The world’s eyes are still on Ukraine, but now focussed on Crimea. This is a huge country, so Simferopol is 1,100km away from Ivano-Frankivsk. But the threat of war is real throughout the country and the tension can be felt here, too. In practical terms, it means that a couple of people I know here have received papers calling them up as reserve officers to the army, while a qualified doctor I know has volunteered to join the medical corps. For now, these people can continue their everyday lives but could be called into service at any point. Many people in the city have also volunteered to join the military, while – as will be discussed below – paramilitary formations are also recruiting.
Beyond this, for most people, life goes on in this time of post-revolutionary attempts to stabilise everyday life while the threat of military conflict lingers. In terms of the most evident symbol of revolution in Ivano-Frankivsk, the burned out Security Service building, locals have volunteered to collaborate with the authorities to restore the building. In Kyiv, meanwhile, a team of volunteers from Kolomyja, a large town in Ivano-Frankivsk region, have restored “Lovers’ Bridge”, which was damaged by fire during the violent clashes in the capital.
Around the city, it seems slightly livelier than it had been at the weekend and earlier in the week, when the fears of war and conflict were perhaps at their strongest. There seem to be more people in cafes and bars, while the upcoming Women’s Day holiday on 8 March has added a bit of colour (beyond blue and yellow, red and black, and grey) to the city. Despite the fears of economic difficulties in Ukraine, prices are fairly stable aside from products which are clearly imported, like fuel and bananas. There have been, however, some limits imposed by the biggest bank on credit card transactions. At one point, it was as low as 200 UAH, so about $20. This can get you about 15kg of bananas now, or 22 litres of milk, or four bottles of good Ukrainian wine in a supermarket. Businesses operating with a largely foreign client-base are sensing some degree of wariness from clients, with currency instability not aiding their situation, according to people I have spoken to. Meanwhile, students’ classes are running as usual, with no strikes or demonstrations for now.
The rest of this entry will take the form of a picture essay – linking between photos of stickers, posters and graffiti I have taken in recent days. Just to be clear for readers who expect “objectivity” – these are photos I have taken solely in the places I encounter as I walk around the city. These images are not an objective sample of the state of mind or political positions of Ivano-Frankivsk residents. They are merely a representation of what is visible on the city streets, and hopefully a fairly representative sample of what is currently visible.
This sticker is from the Spilna Sprava (Common Cause) civil society organisation. It states ‘I won’t leave Maidan until Yanukovych resigns!’ That aim has obviously been achieved and now it is not clear what Common Cause can achieve, as its leader – the rights lawyer, Oleksandr Danyliuk – reportedly fled to London fearing arrest. In January, during the Kyiv protests in January occupied for a few hours several ministry buildings. The organisation still promotes greater reform of Ukraine’s political and power structures. If it has left Maidan after achieving this goal, then its space on the streets has been filled – in Ivano-Frankivsk – most evidently by Pravy Sektor/ Right Sector.
As this article shows, in an attempt to present Right Sector as something of a civil society organisation, Right Sector emerged in the city once the original student-led protests left for Kyiv. The former student Maidan was taken over by Right Sector, thus changing the face of the local revolution. As this article concludes, the aim of the Right Sector activists is a “Ukrainian Ukraine”. Like so many representations of the Right Sector coalition of nationalist organisations, it is written as if Ukraine lacks a regular armed forces.
Here, some homemade, improvised shields outside the Right Sector-dominated encampment outside the Regional Administration (White House) feature a poster advertising a rally which took place on 26 February promoting the ‘Day of Solidarity’. This was intended to promote the rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine and thus territorial integrity. This meeting was scheduled before any evident Russian move on Crimea, but did reflect something of society’s concern over what could happen next following the new parliament’s short-sighted decision to scrap the existing language law (which the interim president has not signed into law). Lviv intellectuals were some of the first to speak out against what could be perceived as discriminating Ukraine’s Russian speakers. This has become a mainstream concern now in these times of crisis, as traditionally Ukrainian-language media outlets are now happily switching between languages and making overt shows of bi-lingual national unity.
This is the Right Sector-dominated camp in the city, outside the administration building. Today it seemed surprisingly quiet, with the only person evident sitting further away and guarding a collection box. Perhaps the rain kept the activists inside. However, today also saw a civil society campaign against Right Sector, with a group of people putting in an appeal today with the city’s mayor to have him act against the group’s overt presence on the streets.
