An ordinary, post-revolutionary working day. And an art installation about Putin and Stalin appears.

Today I went to work, ate some soup and a bun in a still-Soviet-style café (Pirizhkova opposite the post office), went to an art exhibition, wandered the city for a bit, then taught another class, did a bit of shopping and came home. An ordinary day, pretty much, like this one two weeks ago. And so everyday life goes on in post-revolutionary Ivano-Frankivsk, although the traces of the events of the past four months and the fear of war are evident in the city.

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The most striking thing that appeared in the city today was this ‘Memorial to Russian Aggressors’. Standing on piles of tyres reminiscent of those that burned on Maidan in Kyiv, a wooden cage is home to three mannequins’ torsos with rather crude print-outs of the faces of Putin, Stalin and Dmitri Kiselov, the rather eccentric but powerful Russian journalist. The presence of Kiselov indicates a feeling, perhaps, among the creators of this installation that the “information war” or “propaganda war” that is ongoing is being used as a significant weapon against Ukraine.

 

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According to the organisers of the installation, created by the ‘Student Svoboda’ organisation, ‘Kiselyov’s aggression is different from Putin’s and Stalin’s only in its methods, which are no less dangerous than military actions.’ Quite a hyperbolic claim, that.

The memorial’s appearance has received a fair amount of coverage in the local press. It is unclear how long it will be standing there in the centre of Vichevyj Maidan, or Rally Square, where the first Euromaidan protests and gatherings took place in the city.

 

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Clearly, the students who created this are not art students – or if they are, then we should be very worried about the quality of works that are being produced by the university’s fine arts department – even if there is some vague resemblance to one of Francis Bacon’s works.

 

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With a bit of time on my hands before teaching, I headed to the recently-opened Centre for Contemporary Art at the bottom of Shevchenko Street near Sichovych Striltsiv by Hotel Dnister. I’m giving the exact location, since despite the Centre existing for several months now, it is rarely open when it says it should be open and so I doubt many people in the city have noticed its existence. Today, though, it was possible to a see a new exhibition titled ‘Spring/War’ (Vesna/Viyna, crossed over on the poster).

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The local artists featured referenced recent events in Ukraine, with Yuriy Bakay making an installation of a piece of metal found on Maidan in Kyiv and then roughly packaged for him to bring back to Frankivsk. It was the most interesting commentary on the fragmented, violent and ambiguous experience of Euromaidan and revolution. A slightly older by another artist work was revived as something of a prescient piece titled ‘Sniper’, reflecting perhaps a sense of foreboding. One work among the others referencing present sentiments was one that revived the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism. It’s not clear why the organisers of the exhibition thought it a good idea to include that. We’ll make further investigations.

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A terrible art exhibition in a wonderful space.

So, the exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Art was pretty poor, although nowhere near as awful as one we chanced upon last week. My wife and I were heading through the pleasant Bastion complex and saw that there were a lot of people in the gallery there. It turns out it was the opening of this exhibition, which was a load of new age commentaries on celebrity culture. The paintings had the aesthetic of works which are supposed to be parodies of naïve art, except there was no parodic element to this, purely kitsch couched in new age pseudo philosophy.

This post was supposed to be about everyday life but seems to have become a review of recent art exhibitions in Ivano-Frankivsk. That could be a new strand to the blog. Anyway, back to the everyday.

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Life goes on as normal to a large extent. People continue to park like selfish idiots, as shown above, or here, where I made my debut as a published photographer thanks to sitting in the awful Royal Burger. It is also interesting that a new bank has opened in the current conditions in the city, not because of the weakened economy, but because it is the Savings Bank of Russia (Sberbank Rossii).

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However, there is now a campaign to challenge selfish drivers, whether by getting the traffic police more involved in such offences as happened last week, or by spontaneous civil actions of placing stickers and notices on drivers’ cars.

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Questionable building projects continue apace, including this one right outside the Administration Office, covering up an attractive old school in the historical heart of the city.

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Traces of Euromaidan in its popular public manifestations remain evident, although this flag – which has become tattered – is perhaps symbolic of the way in which those aspirations did not turn out as hoped for in the early days of civil protest.

 

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Europe also appears in the guise of a idealised location of style and aspiration, as this ‘Euro Fashion’ shop shows. It offers, according to the signs in the window, ‘elite fashion at reasonable prices’, while you can also ‘deposit clothes on commission’, meaning that the shop will sell your goods on your behalf.

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Outside the Regional Administration office no more rallies take place, while a few men in military fatigues, unarmed, mill about, although it is not clear why. They might have attended some council meetings, now that Right Sector and Self-Defence have forced themselves into being accepted as part of the local political apparatus. Or they just came out from the tent city, well, tent village now, that remains on the square to use the facilities and have a chat. Two policemen stand nearby, showing that their presence is returning to the city after a rather worrying period where control was not evident.

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And so it is that life goes on in this post-Maidan and post-revolutionary city where now a the fear of war and the collapsing currency are perhaps the most immediate legacies of the events of the past four months. The Hrynia lost another 1% or so in value against the dollar since Friday. There have been no right-wing, armed marches for a while now. Mourning is taking a more civic and civil form.

Yanukovych and his regime are gone, that’s another clear consequence of the revolution. Election campaigns are starting – for the presidency with 23 candidates – and for the local parliamentary seat freed by Oleskandr Sych becoming deputy PM.

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Exchange rates on 28 March 2014

 

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Exchange rates on Monday 31 March 2014. UAH loses 1% since Friday.

That may bring immediate personnel changes, but whether things will change significantly in everyday life in terms of the civil revolution – to end bribery, corruption and selfishness in public spaces – that’s something that will take long-term effort. And could depend strongly on whether the economy remains sound.

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Local News Update, 30 March

After some reader feedback, I’ve decided to make the posts a bit shorter, splitting them into parts. So this is the local news update from yesterday’s post on Daytripping to Dolyna. One day, I will also figure out how to properly format the position of photos so they look good whatever browser or device you’re using!

In an addition to yesterday’s post, an interview with me appeared on a local Ivano-Frankivsk news site. A journalist and politics student started reading the blog and decided to speak to me about it and my impressions of life in Ivano-Frankivsk and Ukraine more generally. The mistakes have now been corrected in the article, so I’m happy to share, even if the photo makes me look like I’ve been the victim of a tabloid newspaper sting!

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I reported that two weeks ago there was an attempt by the more radical elements of the protests in the city, Self-Defence and Right Sector, to revive the daily rallies that had typified the early weeks of Maidan. However, this revival has been a resounding failure, with the mass of citizens refusing to accept that Self-Defence and Right Sector represent the community, despite claiming to speak for it. Two weeks on from the revival, at the rally hour of 6pm, the square was empty, bar the Right Sector tent where youths in camouflage gear hang out. Still, the smashed windows of the administration building have not been fixed, while no one from the city administration has seen fit to remove the mainly Right Sector stickers that cover the nameplate by the entrance. Maybe they’ll get round to it by the time the square is renamed ‘Heroes of Maidan Square’ and a monument is erected.

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What did bring people out onto the streets of Ivano-Frankvisk, however, was a procession and memorial service marking 40 days since the death of Roman Huryk and others killed on Maidan. In Ukrainian mourning traditions, forty days since a person’s passing are usually marked and this was no exception, except that it brought large numbers on to the streets. Unlike the ninth day after the death, right-wing organisations did not appropriate the event for themselves and instead a broader section of the community was involved, including the military this time. In the evening, students marked the fortieth day with a memorial event by the city’s lake, while on Friday the university organised a memorial event.

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Politicians still continue, though to appropriate the ‘revolution’ for their own ends, with Deputy PM and current Ivano-Frankivsk MP Oleskandr Sych deeming the revolution to have been a ‘national’ one, ‘because it was nationwide and incorporated the whole nation.‘  Speaking at the Svoboda congress this weekend, he argued that because ‘the revolution took place under the banner of the Banderite slogan “Glory to Ukraine”‘ it was thus a ‘national revolution’ which needs to be completed. He is thus appropriating the civil revolution for his Party’s own political aims, based in the long-standing nationalist idea of ‘national revolution’ whose chief ideologist is Stepan Bandera, still glorified around the city.

“Banderstadt”, a kind of self-ironising reference to the perception of this city and also Lviv, is also the name of a hotel near the airport. It is where refugees coming to the city from Crimea, largely Tatars, are initially housed. Surely, to avoid any misinterpretation by the Russian media, which like to paint Ukraine as ruled by “Banderites”, a different hotel could have been chosen? Maybe “Nadiya”, which means “hope”?

