Brief update

This blog has gone quiet recently.

I’ve plenty of ideas for updates but no time to complete them, what with seminars to give, conferences to attend, job applications to submit and so on.

So the next update can be expected in early May – and there’ll be word on Bandera and his monuments in the city, academic reforms, Easter and everyday life.

In the meantime, everyday life (and the non-everyday Easter holidays) continue, while fears about the situation in the east of Ukraine grow. The only perceptible difference in Ivano-Frankivsk to normal times is that there are more soldiers in uniform on the streets than usual, as soldiers go about attending various offices around the city. And fighter jets are training in the skies above the city.

So, there’ll be more here – all being well – in May.

 

 

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Feedback from the Mayor of Dolyna and the co-owner of Fabbrica

Just over two weeks ago, my wife and I visited the town of Dolyna, 60 km west of Ivano-Frankivsk. I wrote about the trip here, praising this curious town of two halves as a hidden gem, off the beaten track. It’s not the most obvious tourist destination, but Dolyna does give you an interesting insight into the broader history of this part of the world, combining 1000 years of industrial heritage alongside mixture of Polish, Austrian, Jewish, Soviet and Ukrainian legacies and architecture, as well as local Boyko folklore.

Today in my inbox I saw an e-mail titled ‘From Dolyna ))’ from someone called Володимир Гаразд/ Volodymyr Harazd. The surname made me smile, as Гаразд in Ukrainian means ‘OK!’ or even, according to Google translate, ‘Okey-Dokey!‘ It turns out that Mr. Harazd is the mayor of Dolyna and was aware of the blog post. His letter included the following: ‘It was very interesting for me as the City Mayor and Dolyna citizen to read about your impressions of the time spent in our town. When you live all your life in this place you stop noticing some interesting things. Your fresh perspective is really valuable for us. Thank you for your sincerity and pleasant words about Dolyna,’ while also acknowledging that he will take my ‘criticism’ into account.

I am very impressed that the Mayor of Dolyna took the time to write to me, and did so in perfect English. So hats off to Mayor Harazd! The town seemed really clean and tidy, with good infrastructure, although the first impressions arriving at the bus station are a bit off-putting. A few tourist signs and a bit of promotion, and Dolyna could become a bit of an attraction. Especially if those responsible for promoting Ivano-Frankivsk realise that the only way the city can thrive as a tourist destination is if it cooperates with surrounding towns. Ivano-Frankivsk is lovely, but it’s the kind of place where a day and a half is enough. But incorporating Kolomyya, Dolyna, Halych and Manyava, as well as the Carpathian mountain resorts, as attractions while promoting the region as a whole, then it could take off, or at least compete for visitors with Lviv.

I also received feedback yesterday from one of the co-owners of 23 Restorany, the group behind Fabbrica,  the Ukrainian-Italian restaurant, which I wrote about here and here. He was very happy to have received a ‘nice objective review’ and asked for more feedback from me about the experience. I suppose the various reviews and comments full of praise do little to help a new business, whereas a bit of constructive criticism can hopefully help the place – which has a great concept – thrive.

I’m not an expert on restaurants, nor have I worked in tourism, but it is pleasing to have contact from people in the region who are interested in what you have to say. And thanks to that make you feel part of the community.

 

 

Fabbrica: The Ukrainian Italian Restaurant – An unexpectedly quick return and an unexpectedly chewy pizza

This is a quick update relating to yesterday’s post about a new Italian restaurant in Ivano-Frankivsk which uses only Ukrainian ingredients. The owners are very keen to stress the provenance of the products they use, following a trend in restaurants where the origin of ingredients can be traced. So, it turns out that their grain which makes the milled-on-the-premises flour, comes from a monastery near Uman’, halfway between Odessa and Kyiv.

When my wife and I went on Friday, we could not eat pizza – accounting for 50% of the main courses – because there was not enough made-on-site dough. However, some friends – twins – decided to have a birthday meal, so we got to return unexpectedly quickly to Fabbrica and try the pizza, and to further test the hype surrounding this new venture.

