Stéphane Dion and his defenders

Stéphane Dion and his defenders

Stéphane Dion hasn’t been making too many friends lately.

In April, Canada’s foreign minister gave export permits for most of a $15-billion deal to ship combat vehicles to the human rights hotbed of Saudi Arabia, despite previously blaming the former Conservative government for tying his hands with the deal.

A few weeks ago he rejected a cross-party effort to get Canada to adopt an American-style Magnitsky Act to punish Russian human rights violators. Even though it was in his own party’s election platform last year, Dion said it was unnecessary and that it’d only further antagonize Russia, with whom the new government’s keen on a “reset.” His stance has earned him a lot of scorn from both home and abroad.

But Dion, a man best known in Canada for once leading his party to its worst defeat since 1867, actually has a few defenders, and they both popped their heads up last week.

One of them is Chris Westdal, a “a former Canadian ambassador to Russia and current chair of the board of Silver Bear Resources, a TSE-listed company building a silver mine in Yakutia, Russia” who took to the Globe and Mail’s opinion pages to say that “Magnitsky-style sanctions make no sense for Canada.”

Another one is Zach Paikin, son of a well-known Canadian journalist, who penned a piece for the Hill Times arguing that Canada doesn’t “need a Magnitsky Act” but a “rapprochement with Russia.”

So what did I think?

Our home and native land (или наш дом и родина?)

First, both of these guys make what I feel are some subtle little appeals to Canadian nationalism in their pieces that might be lost on the non-Canadian reader.

Canadian nationalism, in its most immature and narrow form, is an insecurity-driven quest to try to prove we’re different from Americans and that, therefore, any attempt to differentiate ourselves from Americans is a good thing.

Westdal doesn’t use this card much, though he does point out that “Canada is not the United States,” a truism every Canadian hears (or says) more than once in their life.

But it’s in response to Michael McFaul’s criticisms of Dion where Westdal throws it out on the table, saying that a Magnitsky act would be “a thoroughly U.S., one-size (ours)-fits-all perspective to a Canadian foreign policy issue.”

It’s a strange point – what’s so uniquely American about targeting Russian human right abusers? But to someone inclined to follow the we-gotta-be-different-from-the-Americans-in-every-way-eh train, this makes some sense. We need to do things our way, right? Even without any knowledge of whatever’s in question, saying “but this is how the Americans do it!” can get a reaction out of at least a few Canadians.

On the other hand, Paikin goes all-out face-painty Team Canada on us:

“There are two paths that Canadian grand strategy can walk over the decades to come: either we remain heavily dependent on the United States, or we gradually develop a sense of strategic promiscuity.”

Aside from the weird rhetorical flourishes of talking about our “grand strategy,” he has to know as well as I do that Canada will always remain “heavily dependent on the United States.” More than two-thirds of our exports go south of the border. It’s the largest bilateral trading relationship in the world, with upwards of $600 billion in trade across the border every year. Yeah, talk about “strategic promiscuity” (uh, OK?) all you want, but you can’t avoid the elephant that basically follows you around while you’re trying to score with the Russians.

But the way he brings multiculturalism into the argument really throws me.

For the uninitiated, “multiculturalism” is a word that carries a unique weight in Canada. Think of it less like the American melting pot and more like a patchwork quilt. Difference is to be celebrated, not discouraged. I’d say it’s something many of us cling to and believe in, even if we’re not always aware of it.

Apparently our multiculturalism can lead us to international glory, says Paikin:

“Multiculturalism is in our national essence. Within our borders, we bring people of many backgrounds together. If we decide that we wish to serve as a bridge between major global powers— that is, if we bring our multiculturalism into the international sphere—then we will develop the incentive to obtain the capabilities necessary to act in that capacity. If we work toward being significantly more populous and more fluently multilingual (among other assets), then we can be a first-tier builder of world order this century.”


Our country’s ability to be particularly good at bringing people of different backgrounds and cultures together (incidentally, a point I agree with) means we can be “a bridge between major global powers” like the US and Russia? This is going to help us “increase our global influence and contribute to international peace?”

Come on, dude. Really?

You really think guys like Putin and Sergei Lavrov are going to care what we have to say because we use our active listening skills, non-judgmental demeanours and unique Canadian-ness?

dion and lavrov
“Je me fier à lui. Il m’a dit qu’il va jouer selon les règles”

Using Canadian multiculturalism to justify closer relations with Russia is one of the strangest arguments I’ve heard in a long time.

Whose economic interest exactly?

If it’s in Canada’s economic interest to reset relations with Russia and reject a Magnitsky act, these guys can’t really explain why.