The people who came reflected citizens’ concerns about the number of people in masks and the number of people from Right Sector carrying arms around the city. As the video in the link above makes clear, the leader of Right Sector has forbidden the wearing of masks, although this seems to make little difference. Some of those appealing to the mayor were from Samoobrona (Self-Defence) which was associated with Klitschko’s Udar (Punch) party who feel let down by their former brothers in arms. The mayor answered in strong terms, stating that he was opposed to these masked figures’ attempts to usurp power. He is also concerned about the arms finding their way to organised criminal elements. As I witnessed myself, the storming of the Security Service building was both a show of power but also an attempt to gain arms.
As this board outside the Regional Administration main entrance symbolises however, Right Sector activists are finding their way into legitimate organs of power, including the city and regional administration, as well as the national government, so it might not be so simple for the mayor to keep order in the city and keep masked and armed figures off the streets.
One of the stickers on the nameplate of the Regional Administration is this one, which is currently the poster most evident around the city. It comes from the Ukranian National Self-Defence organisation, which is a far-right political party with a paramilitary section that has seen action in numerous conflicts outside Ukraine. Here, on this poster marked with stylised bullet-holes and blood, is what the organisation can offer. It includes a ‘Street revolutionary course’, generally military preparation including medical skills, mass-event organisation, peaceful and non-peaceful forms of protest, psychological preparation, ideological preparation, agitation and educational work, climbing lessons, shooting practice, training camps, history lessons and ‘Strikeball’ or Airsoft in English.
It is impossible to tell, of course, how many people will be successfully recruited by these posters, of which there are hundreds around the city right now. Of course, anyone reading them will also be confronted by the traces of ordinary everyday life which continue. Here, the Ukrainian National Self-Defence poster competes with offers for a cheap flat, new jobs, business managers, while elsewhere in the city there are plenty of offers for loans or work in Poland.
Here the Ukrainian National Self-Defence is recruiting alongside, or on top of, an ‘Address to the Nation’ from Stepan Bandera, around whom something of a nationalist cult has been built in these parts, partly in response to Communist-era efforts to particularly discredit him. This is continued by Russia today, which believes neo-Nazi, Fascist “Benderovtsi” have taken over Ukraine leading to some excellent memes online.
This plays on the mispronunciation of Bandera’s name in Russian-language propaganda, so here we have Banderas, Bond, Ostap Bender and Mr Bean.
To me, the cult of Stepan Bandera seems quite odd, since he was not necessarily the most influential or successful nationalist leader at the time, although he was probably the most radical, causing a splintering of the Ukrainian nationalist movement during World War II. So the cult that has developed could be seen as developing in response to attempts to trash his reputation under the Soviet Union and since then.
This is a further Ukrainian National Self-Defence recruitment poster, calling for people to join the paramilitary force. I have not seen a standard military recruitment poster yet, although I imagine that might be because the rush to sign up was a natural urge in many people. Equally, the state system might not be as quick at getting posters published, what with bureaucracy to get through.
This poster calls for mobilisation following ‘the military aggression of the Russian Empire against Ukraine’. It seeks volunteers to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the state’s sovereignty. It calls above all for ‘hunters, sportsmen and “security forces” with arms’. The latter could include ex-Berkut, the special forces unit, who were disbanded around most of Ukraine. While the reference to sportsmen is ironic in that one of the great criticisms of the Yanukovych regime was that it had trained up “titushky” or sportsmen, who were sponsored to pursue boxing or martial arts, but could be called upon as a kind of paramilitary reserve when necessary. Indeed, when this Maidan began in November, Ivano-Frankivsk was due to host the national boxing championships, sponsored by the Party of Regions. It seems that such men can be hired for any cause, while there is recognition that there must be now a number of armed people around the city.
This less fancy poster, meanwhile, is an announcement of the formation of a student self-defence organisation. Given the proliferation of groups, some with similar names, it is not clear whether this Self-Defence is connected to any of the other self-defence organisations. And if it is, whether it is closer to the Udar-linked Self-defence or the Ukrainian National Self-Defence. In the past, students opposition leaders in the city were seen flanked by guards sporting the neo-Nazi Wolfsangel symbol.