Sych’s appointment to the cabinet means that on 25 May, when the first round of presidential elections takes place, there will be a by-election in Ivano-Frankivsk. The local mayor is standing as a candidate for the conservative Ukrainian National Party, while student activist Maksym Kitsiuk is also standing. He is from Sevastopol but studied in Ivano-Frankivsk and was badly beaten and hospitalised in December when, quite probably security service approved fighters, attacked him.

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In more everyday news, the speedy weakening of the Ukrainian hryvnia is starting to affect spending. At the start of the year, one USD cost just over eight hryvnias, while the difference between the selling and buying rate was rarely more than five kopiyeks. Now, a dollars costs 11.40 and there are 60 kopiyeks between selling and buying. One GBP cost about 13 UAH in January, now it’s over 19. Even Right Sector is feeling the pinch, having to justifying its leader riding about in an armoured car taken from one of Yanukovych’s sons. They also argue that the leader’s life is in danger, so he must have an armoured vehicle.

Right Sector put one of their posters on the central branch of Watson’s, a drugstore, in Ivano-Frankivsk on Friday. For at least three weeks this chain, part of the same group that owns Superdrug in the UK and Rossmann around Europe, was promoting an offer that for this weekend of 28-30 March it will be offering 30% off everything. Not surprisingly, on 28 March all special offers had disappeared and prices on numerous products had risen since the day before. By Friday evening, this central branch was short on stock and queues stretched around the store as customers sought “bargains”. The shelves have been cleared for permanently higher stock.

Supermarket Furshet is advertising that it is still keeping prices based on the 8 UAH to the dollar rate. However, the small print states that this offer is limited to 150 top-selling products. I find it hard to believe that bananas are not among the top 150 things it sells. The price per kilo has gone from about 11.50 to 19, reflecting the collapsing currency’s fall but not their 7.99/$1 promise. You can get lots of varieties of canned Ukrainian-produced fish at this rate – showing just what an empty promise it is.

The Prime Minister promised that pay won’t be cut for state employees, but that it won’t rise either, while inflation will be 12-15% this year. That’s called a pay cut in real terms. So, we’ll see how long everyday life will continue in its usual rhythms before the economic realities really begin to bite in the city and beyond.

Daytripping: Dolyna (Долина) – a town of two halves.

Yesterday my wife and I took a daytrip to the town of Dolyna (Долина), sixty kilometres west of Ivano-Frankivsk. Every other Saturday, we’re both free from work and have decided that we’ll try and visit the local area as much as possible. Our original plan was to go to Ternopil, a city about the same size as Ivano-Frankivsk, but we had to be back by the early evening for a first birthday party. So, we decided to head to Dolyna.

Our choice – well, my insistence on choosing Dolyna instead really – baffled everyone we spoke to. But this town with a population of just over 20,000 and a rich but forgotten history was full of the surprises and the delights of the provinces. The town yielded up over one thousand years of history – from its origins as a salt mining centre through to an oil boom in the late interwar period under Poland then under the USSR, which created the new town of Dolyna – hence the idea that it’s a town of two halves. And then there were the traces of the most recent history, Euromaidan, revolution and the threat of war.

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Before heading to Ivano-Frankivsk bus station, we stopped off at my mother-in-law’s flat to pick up a guidebook in Polish about Ukraine. We’ve lent out our Ukrainian guidebook to the Ivano-Frankivsk region. My wife and I were both a bit embarrassed to admit why we had come to collect the book, but we eventually revealed our plan. We revealed that we wanted to go to Kalush, the second-largest town in Ivano-Frankivsk region, and Dolyna, thirty kilometres further up the road. My mother-in-law replied, “Dolyna, it’s just a glorified village, but go there first then stop in Kalush on the way back. It’s more practical. But you won’t see much in either place.” So we bought our bus tickets to Dolyna – to make sure we got a seat – before double the number of people of people seated piled onto the bus about three metres from the barrier where an inspector is supposed to check that everyone on board has bought a ticket. That’s the way local bus travel works here.

We opened up the guidebook, checked the index and found one reference to Dolyna. Not a good sign. It was presented as a good base for exploring the Gorgany Mountains to the south of the town. We searched the Ivano-Frankivsk region section of the book and found another unlisted reference to the town, where apart from accommodation options, its former synagogue and saltmine were mentioned. Another unpromising sign. But we stayed on the bus for ninety minutes and reached Dolyna, a town of just over 20,000 people, making it the fourth or fifth largest – alongside Nadvirna and after the capital, Kalush and Kolomyya – in the region.

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The name Dolyna means, simply, ‘Valley’ and from the journey there it was clear why it acquired this name, with the town sitting surrounded by the Carpathian and Gorgany foothills. The bus passed through the village-like suburbs of the town, lending some credence to my mother-in-law’s claims, before passing through what resembled something of a town centre, a big roundabout proclaiming “Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the Heroes” and pointing to ways out of the town, towards Stryj, Khust or the railway station. We stayed on to the end of the route, hoping for a toilet at the station. A lovely specimen of the stinking Ukrainian outhouse model it was. The station, what we had passed along the way and the near silence of the guidebook suggested we wouldn’t need long in Dolyna. I suggested buying the return bus ticket for two hours hence, which my wife judged to be rather optimistic.  In the end, it proved to be too little, once we started exploring the town.

We never made it to the now disused salt mine, pictured above, which was the reason for the town being founded over 1000 years ago and even before Ukraine accepted Christianity in 988. Legends about town’s founding still reference offerings to the Slavic God Perun, asking for him to protect the salt mines. These were town’s main source of income into the twentieth century, so throughout Ukrainian/Rus’, Polish, Austrian and again Polish rule, before the boom in oil which was discovered in the late nineteenth century. This entire region, heading north towards Boryslav, was the first part of the world where oil wells were sunk during Austrian Habsburg rule. The region still produces oil and statistics suggest almost 70% of Dolyna’s income is from oil and gas production today. Forestry is also an important industry, especially in nearby Broshniv, which we passed through on the bus.

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So, we arrived at the station filled with little optimism, fearing that we’d wasted a wonderfully warm and sunny spring day. The first sight out of the station that greets you is an empty but impressive bike rack. It turns out the town has a developed network of cycle paths and lanes marked out, as well as a neat monument to the Penny Farthing. However, I don’t recall seeing anyone in the town riding a bike in the time we were there. Still, cycling infrastructure appears in western Ukraine to be a symbol of European aspirations – with Ivano-Frankivsk boasting an impressive collection of EU and Raiffaisen-Bank-sponsored bike racks and a series of signposts for a bike route around historical Frankivsk. Dolyna beats the regional capital, though, with its paths.

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Outside the station you are also confronted by a juxtaposition of two current trends, resulting from the protests of late 2013/early 2014. One shop to the right of the bike rack flies the black-and-red UPA, nationalist flag which has become an everyday symbol in this part of Ukraine, indicating both the rise of nationalist sentiment as well as framing the events as another stage in Ukraine’s liberatory struggle, to use the terms of the advocates of such views. To the left of the bike rack, a shop has the EU flag in it is window.

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Walking from the station, back up to the roundabout, you pass a rather desolate looking market on the right with. Clearly there were aspirations for something greater, but a general hotchpotch of kiosks seemed underused. However, one did offer this rather charming gnome riding a pig for just 298 UAH, so £16 or $27 today. On the left of this street there were some older houses, perhaps built around the time the station emerged in the 1870s, when the line through Dolyna was completed. One such house offered ‘Shoes and Clothes from Germany and Denmark’, while further up the street a newer building offered a Second Hand ‘bazaar’, presumably with goods from the US and UK. Sadly, it was shut by the time we had arrived, although Ivano-Frankivsk is full of such shops, where you can find clothes that have come from sales across Europe or from British charity shops.

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Heading past the roundabout you encounter on what seemed to be a kind off high street a souvenir shop which at this point still seemed rather optimistic. Nearby there was a billboard indicative of the influence of the current political and geopolitical situation on consumer habits. I don’t know who Roman Krekhovetskyy, the man pictured on the billboard is, but his campaign reflects the boycott of Russian products which is gathering popularity in this part of Ukraine. Over a dozen grocery shops in Ivano-Frankivsk have removed Russian products from their shelves. Here the slogan says: ‘By buying Russian goods you are funding the occupiers’ army.’