“We seek re-engagement with Russia…to try to do business – to invest, to trade, to make jobs,” Westdal tells us, before concluding that a Magnitsky act would hurt our economic interests in Russia. But as far as economic interests go, that’s it. Yes, I know you’ve got a word count in an op-ed to cope with, but still.

But at least Westdal (and the Globe and Mail) are upfront with his own economic interest in Russia. Remember, he’s the “current chair of the board of Silver Bear Resources, a TSE-listed company building a silver mine in Yakutia, Russia.” He’s also involved with Canada Eurasia Russia Business Association (CERBA), whose economic interests in Russia should be obvious. By the end of the article we still know more about Westdal’s personal economic interest in Russia than Canada’s.

That’s probably with good reason. Before sanctions resulting from Putin’s annexation of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine, Canadian foreign investment in Russia was around C$5 billion, according to some guy from CERBA in 2014. That might sound impressive, but keep in mind Canadian firms had twice as much money invested in Peru last year. Yes, Peru, with about one-fifth the population of Russia.

But “re-engagement” with Russia might be in someone’s interests – Canadian transportation giant Bombardier.

Bombardier’s got a joint venture in Russia, a 50 percent stake in a Russian signaling equipment producer and, to top it off, a mention in the Panama Papers linking them to corruption in Russian Railways – whose onetime president Vladimir Yakunin once described Bombardier’s recently-resigned CEO, Pierre Beaudoin, as “family.”

Bombardier is one of the few big Canadian companies with an economic interest in Russia – and they’ve got the government’s ear:

“Records from the The Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying, show that Bombardier CEO, Pierre Beaudoin has met with senior government staff, including the PMO and Minister Dion, over 40 times since the October election – mostly since January.”

If there’s an overarching economic interest in rejecting Magnitsky and reengaging Russia, no one’s coming close to making the case.

What war? And what Ukraine?

This is where both these guys really lost me.

Remember, Canada has sanctions against Russia because of, uh, “everything” that’s gone on here in Ukraine – you know, that whole annexing-Crimea-and-sending-troops-into-eastern-Ukraine-but-pretending-we-didn’t thing. We don’t have sanctions against Russia because they, like, beat us at hockey or something. Putin did something that continues to deserve international condemnation, including from us.

But Westdal bothers mentioning Ukraine only once (my bold):

We seek re-engagement with Russia not to be nice, but to serve major, compelling Canadian national security interests in Eurasia, the Middle East and far beyond. We do so to try to turn the rising tide of a new Cold War, to try to stop the ruinous tug of war for Ukraine.”

At least he mentions Ukraine, but “tug of war?” We’re not having gym class outside today, man.

I got to randomly stumble upon two soldiers’ funerals week on the Maidan over the past few weeks here. Four coffins in total with, thankfully, only one of them open casket. Seven Ukrainian soldiers were killed on Tuesday. Five more were killed today. We all know it’s Russian guns and bullets killing these men, delivered across an international border they don’t want OSCE monitors going near. If it’s a “tug of war,” only one side has to let go to end it.

To his credit, Westdal at least uses the words “Ukraine” and “war,” even if in one of them was in a bad pun. Paikin doesn’t even bother mentioning Ukraine or even use the word “war,” outside of the Sputnikesque “avoiding post-Cold War triumphalism and toning down the incessant demonization of Vladimir Putin” – language I’ve personally heard from people I don’t think Paikin would want to be associated with.

A short conclusion, unaided by any Jump to Conclusions mat

I don’t think these arguments are about to persuade many people – but if some of them are in Stéphane Dion’s circle (and Zach Paikin may well be someday, given that he tried to become Liberal party policy chief when he was just twenty years old), Vladimir Putin might just put us back on his friends list.

Friday’s far-right (non) freakout fun

Friday’s far-right (non) freakout fun

Said it before. Will say it again. There is minimal public support for far-right parties in Ukraine.

Here’s some results from different polls over the past few months.

Kyiv International Institute of Sociology poll, February 5-16

 Who would Ukrainians vote for in a presidential election?

  • Oleh Tyahnybok, Svoboda leader: 1.1%
  • Dmytro Yarosh, onetime Kremlin boogeyman: 2.6%
  • 3.7% far-right in total

And just among decided voters:

  • Oleh Tyahnybok, Svoboda leader: 2.9%
  • Dmytro Yarosh, onetime Kremlin boogeyman: 6.5%
  • 9.4% in total

As for votes for the Verkhovna Rada:

  • Oleh Tyahnybok’s Svoboda: 2.6%
  • Dmytro Yarosh’s National Movement: 1.2%
  • Pravyy Sektor: 0.4%
  • 4.2% in total

And just among decided voters for the Verkhovna Rada:

  • Svoboda: 6.2%
  • Yarosh’s National Movement: 2.9%
  • Pravyy Sektor: 0.9%
  • 10% in total

Yes, the maximum the far-right can pull – even when all the undecideds and won’t-voters are excluded (around 50 percent of the entire sample!) – is one in ten Ukrainians.