The service was a bit better and the menu was available in full. However, it turns out that it was fortunate on Friday that the pizza was unavailable as it was terribly chewy and bready, rather than crispy despite the dough being thin. The toppings were pretty interesting, especially a leek and mushroom combination and the basic margherita, but the wholemeal dough was like eating pita bread. If I’d wanted that, I could have gone to the excellent Cymes Jewish restaurant just ten metres away. And the toppings despite being tasty and quite innovative came in rather meagre portions, so there was a good 2cm of dough/ pita bread to eat through around the edge. Chewing a 2×4 cm square of such bread took me over 30 seconds, while a few people in our group had saw jaws after eating the pizza.

And with all the machinery on, it was still terribly loud and not really the ideal place for a birthday gathering. However, looking around the restaurant it was clear that the place is doing a roaring trade, with the clientele including one candidate in the up-coming parliamentary by-election, while potential clients were being turned away the door. The hype is doing well for the place for now, but word-of-mouth – if you’re able to talk after the pizzas – might start putting a few folk off even if it is the place to be seen right now (and it’s easy to be seen with the big open plan setting and huge windows).

Fabbrica sign

Fabbrica sign

Collapsing Currency and Restaurant Opening, plus parking, priests and Easter

In recent weeks, despite the political and now financial crisis in Ukraine, a few new restaurants and bars have opened in Ivano-Frankivsk. This blog has looked at an intriguing Soviet theme pub and a new burger bar in a fake “old” building. I have also considered the impact of tensions and conflict with Russia on shopping habits, including a boycott, with my post also covered in this excellent article by Mark Byrnes for The Atlantic.

This post looks considers a new Italian restaurant in the city, Fabbrica, which opened on Thursday, finding that it may have found a formula for avoiding the worst of the effects of the collapsing hryvnia and financial crisis. It serves Italian food but using exclusively Ukrainian ingredients (aside from the coffee and chocolate, of course), milling its own flour on the premises and thus making its own pizza dough and pasta fresh to order in the open-plan restaurant. The staff can be seen through the window milling and making the bases of the main dishes. The staff, it has to be said, are also very well informed about the dishes that are served, even if it turns out not all were available.

Fabbrica, new Italian restaurant in Ivano-Frankivsk

Fabbrica, new Italian restaurant in Ivano-Frankivsk

The restaurant belongs to the 23 Restorany group, whose aim is to open up 23 restaurants and cafes. This is their fifth endeavour, with the other four including the city’s best coffee shop, an excellent cake shop and bakery, a restaurant that focuses on waffles and also a summer pop-up cafe. Owing to its owners and their existing ventures’ popularity, Fabbrica was bound to be popular. Still, the staff made a song and dance – quite literally – out of the opening. Each night, with a trained choreographer and star of Ukraine’s Got Talent as well as Ukraine’s So you think you can Dance?, among the staff, towards the end of their shifts the staff will launch into a dance. The local press were also impressed by this gimmick, although some commentators here were less convinced.

The restaurant is, like Royal Burger, housed in a somewhat controversial new development. This building is completely new, although it began as a ‘renovation’ of an existing building several centuries old. One elderly man lived in a semi-bulldozed flat for quite a few months before finally giving way. Thankfully, this building is quite tasteful and makes no pretence to replicate the previous architecture. It sits fairly easily on a small square between the Town Hall Square and the city’s synagogue.

Me and my wife went along to Fabbrica last night, not to see the singing and dancing, but to get some food. We had our hearts, well bellies, set on pizza but when we ordered – and not when we got the menus – we were told that there would be no pizza for about two hours. The amount of dough required had been seriously underestimated, while it seemed to me some of the milling equipment was playing up on this second night. So, we ordered two soups, one pasta dish and a salad. The soups were brilliant, one chunky tomato and vegetable soup, and one pea soup with fresh pasta. The salad was decent – tomatoes, rocket, bread crackers and oil, but maybe lacked some cheese or olives, giving it a bit of savoury saltiness. The pasta dish – fresh wholemeal tagliatelle with Ukrainian forest mushrooms – was superb. Likewise, the juice drinks made of sea-buckthorn berry and another less maintstream Ukrainian fruit were wonderful.

