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Ukrainian American Bar Association

UABA News Blog - In English

This UABA Blog page provides information and commentary on issues that are relevant to the organization and its members. Although the blogs are public, comments can only be made by members. If yoiu wish to join the discussion, you are welcome to become a member.

The comments expressed on these blogs represent the opinions of the authors and not that of the UABA.

  • 19 Aug 2019 8:34 PM | Myroslaw Smorodsky (Administrator)

    Legal Challenges for President Zelensky

    July 24, 2019

     Judge Bohdan A. Futey

                The Rule of Law is vital to the advancement of democracy worldwide, which, in turn, will help provide for a more prosperous economic environment. Article 8 of Ukraine’s Constitution enshrines a commitment to the Rule of Law, stating that “the principle of rule of law is recognized and effective.” The essential characteristics of the Rule of Law include:

    • ·       The supremacy of law. This means that all persons, including government officials, are subject to the law.
    • ·       A justice system with key safeguards, including interpersonal adjudication, law based on standards, and robust procedures.
    • ·       Preservation of individual liberties.
    • ·       A political system based on separation of powers, including an independent judiciary.

    On April 21, 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected President of Ukraine by an impressive majority. The election was recognized by all international observers as being democratic, transparent, and meeting all international standards. The election will hopefully serve as a model for other countries in the region. Now, President Zelensky and his advisers are discussing legal changes and amendments, including the possibility of referenda. As this discussion moves forward, it is particularly important that the Rule of Law prevail and Ukraine’s commitment to it not waiver.

    For some, President Zelensky’s comments have raised concerns that his advisers may circumvent the current laws to adopt new laws or amend the constitution by referendum. If the President proposes changes, and Parliament and the people agree, such changes should be legal so long as their implementation follows the requirements outlined in the Constitution.

    Any suggestion by the President or his advisers that he is willing to bypass Parliament, however, would be troubling. The implementation of any amendment to the Constitution clearly requires parliamentary approval. In the past, some have argued that Article 5 of the Constitution places the power to amend the Constitution solely in the hands of the people; however, when Parliament approved the Constitution on June 28, 1996, the people delegated that power to elected officials when they adopted a process for amendment.

    The amendment process is set forth in Chapter XIII of the Constitution. Draft amendments pertaining to general principles of government, elections, and the amendment process must be submitted to the Constitutional Court to ensure compliance with Articles 154 through 159 of the Constitution. All amendments must be approved first by a majority of Parliament and, if successful, then by two-thirds of Parliament at the next session. In some instances, pursuant to Article 156, the President is additionally required to submit proposed changes for approval by a national referendum.

    It is imperative that any proposed amendments comply with these legal requirements. The restrictions set forth in the Constitution ensure that the Executive does not exert unchecked authority. When a President proposes bypassing parliamentary approval, the Rule of Law must prevail, because commitment to the Rule of Law is critical to the promotion of democracy and the realization of its promise.

    This is not the first time that discussion has taken place on bypassing legal requirements in Ukraine. Attempts were made under Presidents Yushchenko and Yanukovych. Under President Poroshenko, however, the Judiciary, including the Constitutional Court, was successfully reformed. Now, individuals have the right to challenge the constitutionality of laws. The law “On the Judiciary and the Status of Judges” became effective as of September 2016. In 2018, Parliament adopted a law providing for an Anti-Corruption Court. All amendments and changes were adopted in accordance with the Constitution of Ukraine. This provides an example of the proper path to amend the Constitution.

    Elections for members of the new Parliament were held on Sunday, July 21, 2019. The assessment by international observers was that the elections met international standards for free and fair elections that accurately reflect the will of the electorate. The minor infractions that were noted did not impact the results. Four hundred twenty-four deputies were elected, one half by political party lists and the other half by majoritarian districts. This reflects a reduction of twenty-six deputies. Elections were not conducted in Crimea as a result of the illegal annexation by Russia and in certain districts of Donbass and Luhansk because of hostilities there. To be elected to Parliament, a political party must obtain a five-percent entry threshold. Five parties met that standard. President Zelensky’s party, “Servant of the People,” received the largest percentage, 43.12%. The work of deputies dealing with reforms will commence immediately. It is imperative that their work be carried out in accordance with the Constitution and laws of the country.