Razumkov Centre poll, April 22-26

The Razumkov Centre calculations for a presidential vote, from those who said they planned on voting:

  • Oleh Tyahnybok: 1.6%
  • Dmytro Yarosh: Also 1.6%
  • 3.2% far-right in total

For Verkhovna Rada votes, from those who said they planned on voting:

  • Svoboda: 4.8%
  • Pravyy Sektor: 0.7%
  • Yarosh’s National Movement: 0.0%. Yup.
  • 5.5% in total.

Razumkov Centre/DI poll, May 11-16

This Razumkov Centre/DI poll only asked about Verkhovna Rada votes, from those who said they planned on voting:

  • Svoboda: 3.6%
  • Yarosh’s National Movement: 1.8%.
  • Pravyy Sektor: 0.7%
  • 6.1% in total.

Kyiv International Institute of Sociology poll, May 13-18

The most recent bit of business here about presidential elections:

  • Tyahnybok, 1.3%
  • Yarosh: 1.8%
  • 3.1% far-right in total

And just among decided voters:

  • Tyahnybok, 2.9%
  • Yarosh: 4%
  • 6.9% in total

This poll didn’t ask about Verkhovna Rada voting (or if it did, they haven’t reported on it yet).

The takeaway?


For perspective:

  • 49.7 percent of Austrians voted for a far-right presidential candidate last Sunday
  • Nine percent of Americans think the government adds fluoride to their water for “sinister reasons”
  • Seven percent of Americans think the moon landing was faked
  • Four percent of Americans think reptilians run the world

“Our numbers are the same as the far-right in Ukraine? Sweet … [pause] … oh. Shit.”
That is all. End communication.

On some recent polls in Ukraine

On some recent polls in Ukraine

Two polls of Ukrainians have come out recently. I figured I’d take a look at them.

Trust, and the lack thereof

Look at the most recent poll done May 11-16 by the Democratic Initiative fund and the Razumkov Centre and it’s a bit obvious: Ukrainians’ trust in their public institutions is really low.

  • President Poroshenko’s balance between trust and distrust (i.e., the percentage of those who trust him minus those who distrust him) has actually dropped from +5 only a year and a half ago (…food for thought now that Nadiya Savchenko is finally back in town)
  • Trust in the Rada is low, but it’s actually improved since December 2015 (-74%)
  • Only one in ten Ukrainians trust the courts or the prosecutor’s office


On the flip side, Ukrainians’ trust in the police has shot up dramatically – more than 50% in under a year:

  • July 2015: -57% trust/distrust
  • December 2015: -24%
  • May 2015: -5%
Some of Ukraine’s (trusted) new police officers. (

This is a success story that can’t get lost, even amidst all the minus signs in the big table below.

May 11-16, 2016 Do not trust Tend not to trust Tend to trust Fully trust Difficult to answer Don’t trust (total) Trust (total) Balance
President of Ukraine 40% 30% 19% 4% 7% 70% 23% -48%
Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine 48% 32% 13% 1% 6% 79% 14% -65%
Government of Ukraine (newly appointed) 41% 29% 15% 2% 14% 70% 16% -54%
Armed Forces of Ukraine 15% 19% 44% 12% 11% 34% 55% 22%
National Guard of Ukraine 15% 18% 40% 13% 15% 33% 53% 20%
Police 20% 25% 34% 6% 16% 44% 40% -5%
Security Service of Ukraine 27% 28% 27% 4% 14% 55% 31% -24%
Local authorities 23% 30% 33% 5% 10% 53% 38% -15%
Courts 52% 29% 8% 1% 10% 81% 9% -72%
Prosecutor 52% 28% 9% 1% 10% 80% 10% -70%
Church 13% 14% 37% 23% 13% 27% 60% 33%
Mass media of Ukraine 19% 26% 39% 7% 9% 45% 46% 1%
Mass media in Russia 63% 22% 3% 1% 11% 86% 3% -82%
Public organizations 15% 20% 37% 8% 19% 35% 46% 11%
Volunteers 10% 12% 39% 17% 22% 22% 56% 34%
Banks 44% 28% 13% 3% 12% 72% 16% -57%

Another Razumkov Center’s poll from the end of April doesn’t show anything too different:

  • Just under seven in ten people don’t trust President Poroshenko
    • …and now he’s got a Savchenko factor to worry about
  • Eight in ten don’t trust the Rada
  • Three-quarters don’t trust Volodymyr Groysman’s new government

Even worse, trust in the public prosecutor’s office is extremely low, almost as low as trust in Russian media, as is trust in the state apparatus as a whole. If your state institutions are are as trusted as Russian media, you’ve got problems.

