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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Here the consequences of the purge of the Svoboda board are evident, with just one UNSO recruitment poster remaining.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The hotel now also marks famous Ukrainian leaders who stayed there in 1919, including Hrushevsky, Petliura and Vynnychenko.
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.