Two of the most outspoken critics of the country’s power structure are saying no to the annual Yalta European Strategy conference organized by billionaire oligarch Victor Pinchuk.
On Sept. 14, the eve of the two-day YES conference, Ukrainian parliament member Hanna Hopko and Anti-Corruption Action Center executive director Daria Kaleniuk issued a statement calling for an alternative to Pinchuk’s annual event.
“It is especially clear that in a time of external aggression and serious tribulations for our national statehood, Ukraine needs an effective platform for discussing these important challenges for our country and the world,” the statement read.
The statement claims events like YES conference help oligarchs whitewash their image and those in power to impose their agenda.
The first event is planned for May 2018.
“For not the first year, Ukrainian intellectuals and politicians, among them the authors of this message, are calling for a boycott of all events organized by the Kuchma-Pinchuk family,” the statement reads.
Viktor Pinchuk, the Dnipro-born billionaire who made a fortune off of privatized former Soviet enterprises during the kleptocratic rule of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, is married to Kuchma’s daughter.
In addition to widespread corruption, Kuchma is accused of ordering the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze, a strident critic of his administration who was found beheaded in a forest outside Kyiv in 2000.
Pinchuk has been accused of covering up his father-in-law’s complicity in the assassination, in part by directing his television channels to whitewash allegations surrounding Kuchma’s role in the killing in the months after it occurred.
In the message, Hopko also draws attention to an op-ed that Pinchuk published in the Wall Street Journal in December 2016, in which the 56-year old oligarch argued that “Crimea should not get in the way” of a deal to end the war in the Donbas.
Hopko criticized Pinchuk in the statement for “actually supporting a plan of capitulation.”
“Genuine Ukrainian interests at these meetings are replaced by Viktor Pinchuk’s ‘painful compromises,’” the statement reads.
President Petro Poroshenko offered vague support for the idea, with a spokesperson saying that he “supports initiatives on the creation of new tools for guaranteeing a broad and inclusive discussion of the urgent questions surrounding Ukraine’s place in the international arena.”
At the same time Poroshenko will give a speech at this year’s YES conference.
The YES conference was held in the Crimean port city of Yalta until 2014, when Russia’s annexation of the peninsula forced the conference to move to Kyiv.
Pinchuk is known for spending large amounts of money on projects that appear to enhance his reputation. Much of that investment has crossed over to guests of the YES conference – he paid U.S. President Donald Trump’s foundation $150,000 for a 15 minute Skype appearance at the 2015 YES conference. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have attended the conference, while the Clinton Foundation has taken $8.6 million from Pinchuk.
Pinchuk has also given $1 million to the Blair Foundation. Its owner – former British Prime Minister Tony Blair – will be at the YES Conference in Kyiv this weekend.