But Ukrainians generally trust volunteer organizations, the Armed Forces and the church. They also trust volunteer battalions (interestingly), the National Guard and the new police.

April 22-26, 2016 Do not trust Tend not to trust Tend to trust Fully trust Difficult to answer Don’t trust (total) Trust (total) Balance
President of Ukraine 37% 32% 22% 3% 7% 69% 25% -45%
Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine 46% 34% 14% 1% 5% 80% 15% -66%
Government of Ukraine 44% 31% 15% 1% 9% 75% 16% -59%
Public prosecutor’s office 52% 32% 9% 1% 6% 84% 10% -74%
Police 34% 31% 22% 3% 10% 65% 25% -41%
State apparatus (government officials) 50% 38% 7% 1% 6% 88% 8% -80%
Courts 54% 29% 9% 2% 6% 83% 11% -73%
Armed Forces of Ukraine 14% 16% 50% 12% 8% 30% 62% 32%
Ukraine National Guard 15% 17% 44% 13% 10% 32% 57% 25%
Volunteer battalions 17% 13% 41% 17% 11% 30% 58% 28%
Police patrol (new) 15% 18% 36% 8% 23% 33% 44% 11%
Anti-corruption bureau 30% 26% 18% 4% 23% 56% 22% -34%
Security Service of Ukraine 31% 24% 28% 4% 14% 55% 32% -24%
Regional (oblast) administrations 29% 35% 24% 1% 11% 64% 25% -38%
Regional (raion) administrations 26% 34% 26% 2% 13% 60% 28% -31%
Local governments 24% 27% 34% 4% 12% 51% 38% -13%
National Bank of Ukraine 52% 29% 10% 1% 9% 81% 11% -69%
Commercial banks 52% 31% 9% 1% 7% 83% 10% -73%
Media Ukraine 21% 27% 40% 4% 7% 48% 44% -4%
Russian media 58% 26% 6% 1% 10% 84% 7% -77%
Western media 26% 26% 25% 3% 20% 52% 28% -24%
Trade unions 27% 31% 20% 3% 20% 58% 23% -35%
Church 13% 16% 41% 20% 11% 29% 61% 32%
Political parties 44% 34% 9% 1% 12% 78% 10% -69%
NGOs 15% 23% 42% 5% 15% 38% 47% 9%
Volunteer organizations 11% 13% 50% 14% 12% 24% 64% 40%

What should we make of the fact that Ukraine’s Armed Forces, police, National Guard and even its volunteer battalions are more trusted than the institutions of government?

Coup, junta, fascists, Nazis…whatever, the pieces are there. Make your own RT/Sputnik headline

…because both these polls give us more evidence of that propaganda trope being a festering pile of shit.

In the poll from April 22-26, 5.5% of voters said they’d vote for a far-right party in the Rada (4.8% Svoboda, 0.7% Pravyy Sektor, and [drumroll] a whopping 0.0% for Dmytro Yarosh’s National Movement. Guess he’d better print more business cards.

Worse still for these guys, Oleh Tyahnybok (whose name I will never be able to spell unassisted) and Dmytro Yarosh each were the favoured presidential candidate of 1.6% of Ukrainians.

So, combined 3.2% of Ukrainians said they’d vote for a far right presidential candidate. Much lower than Austria’s 49%.

In the poll from May 11-16, 6.1% of voters said they’d vote for a far-right party in the Rada (3.6% Svoboda, 1.8% for Dmytro Yarosh’s National Movement and 0.7% Pravyy Sektor).

(Buuuuut OMG why 1.8% here and 0.0% a few weeks earlier for Yarosh OMG?? It’s within the survey’s margin of error. Settle down.)

Please throw these figures at the next troll you see.

“Yeah, but how does Ukraine make you feel?

The May poll asked Ukrainians what feelings they experience when they think about the future of Ukraine (I’ve included the original Ukrainian if any fluent/native speakers would translate the word differently).

