Ukraine’s Russia-backed Orthodox Church gathered thousands of its followers on Tuesday in a show of force ahead of a historic visit by its rival and leader of the Orthodox world, Patriarch Bartholomew I.
More than 20,000 believers marched through Kiev despite coronavirus restrictions to mark the 1033 anniversary of the Christianisation of Rus, a term referring to eastern Slavic lands in the Middle Ages.
Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I recognised an independent Ukrainian Orthodox church in 2019 after Kiev sought to break religious ties with Russia following a conflict in the country’s east. The move was condemned by Moscow.
The leading authority in Orthodox Christianity is due in Ukraine next month to mark the country’s 30th anniversary of independence.
Analysts said the mass gathering in the Ukrainian capital was meant to be a demonstration of force by the Moscow-loyal branch of the church, which was severely weakened by the creation of the new church.
Kiev-based analyst Volodymyr Fesenko told AFP that the Moscow-backed church wanted to show “that they are the most powerful church in Ukraine”.
He said the church is “struggling for survival” and wanted to send “a signal to Moscow: don’t forget us.”
Moscow controlled part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church for more than 300 years, but Bartholomew I’s decision created an independent unified Ukrainian church.
Ukraine’s Russia-aligned church — which still has a large number of parishes in the country — severed its ties with Constantinople, saying it would not take part in establishing a new church.
This move marked a new episode in the political, cultural and social divorce between Kiev and Moscow since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.
Harry Kane scored twice as a buoyant England cruised through to the semi-finals of Euro 2020 with a one-sided 4-0 win over Ukraine in Rome on Saturday.
Kane ended a worrying international scoring drought by netting in the 2-0 last-16 defeat of Germany in midweek and he put England ahead inside four minutes on a sweaty evening in the Italian capital.
Gareth Southgate’s side then put this quarter-final tie out of sight with two more goals early in the second half, one from Harry Maguire before Kane netted again.
Substitute Jordan Henderson got the fourth, and as Denmark lie in wait in the Wembley semi-final on Tuesday England will be confident of going on to reach a first ever European Championship final and even now claiming a first major international title since 1966.
The draw here was kind for them, with Ukraine surely as weak an opponent as they could hope to face in a quarter-final, a stage at which they have lost to the likes of Italy and Portugal in recent European Championships.
However the statistics are impressive, with England having come through five games at this tournament all without conceding a goal.
Some of their play in wide areas was outstanding, with Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho –- making his first start at the Euro –- too hot for Ukraine to handle.
Kane, their captain, had gone close to eight hours without finding the net for his country but his opener here was his second in just eight minutes following the late strike that secured victory over Germany.
Regardless of the opposition, their display at the Stadio Olimpico was a step-up in class in the final third to previous games at the Euro and they will be favourites at home against a Danish side who played their own quarter-final against the Czech Republic on Saturday in distant Baku.
Hat-trick of headers
This will be the only match England play away from home in the competition and it marked quite a difference to their defeat of the Germans, which was watched by more than 40,000 supporters at Wembley, where coronavirus restrictions were eased.
With Italy currently imposing a five-day quarantine on all arrivals from the United Kingdom, the number of England fans in Rome was limited to those already based in the European Union although they still made themselves heard in the crowd of under 12,000.
They had plenty to celebrate, unlike their Ukrainian counterparts, as Andriy Shevchenko’s team came up short in their bid to take the country to a first ever major tournament semi-final.
They scraped out of their group and then edged 10-man Sweden in extra time in the last 16, and their chances of shocking England looked dead and buried when they fell behind early on.
Sterling, who terrorised the Ukraine defence down the left, played in Kane who poked the ball past Georgiy Bushchan.
Ukraine’s giant striker Roman Yaremchuk forced a save from Jordan Pickford and a Declan Rice piledriver was kept out by Bushchan, with England looking comfortable.
However Ukraine were a different proposition after injured defender Serhiy Kryvtsov was replaced by Dynamo Kiev winger Viktor Tsygankov in the 36th minute.
They finished the first half strongly and more pessimistic England fans may have spent the interval reliving their exit from Euro 2016, when they lost to Iceland in the last 16 despite also having opened the scoring in the fourth minute.
They need not have worried.
England scored again less than a minute after the restart when a foul on Kane allowed Luke Shaw to deliver a free-kick from the left for Maguire to head in.
Four minutes after that Sterling supplied the overlapping Shaw and he crossed for a rejuvenated Kane to head home.
The Tottenham star nearly had his hat-trick, a stinging volley producing a fine save from Bushchan.
From Mason Mount’s resulting corner came the fourth goal, another header, this time from Henderson, the first of five substitutes sent on by Southgate who would have been thinking about the semi-final long before this quarter-final was officially over.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday questioned the point of meeting with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, claiming his country was effectively run by leaders in Washington and European capitals.
“What’s the use of meeting with Zelensky when he has given full control of his country to outside management?” Putin said during an annual televised phone-in with Russians.
“Key decisions are being made in Washington, and Berlin and Paris to some extent,” he added.