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We carried on down this apparent high street, Hrushevskoho, sensing that perhaps whatever history the town had, had been built over by a model Soviet town, with low-rise flats, a rudimentary grid system as long, wide streets. We passed a cinema, indicating another connection to Britain beyond the second-hand clothes shops as it was named after Charlie Chaplin. We got some nourishment, with the influence of Tatar or Cossack cuisine on Ukrainian food evident from this stall. I also enjoyed an ice cream, this one indicating the huge success of western Ukrainian pop group Dzidzio. There’s more about this pop-folk novelty group in English here. The band, especially the distinctive front man, advertise many things including flats in Ivano-Frankivsk while they’ve also got branded ice cream now. I think the perfume range can’t be far off.

As you, readers, can see, I was getting a bit desperate for things I thought I could include from the Dolyna adventure. But then we found a map of the city with its attractions listed and we realised that we were in a town of two halves. There was this Soviet new town that we had wandered in to, built to house the influx of workers related to the oil boom, which doubled the town’s population. And then back down the road and down a hill was the old town, where the synagogue mentioned in the guidebook could be found. Suddenly, two hours seemed like it might not be enough.

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The new town seemed very clean, tidy and well-maintained, with decent roads, indicative perhaps of the income the town generates from its oil and gas production. At the end of one street in the new town’s centre, a church was being built, replicating a process all around this part of Ukraine where churches are now springing up like mushrooms. However, this is clearly the only the church in the new town, an institution Stalinist-era architects did not include in their plans.

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At the end of Hrushevskoho Street is a large square where the town’s main institutions are located, and this can be considered the centre of the new town. There are some large, somewhat abandoned-looking Soviet-era department stores as well as a giant, disused cinema, replaced by the smaller Chaplin Cinema down the road inside a new block of shops housing a supermarket. This square is home to the regional museum, a school, the town hall and the Prosvita cultural centre. The Prosvita centre bears an interesting collection of posters on its windows, starting with one marking Shevchenko’s 200th birthday, with three posters keeping the same aesthetic as the Shevchenko one but presenting the Heavenly Hundred, before presenting portraits showing the pantheon on Ukrainian nationalist leaders, topped off with the EU flag. This series of posters is, again, an interesting collection of the current trends and concerns in Ukraine, where European aspirations are paralleled with a rise in celebrating nationalist heroes, with those killed at Maidan – the Heavenly Hundred as they are known – incorporated into the narrative of national liberation struggles.

The town hall bears the Ukrainian, EU, local and UPA black and red flags, although by the main entrance there is one of the strongest condemnations of Russia’s actions I have seen expressed on a public building in Ukraine. In the window, above a poster of Stepan Bandera, there is a hand-made poster which declares ‘Putin the Fascist wants the deaths of millions of people in both Russia and Ukraine. Shame on Putin, no to war!’

The square also has a monument to Ukrainian historian and politician, Hrushevsky, who occupies the plinth once given over to Lenin. Besides Hrushevsky there is a small shrine to the Heavenly Hundred.

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The town’s largest memorial to the Heavenly Hundred is further down the main street close to a stadium on a series of concrete blocks which once must have served for proclaiming Soviet Party slogans. On a wall by the museum, meanwhile, there is a poster marking Shevchenko’s birthday which is common throughout Ukraine, as the selected quote links to Ukraine’s current struggle. ‘Struggle – you will win. God is on your side.’

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This architecturally Soviet space is now dotted with monuments to Ukrainian heroes, national suffering and nationalism, reflecting post-1991 processes of the transformation of public memory. Hrushevsky replaced Lenin, while graffiti informally transforms public sites of memory. The most striking contrast between the post-Soviet public memory and the Soviet-era architectural surroundings is the cross erected in 1993 that stands outside a school, which is dedicated to the ‘Victims of Holodomor of 1933 which was created by the Bolshevik-Communist system in Ukraine.’ Still, the school also has a rocket for kids to play in, reflecting some memory of the Soviet Union’s achievements in the space race.

Nearby there is a monument to the memory of ‘the forced migration of Ukrainians from their ethnic lands.’ To find any traces of the other groups that inhabited this town before World War II, who also suffered forced migration and genocide, then you have to head to the old town. At the end of the nineteenth century, Dolyna had almost equal populations of Roman Catholics (about 2,100), Greek Catholics (around 2,050) and Jews (around 1,950), as well as about 450 protestants.

Time was running short with all the surprises the Dolyna was throwing up, so we took a taxi to the old town, about three or four kilometres away from the town hall by road. The fare, with the meter on and without revealing that I was foreign, was more than the cost of the bus from Ivano-Frankivsk.

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The old town is divided from the new town by a river and a small valley, while a road links the two parts that runs alongside a picturesque man-made lake, passing another new church. The main road into the old town, Mickiewicza Street, heads sharply down hill, revealing a completely different world of architecture. Lots of small, low-level, often one-storey houses reminiscent of the small towns and shtetls of Galicia. Indeed, aside from the loss of decoration to new plaster, not much has changed in this part of the town since much of it was destroyed in a few nineteenth-century fires.

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There are some newer buildings, including this one, which is the local Security Service office. Unlike the one in Ivano-Frankivsk, it survived the revolution unscathed, although anti-Party of Regions was evident on a wall by the local police base in the old town.

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The multicultural history of the town is evident with the old synagogue on Sheptytskoho Street still standing. It is now a ‘House of Prayer’, which suggests that it has been taken over by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Behind the synagogue is a memorial from the Soviet era which states, ‘On this site in 1943 German fascists shot dead a group of citizens of the town of Dolyna.’ Its ambiguity is typical of Soviet-era memorials  to Jews killed under German occupation, where there is no express revelation of the identity of the group. This monument is more ambiguous than most, which refer to ‘Soviet Citizens’. Here, the Jews were citizens of Dolyna but not even counted among the Soviet population. No one has yet deemed it necessary to update the memorial.

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A community that does remain evident in Dolyna, however, are the Poles. There is a direct bus to Warsaw daily, while the Roman Catholic parish remains active. We were lucky that at the time we were passing, the church was open, with a group of about a dozen children accompanied by a priest and two altar boys going through the stations of the cross. We could see inside a church that had been recently renovated with all the murals in Polish. In keeping with the stations of the cross theme, the parish seems to have built its own improvised Calvary Hill or Golgotha outside.

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The centre of the old town, by a square surrounded by a couple of shops, also features the Soviet war memorial. Like many in this part of Ukraine, its “eternal” flame has been switched off. Presumably that means less Russian gas is burnt. The hammer and sickle is still visible on the wall of names of ‘heroes of the Soviet Union of the Dolyna region who liberated it from German Fascist occupiers.’ Like the Ivano-Frankivsk memorial on the military base, the relief in Dolyna is artistically impressive.

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Walking back through the old town, up the hill to the station, past where Dolyna fort once stood, we spotted the local library located in a house featuring an impressive example of local woodcarving and wood decoration.

We caught the bus back to Ivano-Frankivsk, which this time took just an hour as it didn’t stop at each village, packing impossibly more people on board like the bus to Dolyna, where we enjoyed a surprisingly pleasant afternoon full of unexpected discoveries. Far from a “glorified village”, we found a town with a thousand-year industrial history and multicultural past.

We had escaped the city for a bit, escaped the news for a while, although we passed through a village called Майдан (Maidan – a word of Turkic origin which means ‘place’ or ‘square’), reminding us of Ukraine’s recent history as well as emphasising that in spite of everything, everyday life carries on. (I tried to get a better picture of the Maidan sign, but the driver was speeding and his crucifix attached to the Ukrainian flag got in the way.) Meanwhile, back in Ivano-Frankivsk ‘maidan’ in the new meaning of the word, as an active political protest occupying a central public space, is beginning to fade.