May 11-16, 2016 (Original) December 2015 May 2016
Optimism Оптимізм 20% 16%
Indifference Байдужість 3% 4%
Joy Радість 1% 1%
Hopelessness Безвихідь 17% 19%
Certainty Упевненість 5% 5%
Perplexity Розгубленість 18% 22%
contentment Задоволеність 1% 2%
Pessimism Песимізм 9% 15%
Hope Надія 39% 35%
Anxiety Тривога 39% 39%
Interest Інтерес 5% 7%
Fear Страх 15% 20%
Other Інше 1% 2%

On the one hand, it’s worrying to see almost two in five Ukrainians say they feel anxious about the future, let alone one in five saying they feel hopeless and/or fearful about the future.

On the other hand, that надія (which, yes, even I can figure out without a dictionary) is…well, hopeful.

If 35 percent of people in this country can say something like “yeah, I feel hopeful about the future,” in spite of everything that’s gone on here, then I should be hopeful too, right?

Why EU attitudes in Ukraine are more than just east versus west

Why EU attitudes in Ukraine are more than just east versus west

To celebrate Europe Day in Ukraine and to drown out all that noise coming from Mikhailivsky Square I decided to go back and revisit something I wrote a few weeks ago.

I analyzed data from the most recent Omnibus Survey run by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology. Every three months KIIS surveys 2,000 Ukrainians, the most recent data being from February.

Their ‘attitudes towards the EU’ question:

Please, imagine, that now is a referendum on whether Ukraine should join the European Union. You can vote for, against or abstain from voting. What would you choose?”

Just under half (49%) of Ukrainians said they’d vote in favour of EU accession, and 28% would vote no. A few (9%) said they’d abstain, but about one in seven (14%) said they didn’t know how they’d vote.

And yes, there are regional differences, which is the point of all this:

  • Western Ukraine: 77% yes
  • Central Ukraine: 52% yes
  • South Ukraine: 36% yes
  • East Ukraine: 25% yes

If you feel like you can stop here and convince yourself that it’s all a matter of east vs west, ‘pro-Russian’ versus ‘pro-Ukrainian’ regions – please, for the love of all things holy, read on.


Point form.

  • There’s a divide between young and old. Almost half of 18-29 year olds (45%) and 30-39 year olds (46%) support EU accession in southern Ukraine, compared to 23% of 60-69 year olds and 12% of those older than 70.
  • There are some pretty big differences when it comes to levels of education. Those who had the highest levels of education (some level of higher education/degree) were more likely to support EU accession (46%) than those with less than ten years’ education (a whopping 6%).
  • People who indicated they were on some sort of state pension were less likely to support EU accession (22%).
  • People in the lowest of five socioeconomic brackets (those who said they ‘lack money for food’) were much less likely than those in the third (and most common) bracket (those who said they ‘have enough money for food and clothes’) to support EU accession (15% compared to 46%).
  • Self-identity as (more) Ukrainian or Russian also played a role.
    • Self-identity as Ukrainian: 41% yes
    • Self-identity as equally Russian and Ukrainian: 17% yes
    • Self-identity as Russian: 0% yes. Yes, zero – meaning that no one surveyed self-identified as Russian in south Ukraine and also supported EU accession
    • Affiliation with Kyiv Patriarchate (45% yes) compared to Moscow Patriarchate (19% yes)


More point form.

  • There’s also a divide between young and old. More than a third of 18-29 year olds (35%) and 30-39 year olds (41%) support EU accession in eastern Ukraine, compared to 17% of 60-69 year olds and 12% of those older than 70.
  • Education differences here too. Those who had the highest levels of education (some level of higher education/degree) were more likely to support EU accession (41%) than those with less than ten years’ education (11%).
  • People who indicated they were on some sort of state pension were less likely to support EU accession (12%).
  • Interestingly, the socioeconomic questions didn’t show any significant differences. I’ll get to that.
  • Self-identity as (more) Ukrainian or Russian again.
    • Self-identity as Ukrainian: 37% yes
    • Self-identity as equally Russian and Ukrainian: 2% yes
    • Self-identity as Russian: 7% yes.
    • Affiliation with Kyiv Patriarchate (41% yes) compared to Moscow Patriarchate (8% yes)

The survey data from eastern Ukraine also includes respondents from the ‘DNR.’ As I talked about a few weeks ago, results from the ‘DNR’ stand out pretty starkly against the rest of eastern Ukraine.

So what do the results look like if we just look at Ukrainian government-controlled eastern Ukraine?

East, sans ‘DNR’

The last bit of point form.

