The Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats for spying. The Russian diplomats are suspected of being intelligence operatives involved in an explosion at a Czech arms depot in 2014, killing two people.

Two Russians suspected of carrying out a Novichok attack in the U.K. in 2018 are now also being linked to the blast. In a tit-for-tat move, Russia expelled 20 Czech diplomats.

Amid the growing Russian military presence near Ukraine’s borders, calls for Ukraine’s membership in NATO are increasingly heard. The Baltic states have already expressed their support for Ukraine’s accession to NATO. «We support Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic membership aspirations, including as it was stated in the NATO Bucharest summit declaration, and encourage Ukraine to continue necessary reforms in this respect», says the statement of Foreign Ministers of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Ukraine.

However, Russia didn’t lose the opportunity to respond to speculation about Ukraine joining NATO. The Kremlin has said that if Ukraine joins the Alliance, it will lead to a full-scale escalation of the situation in Donbas. Interesting position, having in mind, that Russia constantly declares its non-involvement in the events in eastern Ukraine.

While Europe tries to appease Putin, President Zelenskyy, in a video statement, invited him to meet in any part of the Ukrainian Donbas where the war is going on. Earlier, Putin ignored the Ukrainian President’s invitations to talk. On April 22, Volodymyr Zelenskyy got a response: Putin stated that he is ready to meet Zelenskyy in Moscow “at any convenient time” and, as always, called Russia – a “third party”. Simply put, he denied Russia’s involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine and put the responsibility for the war on Ukraine.

A few days ago, President Zelenskyy addressed Ukrainians about the escalation of the conflict by Russia “Does Ukraine want a war – no. But is she ready for it – yes,” said Zelenskyy. He stressed that Ukraine will always take steps towards a diplomatic solution to the conflict. He emphasized that Ukraine never starts a war first. But it always fights till the end.

The President also thanked foreign partners for their support in appeasing Putin. At the same time, he called on them to change their diplomatic concerns to determination: it is important for Ukraine, which is a shield for Europe, to see not just their support as partners from the stands, but as players of one team on the field.

Fashion diplomacy of The First Lady

Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska has been a fashion ambassador, promoting Ukrainian designers at home and abroad

When choosing an outfit for official events, Olena Zelenska is always guided by the desire to promote Ukrainian brands and carry out a kind of cultural diplomacy. Fashion, in her opinion, helps to establish cultural ties between the countries and express respect for the host country.

For example, before the visit to Japan, Ukrainian designer Ivan Frolov created two outfits for the first lady – in yellow and blue. And not only because these are the colors of the Ukrainian flag, but also because the Japanese ceremonial protocol requires that the color corresponds to the season.

During her last visit to the fashion capital of the world, Paris, the First Lady of Ukraine, wore a Ukrainian brand LAKE Studio – known for its fine work with art references and Ukrainian heritage. The outfit looked gorgeous next to Madame Macron’s Louis Vuitton.

At the opening of the audio guide in the Palace of Versailles, the First Lady showed a new image – she combined the trench coat of the Odesa brand Olenich with ecological sneakers Veja, which caused a significant resonance in the network.

Critics of Zelenska’s shoes believe that sports shoes are completely unacceptable during official visits abroad. They were reminded that one shouldn’t wear high-heeled shoes to Versailles to not damage the museum’s parquet.

Following the discussions about the admissibility of sneakers in Versailles, the news that Versailles will soon speak Ukrainian was completely lost. At the initiative of Olena Zelenska, Ukrainian was added to the audio guides of the world’s most prominent museums like Colosseum in Rome, Galata Tower in Istanbul, The Albertina Museum in Vienna. An audio guide in Ukrainian will also appear in the Tower of London as part of Olena Zelenska’s initiative.

In defense of the sneakers, we will add that this is a French sustainable fashion brand. Therefore, the choice in favor of such shoes was a kind of curtsey towards the host country. We want to remind you that among the most famous fans of this sustainable shoe brand are Kate Middleton, Megan Markle, Emily Ratajkowski, and Emma Watson.

Olena Zelenska loves to discover the world of Ukrainian designers and prefers such Ukrainian brands and designers as ELENAREVA, ARTEMKLIMCHUK, SIX, Gunia Project, Dafna May, Vita Kin.

A city of European ideals

Khmelnytskyi has received the 2021 European Prize

At the end of this news digest, we could not help but mention the achievements of one beautiful Ukrainian city. And no, this is not about Kyiv!

Khmelnytskyi, a lovely city in the West of Ukraine, – won the 2021 Europe Prize – the highest prize awarded annually by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to the cities that most actively promote European ideals. It is not the first award the city has received from the PACE. European diploma, honorary flag, plaque of honor – now the city has a complete set of awards that testify to efforts to promote European values and approaches.

Recognized in 2020 as the most comfortable city to live in Ukraine, Khmelnytskyi has been celebrating Europe Day since 2003, organizing meetings of “European clubs” in educational institutions and national and European culture festivals. The most famous are probably Glushenkov Fest, which brings together national dancers from all over the world in Khmelnytskyi, and Rock and Bug, a powerful international rock festival organized with all the requirements for inclusiveness and care for the environment.

Khmelnytskyi has a special approach to environmental protection. The city is a member of the EBRD’s Green Cities initiative (among five cities in Ukraine and 40 globally) and works to build a recycling plant as part of a solid waste management strategy. Such a plant will be one of the first of its kind built in Ukraine. German towns Bamberg, Münster and Polish Kielce also competed for the 2021 Europe prize in the final stage. But Khmelnytskyi, a city of green parks, festivals and delicious cuisine, won!

Khmelnytskyi is not the first Ukrainian city to win the Europe Prize. In 2010 the award was given to Kharkiv, in 2018 – to Ivano-Frankivsk.

That is how Ukraine has spent its last week. Stay safe and stay tuned for more exciting materials from KYIV NOT KIEV!

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