Post-election News Update and Three Days of Mourning

After the weekend’s elections, which I wrote about here, life in the city continued largely as normal. However, three days of mourning were announced, beginning today, since six of the twleve soldiers killed in the helicopter that was shot down on 29 May in the Donetsk region are from Ivano-Frankivsk region. As this report shows, a shrine to the men has emerged on the memorial to MInistry of Internal Affairs workers who have been killed on duty. The period of mourning means that concerts are by and large cancelled in the city, as are any other celebratory events, night clubs shut down while cafes turn down their music. Their funeral will be held on Sunday and they will be buried at the city’s memorial square, where Roman Huryk – a young student killed on Maidan in Kyiv in February – is also buried.

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Bars on the tax office window in the city centre on Nezhalezhnosti Street. Despite going to the bookshop next door regularly, I’d never spotted this until my wife pointed it out. Thanks to tweeter @svlmoscow for pointing out these are possibly early c. 20 guns, 1910s-1920s. The shape looks a bit like the Ukrainian trident.

Yesterday, a pre-planned march took place, which happened to coincide with the deaths of the local soldiers in eastern Ukraine. The march was variously called the Fan March or the march for national unity. Although it began as an initiative of local ultras (I’m not sure which team they support, given the distance of several divisions to the professional leagues of any team in Frankivsk), the pictures show that the march attracted a broad cross section of the city’s inhabitants. Following the march, accompanied by patriotic songs, flares were eventually let off the Franko monument by the city’s main theatre with the anti-Putin “la-la-la” anthem fairly popular, judging by these videos. On 28 May, meanwhile, the mothers of Ivano-Frankivsk accompanied by others held a protest outside the Security Service building (I’ve covered plenty of those, but this one was different): they were protesting against Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence and those groups’ conflict with the police, including their protests outside the police HQ or use of APCs on the city’s streets. While Right Sector and Self-Defence claim to speak for the city community, it seems that these mothers can stake a better claim to represent the population’s views. Although the mothers were calling for peace, it seems that it was already under threat, even though “activists” had also called for a week of peace and quiet in the city. Early on 27 May, Viktor Nemish’s car was subject to a suspected arson attack. Nemish is a local councillor, head of the coordinating council in the city (responsible for negotiating between the city authorities, state institutions and the population – although really that means the Maidan Self-Defence and Right Sector). On 29 May, meanwhile, notorious local UNA-UNSO activist “Chimik”, the Chemist, Mykhailo Boychuk had his car set on fire. Not the APC, which is almost certainly his, but  a small van. For now, there are no suspects, although it seems clear that the two arson attacks were not a coincidence. It seems like the story of the tensions between the people of Ivano-Frankivsk, Right Sector and Self-Defence, and the police, has a long way to run, getting murkier by the day. A new police head has been nominated, someone who is from the Ivano-Frankivsk region, satisfying the parochial demands of Maidan Self-Defence, while he also has a clear anti-Party-of-Regions past. However, it’s not clear if he has been able to take up his post, with the coordinating council – headed by arson-attack-victim Nemish – yet to approve his candidature. Meanwhile, Right Sector members entered the city’s tax office on Wednesday to protest against the new head who had been nominated. They claim to be countering corruption and nepotism with their campaign, although the news report linked to here suggests that there is a connection between Right Sector’s opposition to the new head and the rather fishy matter of an ongoing investigation into the local vodka plant. The photo accompanying this blog, meanwhile, is of the bars on a window facing onto the city’s main street from the tax office. Despite often visiting the bookshop next door, I had not spotted these intriguing bars where guns are moulded into shapes protecting the windows. A reflection, perhaps, of past methods used in tax investigations? Or a sign of things to come? Meanwhile, all of the votes from the region have been counted in the presidential election (and from the city’s by-election). It is confirmed that here Poroshenko got 65%, exceeding the national average by 10 points, while Tymoshenko was slightly more popular than nationally with almost 15%. Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok got 1.8%, about 0.7 points more than nationally, while Dmitro Yarosh, leader of Right Sector, got 0.6% of the vote in the region, so below the national average. If western Ukraine, and Ivano-Frankivsk specifically, is the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism, it’s not evident in the election polling. In the parliamentary by-election, the Svodboda candidate got just 14.9% of the vote, despite the now-deputy-PM Svoboda candidate winning with over 30% in the 2012 elections. The winner was notorious local businessman and Ihor Kolomoyskyy associate Oleksandr Shevchenko with over 37%. Second was incumbent mayor Viktor Anushkevychus with just over 25% – who is now condemned to sort out the messes he’s made in the city over seven years as mayor. And so, Ivano-Frankivsk is again a city in mourning, with the events in eastern Ukraine now seeming closer and more real in the city. At the same time, everyday life goes on, too, as the city and its residents seek to maintain some semblance of normality in post-Maidan, post-Revolution and now post-election Ukraine.