  • Age, yeah. Almost half of 18-29 year olds (44%) and more than half of 30-39 year olds (52%) support EU accession in eastern Ukraine, compared to 22% of 60-69 year olds and 13% of those older than 70.
  • Education. Those who had the highest levels of education (some level of higher education/degree) were more likely to support EU accession (50%) than those with less than ten years’ education (11%).
  • People who indicated they were on some sort of state pension were less likely to support EU accession (15%).
  • Take out the ‘DNR’ and socioeconomic status become significant, because statistics is fun. People in the second lowest of five socioeconomic brackets (those who said they ‘didn’t have enough money for clothes’) were much less likely than those in the third (and most common) bracket (those who said they ‘have enough money for food and clothes’) to support EU accession (24% compared to 47%).
  • Self-identity as (more) Ukrainian or Russian again.
    • Self-identity as Ukrainian: 38% yes
    • Self-identity as equally Russian and Ukrainian: 6% yes
    • Self-identity as Russian: 7% yes
    • Affiliation with Kyiv Patriarchate (44% yes) compared to Moscow Patriarchate (17% yes)

What do all these numbers mean?

There’s a lot more to Ukrainians’ attitudes towards the EU than just what part of the country they happen to be from. When almost half of young people in eastern Ukraine support EU accession, engaging in this ‘OMG pro-Russian east versus pro-Ukrainian west blah blah’ is more than just lazy oversimplification. It’s wrong.

And the factors that are associated in eastern and southern Ukraine with being opposed to EU accession? Being older. Being less educated. Being a pensioner. Being from a lower socioeconomic bracket. In other words: class, with a healthy dose of (self-) identity thrown into the mix. You know, just like that other country having a wee chat about the EU right now.  Ukraine’s not always that different, guys.

If there’s anything to take away from how I decided to spend my Saturday evening, it’s a point that’s been made before, repeated before and which, unfortunately, will need to be repeated again:

There is no magical giant line down the middle of this country that divides it into ‘pro-Russian’ and ‘pro-Ukrainian’ parts.

 Please, no more.

For Crimean Tatars, it is about much more than 1944

For Crimean Tatars, it is about much more than 1944

(My latest on Al Jazeera)

There are fewer and fewer survivors of the Crimean Tatar deportations around to tell their stories, but Tamila Tasheva and her colleagues have been able to collect some.

Tasheva is a co-founder of CrimeaSOS, an activist group that provides legal, psychological and humanitarian assistance to Crimean Tatars and others who have fled the peninsula, where the Muslim Tatars make up about 13 percent of the population, since it was annexed by Russia in March 2014.

To commemorate Ukraine’s first-ever official day of remembrance of the Crimean Tatar deportations in 1944, CrimeaSOS organised an exhibition of portraits and the stories of 10 survivors.

In 1944, Stalin ordered the mass deportation of Crimean Tatars, alleging that they had collaborated with the Nazis despite the fact that tens of thousands had served in the Red Army.

Around 180,000 were deported in sealed trains to Central Asia and Siberia. Thousands died during the journey, and nearly half perished from starvation and disease within the first few years of exile.

The survivors and their descendants weren’t allowed to return to Crimea until the 1980s.

‘They were eaten by jackals’

“I remember the stories my great-grandmother would tell me,” Tasheva told reporters at the opening of the exhibition at Ukrainian House in central Kiev.

“The more time goes by, the fewer chances we have to hear about what happened in 1944 from the lips of survivors themselves.”

Among the stories from 1944 that Tasheva and others have collected is Saiid’s.

He was about to turn 10 when soldiers knocked on the door of his family’s home in Yevpatoria in the middle of the night.

“We were told that we were being evicted and we had 15 minutes to get ready to leave,” he recounted.

“We boarded boxcars – there were 60 people in each, but no one knew where we were being taken to. To be shot? Hanged? Tears and panic were taking over.”

For some, the journey would be deadly.

“We spent 18 days on the train [to Uzbekistan],” recalled Radife, a woman in her 80s. “We had one big kettle and a water bailer for drinking.”

Munire, a 93-year-old woman from Bakhchysarai, said that while no one died in her carriage, that wasn’t the case in others.

“We didn’t even have time to bury them on the stops, so dead people were just left there.”

But, for many, the worst was still to come.

Nijar, from a small village in central Crimea, described the conditions inside the former prison barracks where many were housed when they first arrived in Uzbekistan.

“There were unsanitary conditions everywhere,” she said. “We had seven or eight bodies every day.

“When we had no strength to bury them, they were eaten by jackals.”

Rustam Gafuri is a Crimean Tatar and the deputy grand mufti of Ukraine. He wants to ‘teach our culture, the history of our people …’ [Michael Colborne/Al Jazeera]

‘A lesson for the future’

Rustam Gafuri, the deputy grand mufti of Ukraine and a Crimean Tatar, says that these are the types of stories that need to be told if people are to understand the Crimean Tatars’ past – and their future.