Milling and Making Pizza and Pasta at Fabbrica

Milling and Making Pizza and Pasta at Fabbrica

However, the pasta dish was not my first choice – not only because there was no pizza – but because I had wanted a different dish which was not available. Likewise, we did not have dessert as the two non-ice-cream desserts were already sold out by 9 pm. Obviously, new restaurants will have teething problems, but not having enough cutlery or any small jugs to serve milk in for coffee seems like a major oversight for such experienced restaurateurs. It seems, however, that a major part of the difficulties faced in this exceptionally busy new restaurant were caused by its leading concept, namely the fact that it produces its main ingredients for its relatively small menu on site and fresh. Another problem with its open plan form, which gives the restaurant its Italian “factory” name, is that it’s extremely loud, with the music playing only audible when the milling equipment shuts down. Or when you visit the fancy toilets.

Perhaps we were just unlucky with the time we arrived, just after 8 p.m. on Friday, with no pizzas available, half the pasta dishes unavailable and the desserts running out. So our experienced contrasted greatly with this laudatory review from a local blog.

Anyway, this is enough of the restaurant review – summary, Fabbricca makes excellent food but needs to improve its logistics and service quickly – and I’ll place this restaurant, which uses almost exclusively Ukrainian products, in the socio-political context.

 

Exchange Rates 12 April 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

Exchange Rates 12 April 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

The use of only Ukrainian ingredients for Fabbrica’s Italian food is not driven by some patriotic urge. Many outsiders of certain political persuasions reading about Ivano-Frankivsk and seeing the words “exclusively Ukrainian” will assume some kind of nationalist undertone. But there is none of that here. Using Ukrainian products where possible right now makes great economic sense having invested what looks like a huge amount in fitting out this restaurant while charging prices lower than comparable places in the city centre or even further outside. The most expensive pizza is around 40 UAH, so about $3 or £2 right now, while pasta dishes are even cheaper, about 35 UAH at most. The beer is produced in Ivano-Frankivsk, Panske, and costs 15 UAH, standard for that brand.

Today, $1 costs over 13 UAH, while a month ago it was about 10, and at Christmas it was just over 8. £1 costs 22 UAH now, whereas even a couple of weeks ago it was about 18, and before Euromaidan was about 12. (In 2008 £1 was worth 8 UAH, $1 worth 5 UAH). The currency has been destabilised by political events and the threat of war, but also by the fact that the artificial measures of the Yanukovych regime to keep the currency stable and artificially low have been exposed. The problem now is that the currency seems to be in freefall and certain goods are becoming very expensive, so almost everything that is imported or valued in dollars. Bananas are now prohibitively expensive, while fuel is also very pricey.

Fabbrica seems to have hit upon a very good idea, as its low prices should be able to be sustained for some time, as its new menu will not be immediately affected by the rising costs of importing goods, although it may feel the knock-on effects of rising fuel prices that affect farming. Equally, it may suffer from a loss of Ukrainian consumer confidence – but now that UAH are increasingly worth less and earnings will not easily fund foreign holidays or shopping trips to Poland, then it makes sense to spend locally. In restaurants and cafes so far, I’ve yet to notice a huge rise in prices, with even coffee remaining the same price throughout the crisis. In shops, though, it’s a different matter.

Old Exchange Rate? Only for Ukrainian Products!

Old Exchange Rate? Only for Ukrainian Products!

The supermarket chain Furshet advertises that it is operating using the old 8 UAH/$1 exchange rate, but only for 150 top products. These products, though, seem largely concentrated on Ukrainian-made goods, including canned fish and wine, which are not significantly affected by the collapsing hrynia. In the meantime, bananas, foreign wine or salmon, are now unaffordable for someone earning in UAH.

However, if you do have some foreign currency – or want to come on holiday to Ukraine right now – it can be super cheap. Looking at our local quality wine and spirits merchant it turned out that some excellent Scottish single malt whiskeys, including Old Pulteney and Bruichladdich, are now cheaper than in the UK or even at duty free. Local, good quality vodka, is now about 30 UAH for a half a litre (£1.50), so for £10 you could quite easily kill yourself drinking. If you go to electrical stores, there are some bargains to be had, including 32 inch Samsung TVs for just over £100 or LG vacuum cleaners for £30 ($50). Here, the claim that 2013 prices remain in place is actually true. I think that unless every customer were lucky enough to come armed with a GBP denominated credit card the store would struggle to shift much stock. Sadly, I wasn’t allowed to buy a new TV but we did get an electric toothbrush for £10, which costs £17 on Amazon UK or £35 from Boots. So, basically, if you want something cheap, or a cheap holiday, come to Ukraine before prices are upped and start to reflect exchange rates.