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Election weekend in Ivano-Frankivsk: An oligarch wins the presidential election. An oligarch’s mate wins the by-election

The elections in Ukraine, and Ivano-Frankivsk, are over for now. Although, if president-elect Petro Poroshenko keeps his promise, then – quite rightly, I believe – parliamentary elections should be held by the end of this year. Ivano-Frankivsk held a parliamentary by-election in parallel with the presidential election, anyway, owing to former Svoboda deputy Oleksandr Sych taking up the post of deputy prime minister.

A Ukrainian trident formed of tea-light candles for World Inner Peace Day in front of the EU flag adorning the post office by Rally Square, Ivano-Frankivsk. 26 May 2014. Pro-European Poroshenko won the next day's election.

A Ukrainian trident formed of tea-light candles for World Inner Peace Day in front of the EU flag adorning the post office by Rally Square, Ivano-Frankivsk. 24 May 2014. Pro-European Poroshenko won the next day’s election.

The latest results suggest that voting in the presidential election in Ivano-Frankivsk more or less reflects the national result, with Poroshenko polling around 53-54% and nearest-rival Yulia Tymoshenko getting just over 13%. Whether his elaborate campaign roadshow swung voters here, is questionable. The impression I get here is that Poroshenko was not really a positive first choice, but merely seen as someone who would almost certainly win, thus it was best to get the elections over and done with, rather than permit a runoff in three weeks’ time and thus a volatile period of instability.

One of very few posters around the city supporting incumbent mayor Viktor Anushkevychus in his campaign to become a deputy in the Kyiv parliament. Displayed on a city centre bakery on 24 May, so Saturday, thus contravening electoral campaign rules.

One of very few posters around the city supporting incumbent mayor Viktor Anushkevychus in his campaign to become a deputy in the Kyiv parliament.
Displayed on a city centre bakery on 24 May, so Saturday, thus contravening electoral campaign rules. It says “Time for Decisive Action”. Something Anushkevychus generally hasn’t managed in his terms in office in the city.

 

In the parliamentary by-election, meanwhile, there was a huge swing against Svoboda. It’s candidate – this time, unlike Sych, not overtly supported as a joint candidate with Yatseniuk’s Batkivshchyna/ Fatherland party – polled just over 14%, down at least 20 points on the autumn 2012 election. The winner was controversial local businessman and Ihor Kolomoyskyy associate Oleksandr Shevchenko, who I’ve written about here, with about 37% of the vote according to the latest numbers. Shevchenko was second in 2012 and appears to have benefitted from facing weak rivals: the near-invisibility of Klitschko’s Udar candidate, a strong sense of dissatisfaction with incumbent mayor Anushkevychus (who polled about 25%) and a proliferation of younger activist candidates.

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A new German-themed steak house opened in the city last week, replacing the wonderful Zinger, a Polish-Austrian themed restaurant. Voting for Oleh Tyahnybok didn’t prove, however, to be “natürlich” for the people of Ivano-Frankivsk or indeed Ukraine.