At Ar-Rahma Mosque, the Ukrainian capital’s only mosque, Gafuri describes what he believes to be his mission as a Crimean Tatar community and religious leader.

“Our task is to show our culture to other people,” he explains in slow, measured Russian. “It is to try to teach our culture, the history of our people, our traditional language, to people from other countries so that they become familiar with it.”

For Gafuri, the destruction of Crimean Tatar books, manuscripts and mosques by the Soviets after 1944 underlines the need to remember and share stories about life before the deportations.

“We need to understand that memory is not just about remembering what has happened,” he says. “To us, memory is a lesson for the future.”

‘My family is afraid’

Young Crimean Tatars like Sabina take lessons like these to heart.

Sabina has lived in Kiev for nine months, but her family is still in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital. She returns to visit them – in fact, she was there during Ukraine’s early May holidays – but says that she and her family haven’t felt comfortable since the Russian annexation of the peninsula in March 2014.

“My family is afraid to say anything,” says Sabina, who asked that her last name not be published. “They are afraid to talk loudly about problems, about Crimean Tatar issues and things like that.”

Crimean Tatars almost uniformly opposed the annexation. Since then they say they have faced repressive measures, from media outlets being shuttered to activists being arrested and “disappeared”. They weren’t allowed to publicly commemorate the day of remembrance of the deportation.

Last month Russia banned the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar assembly, accusing it of extremism. As a result, anyone involved in one of the more than 250 local Mejlises across Crimea now risks arrest.

It’s because of things like this that Sabina says she doesn’t feel comfortable in public in her home town any more. The constant “pro-Russian” talk of people around Simferopol, she says, means she generally just visits relatives’ houses when she is there instead of going out in public.

“Here in Kiev I am safe,” she says.

Not forgetting 1944 – or 2014

Down on Maidan Nezalezhnosti before the evening memorial service, Lesia feels safe too.

As she sways to Crimean Tatar music with a dripping umbrella in one hand and a Crimean Tatar flag in the other, the young student from Belogorsk is pretty upbeat for a dreary day.

“It seems to me that since the annexation in 2014, people in Kiev know more about Crimean Tatars,” she says.

“People used to know Crimea as just a place to go and relax,” Lesia explains. “But now they seem to be more interested in our culture as Crimean Tatars and who we are.”

As the soulful tones of Crimean Tatar music echo around the Maidan and up the web of side streets, it seems that no one gathered here is about to forget 1944 – or 2014.

“I know that Crimea will come back to Ukraine,” says Sabina with smile. “I don’t know how long that will take. But I believe in it.”

When polls become “polls” become propaganda headlines

When polls become “polls” become propaganda headlines

There are polls, and then there are “polls.”

Polls aren’t just a few questions you slap together and ask to anyone you feel like.

Polls are complicated bits of social science. They’re based on actual sets of scientific principles and industry best practices, like Canada’s MRIA or the British MRS. The pollsters and stats nerds behind polls use the best methods they can to try to get a random sample of a population so they can draw accurate conclusions about that population.

These pollsters and stats nerds are happy to tell you all about these methods. They’ll tell you things like:

  • What they used as a sample frame (i.e., what’s our population? where did we get their contact information? does that source accurately reflect the overall population?)
  • How they selected the sample (e.g., clustered? stratified? quota?)
  • How they contacted participants (i.e., telephone? internet panel? in-person?)
  • How they asked the questions (e.g., did you test the questions beforehand? are they standardized questions? have you and/or other pollsters used them before?) and
  • How they weighted the final data to make it as accurate a representation of the population as possible

You can use this kind of boring, boring information to evaluate whether a poll’s drawn accurate conclusions about the population in question.

Of course, that doesn’t always happen. But when polls do go wrong, like they did in predicting the 2015 UK election outcome, this transparency allows different pollsters to look at what they did, understand what went wrong and how to make their polls more accurate in the future. You know, science.

“Polls,” however, are different.

A “poll” is when someone with an obvious agenda wants an impressive-sounding number to make a sexy headline.

The UK’s Daily Express just gave us one of these “polls.” Take a look at this headline:

80% of Brits would be happy to quit UK for RUSSIA after Putin offers free land”¹

Really? 80% of all people in Britain? Really??

Of course not. This was a “poll,” not a poll.

This “poll” is just a question on their website that was answered by 22,000 people that read “Would you move to Russia in exchange for free land?” with the options being “Yes! Bargain” or “No way.”

Real polls don’t run on websites open to anyone and everyone. If you don’t know who you’re talking to in terms of basic demographics (age, gender, location, etc.), you don’t have a real poll.

