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.

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.