 

In other news, Easter is coming and so various traditional events are taking place around the city, some of which are now informed by the current situation in Ukraine. As my wife and I were walking from the market after doing some shopping today, we saw a small group of people led by a priest and including a man in a wheelchair, walking through Sheptytsky Square. It turned out that they were about to complete their pilgrimage around the city and reach the fourteenth station of the cross, signalled by the poster next to the lady in the blue coat.

Jesus confronts the black land rover

The 14th Station of the Cross: Jesus confronts the black range rover

The poster featured the text that Jesus was Laid in the Tomb, the fourteenth station. It was also accompanied by the faces of the Heavenly Hundred, so those killed on the Maidan in Kyiv, showing that some see the deaths of those people as a sacrifice which should bring about the resurrection of the Ukrainian nation, or at least salvation from evil. The small group carried a Ukrainian flag, too, and a banner which proclaimed ‘Our weapon is praying for Ukraine’. What struck me about this scene was that the black Range Rover was parked, illegally, right in front of the 14th station/ shrine to the Heavenly Hundred. Its owner had evidently no concern for the content of the poster in front of him. And this behaviour confirmed my faith that the more expensive your car, the more selfish, inconsiderate and boorish your behaviour.

I’ve said it before – the pro-European revolution will be truly won once such arsehole drivers are overcome, including this one which I photographed and contributed to a local news site’s campaign.

Removing my tongue from my cheek now, I realise that there is some degree of incongruity between these everyday posts from western Ukraine and current events in eastern Ukraine, where the fate of the Ukrainian state may well be being decided. It is obviously worrying for me, my family and my friends here – particularly since we have close family living in Crimea (who did not dignify the “referendum” with their vote). But the aim of my blog is to look at what’s going on here in Frankivsk, and my perspective obviously reflects a certain position of privilege: being able to get out of the country whenever I please, knowing I won’t be here forever, and having some disposable income.

Maidan Cleared Up, Mothers Calling for Order, the Pillar of Shame and More Minor Marches

The traces of Maidan around the city are slowly disappearing, even the spaces around the hardcore of Right Sector and Self-Defence who still remain on the square outside the Regional Administration but in more smaller and less conspicuous numbers. The tent from the Rally Square (Vichevyj Maidan) by the Post Office, the original site of an occupation and protest in the city from November, disappeared last week.

On the square outside the Regional Administration Building in the past week a makeshift memorial to the Heavenly Hundred, as those killed on Maidan in Kyiv are popularly referred to, has appeared.  It is constructed from the rudimentary wooden shields that have come to symbolise the fighters on Maidan, alongside the tyres which burned for long days and nights in the winter of 2013/2014, while also shoring up the barricades.

Heavenly Hundred Monument or the Pillar of Shame

A Makeshift Memorial to the Heavenly Hundred, Ivano-Frankivsk – or in fact a ‘Pillar of Shame’.

Looking through the local press again I have learned that this memorial, as I interpreted it, is in fact ‘a pillar of shame’, which, according to one activist interviewed, is aimed at expressing an urge for ordinary people to change their behaviour and thus change society. The idea is for people to come to this pillar and inscribe it with the names or photos of  ‘officials who have taken bribes’ or demanded other payments. It is thus intended as a symbol of the civil revolution that is expected to follow the battles conducted by those who carried such wooden shields.

Yesterday there was no indication of the intentions surrounding this installation, hence my initial reading of it as a makeshift monument.

ImageImage The Regional Administration has also finally decided to clear up it’s own sign which for a couple of months was plastered in Right Sector stickers. The sign is clearly brand new, as the stickers are a pain to get rid of (as I’ve found putting my hands to work around the city). Presumably the tax payers of the region have funded the new sign, as well as the door that was smashed up and recently replaced.

Meanwhile, Chicken Hut, the fast food chain, has finally removed its own pro-European poster, declaring that ‘Together we will be victorious’ while showing the Ukrainian trident surrounded by the EU stars. It’s back to special offers now.