The wheels seem to be falling off the Svoboda bandwagon, especially if it is struggling in its traditional heartland of western Ukraine and especially Ivano-Frankivsk. Oleh Tyahnybok, the party’s leader, polled around 1.16% nationally and appears to have done little better in the city. Meanwhile, the much-feared-in-Russia Dmytro Yarosh, leader of Right Sector, got less than 0.7% of the national vote, although he openly stated that he would not be campaigning actively. Still, he wasn’t short of media coverage in the election period. While Russia especially expressed strong fears of Ukrainian “fascism” and far-right extremism taking hold in Ukraine, this hasn’t materialised in terms of votes.

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Local Svoboda candidate Vasyl Popovych failed where Svoboda member and now deputy PM Oleksandr Sych won in 2012. Clearly there were some tensions between campaigns as Mykola Havryluk’s team pasted over Popovych’s face. Both campaigns broke electoral rules, still appearing on display on Saturday 24 May.

I have chronicled my observations on the far-right and nationalism in the city, too. In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Yanukovych and, in particular, the start of the occupation of Crimea, there was good reason to fear that right-wing extremism could gain a significant popular foothold in the city. Now, it seems, that hardcore of “activists” remain on the streets with their apparent faith in national revolution and holding power to account being their justification for disturbing the peace of the city, sometimes in some quite farcical ways, which nevertheless show the weaknesses of power structures in state and local authorities. These “activists” are almost exclusively now under the Maidan Self-Defence banner, with Right Sector even leaving its Tryzub/ Trident youth wing out of it now.

As for the election weekend itself in the city, it all passed without incident. On Friday evening, the popular Shuster Live talkshow rolled, partly, into town, with a live screening and cameras set up on Ivano-Frankivsk’s Vicevyj Maidan, or Rally Square. Those present could state their views on camera and interact with the studio. And quite a crowd gathered. Me speaking Polish to my wife (it’s a second language for both of us, so a fair intermediary in our everyday exchanges) attracted a bit of attention from people in the crowd, with one man proceeding to recall his experiences of travelling to Poland and much more besides.

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Shuster crowd, 23 May 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk.

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Shuster on telly on telly.

The Saturday before an election in Ukraine is supposed to be free of campaigning, with an impressive job undertaken around the city to remove campaign posters and any other materials. However, it was clear that the Poroshenko campaign was using some underhand tactics with new posters using his slogan but not mentioning his name appearing suddenly around the city. In 2012, I recall, Poroshenko’s favoured Udar party did something similar.

It was also evident that local Maidan (but not Self-Defence) activist Maksym Kytsiuk had been pasting his posters around the city on the day of “pre-electoral quiet”, as his image found itself on the outermost layer of the poster palimpsest on Saturday.

Kytsyuk local election posters cover Poroshenko posters. Both broke the rules.

Kytsyuk local election posters cover Poroshenko posters. Both broke the rules by posting and being on display on 24 May, the day before the election.

Saturday was also, apparently, World Inner Peace Day, at least in Ivano-Frankivsk, as google tells me it’s usually 21 May. Anyway, this was an occasion for a bit of new-ageism, as well as Christian calls for peace, as well as a bit of patriotism, as the opening picture in this post suggests.

On Sunday, I accompanied my wife to her designated polling station and observed the process. It is quite slow with lots of manual labour involved in registering voters who must come with their Ukrainian ID (internal passport). Then the voter’s name is checked off against one huge register, with one desk responsible for probably 500 or so voters. The voter then gets issued a ballot sheet with the top of it signed then torn off, kept by the clerk, while the voter keeps the ballot which includes a brief biography of each candidate. Then the process repeats for local elections. Luckily my wife’s address was processed at the same desk, although some addresses meant voters had to queue twice. Then, after voting behind a curtain, both ballots go into the same transparent, sealed box. Some Russian media, as well as western journalists, saw pictures from Kyiv of one voter depositing four ballots and ballot stuffing. But there they were voting for national president, city mayor, council party lists and candidate lists.