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The first post-Euromaidan pre-war (?) novelty song and its serious message

This song by a group going by the name Лісапетний батальйон (Cyclists’ Battalion) is perhaps the first novelty song connected to Euromaidan and, more precisely, the situation now where fear of war is rife.
“Давай,баби,давай!…” (Come on, Ladies, Come on; you can hear them say ‘kam on’ on the song) has a long history based in viral internet videos. The original song of which this is a reworking (Лісапед by Natalya Falion) was a kind of novelty folk song from 2003, drawing on the speech and folk traditions of the Ternopil region. Лісапед (Lisaped) is a dialect variation on the word велосипед (velosyped), i.e. bicycle. That version of the song was performed on tv (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xxo4oM1qgWk) and gained greater popularity.
But it was a viral video of some impressive older women singing it on a bus in the Chernihiv region (in north-central/eastern Ukraine, where the beer comes from) that made the song famous. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3RUUqtuKYo)
And so it is that viral hit which this new version refers to. The lyrics of the current song reference the current tensions with Russia. In the imagined village peace is disrupted by some ‘Moskali’ appearing on the border and instead of being mere “ladies” (баби) the women become a ‘real battalion’.
Applying a bit of gender and nation theory, Ukraine here is imagined as a weaker party which instead of being further emasculated by the strong neighbour rises up and becomes strong, “manly” or “courageous” (мужні), a word that is heard quite often now in Ukraine.
The new battalion of empowered women are inspired to ‘defend their peaceful homeland’.
“Ми жили із бабами спокійно у селі, аж поки не з’явилися на кордонах москалі, ми завтра вирушаємо прямо на полігон, тепер ми не баби, тепер ми справжній батальйон!”.
[We lived peacefully with the women in the village until the Moskali appared on the borders, so tomorrow we will go straight to the base and now we are not mere women but a real battalion] And this real battalion was armed by an old German machine gun which a man in the village lent them, while two women shared one flak jacket. Still, they promise to find millions who will rise up and join them in ‘defending the peaceful homeland’. So, in this song there’s a clear reflection that the Ukrainian army is weak and poorly-armed, but summoning the will of the people of Ukraine and their strengths will bring victory in the end, restoring peace to the “village”, or the nation, and sending the “Moskals” away from the border.

In writing this post I made use of the following articles: http://life.pravda.com.ua/society/2014/03/26/160075/ http://like.te.ua/%D0%B6%D0%B8%D1%82%D1%82%D1%8F/%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%BB%D1%8F-%D1%84%D0%B0%D0%BB%D1%96%D0%BE%D0%BD-%D0%B7-%D1%82%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%BF%D1%96%D0%BB%D1%8C%D1%89%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0%B8-%D1%8F%D0%BA%D0%B0-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE/
I was inspired to write about this by my wife who sent the original link to the song.

Fake Heritage, Slow Fast Food, a Glossy Magazine and a Book

The situation in Ukraine remains perilous – with the Russian annexation of Crimea, the uncertainty over who is ruling in Kyiv and the rise of the far-right into positions of power within local and national structures of authority. However, as this blog hopefully reflects, in contrast to what remains the focus of the general media, in everyday life a certain normality or normalisation is (re)-emerging. An everyday order that has emerged as a mixture of what went before Euromaidan, the revolution and Crimea, and something new, overshadowed by tragedy, danger and fear.

So, although the most popular posts here have been about Right Sector and far-right marches, there’s little new to report on that front. I’m  not hiding or censoring anything – simply, there was a purge of right-wing imagery from public spaces, the revived rallies were largely a failure, while protesters claiming to represent the people of the Ivano-Frankivsk region have disappeared from the police HQ and instead their leaders seem content to occupy, now legitimately with keys and suits rather than violently, offices within the regional administration.

When there were demonstrations, protests, arson attacks or torchlight processions, this blog covered it. Now there are none, the everyday prevails. Hence the perhaps, for some, flippant title and subject matter of today’s post.

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For several years, a historical building – namely a brewery first opened in 1767 – in the centre of Ivano-Frankivsk close to the market on Novhorodska Street was being renovated which here, most often, equates to a complete rebuilding. This is what happened in the case of the city brewery which under communist rule and indeed in the early years of independent Ukraine still produced beer. (My father-in-law chose this company for his free shares that were issued to all Ukrainians at the time of marketisation of the economy. Not a wise choice, it turned out, although the rest of my wife’s family chose better, opting for the local energy company.)

The brewery closed down and fell into disrepair, a situation so grave that the old brewery was torn down and replaced with this replica, or simulacrum, belonging to the category of fake heritage. It is now a restaurant belonging to the local chain Royal Burger.

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The plaque here states that this building is ‘a monument of architecture’, so the equivalent of being listed in Britain. It was the ‘malthouse of a brewery’ and is protected under No 1137-N. ‘It is protected by the state and any damage is punishable by law.’

It is noticeable that this plaque, unlike others in the city, makes no mention of the year of construction. It is unclear how this building can be considered a ‘monument of architecture’ and a listed building when it is a replica. And if damage is punishable by law, then whoever gave permission for this “reconstruction” and then for Royal Burger to take over the building without making any effort on the internal decoration to reference the building’s heritage should be prosecuted.

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For some reason, the architects decided to attempt some fake authenticity by leaving two fried-egg-shaped patches of uncovered brick, as if the plaster had fallen off the walls of this brand new construction. Indeed, beneath these plaster cast prostheses of authenticity there is one of the few signs of any history to the building. The bared bricks reveal the names of Polish and presumably Austrian brick companies, a handful of which may have been salvaged from the original. However, such bricks are easy to come by and theme pubs around the area are full of them without making any pretence to authenticity.

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If you want some genuine plaster-falling-off-the-walls experiences, then you don’t have to walk far. You could walk fifty metres around the corner to see this building.

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Or you could just look out of the window of Royal Burger and see across the road another building that belongs/belonged to the brewery complex. It won’t be long at all now until this building disappears from the city’s architectural landscape. Unlikely to be replaced by the Royal-Burger-type fake heritage, I’d imagine an apartment block springing up in this prime real estate location quite soon.

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The situation is quite desperate, as the back wall has partly collapsed, even if the walls appear quite smooth and may have been treated in the not-too-distant past, perhaps when the brewery was still active.

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Further attempts at referencing the heritage and history of the building are evident in including the name of the owners who took over the brewery in the nineteenth century, the Sedelmajers, who took over from the founders of the city, the Potockis, who had owned the brewery. The link that provided that information also notes that the original promise in 2007 was that a condition of rebuilding was that beer would continue to be brewed on the site. That never happened, of course.

A further attempt at referencing the history of the building is in the writing forged – an apt word – into the windows. It states ‘Piwo w Stanislawowie’, which doesn’t really make any sense reading it. It means ‘Beer in Stanislawow’, with the ‘l’ appearing particularly inauthentic as it ought to be a Polish ‘ł’. If anything, it should say ‘Piwo z Stanisławowa’, Beer from Stanisławów, or better still actually refer to the name of the beer once made there, Stanisławowskie.

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This is perhaps the most egregious example of a masking of the destruction of the city’s heritage in the twenty first century, although the destruction of buildings continues apace whether deliberately, by allowing huge apartment blocks to spring up on the site of small, one-storey houses, or by allowing old buildings to fall deliberately into disrepair before being replaced more cheaply and by more profitable buildings that pay lip-service, if that, to what had been there.

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Inside Royal Burger there is no attempt to even make passing reference to the building’s history. It is simply a generic fast-food joint that even in its menu effaces any indication that this building is in Ukraine or central Europe. Even McDonald’s make the effort, when moving into another foreign country, to make food which include some citation of local ingredients or classic dishes. The menu at Royal Burger is a purely generic interpretation of what was once American-style fast food. And the name and logo themselves reflects the building, as a kind of rip off of Burger King.

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My wife and I got some food in the restaurant – if I frame these whims as anthropological expeditions, I get away with doing a lot more stuff like this with her and have a chance of eating unhealthy food. I opted for the signature dish, the Royal Burger, er, Royal Burger meal. It’s two meat patties – possibly a pork and beef mix, that’s what it tasted like – in a sesame seed bun with decent sauce and salad. The chips were pretty decent, to be honest. However, the burger was problematic.

Unlike Burger King, these patties were not flame grilled, more slopped in some oil and fried or heated a bit, school-dinner style. And they were of an odd size and oddly positioned, so being smaller than the bun they shifted about like hockey pucks and meant the whole burger was quickly destroyed, falling into pieces and the salad going everywhere.

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The coke that accompanied the burger meal only arrived after about fifteen minutes, together with this Caesar Salad. To be fair, the salad was definitely fresh as when we ordered we were told there would be a wait while it was prepared, so perhaps defying the idea of fast food, and it was pretty alright. And both meals, the burger and the salad, were brought to our table. We won’t be going back to Royal Burger, as it’s quite pricey for what you get, and not really a nice place to be, especially with the horrors wrought upon the building.

