A state visit from US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and a flap over the refusal of Ukrainian authorities to allow the owner-publisher of the Kyiv Post to enter the country topped the news in Ukraine this past week.
On Tuesday 11 April 2000, authorities in Kyiv refused to allow Jed Sunden, the American publisher of the Kyiv Post, to enter Ukraine. While foreign visitors are sometimes refused entry to Ukraine because of complicated visa application procedures, Sunden's documents were in order.
In discussions with Ukrainian border officials, Sunden was not told of the reasons behind the ban, and was simply informed that he was no longer welcome in the country. He then flew from Kyiv to Vienna on 12 April, where he renewed his efforts to secure entry to Ukraine. His efforts were rewarded the next day, when he was finally granted permission.
By 14 April, Sunden was back at work in his Kyiv office, saying he had no plans to cease his work in Ukraine despite the border incident. He is, however, still waiting for an explanation and apology from Ukrainian officials, though none appears to be forthcoming.
Ukrainian officials were unable or unwilling to clarify the situation. The Border Guard Service and the Ukrainian State Security Service both refused to comment on the incident, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement denying any connection between the Ministry and Sunden's ban.
Some in Ukraine believe the incident is tied to Sunden's activities as the owner-publisher of the Post, the most popular English-language weekly in Ukraine. The Post frequently carries articles critical of senior Ukrainian authorities, and is largely considered to be one of the best sources of information about Ukraine for foreigners living and working here.
Sunden, however, said he is not certain whether his troubles on the Ukrainian frontier can be linked with his publishing activities or not. Despite his personal problems last week, the Kyiv Post itself has not faced threats or sanctions from governmental authorities, and its publication has never been interrupted.
The publisher said that he believes those who had refused his entry to the Ukraine were forced to change their tune because of the extensive domestic and international media coverage accorded his case.
Interestingly, the Sunden incident came two days before the visit of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, which had originally been scheduled for 20 to 21 April. Ukrainian commentators believe Albright's visit was moved-up one week because of plans by the Russian President-elect, Vladimir Putin, to visit at the end of April.
In the eyes of many Ukrainian news outlets, Albright's desire to meet with Ukrainian officials before Putin's arrival underscored the rescheduling of her visit, with "Albright rushes to Kyiv ahead of Putin" being a common headline.
In meetings with the Ukrainian president, prime minister, and minister of foreign affairs, Albright underscored the steadfast American support for Ukrainian political and economic reform efforts.
"The path of reforms in Ukraine cannot be easy," Albright said in a meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Boris Tarasyuk, "but the United States of America will support Ukrainian reformers with all possible means."
Albright continued to say that American support for Ukraine would be in direct proportion to the "decisiveness" of Ukrainian reform efforts.
On Friday, Albright also participated in a live, call-in television talk-show, answering questions from callers, journalists and a live TV audience, with Ukrainian youth making up the majority of audience members.
The live dialogue with the Secretary of State was carried on 1+1, the Ukrainian national television channel, in place of the regular 19:30 news broadcast. Albright personally chose 1+1 to carry her live appearance saying the channel, which is broadcast nation-wide, attracts a large audience among Ukrainian youth and helps preserve democratic traditions.
Finally, L'viv journalists marked Thursday with a "Wave of Freedom" campaign designed to draw society's attention to the issue of freedom of speech in Ukraine. Journalists from a number of L'viv media outlets erected barricades in the city centre, demanding reform of current media laws to ensure that government pressure cannot be brought to bear on a free and independent press.
The campaign is slated to continue for several days, and on 3 May journalists plan to build similar barricades on the major square of Kyiv in the campaign's next step.
Natalya Krasnoboka, 14 April 2000