“I’m not refusing to meet with Zelensky, it’s just necessary to understand what there is to talk about”.
Ukraine has been battling pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014.
After a lull in fighting last year, the conflict escalated again at the start of 2021.
In April, as Russia amassed more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and in Crimea, Zelensky invited Putin to meet in eastern Ukraine.
Putin shot down that offer, saying instead the Ukrainian leader was welcome in Moscow “any time”.
Russia later announced a troop pullback, but both Washington and Kiev say that the withdrawal has been limited.
UEFA on Thursday demanded that Ukraine make changes to their jersey for Euro 2020 to remove a “political” slogan that sparked protests from Russia.
European football’s governing body said the message “Glory to the Heroes”, a rallying cry during the 2014 anti-Russia protests in Ukraine that is featured inside the shirt, was “clearly political in nature”.
Russia welcomed the move, but the Ukrainian football association said it was in talks with UEFA to reverse its decision.
The Ukrainians stressed to AFP that “earlier UEFA had approved the new kit and every element of it, including the slogan.”
On Tuesday, Russia had sent a letter of complaint to UEFA over the yellow jersey which on the front also features the outline of Ukraine including Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted two photographs on Instagram of himself holding the jersey and said it bore “many important symbols that unify the Ukrainian people”.
The presidential press service then released a selfie Zelensky took of himself wearing the jersey.
“The Ukrainian national football team’s new jersey is in fact not like the others,” Zelensky said.
But UEFA said the map would not need to be removed or changed because a United Nations General Assembly Resolution “recognises the territorial borders as broadly depicted by the design”.
The slogan “Glory to Ukraine” was also approved by UEFA as “on its own (it) may be considered as a generic and non-political phrase of general national significance”.
That chant was also used by protesters who ousted a Kremlin-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych, during the Maidan demonstrations seven years ago.
Since annexing Crimea, Russia has backed pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. The ongoing conflict there has claimed the lives of more than 13,000 people.
Russia hailed UEFA’s decision, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova saying “sport is not a battlefield, rather it is a field for competition”.
“Become sporting heroes and you will have glory. Do it that way and not with nationalist slogans saying the motherland should be glorified,” Zakharova wrote on Telegram.
Ukraine begin their campaign at the European Championship on Sunday against the Netherlands in Amsterdam. Drawn in Group C, they also face Austria and North Macedonia.
Russia have been drawn in Group B alongside Belgium, Denmark and Finland. Their first match is against the Belgians in Saint Petersburg on Saturday.
After several delays, Ukraine on Tuesday finally received its first shipment of Covid-19 vaccine doses.
The country of 40 million people is one of the poorest in Europe and one of the last in the region to begin inoculating its population.
A plane carrying 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, marketed under the name Covishield and produced at the Serum Institute in India — the world’s largest vaccine maker — landed at Kiev’s Boryspil airport.
“It has arrived,” health ministry spokeswoman Sofia Fedchenko told AFP.
Health Minister Maksym Stepanov was due to detail the ex-Soviet country’s vaccination strategy at a press conference later Tuesday.
President Volodymyr Zelensky had faced criticism for failing to obtain vaccines earlier for Ukraine, which suffers from an ageing healthcare system.
Zelensky has blamed the delay on wealthier Western countries that reserved the Pfizer and Moderna jabs in bulk, and has urged the EU to help eastern European countries source vaccines.
His government had originally announced that it would begin its vaccination campaign in mid-February, but the shipment of the first vaccine doses was delayed.
Ukraine is also awaiting delivery of eight million doses promised under the World Health Organization’s Covax programme.
Kiev has said it has also secured 17 million doses of vaccines developed by Novavax and AstraZeneca, including the 500,000 that arrived Tuesday.
It has also said it signed a contract to receive 1.9 million doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine.
Breakaway regions in the east controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists began a vaccine drive with Russia’s Sputnik V jab in early February.
Ukraine earlier this month banned vaccines developed by “aggressor states”, a designation Kiev has applied to Russia since 2015.
Ukraine’s pro-Western leadership has repeatedly rejected calls from pro-Moscow politicians to approve Sputnik V, denouncing the vaccine as a geopolitical tool.
Ukraine has recorded over 1.3 million cases and more than 25,000 deaths from the virus.
Ukraine has banned coronavirus vaccines produced in bitter rival Russia despite struggles to launch its vaccination campaign.
A resolution passed by the government on February 8 and posted on its website Wednesday banned the registration of vaccines from “aggressor states”, a designation Ukraine has applied to Russia since 2015.
Ukraine’s pro-Western leadership has repeatedly rejected calls from pro-Moscow politicians to approve Russia’s Sputnik V jab, denouncing the vaccine as a geopolitical tool.
Ukraine has been fighting separatists backed by Russia in its Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014 following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
The ban on Russian vaccines came despite criticism of President Volodymyr Zelensky for failing to source Western-made jabs. Not a single dose of any vaccine has yet to arrive in the ex-Soviet country.