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Now, in media news, a bit of shameless self promotion. I found out today that I have been featured in a glossy magazine, Ivano-Frankivsk’s Versal which is like Vogue in terms of content and approach. For anyone who hasn’t read Ukrainian Vogue, it’s quite an upmarket magazine that includes some serious social commentary and cultural news, alongside loads of adverts. This magazine, Versal, aspires to that. A former student got in touch and asked for my views. So I wrote an email, having not eaten for forty eight hours, as it was while I was suffering from food poisoning. So were I fully functioning, I may have said something more profound on my debut in a glossy magazine. (This was not the interview with a journalist I mentioned in a previous blog – that’s still to come out).

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So on the cover of this ‘fashion magazine’, aside from the adverts, the featured topics are ‘Sexual training in Ivano-Frankivsk?’ (Answer: you might have to go to Lviv for now.); The Psychosomatics of Women; and Be Trendy – Love Ukrainian products.

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Inside, a feature with yours truly above an advert for a very good restaurant, Franko, which seems to be getting into austerity mode by promoting its three-course deal for 75 UAH, now less than £5 ($8) with the gradual collapse of the currency. The transliteration of my surname is technically correct but stylistically questionable, but not qualms as my words aren’t changed too much (Ukrainian journalistic practice isn’t always up to scratch on this point). I talk about my rising awareness of the seriousness of the situation in Ukraine in November 2013, trying to get students then to realise the same, while I end on an appeal for people here not to live in fear of the minor powers who have demanded bribes in the past and to rise above that. Then I make a call for people to realise the multicultural, multinational history of the city, rather than submit to the quixotic but ultimately dangerous appeal of nationalism, which writing this email in late February I sensed was on the rise. Indeed, a day later the torchlight procession took place.

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What is particularly touching is that I have been included in a feature which presents ‘conscious, passionate Ivano-Frankivskians’, three people who talk about ‘what to do to make things better in their own country’. I have been accepted as a full resident of the city, and indeed even an honorary Ukrainian! I recall that when I first posted about the torchlight procession, a response even from people who have been friends and colleagues for years was that I didn’t have the authority to write and that people could do what they want in ‘their city’. Implicitly, despite having spent over two years living here, even friends didn’t judge that the city could ever be mind, I’d always be an outsider.

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It’s also nice to feature in a magazine that it so eclectic – social commentary alongside adverts for ‘Hair Empire’ salon and a wonderfully insightful history of Hutsul, so local mountain-dwellers, jewellery and traditions.

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This evening, meanwhile, my wife and I attended the booklaunch of a collection of articles written since November 2013 by five leading male Ukrainian authors. Four – Taras Prokhasko, Ivan Tsyperdiuk, Yuriy Andrukhovych and Yuriy Vinnychuk were present today in Ivano-Frankivsk, while Serhij Zhadan was absent, possibly still recovering after being badly beaten up during what proved to be fatal protests in Kharkiv earlier this month. The book is title ‘Euromaidan: Chronicle of Perceptions/Feelings (відчуття)’.

The four authors spoke, but did not enter into discussion, then read from their book. It would possibly have been more interesting to have attended their talk held at 5pm at Hotel Stanislaviv, rather than this 6:30 pm meeting at Ye Bookshop, but I had other commitments. Here there was some attempt, I felt, particularly by Andrukhovych, to overstate his role and literary figures’ role more generally in the protests. However, he did have interesting insights into censorship practices employed until the collapse of the Yanukovych regime, with the entire block he was staying in in Kyiv having its internet quite literally cut – the cable was removed – once the authorities worked out he was blogging and translating from there.

Vinnychuk was the most humourous and irreverent of the four, while the whole book generally should give something of an impression of the changing emotions, feelings and perceptions as the protests then revolution proceeded. The local press have covered this book in more detail here.

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It is useful and insightful that the authors have chronicled their articles, their views, as this will prove a useful document in challenging the totalising narratives and histories that will inevitably emerge shortly and continue to be battled over in future, as to what the real “Euromaidan” or “revolution” was. Here, five authors with differing views and experiences, who themselves changed their minds and their feelings changed over time, create a stumbling block to that kind of totalising claim, even if the role of literary figures might come to be exaggerated somewhat, as it has done in the past (Milan Kundera, looking at you).

In an architectural aside, the ceiling and colour scheme more generally differs very little from that in Royal Burger. But the Ye Bookshop is an evidently new building with no pretence to heritage.

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And to finish off for today, two posters from the university – No to War in Ukrainian and Russian, both accompanied by calls to reject bribes. The two strands of what seems to concern Ukrainians here most right now in one place – a civil revolution and saving the country from war.

Kozak System – Brat za Brata (Brother for Brother), feat ENEJ and Maleo Reggae Rockers

On the one hand, this song shows solidarity – between Poland and Ukraine – in the fight for Ukraine’s freedom. The song is largely in Polish although there are Ukrainian verses and some shared choruses.
On the other hand, the song indicates a degree of rivalry, not between Poles and Ukrainians, but between two bands – Kozak System and Haydamaky.
(see the previous post here: https://uauk.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/%D0%B3%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%B4%D0%B0%D0%BC%D0%B0%D0%BA%D0%B8-%D0%B4%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B2%D1%8F%D0%BD%D1%96-%D1%89%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B8-haydamaky-wooden-shields-a-ska-punk-tribute-to-the-heaven/)
Kozak System are basically formed of the whole of the old Haydamaky band bar the lead singer (http://uk.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kozak_System), who kept the original name. Kozak System released this song on 21 March, Haydamaky followed on 23 March.
This song features a sample, the trumpet, from an earlier Haydamaky hit, while the lyrics call for Poles and Ukrainians to say “no” together, making this their “joint honour”, with Polish and Ukrainian brothers standing shoulder to shoulder.
It’s also a call to uprising, which seems a bit odd, given that the revolutionary acts of insurgency seem to be over, thus the Haydamaky song seems a better reflection of the current mood. This song does also refer, though, to Ukraine’s European aspirations and declares that the country’s rightful place is in Europe.

Гайдамаки “Дерев’яні Щити” / Haydamaky “Wooden Shields” – a ska-punk tribute to the Heavenly Hundred

This song is by the Ukrainian ska-punk folk crossover band Гайдамаки / Haydamaky, who have been active since 1991.
The song lyrics reference the experience of the ordinary people on Maidan in Kyiv who fell. They focus on the ‘wooden shields which protected you from live bullets my angel’. Later in the song this becomes ‘wooden shields didn’t protect everyone’.
It also mentions the fact that many of those died were young, whose fathers gave permission to attend ‘because they promised it would be a peaceful protest’ but instead met ‘snipers’ bullets’. Things were ‘like in a real war, real fighting, real guns’.
The video, as you can see, includes footage from Maidan and ends with the slogan which has become widespread in reference to the Heavenly Hundred, ‘Heroes Don’t Die’.

Frankivsk’s New Soviet Theme Pub, Young Professionals and a local news update

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Last week a new bar opened in Ivano-Frankivsk on Kurbasa Street, near the Philarmonic Concert Hall, in the city centre. My wife and I visited it for the first time this afternoon. It is called ГОСТ, a reference to the Soviet-era standards agency which continues its work today in providing standards for quality and measurement across the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The name of the pub is unusual in that it references the Russian version of the name of the agency, rather than the Ukrainian ДЕСТ, while the theme of the pub is unique for this western Ukrainian city, since it is a Soviet theme bar. Not some kitsch appropriation of Soviet and communist symbols, but a kind of homage to the everyday tastes of life under communism.

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There are in the city plenty of bars and cafés which remain Soviet in style, including one of my favourites, Renata, above. Another old favourite, Bilyj Kamin’ (White Stone) no longer exists, but this great article shows that cafe, which is now a jewellers, alongside a couple of other (accidentally) retro cafes in the city.

Renata is located on the central Nezhalezhnosti Street and today tables and chairs were out for the first time this year as temperatures reached 22 degrees Celsius. Other Soviet-era legacy bars and cafes that I enjoy include Krystal and Pirizhkova. The latter specialises in savoury and sweet buns, as well as soups and chicory or wheat-based coffee with condensed milk. The recipes have remained unchanged there for decades, likewise some of the staff. Krystal like Renata offers a fuller menu, including booze, with cognac probably the most popular choice to go with soups, salads, meat patties on bread and coffee still made with Soviet-era, I think Hungarian, espresso machines. Pirzhkova attracts all sorts of people, from kids to pensioners seeking quick and hearty food, while Krystal and Renata tend to attract an older crowd, those who still remember the Soviet days.