    The transition from a command system to a system based on the Rule of Law is not easy, but the recent events throughout Ukraine and the people’s revolutionary expression at the Maidan during the Revolution of Dignity, hopefully, will be an irrevocable incentive and mandate for the implementation of reforms as the country is watchful over its independence and territorial integrity and moves forward to integrate with the European Union. Now that the new Parliament has been elected and President Zelensky is in office, it is important that both adhere to these principles.

    [Bohdan A. Futey is a Judge on the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., appointed by President Ronald Reagan in May 1987. Judge Futey has been active in various Rule of Law and Democratization Programs in Ukraine since 1991. He served as an adviser to the Working Group on Ukraine’s Constitution, adopted June 28, 1996. Judge Futey is a professor at the Ukrainian Free University in Munich, Germany and a visiting professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kyiv, Ukraine. In March 2015, he was appointed by the President of Ukraine to serve as a consultant on the Constitution Commission.]

    This article was published in the Ukrainian Weekly. (August 11, 2019)

  • 25 Apr 2019 12:21 PM | Myroslaw Smorodsky (Administrator)

    B. Vitvitsky: Letter to NY Times RE: Ukraine’s Newly Elected President Is Jewish. So Is Its Prime Minister. Not All Jews There Are Pleased.

    Dr. V | Summit, NJ
    Mr. Higgins, if you're going to dip your toe into history then you might be well served to learn a bit more about it than some Cliff notes version you may have read. Ukrainian nationalist organizations did indeed cooperate with the Germans at the very outset of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union and in some sporadic instances after that. But soon after the German invasion the leader of the main nationalist organization, Stepan Bandera, and his associates were interned in Sachsenhausen because the Ukrainian nationalists had tried to proclaim an independent Ukrainian state, which the Germans did not appreciate. It is also noteworthy that Bandera's two brothers were incarcerated and died in Auschwitz. For most of the duration of the war, the Ukrainian nationalist underground fought both the Nazis and the Soviets. Of course, we ourselves were in league with the Soviets during WW II, towards whom our position changed rather dramatically soon thereafter.


  • 23 Apr 2019 4:04 PM | Myroslaw Smorodsky (Administrator)

    V. Rud: Op-Ed: Unreality in Thinking about the Unthinkable


    Op-Ed: Unreality in Thinking about the Unthinkable - Foreign Policy Blogs

    In a recent Wall Street Journal article, George Schultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn argued for “a world without nuclear weapons, [as] dangers…

    Read More

  • 20 Nov 2018 12:20 PM | Myroslaw Smorodsky (Administrator)

    Andy J. Semotiuk's speech about leadership and democracy delivered to members of the Ukrainian National Organization (UNO) in Ottawa as part of the the Senator Paul Yuzyk Memorial Program.

    Click Here to View

  • 13 Nov 2018 1:39 PM | Myroslaw Smorodsky (Administrator)

    We’ve Been Conned Before–By Ourselves

    by Victor Rud

    How can Russia, a single country, so easily pin Western democracy against the ropes? We could do worse than to ponder the lessons from our diplomatic recognition of the USSR, on November 16, 1933. It was affected by an exchange of letters between President Franklin Roosevelt and Soviet Foreign Affairs Commissar Maxim Litvinov. Among other matters,   Moscow committed  “to refrain from . . . any act overt or covert liable in any way whatsoever to injure the tranquility, prosperity, order, or security of the whole or any part of the United States, in particular any agitation or propaganda. ” But the reset of the century was materially tied to a covert bargain between the Kremlin and The New York Times,  a massive genocide, and the ensuing manipulation of the American electorate. Today, the repercussions loom globally and domestically.