Polling station queue on Novhorodska Street, around 13:30, 25 May 2014.

Polling station queue on Novhorodska Street, around 13:30, 25 May 2014.

Around the city it was clear that some polling stations were overwhelmed by the number of voters, with the bureaucratic procedures also lending themselves to queues. Polling stations are in various buildings, ranging from the Regional Administration through the student halls where my wife voted through to a vodka factory in the Knyahynyn district, as this news report shows.

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Knyahynyn spirits factory impressive stained glass.

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Knyahynyn Spirits factory as a polling station

On Saturday we took a walk around this interesting area of Frankivsk, just off the main road to Lviv out of the city, yet possessing the air of a village. Indeed, it was one of the two founding villages that were merged into the original city of Stanislaviv once it expanded beyond its fortress limits. Some of the roads here, meanwhile, seem to resemble the conditions that might have existed when the city was founded by Polish nobles in the mid-seventeenth century. Something for the new local MP Shevchenko to get to work on, perhaps?

Crap road, and not the only one, in Ivano-Frankivsk.

Crap road, and not the only one, in Ivano-Frankivsk.

In the late afternoon I headed to the Hirka (Górka) Stadium, just behind the Polish church in the city, to watch the second leg of the first round of the regional cup. Teplovyk (Heating Plant Worker) Ivano-Frankivsk beat Enerhetyk (Energy Plant Worker) Burshtyn 9:0 to secure an 11:2 aggregate win. The first-leg result seemed like something of a miracle for Enerhetyk judging by this result, while the goalkeeper from Burshtyn pulled off quite a few stunning saves to keep things in single figures. The quality of the football wasn’t too bad from Teplovyk who are now Frankivsk’s leading team following the bankruptcy of once-top-flight Prykarpattya (formerly Spartak) when they were owned by… new local MP Shevchenko!

Hirka/ Górka Stadium, home to Teplovyk Ivano-Frankivsk, 9:0 winners over Enerhetyk Burshtyn

Hirka/ Górka Stadium, home to Teplovyk Ivano-Frankivsk, 9:0 winners over Enerhetyk Burshtyn

It seems that there is still a healthy appetite for football in the city, with a crowd of some 300 attending this match in bright sunshine (until a storm just before the end). Pensioners mingled with younger men, youths and families at this neat stadium. According to the men I spoke to at the local football association office next to the university, the regional league took a break for the elections, so this cup competition was launched to tide things over.

Teplovyk’s rivals, Enerhetyk Burshtyn -from a town with a huge power and heating plant near to Ivano-Frankivsk – are sponsored by Svoboda. It seems that the team’s luck resembles that of the Party. Heavy losses all round.

Svoboda sponsor Enerhetyk Burshtyn. Not much luck here either, 9:0 losers.

Svoboda sponsor Enerhetyk Burshtyn. Not much luck here either, 9:0 losers.

The trip to the football was intended to crown what I had planned as “British weekend” in Frankivsk, starting with an English breakfast in one café, lunch in an English-style theme pub before supper at Churchill restaurant by the market square. Unfortunately, extra teaching meant I missed breakfast while Churchill was booked out for the day. So, that plan – it’s not a patriotic gesture on my part, as I don’t consider myself British, or even English – to explore concepts of identity, foreignness and globalisation as experienced in Ivano-Frankivsk will be saved for another week. Although, I did make it to one of the many “stock” shops here, buying some shorts to cope in the heat wave. Mine was called Euroshop, though, whereas it seems Britain is associated more with second-hand clothes…

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The entrance to “The World of Second Hand” on Novhorodska Street in the city centre

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Fashion Point, with British and European second-hand clothes.