These cafés fascinate me and probably deserve a post of their own. ГОСТ is an exceptional case, however, because it is the first stylised Soviet theme pub, designed and run by people whose childhood incorporated the final years of the Soviet Union.

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The city features plenty of other stylised theme pubs referring back to other periods in the city’s history or to imagined visions of other countries’ pubs. The original among this type of pub, opened a decade ago, Desyatka, features Austrian/Habsburg and Polish stylings. Pyatnytsa tries to look like an English pub, while Legenda, recently opened at the end of Nezhalezhnosti/ Sichovych Striltsiv mixes British and German themes. Piwnica on Sichovych Strilstiv goes for an interwar-Polish vibe, while Leprechaun – well, no need to explain that one, likewise Bavaria. While pubs in Poland already a decade ago, if not longer, such as PRL in Wrocław, adopted a faux communist-era look, ГОСТ is the first Soviet-era stylisation I have encountered in Ivano-Frankivsk.

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The menu features plenty of good, old-fashioned solid dishes as well as a few favourites from the time. It doesn’t go in for daft names for dishes (unlike the city’s kitschy nationalist/ UPA-themed Bunker on Hrushevskoho), it’s a no-frills kind of place. The menu begins with hard spirits, cognac top of the list of course and avoids anything unlikely to have been available at the time, so it’s purely Ukrainian and CIS-sourced food and drink. The beer on tap is from the First Private Brewery, established in 2004, but with its own no-frills image and Zhyhulivskye, which is a type of beer made in the USSR. Known until Stalinism as Viennese beer, it became Zhyhulivskye with a recipe guaranteed by the ГОСТ agency. Now numerous breweries make their own version of it. This beer is part of a trend of reviving Soviet-era brands by Ukrainian producers, including chocolate bars with seagulls and matrioshkas on them, or soft drinks – like the one in the first picture. They also only sell Pepsi, and in bottles with old-school labels. If I’m not mistaken Pepsi beat Coca Cola to the Soviet market, although it was overtaken post-1991/92.

The food menu includes a few salads, nothing too fancy, pierogi, varennyky and pancakes, before ending on desserts, including the outstanding smoked dried plums with walnuts in condensed milk. Really, it is amazing, and all for 12 UAH, so about 75p or $1 right now, meaning prices are comparable to the Soviet legacy bars and cafés.

Like the revival of certain brands, I would suggest ГОСТ is an indicator of a – perhaps surprising in the current climate in Ukraine, particularly the west – certain “Ostalgie”, to use the phrase applied to East Germany and the rise of a fascination with or curiosity about communism among different generations, including the one which did not have experience as adults of it.

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ГОСТ is decorated with photos of Ivano-Frankivsk in the Soviet era, as well as various objects including an East German typewriter, a Soviet-era radio and Russian- and Ukrainian-language books from the period. The interesting thing about the photos is that they make clear how much public memory overwrites or sidelines the communist period. It’s easy to find images of interwar or pre-WWI Stanislav(iv), or even the Second World War city under German occupation, yet harder to get a sense of what the city looked like and lived like under communism.

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Whether there is a genuine sense of Ostalgie or it’s simply a nice-looking bar with very decent prices that attracts its clients is hard to tell. However, the bar is proving a hit. Last night my wife and I couldn’t get a table, so we popped in for a soft-drink, some soup and the smoked prune dessert this afternoon on the way to the market. Last night the clientele was largely folk from our generation, mid-late twenties and early-thirties.

It was the same in the place where we ended up last night, another bar/restaurant that opened this month, Kondrat on Chornovola Street, between the centre and the university. It occupies a building that has seen two bars that were central to Frankivsk’s cultural life in the past, Chimera and Marmulyada. Kondrat last night was also filled with people of our generation and, recognising a few faces in there, people who would be classed as young professionals (but not yuppies). Why this might be interesting is that Frankivsk is a student city, with three large universities in a city of some 240,000. However, in contrast to a British university city which would be overrun with students, here the students seem largely absent at weekends.

This is possibly a result of their relative lack of income and lack of time, but also of a habit of often going back to home villages and towns each weekend. Instead, the folk filling bars and cafes of a weekend, aside from the regulars in Soviet legacy bars, seem to be an emerging class of young professionals, suggesting some disposable income and thus the potential formation of a middle class in Ukraine among our generation.

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The relative liveliness in the cafes and bars of the city this weekend, while partly a result of the improvement in weather, also suggests that the city is experiencing some degree of normalisation despite the threat of war and ongoing mourning. What is almost certain is that people were not out celebrating the signing by Ukraine of part of the EU Association Agreement. Although the Yanukovych government’s refusal to sign was the final spur to mass protests against the Party of Region’s rule, yesterday’s achievements hardly seem like a success given the cost at which they have been achieved – over 100 deaths of activists and police – and the annexation of Crimea by Russia. There is also a realisation that much is to be done t0 transform life in Ukraine. ‘Social Revolution’ is what the above graffiti calls for and this idea of a civil revolution, changing everyday behaviour and experience, particularly the phenomenon of bribery, is a desire and ideal – regardless of coverage of Right Sector or pro-Yanukovych rallies, as took place today in parts of Ukraine – ordinary Ukrainians across the country can share.

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Of course, though, with the incorporation of Right Sector or Self-Defence activists into local and national institutions there could easily be greater official legitimacy attached to more nationalist interpretations of the historical past and recent events. Local MP and Deputy PM Oleksandr Sych wants  to revive the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory which, modelled on the Polish IPN, will become a political instrument for seeking to construct a singular, unitary version of the past.

The poster below for an exhibition, meanwhile, suggests a particular interpretation of Taras Shevchenko’s 200th birthday,with the national bard again stylised as a revolutionary, but this time one with a nationalist bent. The event was organised jointly by the Regional State Administration’s Office for Culture, Nationalities and Religion and the Ivano-Frankivsk Stepan Bandera Regional Museum of the Battle for Liberation. I would wager that, at least on a regional level, such collaborations will only become more common, as the state apparatus comes to sponsor a particular nationalist reading of the past and present.

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Shevchenko, the national bard, appears here in the guise favoured by Right Sector’s youths – a bandana masking the face, while he is “supported” by two Molotov cocktails. The exhibition was in honour of his 200th birthday and the ‘Heavenly Hundred’ of Maidan dead, none of whom were from Right Sector.

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Here meanwhile there is a poster for another project, this time of a more civil type, calling for a revival of the tradition for each household to have a portrait of the national bard. Below is a poster promoting the ‘social revolution’ – rather than the dangerous national revolution desired by Right Sector and its social nationalist affiliates. The small black poster states that if you give or take bribes then you have the blood of the Heavenly Hundred of your hands.

The ideological appropriation of the Maidan dead by Right Sector is worrying and, I believe, immoral. But the message of the small black poster, a form of moral blackmail perhaps, should nevertheless be more effective in assisting the social revolution in Ukraine that will change everyday life for Ukrainians, slowly, for the better.

In local news, certain media outlets continue to peddle the myth that Right Sector and others represent ‘the city community’, as these organisations continue to oppose certain appointments, particularly in the police department. It seems mass social support is not forthcoming, while the rallies which were re-launched last week and appropriated by Right Sector and Self-Defence, seem to be having little resonance. Meanwhile, Right Sector which claims to be against all forms of traditional politics and condemned the system, has now decided that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. It has announced it will become a political party. However, Right Sector and Self-Defence refuse to cooperate with the new National Guard, a military organisation created by the state which recruits reservists and volunteers. They argue that their men cannot fight alongside former police who had been on the other side of the barricades in Maidan. The local authorities have agreed to form a separate unit for them but won’t arm the RS/Self-Defence unit, which is quite wise.

Sections of the local press, however, finally seem to be developing a critical stance towards the local patriots who consider themselves to be the voice of the community, with an important regional newspaper, Galician Correspondent, criticising the ‘double-standards’ of those calling for lustration. Indeed, it turns out the chosen candidate for head of police among those claiming to represent ‘the people’ and ‘the community’ is an ex-KGB agent!