Zelensky said this week that Ukraine, one of the poorest countries in Europe, would begin the first phase of the vaccination campaign later this month.
The country of some 40 million is awaiting delivery of eight million doses promised under the United Nations’ Covax programme and up to five million doses of the Chinese CoronaVac jab.
It has also secured 12 million doses of vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Novavax, but that is still not enough to meet the country’s needs.
On Wednesday Ukraine said it launched an investigation into the country’s purchasing of coronavirus vaccines, highlighting the country’s struggle to end systemic graft.
Sputnik V has meanwhile been rolled out in the breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists.
Ukraine has recorded more than 1.2 million coronavirus cases and more than 24,000 deaths.
The European Commission chief said on Monday she had called on EU member states to donate some of their coronavirus jabs to Ukraine, which is trying to launch a vaccination campaign.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has faced criticism at home for failing to source Western-made jabs and has called on the EU to help Ukraine source vaccines.
Zelensky said on Monday that Ukraine, one of the poorest countries in Europe, would begin the first phase of the vaccination campaign later this month.
The country of some 40 million is awaiting delivery of eight million doses promised under the United Nations Covax programme and up to five million doses of the Chinese CoronaVac jab.
“On top of Covax, I have also asked our member states to donate part of their doses to Ukraine,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a video address at a conference held in Ukraine’s capital Kiev.
“Thanks to Covax, Ukraine’s doctors and nurses will receive the first vaccines already this month,” she said, adding that “millions of other doses will reach Ukraine by the summer”.
Ukraine has not registered any vaccine so far and Zelensky has rejected calls from pro-Moscow politicians to approve Russia’s Sputnik V jab.
Last week, the post-Soviet country said it had also secured 12 million doses of vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Novavax.
The total amount of the already secured doses is not enough to meet the needs of the country, however.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday he tested positive for the novel coronavirus but felt fine as infections surged in the country.
“Despite all quarantine measures, I also had a positive test,” Zelensky said on Facebook.
The 42-year-old leader said that his temperature was 37.5C but that he felt “good”. He will self-isolate and continue to perform his duties, he added.
“Most people overcome Covid-19. And I will get through this too,” he said.
The head of Zelensky’s office Andriy Yermak also said that he had contracted the coronavirus.
In June, Zelensky’s wife Olena Zelenska was hospitalised after contracting the virus but has recovered.
On Saturday, the ex-Soviet country of 40 million people reported a record 10,746 new coronavirus infections.
Ukraine, one of Europe’s poorest countries, last week imposed fines on people who refuse to wear face masks in public places.
Officials have repeatedly criticised the general public for ignoring social distancing rules and other anti-virus restrictions, threatening to reintroduce a lockdown that was lifted in June.
In a bid to halt the spread of the virus, the country is considering whether to introduce a partial lockdown on weekends, with only essential businesses such as grocery stores allowed to remain open.
Since the start of the pandemic Ukrainian officials have reported more than 469,000 coronavirus cases and 8,565 deaths across the country.
Zelensky is latest in a long line of world leaders to contract the virus, including US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Andrzej Duda of Ukraine’s neighbour Poland.
Ukraine assistant coach Oleksandr Shovkovsky has been drafted into the coronavirus-hit squad for a friendly against France later Wednesday, at the age of 45 and four years since his last game of football.
Head coach Andriy Shevchenko has just Dynamo Kiev’s uncapped Georgiy Bushchan as an option in goal after Real Madrid’s Andriy Lunin and veteran Yuriy Pankiv returned positive Covid-19 tests on Tuesday.
Those came after first-choice Andriy Pyatov’s positive test earlier in the week.
Shovkovsky, who won 92 caps for Ukraine, ended his professional career as a Dynamo Kiev player in December 2016, but “keeps himself in good physical shape”, Ukraine’s football association said in a statement.
Shovkovsky will only play against Les Bleus, with the kick-off set for 1910 GMT at the Stade de France, should Bushchan test positive for Covid or get injured, it added.
On Monday six squad members, all from Shakhtar Donetsk, withdrew from the game after club team-mates Pyatov and Taras Stepanenko contracted Covid-19.
At least 22 people including military cadets were killed and two others seriously injured Friday when a Ukrainian air force plane crashed near Kharkiv in the east of the country, the interior ministry said.
“Twenty-two people died,” Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko told AFP, adding that “the search for two other people is continuing”.
The transport plane was carrying a total of 28 passengers when it crashed, including 21 military students and seven crew, he said.
“It’s a shock,” he added. “At the moment it’s impossible to establish the cause” of the crash.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he would travel to the region on Saturday.
“We are urgently creating a commission to investigate all the circumstances and causes of the tragedy,” he wrote on Facebook.
The Antonov-26 transport aircraft crashed at around 8:50 pm local time (17:50 GMT), two kilometres (1 mile) from the Chuhuiv military airbase, the emergency services said.
The plane caught fire after the crash and was extinguished after one hour.
The town of Chuhuiv is around 30 kilometres southeast of Kharkiv and 100 kilometres west of the front line with the pro-Russian separatists.