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Chicken Hut's old pro-Europe poster

Chicken Hut’s old pro-Europe poster

Still, some entrepreneurs have not given up on the European symbolism. Two enterprising you women on a busy crossroads on the way out of the city towards Lviv and Kalush were attempting to sell flags, including the EU flag, the Ukrainian flag and the black and red nationalist flag, to passing vehicles. In the fifteen minutes I was waiting for a friend near there I did not see them make a successful sale. My friend says that they had been there for some two weeks, so business must have been good at some point, although I think the peak may have passed.

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Selling flags to passing motorists on vul. Halytska out of the city on Saturday 5 April 2014.

The end of February and the first weeks of March seemed like particularly worrying and tense times in Ivano-Frankivsk, as various groups, including Right Sector and its allies Patriot of Ukraine, appeared to appropriate the city space through posters, marches and occupying various administrative buildings demanding personnel changes. Since then, however, the city has been largely calm, with the attempt to revive daily rallies by Right Sector and Self-Defence unsuccessful. Instead, the atmosphere of the city has been one of getting back towards some kind of normality in the new conditions of tensions over Crimea and now southern and eastern Ukraine. Perhaps springtime has helped as more people take to the city streets and various cafes are putting their tables and chairs out on the streets again.

Yesterday, however, local press reported that there was a march by ‘Frankivsk residents’, ‘the community’ or Right Sector and Self-Defence – depending on which reports you read – on the Police HQ again, following a march four weeks ago which I witnessed. I did not witness yesterday’s events as they were not pre-reported extensively in the press, and I was lecturing anyway at the time it took place. Today, the police HQ was free of any protesters when I passed it and it has been peaceful all day. And it also seems that the candidate that Right Sector had wanted for the local head of police, which incited the occupation of the police HQ from a month ago, is not in the running. Equally, the head of the National Resistance organisation in the city is not in the running, as reported in an article which again uses the problematic notion of ‘the community’, assuming that there is some sort of consensus in the city as to who are acceptable and unacceptable candidates.

Still, despite their differences and threatening to break off relations, the Self-Defence and police are still cooperating, with local press reporting successes where arrests have been made during joint patrols. Here someone was caught with some marijuana, for example.

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The march through the city was both a protest against the new man assigned as regional head of the Security Service (SBU/ СБУ) as well as a reason to mark the memory of the Heavenly Hundred. This report shows that a poster was placed on the burnt out entrance of that section of the police, but there was no sign today of this memorial to those killed on Maidan , merely a trace of the graffiti that it had covered.

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The report cited above is problematic because it frames those protesting as ‘the community’, whereas at 1pm on a Wednesday, many members of the community, including students who were one of the chief initiators of protests in the city, are busy working. It also means that it is easy for anyone disposed to presenting western Ukraine as extreme-nationalist such “patriotically”-minded reports can be used against the authors’ intentions.

This report, meanwhile, ignores the aspect of honouring the Heavenly Hundred and declares the march to be intended as a call for combatting corruption. However, it also mentions a civic protest by mothers of Ivano-Frankivsk who called for order in the city. Presumably this was a call not only to the police but also against the actions of Right Sector and others. Its reference to ‘Frankivsk residents’ is less troubling, since a greater mix of the city’s population and its varying views and approaches to protest and power are accounted for.

The mothers’ protest seems more closely aligned to the civil revolution or perhaps better, transformation, that characterises the urges of those involved in the initial civil society protests from November. An organisation called Ivano-Frankivsk 2.0 has emerged which is seeking to transform the city space into a more pleasant place to live, highlighting some of the hidden and blindingly evident problems in the city which nevertheless regularly features high up in rankings of the best places to live in Ukraine.

Equally, this protest against a questionable development by the city lake is framed as a civil society protest, connected to the spirit of Euromaidan and the battle against corruption in local authorities. Indeed, some of the women who speak in the lengthy video may have also been those outside the police HQ on 9 April calling for order in the city. The problem by the lake is the fact that a smaller lake was filled in for building purposes, ostensibly for a sports centre but it seems developers want to put flats in this attractive location. Some of the women who speak further into the video appeal to “European” values, which caring for the environment are said to characterise.

Of course, aside from some attempts in blogs or by tracing other news stories around the city which do not relate to Euromaidan and its consequences, it’s hard to get a feeling of the everyday in the city which continues in the atmosphere of the tense new normality that is emerging.