Although far/extreme right organisations prevail over the city’s informal visual communicative spaces and in terms of the resources committed to promoting themselves, as well as in organisations that are visible around the city, it’s not all like that. Aside from remembering that almost everyone in the city has little affiliation with such organisations, civil society continues to work to improve the city while most people try their best to get by.
Svoboda, meanwhile, which despite its origins at the Social National Party of Ukraine, now appears a relatively moderate right-wing force compared to others that are emerging. Tyahnybok’s party has produced a rather nice calendar which features Ukraine’s national poet Taras Shevchenko, who was born 200 years ago, with this anniversary subject to many special events this year.
Looking unusually like Lech Wałęsa probably would have done had he been involved in the current protests, sporting the orange helmet associated with those active on the Maidan and a baseball bat, the quote from Shevchenko’s poetry says, ‘Ukraine will rise and blow away the fogs of subordination, then the world will know truth.’
Another change inspired by the revolution that affects everyday lives above all else is the social willingness now to resist corruption and bribery, rather than accept it as part of “the system”. Here the top poster (the bottom one is the location of a first aid point for the Maidan) states: ‘Dear Citizens! If in kindergartens, schools, universities or state offices someone demands or seeks to induce a BRIBE phone immediately on … (the HQ of Ivano-Frankivsk self-defence). ENOUGH feeding state workers with our own cash.’
I’ve yet to see this system put into action, but I’d be interested to know how it works. I should inform the students of the numbers, although I’m worried that the self-defence might send round to bribe-takers a few lads with baseball bats or worse.
Not all of civil society is seeming to work hard for the revolution. While in Kyiv the Trade Union building was a hotbed of revolutionary fervour, providing one of the main bases until it was burned down, in Ivano-Frankivsk there has been no sign of active trade union support for the revolution. Indeed, judging by the main Trade Union building, which doubles as a travel agency, there is no sign of revolution. You can read a month-old newspaper pasted to the notice board or find out about the Futsal tournament that the union newspaper sponsored.
At the university, the main entrance door featured these stickers from Right Sector which no one thought to rip down. The top one calls for ‘Justice on the land of our forefathers. Long live the national revolution.’ The national revolution being the term for the kind of extremist revolution called for in the programme of Ukrainian social nationalists, covered in a previous post. The lower sticker, on another major entrance gate to the university, states ‘Be a fighter, be victorious’.
The sticker below is in a busy passageway in the university and calls for people to join the Patriot of Ukraine organisation, which was responsible for a torchlight parade through the city on Friday last week.
In Shevchenko Park near the university, however, there is an antifa sticker on an information board about cycling routes covering the city’s historical attractions.
Here Youth Against Fascism defaced some Svoboda graffiti, which seems to be a regular event around the city. Another piece, that I’ve not photographed yet, states ‘Svoboda prydurkiv’, or ‘Freedom/Liberty for morons’.
Whoever youth against fascism are, they’ve not managed to work on all the Svoboda graffiti yet.
Here, meanwhile, someone thinks the Lviv Antifa are ‘arseholes’.
Here, a space which has been competed over, next to a children’s play area by the Potocki Palace walls, sees neo-Nazi graffiti and a link to the old Social Nationalist Assembly website crossed out. Others campaign for freedom for political prisoners, while to the left of the tree others have used graffiti to declare their love or wish happy birthday.
These are just a set of photos I have taken in the past ten days or so around the city. They’re not an objective representation of the views of the people of Ivano-Frankivsk. However, they do show which groups are represented most evidently on the streets right now, while the graffiti challenges symbolise that there is some organised anti-fasict work in the city somewhere. However, most important is that the people of Ivano-Frankivsk are still able to approach their democratically-elected mayor and ask for protection from him. And they still believe him and state institutions capable of doing so. Let’s hope it gets the masked, armed men off the streets and out of people’s minds. And if anyone is really looking for somewhere to put their fighting skills, then the regular Ukrainian might be the place to do it. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
And, a final note. As the spontaneous rally in support of Russian speakers in Ukraine shows, it could be that out of these times of crises will come an image of Ukraine not built on stereotypes of division of east and west, but a sense greater unity and understanding. And this can be achieved without ‘national revolution’.