    Read More

  • 19 Sep 2018 10:34 AM | Myroslaw Smorodsky (Administrator)

    The Geopolitical Divorce of the Century: Why Putin Cannot Afford to Let Ukraine Go


    Next month, Europe’s leading budget airline will begin regular flights from Ukraine to a host of EU destinations. This is the latest milestone in a Ukrainian aviation boom that is seeing additional routes announced on a weekly basis and record passenger numbers at airports across the country. Each new flight serves to broaden Ukrainian horizons and anchor the country more firmly within the wider international community. Meanwhile, there has not been a single direct flight between Ukraine and Russia since October 2015.

    The changes in Ukraine’s air travel industry are just one of the many ways in which the country has turned away from Russia and gone global since the climax of the Euromaidan Revolution in early 2014 and the start of Vladimir Putin’s hybrid war. Since then, Russia’s share of Ukrainian exports has tumbled from 24 percent to around 9 percent, while Russian imports to Ukraine have halved. As economic ties between Kyiv and Moscow loosen, Ukrainian businesses have begun to discover life after Russia. In 2017 alone, Ukraine-EU trade grew by almost a quarter and India emerged as the largest international market for Ukrainian agricultural exports. On the domestic front, American companies are replacing longstanding Russian partners. The first General Electric locomotive engines recently arrived in Ukraine, while the country’s Soviet era aviation flagship Antonov is now working with Boeing.

    Read More

  • 23 Jul 2018 3:03 PM | Myroslaw Smorodsky (Administrator)

    In Memory of

    Walentyn Polywko

    1930 - 2018

    Walyntyn Polywko served in the US Navy, was admitted to practice law in New York, he was elected President of the now Ukrainian National Federal Credit Union, he was elected as a Vice President of the World Congress of Ukrainian Lawyers and served in the leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Volodymyr in NYC. He passed away on Sunday morning July 15, 2018 leaving behind his wife Irene, 2 daughters and 5 grandchildren.

    His accomplishments listed above do not do justice to one of the most interesting men I have ever met, or will ever meet. Indeed, he was a quiet legend.

    Val was just as comfortable dealing with presidents, princesses and fashion icons as he was with working class people. While serving in the US Navy as a medical corpsman, he perform a circumcision on a baby boy while Princess Grace of Monaco was present during a tour of the aircraft carrier Forrestal.

    When skiing in the south of France he shared a long chair lift ride with a stranger and had a nice conversation. That evening the stranger sent a bottle of Dom Pérignon to Val’s table. When the waiter was asked who the stranger was, the garçon answered: “That is Yves Saint Laurent!”

    In 1964 Val was admitted to the bar when there were very few Russian speaking attorneys in New York, even fewer who could speak Ukrainian. Val was fluent in both languages and he soon had a near monopoly the growing population of émigres from the Soviet Union. From Ukrainian credit unions to the diamond district in Manhattan and the restaurants of Brighton Beach, everybody knew and used Val as their lawyer.

    Whether drinking toasts with Ukrainian Presidents or world known celebrities, Val was always smooth and elegant. That is why he was lovingly nick-named by KGB agents stationed in New York as “Don Valentino.” He was a long time member of UABA and a mentor to many of us, not necessarily on how to be a good lawyer, but how to savor life.

    Peter Piddoubny, Astoria, NY


  • 18 Jul 2018 10:20 AM | Myroslaw Smorodsky (Administrator)

    Oleksandr Savchenko: Trump sold my country for a photo-op and a football

    Kyiv Post July 18, 2018

    KIEV — Over the past five days, U.S. President Donald Trump has belittled NATO, insulted German Chancellor Angela Merkel, humiliated U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, disrespected the British queen and declared the European Union to be “a foe.”