Real polls don’t allow people to vote more than once. I did, twice, even though I’m a) not British and b) not in Britain. Try it. Delete your cookies and go again. And again. Maybe three times is enough.

Real polls don’t ask leading questions or have leading response options for yes/no questions that sound like they were written by some guy down at the pub.

And worst here, real polls don’t do all these things and then have the balls to say something as groundless as “80% of Brits” in the headline.

An accurate representation of how “polls” make your average pollster or stats nerd feel.

But “polls” like this make good headlines for propagandists. No wonder then that Russia’s RT and Komsomolskaya Pravda, to name two of the Kremlin’s finest examples, picked up on it.

80% of Brits want to move to Russia after Duma considers giving out free land – poll,” raves RT.

Almost 80% of Brits are ready to move to Russia for a plot of land in Siberia,” Komsomolskaya Pravda says (my translation from the Russian).

Blech. This put me into desk-flipping-over mode.

Propagandists know a few things, especially when it comes to polls and “polls.”

They know most people only read headlines and aren’t about to scroll through an article for details on how a poll/”poll” was done.

They know a lot of people don’t understand how polls are actually done and don’t have the luxury (or pain) of knowing a former stats nerd/pollster monkey to explain all this crap to them. And they know that numbers and percentages stand out, especially anything that reads ‘x% of y think that…’

Think about this the next time you see a headline proclaiming a poll result.


1. Do not trust headlines that feel the need to resort to CAPITAL LETTERS.

Also, the irony of a UKIP-backing, Brexit-loving paper using what I’d consider a Gallicism here has really, really made my day



In Ukraine, mistrust of doctors remains high

In Ukraine, mistrust of doctors remains high

(latest in CMAJ)

Dr. Richard Styles was used to being trusted as a doctor in Britain, but that changed when he moved to Ukraine a decade ago, after working in a number of European Union-funded projects there.

“There is nearly no trust in doctors at all, even amongst doctors,” says the chief medical director at the American Medical Centre in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

Indeed, a 2015 report by European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, a partnership led by the World Health Organization (WHO), found that “popular mistrust of doctors [in Ukraine] is strikingly high,” and has been for many years.

Dr. Zoryana Chernenko, an assistant professor at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, points to Ukraine’s chronically low wages for doctors as one of the main culprits. This has forced doctors to supplement their incomes with informal out-of-pocket payments, despite the system supposedly being free at the point of service.

“Every day, doctors are just thinking about how to survive,” said Chernenko, who has worked on health system reform in Ukraine.

Wages for doctors in Ukraine have been low since before the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution, a series of violent events culminating in the ousting of the president. According to the European Observatory’s report, in 2013 the average monthly wage for a doctor in Ukraine was just over $400 a month, well behind that of professionals in many sectors of Ukraine’s economy.

More recent data on doctors’ wages in the Ukraine are not available, but an analysis published in October by the Ukrainian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda suggested that the average wage had fallen to less than $260 by mid-2015. Given that Ukraine’s currency has lost almost 20% of its value since the beginning of 2016, doctors’ wages are likely to drop even further.

Out-of-pocket payments have been a regular feature of Ukraine’s health care system since the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to the European Observatory’s report. During the subsequent severe economic downturn, doctors began levying informal payments to provide themselves with a more acceptable wage. Chronic government underfunding — including a 5% cut to health spending in 2016 — has contributed to these payments becoming an entrenched feature of the Ukraine’s health system.

“At the moment state funding covers only half of the financial needs of the system,” Konstantin Nadutyi, deputy chairman of the Ukrainian Medical Association, recently told The Lancet in a Feb. 20, 2016 article. “The rest is paid for by patients themselves.”

Patients in Ukraine usually give informal payments before a service is given. Sometimes these payments provide them with quicker access, other times with newer drugs and services.

This system of soliciting informal out-of-pocket payments, according to Chernenko, has led to Ukrainians feeling like their doctors are more concerned with their bottom lines than providing quality care.

This system of low wages and informal payments has also led to chronic overtreatment, which further erodes trust in doctors, says Styles.

“The problem is that people [in Ukraine] don’t get value for money.” Styles estimates that a substantial portion of Kyiv’s three million people is overtreated and prescribed drugs or forced to pay for services they do not need. “It’s rather strange in a health care budget that’s got its back to the wall.”

However, Styles is keen to point out that many of the Ukraine’s doctors, despite how they might be perceived, are hardworking, dedicated professionals. “I would be very careful not to denigrate Ukrainian doctors,” he stresses, pointing out the number of doctors who have risked life and limb in war-torn eastern Ukraine.

“In Ukraine, there are some very dedicated, very vocational doctors who are working for nearly nothing.”