The real army, which is raising funds from civilians who dial 565 which gives them 5 UAH or 30p/50 cents, is visiting local schools to explain what to do in case of emergency and war. Since most of my students didn’t know what to do in case of fire at the university, they might also want to come and give some talks to undergraduates.

In media news, you can catch the latest local news and debate on an online tv station, IF-TV from 6pm each day. It broadcasts live on the massive jumbotrons around the city at that time, too, and probably has more viewers there than online. Last night, there were more presenters than viewers most of the time. However, it has to be said that the level of local news sources online, in newspapers and on tv here is very impressive. Whereas my home city, larger than Frankivsk, has just one newspaper and tv news bulletins are limited to a couple of bulletins a day on BBC or ITV, here there are at least three newspapers, three full-time tv stations and over half a dozen internet news portals covering the city and region. I was interviewed by one outlet earlier this week and when asked what was most exceptional about Ivano-Frankivsk, I mentioned the media landscape, which surprised the intelligent and insightful young journalist I was talking to. The expected answer tends to concern food or drink, which brings this post full circle.

The Only Hammer and Sickle in Town? Army Base becoming a housing estate.

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Today I think I found what is possibly the only hammer and sickle remaining in Ivano-Frankivsk in a public space or on a building. And I don’t think that it will survive for much longer. The site, a former military base on vul. Natsionalnoyi Gvardii (National Guard Street), is being turned into a housing estate.

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On my way back from work, my wife called to ask me to get some smoked fish and salads from a great delicatessen (Kuchnia Pani Anny, Mrs. Anna’s Kitchen) on Konovaltsa Street, so I took the opportunity to walk down this street, rather than the parallel and more picturesque Matejko Street. The street name is historical, but it also has contemporary relevance, as the new civilian military defence force formed by the current government to assist the army is called the National Guard. Today the Prime Minister declared that anyone who wants to help Ukraine should join this organisation and is threatening to make the Self-Defence forces who, alongside Right Sector, are refusing to join and want to pursue their own fight, illegal.

I have only ever once previously walked down this street, probably six years ago, when I lived in Ivano-Frankivsk for seven months. It was not possible then to enter this site as it was still an active, if run down, military base. Now the troops are based further out of town and the developers have moved in. With the gates open it was possible to observe – minding for an aggressive dog – the rather impressive artwork that adorns these deteriorating buildings.

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The photos of this relief sculpture, regardless of the moody sky and light, cannot do justice to this work which shows the Red Army marching forth to crush the fascist occupiers of the Ukrainian lands. The mural, meanwhile, still featuring the hammer sickle despite the destruction of part of the work – possibly an overtly ideological message – shows in its colours the crushing of Germany and the advance of the Red Army over the Dnipro River in an offensive from August to December 1943.

Although, of course, the past is contested as regards communism in Ukraine, a system which caused millions of deaths of Ukrainians in Holodomor particularly, it would be a shame if these works were to simply disappear under developers’ bulldozers and wrecking balls. The role of Ukrainians in the Red Army contributed to the end of Nazi occupation and the collapse of Nazi Germany, while these works and what they symbolise – for better and for worse – are part of these lands’ cultural history. Perhaps the mural and relief could be salvaged, being relocated to the neighbouring Battle of the Dnipro museum, officially the ‘Heroes of the Dnipro Museum’, whose presence is probably the only reason why any of the older buildings remain standing and are expected to be part of the architecture of the new estate.

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The facade of the Museum is one of the few places in the city where the Red Star and St George’s Ribbon remain evident, too.

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The plaque on the building is to ‘Double hero of the USSR’ Kyrylo (Kirill) Moskalenko, who was a Marshall of the USSR and led the offensive of the 38th Army on Kyiv which ultimately liberated twelve regions of Ukraine from Nazi occupation.

I’ve yet to visit the museum, but it should certainly prove an interesting site of memory, within a city where most public new memorials now commemorate the deeds of those firmly in the canon of national heroes: authors, historians, politicians and Ukrainian nationalists who fought for the freedom of Ukraine. Even if the soldiers of the Battle of the Dnipro are declared heroes in the name of the museum, their allegiance to the Red Army – which was not something that could be resisted easily – means they don’t make the heroic canon. Still, a trace remains here – but for how long?

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Passing through the Memorial Square again today, where Roman Huryk – one of the Heavenly Hundred is buried – I found a plaque I had not previously noticed. It states: ‘This memorial cross was erected on 9 May 1995 to honour the memory of Ukrainians who died during the Polish-German-Russian occupational regime in Ukraine. Glory to the Heroes.’ Obviously, the date of the erection of the cross, on “Victory Day” (for the Soviet bloc) and the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, suggests that this plaque is a marker of the memory culture of 14 years ago. It is rare now to hear of explicit declarations lumping together the post-World War states ruling western Ukraine as occupying forces, with today a more heroic – rather than victim-centred – narrative emerging for this part of the world, once centred on resistance and insurgent fighting leading to Ukraine’s independence in 1991. Still, though, it continues to reflect the sense in western Ukraine that there was little glory in the fight the soldiers commemorated on National Guard street fought.

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An interesting echo of the Ukrainian cross comes on one of the few surviving graves of the former Catholic cemetery whose site the Memorial Square occupies. I only noticed the inscription on Maurycy Gosławski‘s tomb today. He was a poet and soldier who fought in the 1830/31 November uprising against Russian Rule over Poland. He escaped to Galicia and sought shelter her, before dying of typhus in 1834, with his tomb erected in 1872 when the cemetery was formed.

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The inscription reads ‘My people, my bedevilled people/ You forever build memorial mounds and crosses/ Until the Lord will bring your tears to the Rosary/ and will Himself wash your burning wounds.’ It is a verse reflecting the torment of the Polish people – something that is paralleled in the fate of the Ukrainian people – on the one hand reflecting a pessimistic sense that never will liberty again be seen, leaving only salvation in Lord. Or it could be read in the messianic vein, that eventually, the Lord must set the Polish people free. Alternatively, it could be read as something of an urge to action, to end the culture of mourning and work towards building a better future.

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Opposite the Memorial Square, this graffiti has appeared, commemorating the Heavenly Hundred, with the UPA-nationalist flag alongside the Ukrainian state flag. To the left of this graffiti tribute to the newest members of the canon of heroes is an image of a motley crew of Ukrainian freedom fighters, with the men bearing some resemblance to the pantheon of nationalist leaders, with the woman given a symbolic auxiliary role.

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There remains, though, in the city evidence of a more popular, less insurgent mode of working towards a European future. This is from a popular chain of fast food outlets, Chicken Hut. ‘Together to Victory’.  Those who claim to speak today, however, for the legacy of the red-and-black flag and bring the Ukrainian nationalist movement into the twenty first century, Right Sector, have decided that they are opposed to Ukraine’s Europeanisation and want Ukraine to be ‘a subject of geopolitics not an object’ and they thus reject Russia, Europe and NATO. Sounds like an ideal way to ensure a neverending battle and to ignore a large portion of the popular will and the original urge that drove what became Euromaidan, then the Ukrainian revolution and now, sadly, a chance for various chancers to attempt to usurp power, whether in Kyiv or Crimea.

In Kyiv, Right Sector are refusing to accept the new authorities, despite squirming their way into them there and in the regions, declaring the revolution ‘only 30%’ complete and seem determined to take up an insurgent, armed battle not only in Ukraine but also in Russia, drawing on Russian anti-Putin and nationalist support. This might get them a statue in future and a place among the canon of heroes, but it doesn’t serve the will of most people here to save the country, get life back to some degree of normality and improve the standard of living by aiming towards some European ideal.

An Uneventful Walk to Work and Back: The Everyday in Post-Revolution Ivano-Frankivsk and a purge of nationalist imagery

 

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Today I went to work, came home, then went out to work again. I ate some soup and a pastry in a Soviet-style cafe between lessons. The day was thoroughly uneventful. Unlike Wednesday, when I walked around two miles to work through the city and encountered a blockade of the police HQ on the way there then a march by Right Sector (Правий Сектор) on the way back, nothing of note happened.

Since this blog has drawn a lot more attention recently, and sometimes from people seeking confirmation of theories of a neo-Nazi or “Banderite” takeover of Ukraine or western Ukraine, I think it’s only fair to draw attention to how most days for me, like for almost everyone in the city, pass in thoroughly unremarkable circumstances. If it weren’t for watching the news, it would be difficult to tell from walking through Ivano-Frankivsk today, and I covered a good five miles on foot today in the centre and beyond, that this was a post-revolutionary city in a country under threat of war or losing part of its territory.