    Now, in a sycophantic meeting in Finland with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he has sold out my country. Read More

  • 17 Jul 2018 10:33 PM | Myroslaw Smorodsky (Administrator)

    HELSINKI – Then, Now, and Quo Vadimus?

    On August 1, 1975, 35 nations led by the United States Pres. Gerald Ford, signed a multi-lateral and multifaceted international agreement [the Helsinki Final Act or sometimes called the Helsinki Accords].  All our allies in Europe and Canada were among the signatories This international agreement was one of the linchpins of international rule of law that maintained peace on the European continent since World War II. Some of the essential elements of the Helsinki Accords were respect for the human rights of individuals and the territorial integrity of states and the right of nations to decide their own destiny.

    In recent years, Russia has unashamedly violated these fundamental principles enshrined in the Helsinki Accords in the full and unobstructed view of the entire international community. Examples of the egregious actions of the Kremlin are legion. A few examples follow: invasion and occupation of Georgian territories; invasion of Eastern Ukraine and annexation of Ukrainian Crimea; the shootdown of Malaysia airline flight 17; assassinations of Russian citizens in Europe; and undeniable meddling in the United States electoral process which is a direct and unabashed invasion of the American political system and our democracy.

    One would expect the President of the United States to have the strength of character to fulfill the duties of his high office and defend the sovereignty and integrity of the United States and to uphold the principles of the Helsinki Accords and international rule of law. Regrettably, Pres. Trump has miserably failed to fulfill these duties. In his most recent visit to NATO, he managed to inexplicably single-handedly malign and insult our closest longtime allies and trading partners calling them our “foes”. Thereafter on July 16, 2018, ironically in Helsinki, Pres. Trump had a secret one on one summit meeting with Russian Pres. Putin. During the press conference that followed, it became painfully, and palpably evident the President Trump’s performance was a disaster and was a repudiation of the principles of the Helsinki Accords.  He failed to confront Putin for his violations of the rule of law, and the Kremlin’s direct attack on the United States electoral system.  Instead, he questioned the veracity of American intelligence agency reports on Russian meddling in US elections –and reverently accepted Pres. Putin’s denials of Russian involvement and declined to take issue with Putin on any matters significant to long-standing United States foreign policy interests.

    So, Quo Vadimus? Where are we going? The obvious and regrettable immediate result is that the United States has lost its credibility and leadership in the international community. We no longer can claim the title as “leaders of the free world”.  Recent actions by the administration have turned the United States in the direction of an isolationist policy that will not benefit our country in the long term neither politically nor economically. The international community has now lost faith in America’s commitment to the international rule of law and to its other international obligations. Most troubling is the deference that has been a consistent manifestation of Pres. Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin.  History has proven that such appeasement in foreign affairs can have disastrous consequences. 

    Our democratic values are now being put to a critical stress  test. Will our elected officials – and ultimately the American citizenry – set aside partisanship and right our ship of state? Only time will tell -- but it will assuredly affect generations to come.

    Myroslaw Smorodsky, Esq.
    Communications Director of the Ukrainian American Bar Association (UABA)
    Former President, Chairman of the Board, and Founding Member of the UABA
    Former Public member – US Delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe
    (CSCE - Madrid 1980)

  • 17 Jul 2018 10:06 PM | Myroslaw Smorodsky (Administrator)

    The Provocation of “Sanctioning” Russia; 25 June 2018 – New York, US

    by Victor Rud

    Public focus on President Trump’s comments earlier this month about readmitting Russia to the G7 group of the most advanced democracies has somewhat dissipated in light of the ensuing North Korea summit. Now, even that has been overtaken by the controversy over immigration. But these were no off-the-cuff comments; they were made before, during and again after the G7 summit in Canada.  Make no mistake, however. “Sanctioning”– as in rewarding, not punishing– Russia would propel Putin ever more. It would be another entry in a catalog of Western fecklessness and would both materially and predictably degrade America’s global security posture. Read More

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