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What may have an instant affect on city residents is the planned price rise for bus journeys, going up from 2 UAH to 3 UAH. A 50% increase, although it has been at 2 UAH for about three years now, so it’s unlikely that with the rise in petrol prices that transport services will be profitable. On the other hand, incomes are not rising, while other prices are – so this will be an additional squeeze. In positive transport news, after creating a mess in November by moving long-distance and international bus services out of the city, a ticket office for the regional and long-distance bus stations has opened right in the centre. And the system works fine, as I tested it today buying a ticket for a weekend trip, although if it becomes popular the tiny kiosk will prove insufficient.

At the university, lectures go on, seminars continue and some students fear imminent war, while others are more pragmatic or perhaps simply stuck in their rhythm of 30+hours a week of classes, thus unable to dedicate much energy to much else.

So while certain organisations involved with the violent, sometimes armed, side of revolution in Ukraine seem determined to appropriate control of the public space and local politics, it seems that functional mechanisms are working to resist such domination. Civil society is active in its various ways – whether through protest, clearing up rubbish or shaming corrupt individuals, – seeking a transformation of the city and Ukraine, while local authorities are resisting the pressure to install certain candidates despite the pressures of baseball bats or mobs marching through the city. And, for most people in the city, life just goes on.

Speaking to a Shopkeeper about the Boycott of Russian Goods, Corruption and Storming the Security Service Office

Recently I attended a child’s birthday party and the conversation turned to the topic of Maidan, revolution and the future elections. Some of the guests at the birthday were local businessmen, lawyers and officials. Their identities will remain anonymous, but what we discussed grants insight into the workings, experiences and consequences of recent events in Ivano-Frankivsk and around Ukraine that cannot be gained from simply walking around the city, working at a university or consuming media, whether local, national or international.

So this post will offer insight into how Maidan was funded and organised, the Security Services’ work in Ivano-Frankivsk, including responses to their HQ being set on fire (which I witnessed), as well as life after Revolution, including the boycott of Russian goods and the role of Right Sector in the city.

Most of what I write is a representation of people’s first-hand experiences, or what they heard from those who were at the heart of the action. I end on a comment on further attempts to come to terms with the recent past in the local and national press, as well as in society.

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A billboard in Dolyna, Ivano-Frankivsk region, calling for a boycott of the ‘occupiers” products.

We’ll start with the boycott of Russian goods by a few small chains of local convenience stores. One of the people I spoke to owns a few shops in the city and helped to organise the local boycott, which received significant local and national media attention. Indeed, the media attention was so great that the shopkeeper started to ignore his phone as tv crew after tv crew turned up at his stores. His female staff, meanwhile, made sure that they turned up to work with their best make up and hair styled, he said.

The idea for the boycott started as a patriotic attempt to support the Ukrainian economy. The shopkeeper stressed that in interviews he made sure that his views were not presented as an anti-Russian act, but as a pro-Ukrainian one. While the action brought positive PR, there was also a crisis when some young locals went around one shop involved in the boycott and found products still bearing Russian barcode numbers, with the film quickly going viral around Frankivsk. The initial planned response to this setback on the second or third day was to abandon the boycott, removing stickers advertising it from the shops’ windows.

However, the shopkeepers decided to continue and conducted a further clearance of Russian products, upsetting some customers as Snickers and chewing gum fell victim. As the shopkeepers and consumers have found, however, it is not easy simply to judge the provenance of a product by the barcode. The BBC has reported on an app created in Ukraine to aid identification, as some products bear a Ukrainian or another country’s code yet were manufactured in Russia.

The Greenfield Tea brand has proved particularly difficult, as both the BBC article and shopkeeper noted, as it claims to be a British company, but is merely registered at a PO box in London. The ultimate owners are Russian, but the barcode is Ukrainian, with the tea being packaged in Ukraine. Equally, a brand that appears Polish, and has a Polish barcode, Żubrówka vodka, is in fact owned by a Russian corporation now. Meanwhile, cat food is problematic because Whiskas is an international brand with profits largely not going to Russia but what enters the Ukrainian market is produced there. And customers have been complaining that their fussy cats won’t eat anything else, but the danger of a backlash or bad PR in social and traditional media mean that Whiskas stays off the shelves.