At university today, I took the lift to the eighth floor. This is unusual for me, but I was travelling with a friend and colleague. As we waited on the ground floor, I noticed some light-fittings for the first time. They’re quite elegant, in a traditional Hutsul (western Ukrainian mountain folk) style of wood carving. I pointed out to my friend these lights and she responded, “You always notice these inconsequential things. Are you going to put that on Facebook too, on your blog? There’s a war coming and you talk about light fittings.” Since we hadn’t mentioned the threat of war yet that day, it seems that my approach in this blog is somewhat misunderstood by some here as indicative of an uncaring attitude to the fate of Ukraine. However, that is far from the case. It is merely my position that even in the greatest of tragedies, the everyday goes on. And so it has and will here. As I replied, “Even if war comes and Russian come, babushkas will still be selling cheese down the market.”

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On Saturday, as my wife and I travelled to Kolomyja, our marshrutka (local bus) to the station was largely empty of passengers but filled with bags of homemade dairy products, including cheese being transported to the central market by people who had clearly arrived – judging from their variant of Ukrainian – from villages outside the city to trade. The group got off the bus and, having made a phone call, a pre-arranged carter arrived to take their produce to the market for them. This kind of getting by will continue, I imagine, perhaps with a less reliable bus service.

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The trip to Kolomyya also made me more sensitive to the relative absence in Ivano-Frankivsk of European Union symbols in the city, with the EU flag having been sidelined from the balcony used for rallies in the city. This morning I noticed a rubbish truck taking away the bins on my way back from university, with this part of an EU-sponsored refuse collection scheme in the city. The photo below is one that proved particularly inspirational in the early days of Euromaidan for me to begin this blog and to consider the European prospects of Ukraine. The bin below still stands, next to the tent which has occupied the Vichevyj Maidan (Rally Square) by the post office since November, while the EU flag behind it also remains in place.

The central administrative services building, above, also bears the EU flag, like most administrative buildings here, while I also noticed an EU flag conjoined with the Ukrainian flag on an illegally-parked car by the theatre.

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What was particularly noticeable on the Vichevyj Maidan today, a site of various noticeboards for different political parties, was that there had been a purge of nationalist posters, imagery and stickers that had plagued the site. On this shrine to the victims killed on Maidan, one solitary UNSO sticker remained, while instead ordinary people’s attempts at poetry, as well as flower and photos, prevailed.

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The recruitment posters to UNSO, urging the expansion of its paramilitary force, had largely disappeared, with this poster being the only new addition to the repertoire. It urges the recruitment of 14-25 year olds to attend training camps in the Carpathian Mountains.

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The purge of stickers, meanwhile, revealed something of the layers of the palimpsest beneath the more recent pro-European and nationalist posters, some of which had come to dominate the board of the liberal-conservative National Movement (Narodnyj Rukh) party. Here above the ripped EU poster and a partially torn-down UNSO recruitment sticker, there is an old Patriot of Ukraine (who admit to being ‘Social Nationalists’ with no qualms) sticker. The sticker condemns mass emigration from Ukraine as it encourages immigration of foreigners. As the sticker shows 7m white Ukrainians left the country. 7m dark foreigners or ‘aliens’ came in. And this ‘= occupation’. The slogan at the bottom says, ‘Stay in YOUR country.’ Presumably I would be one of those 7m aliens they want out?

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An irony, meanwhile, of the ageing induced over time on the faded older posters is that this nationalist poster, once red and black, is now orange and black, recalling the ribbon of St George worn by pro-Russian fighters and sympathisers in eastern Ukraine. It is associated with the deeds of the Red Army and the Russian Empire. The poster states, ‘We will defend the Ukrainian language – we will save the nation and the state! We will break the spine of Ukrainophobes! Beat [as in hit] the enemies of Ukraine! Glory to the Nation! Death to the Enemies!’ This is a poster for the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), associated with UNSO.

What this uncovering of the palimpsest of posters suggests is that despite the chanting of slogans and marches becoming more commonplace since the outbreak of Euromaidan and the revolution, the tone of posters from this end of the nationalist spectrum has actually become more moderate. Perhaps thus indicating the urge towards seeking greater popular appeal.

Below the faded nationalist poster there are traces of support for European integration as well as offers of loans and flats for rent.

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The Svoboda board has also become more moderate, with the baseball-bat wielding Maidan revolutionary Shevchenko replaced by a poster advertising a reading of Maidan poetry organised the Prosvita Society and the regional Women’s Community organisation. 21 March at 16:00 at Prosvita, for those interested. The pro-European nature of the original protests is evident, alongside religious imagery, as well as a curious use of graffiti-style writing stating ‘The heroes of Maidan will not be forgotten.’

The sticker at the top right was common around the centre, calling for a boycott of EpiCentr, basically the Ukrainian B&Q which was (is?) owned by two Party of Regions figures.

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Here the consequences of the purge of the Svoboda board are evident, with just one UNSO recruitment poster remaining.

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This recruitment poster, meanwhile, stuck on the main entrance to the central post office had survived for over a week. Beyond the yellow poster stating that ‘Administrative services [offered by the Regional Administration] have been simplified. Use the post’ – this is a post-revolution initiative – there was a recruitment poster until about 10 seconds after I took this photo. It was not stuck on very well, so I ripped it off and binned it.

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On Vichevyj Maidan, opposite the post office, there is the headquarters of the local office of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists and UNSO. It has been there for years, as have the portraits of the famed nationalist leaders Konovalets, Bandera and Shukhevych.

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They share a building with the National Party of Ukraine, who were keen to purge their noticeboard of their neighbours’ imagery. This party merged with the Rukh movement, which was associated with one of the leading figures of Soviet-era Ukrainian democratic opposition, Vyacheslav Chornovil. He became a leading politician in independent Ukraine until his death in a car crash in 1999, when he was expected to challenge Kuchma for the presidency. His death is considered by many to have been suspicious.

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This his memorial (sorry for the poor quality) on the building that now houses the Rukh party offices in the city, which in the early days of the civil revolution in the city in November and December was the informal headquarters for those representing civil society and those prepared to spend evenings on Maidan in the city or travel to Kyiv. The current situation of the party is not really clear as it split between different factions in parliament. However, inside the building, there is a celebration of Chornovil’s life and Rukh’s mode of peaceful and civil protest.

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The Rukh building is at the city-centre end of Shevchenko Street, the rest of which I covered in a different post. This end of the street, as well as being symbolic for Chornovil’s achievements, also includes the Hotel Dnister and associated ‘National House’ of culture where the declaration of uniting the West Ukrainian and People’s Republic of Ukraine was accepted on 22 January 1919 before being implemented in Kyiv.

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The hotel now also marks famous Ukrainian leaders who stayed there in 1919, including Hrushevsky, Petliura and Vynnychenko.

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While last week it seemed that the rise of Right Sector was getting out of hand, likewise the nationalist domination of the city space, today it seems that a more moderate atmosphere is prevailing in the city. Perhaps the relative failure of the revived rallies where Right Sector and associates appropriated authority to speak for the people and the city community led to a sense of realism in that organisation. As I walked passed the police HQ today there was just a mini road block which has actually improved the flow of traffic around that part of the city as it has made Sakharova Street effectively one way. Some joint patrols with the police have been revived, while most tellingly there is greater cooperation with the local authorities. Today a Council for the Defence of the Region was launched, involving local regional and municipal authorities, Right Sector, Self-Defence, the police, the military and the telecoms company, Ukrtelekom, indicating the need to cooperate and secure the region’s infrastructure and population.

While to those who like to read this blog as a sign of the irresistible rise of the far-right, the inclusion of Right Sector and Self-Defence in this Regional Defence Council would seem to affirm that view. However, I would argue that it is better for their representatives to be included in the functional structures of the regional administration rather than opposing them, causing trouble and seeking to disrupt the attempt to stabilise the city and secure the security of the population.

Today also saw a strong criticism from the local military of the 300 or so UNSO fighters from the region who claim to be ready to head east and to Crimea, slapping them down and telling them that they would simply become cannon fodder should they take up arms actively.

Hopefully the relative sobriety that is coming over the local administration and those seeking to usurp local power from the outside will continue. The urban space is already showing signs of this mellowing and de-radicalisation as the enemy encroaches upon Ukraine.