Product Boycott

 

As this poster being circulated on social networks shows, plenty of the brands do not seem Russian at all but merely global, part of the brand collections of conglomerates. For example, I bought some Oral-B toothpaste recently whose packaging was entirely in Russian, but the stated place of manufacture was Germany, whereas the barcode suggested that it was actually Belgium and Luxembourg. Equally, Nescafe and Nestle are Swiss, but their products for the Ukrainian market are produced largely in Russia. Persil, meanwhile, is a German brand but if you go to a store here, some versions of it are produced in Poland while others in Russia. Lays crisps (chips) may be produced in Russia here, but the ultimate owner is American (PepsiCo). Coming from Leicester, the home of Walkers Crisps, as I do, these are the kind of things you know. So it seems that such social media campaigns are not really accurate in terms of targeting purely Russian products.

In the age of globalisation and mega corporations, the patriotic act of a boycott proved much less simple than imagined. Only switching petrol providers can be relatively unambiguous, as brands like Lukoil and TNK are boycotted.

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A boycotted Lukoil petrol station seen from the Bandera monument in Ivano-Frankivsk.

Despite pressure from salesmen, arriving at the stores as regularly as TV crews, pleading the Ukrainian provenance of their brands or appealing for compassion, fearing losing their jobs as no one is buying their tea, the shopkeeper held out. And, he admits, since the boycott and good press, business has picked up a fair bit, offsetting some losses incurred by abandoning Russian or Russian-made goods that were already in stock.

Another aspect of post-revolutionary life that has improved business for the shopkeeper is – for now – the end of what was, effectively, extortion caused by corruption at various levels in state institutions. During the Yanukovych years, after easing off in the “Orange” years, shakedowns and raids, as well as state inspections, increased significantly, reaching levels that recalled the bandit years of the 1990s. State institutions under Yanukovych got in on the act, so the fire department, for example, would call up asking for some booze or other goods with the hardly implicit threat that not obliging them would see some costly inspections take place, which inevitably would find some fault or other with fire safety. The fire department weren’t the only ones at it.

During the revolutionary days of February 2014, the fire department called again calling for a donation but this time, unusually, of tushonka,or canned meat. This unusual request aroused suspicions, while the explanation that it was for “Afghan veterans”, who were supporting the revolution in large numbers in this part of Ukraine, was dismissed. The shopkeeper eventually elicited the information that the meat was to be donated to the state’s internal military and special forces. Since turning down this request, nearly two months ago, and the change in power, the shopkeeper has not faced any further extortion. How long this lasts will depend on how successful the civil revolution demanded by ordinary Ukrainians is.

The shopkeeper knew that the tins of meat could not possibly be for the Afghan War veterans because he was clued up as to how the local Maidan activists from Frankivsk in Kyiv were funded. While I tried to indicate in November how the local occupation functioned in Frankivsk, what happened once the centre of attention shifted to Kyiv and those most active here moved to the capital, I’ve not been able to fathom. Yes, there were local donation boxes and ways of transferring money to secure accounts, while others volunteered to take activists to Kyiv by bus or other means. Equally, once in Kyiv it was possible to find support on the Maidan, getting food and shelter. But donation boxes would not cover those costs. There are theories and rumours of US/EU/CIA funding etc., but what I found out about was how local businessmen, involved in businessmen with turnover much greater than shopkeeping, were funding local activists.

The logic of it is quite clear – if you are a small or medium-sized business owner and the business climate created by the Yanukovych-era authorities was disastrous, then investing in revolution makes sense, while also satisfying an urge to do something patriotic.

Of course, it was far from clear that the Yanukovych regime would fall until he actually fled the country. So funding revolution was a dangerous act, and it turns out that the local Security Services (SBU) had compiled a case against the businessman who had helped fund sending Frankivsk residents to Kyiv to Maidan. One of the lawyers present had seen the reports and evidence some two inches thick in a file, with sixteen years in prison being the sentence demanded of this businessman. However, before he could be sentenced, the local SBU office was stormed on 18 February, once mass killings were initiated in Kyiv. (The new authorities in Kyiv have started to release their findings from their investigations today.) And then the Yanukovych regime started to unravel and collapse.

However, on the night of the storming of the SBU office, the fate of Yanukovych and his apparatus was not clear. So, the storming of the security office in Ivano-Frankivsk and the smaller raid on the Prosecutor’s office by the court, involved the destruction by protesters of numerous files and documents, as well as computers and other equipment. The fear was that if the Yanukovych regime were to survive, then the evidence gathered would implicate not only the businessmen funding activists in Kyiv but also the activists themselves who had been traced by the Security Services.

The lawyer explained that one favoured method is to trace mobile phone signals. A phone usually active in Ivano-Frankivsk which then remained in Kyiv for a few days or weeks was clearly indicative of someone being on Maidan. And many such individuals who returned to Frankivsk either in December after the initial wave of protests or later in January and February were summoned for interviews or “chats” at the SBU.

So as well as some demonstrators collecting weapons and shields from the SBU building on 18 February, part of the reason for storming the building – aside from expressing anger – was to destroy evidence which could have been used against significant numbers of the local population were there to be a clampdown on protestors and activists.

 

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The main entrance to Ivano-Frankivsk Security Service HQ burns on 18/19 February 2014.

Who those active in setting fire to the security service HQ were, is not clear, and I doubt there will be an investigation. But on that night, alongside ordinary people, Right Sector and Self-Defence were evident, although by then, the leading locals activists from those organisations were in Kyiv as the situation in the capital was becoming fatal. Since the collapse of the Yanukovych regime, Right Sector especially became more visible in the city, although for the past three weeks, they have not been significantly evident – in terms of marches, rallies or propaganda materials – in the city centre.

At the moment, no one is really sure who Right Sector are (beyond those who generalise about right-wing, neo-Nazis and so forth). Well, the reality on the ground is that regardless of the ideas that Right Sector and affiliate groups claim to promote, no one really knows who they are.  Here is Mustafa Nayyem’s view, in English. Nayyem, a Ukrainian activists and journalist of Afghan origins – not a veteran but a former migrant – was one of the first to initiate civil protests in November when the decision to abandon the EU Association Agreement was announced. He sees Right Sector, like many in Ukraine, as a murky group with connections to funding by oligarchs and even the Yanukovych regime itself, so an organisation which may have swallowed up the smaller nationalist organisations that now come under the RS umbrella.

In Ivano-Frankivsk, after a period when the local media seemed to en masse (and some of my students too) buy the idea of Right Sector as Ukrainian patriots, the backlash is now starting, with one local journalist producing (in Ukrainian) an astute critique of the ‘parasitism’ that characterises the organisation nationally and on the local level while dismissing the myths it has built up around itself. Indeed, 75% of its members in the city are under 18 and simply from the Tryzub youth organisation, which was subsumed under the RS umbrella. It provides those youths once seen around the city, marching around with baseball bats, but hardly suited to genuine (para)military action.

However, it is clear what young lads with a few weapons are good for. Locally, according to the people I spoke to recently, Right Sector is becoming associated with, or always was associated with, protection rackets and dodgy businesses. Hence the rather selective approach taken by Self-Defence and RS to meting out justice on businesses perceived as being corrupt. The local market was targeted, for example, for its Party of Regions associations, yet other businesses that could be suspected of similar remain safe.

Of course, as the article by Roman Kapiy on the local Right Sector argues, those who were under its banner in Kyiv, along with Self-Defence and others, radicalised the revolution and pushed forward the collapse of the Yanukovych regime. However, it is worrying now how such groups attempted – on the local level – to fill in the power vacuum, repeating the methods of violence and raids that were associated with the Yanukovych era. However, it seems – at least locally – that this is coming under control again, while the state authorities in Kyiv are beginning to establish what happened in Kyiv in February and are setting about establishing what is going on now.

As Nayyem has argued, supporting Euromaidan doesn’t make you a Right Sector supporter. However, it does make you responsible for challenging them – whoever they are and whatever their ideas are – to make sure that the initial hopes of a civil revolution, and a shift towards “Europe” – as imagined as a civil, open society with improved quality of life and incomes – becomes possible.

That’s why I encouraged my students to head out to Maidan in November already. And that’s why, in my own little ways, I’ve been trying to critique and challenge the authoritarian and extremist nationalism that prevailed in the vacuum after the collapse of Yanukovych’s regime.