In western Ukraine, at least, election weekend passed peacefully, with everyday life carrying on. Although the consequences of the election – for everyday life, for living standards, and for the state of Ukraine – remain to be seen. And it seems that a large part of the outcome won’t be decided in western Ukraine, but in the south and east where armed struggled continues. Although, perhaps, if things quickly unravel for Poroshenko and the current government, ordinary Ukrainians might begin to again ask whether their protests in the winter of 2013/14 were for this:
An oligarch wins the presidential election. An oligarch’s mate wins the by-election.

Campaigning for a seat in parliament surrounded by stinking sewers, Soviet-era flats and bored kids

This video relates to the blog post below, where I explore critically the approach to the by-election campaign in the city. Patriotic campaigns are cynically, I say, detached from the by-election campaign, so here one candidate arranged a fundraiser for soldiers in a truly bizarre venue.
https://uauk.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/frankivsk-parliamentary-by-election-shevchenko-soldiers-and-songs/

Frankivsk parliamentary by-election: Shevchenko, soldiers, stinking sewers and awful songs

Returning from work today, I noticed a poster on a nearby flat advertising a concert sponsored by local parliamentary by-election candidate and businessman Oleskandr Shevchenko. The poster was stuck between various adverts including visas to the USA, a campaign to launch a civil protest (Maidan) against loans in foreign currencies, a garage for sale, seeking a flat to rent and a poster advertising surgery with a local councillor from Svoboda. The chalked graffiti suggests unusually strong passion for Linkin Park.

Nominally the concert was “in defence of the country! Support the Ukrainian army!” The attractive woman in traditional dress was presumably included to attract the male gaze to this patriotic event. A sticker informed readers that they could donate money to the Ukrainian military by texting or calling 565. This is a nationwide campaign that has been running for months and nothing to do with Shevchenko. Still, it was a good way – presumably – to circumvent rules on campaign spending meaning that although, as the top-left of the poster states, this event is supported by Shevchenko, it’s not an electoral campaign event. Even though it displays his campaign logo. And is taking place just four days before Sunday’s elections. Admittedly, the event was first scheduled for 8 May but owing to the period of mourning following the mass killings in Odesa it was postponed.

Shevchenko's concert in no way electioneering

Poster advertising today’s concert “in defence of the country” and in “support of the Ukrainian military”. Organised by Oleksandr Shevchenko but, of course, in no way an election-campaign-related event.

The electoral candidate who sponsored this concert is a rich local businessman who co-owns the Bukovel ski resort in the Carpathians. The other owners include Ihor Kolomoyskyy’s Privat-Group, so perhaps Shevchenko’s political affiliations are clear thanks to that, although he is standing as an independent. He campaigned in the 2012 parliamentary election for the same seat, but lost out to Oleksandr Sych, the joint Svoboda-Batkivshchyna candidate. Sych is now a deputy PM, so must put his seat up for re-election. This is why Frankivsk is quite exceptional in the current campaign. In the 2012 campaign, Shevchenko used the slogan “a surname you can trust”, referring to the national poet Taras Shevchenko. It seemed like he had little to offer from his own personality.

However, as with today’s concert he wasn’t afraid to dip into his own pocket, offering local residents – but only those registered to vote for the seat he was contesting – free trips to his Bukovel resort. My wife went on such a trip in summer 2012 in the build up to that year’s October elections, with her former schoolteacher then working in Shevchenko’s PR campaign. My wife says that food was promised but never materialised, although those on the trip were allowed to skip the queue for the chairlift – which they used for free – while the Skype connection on a conference with Shevchenko was quite poor, so that was abandoned and she could sneak off for a swim. It seems that this is a man no immune to gimmicks, with today’s concert perhaps following in that vein. Sorry, too cynical – it’s a nice patriotic gesture and in no way related to the electoral campaign.

Earlier today Shevchenko was again at the university speaking to students, although when a debate was held for all candidates a week ago, he did not attend along with nine other candidates, who include the current mayor, an UDAR candidate, local Maidan activists, a student and journalists and others. Instead, he turned up a couple of hours later to have another session alone with students. He has also signed a deal with the Precarpathian University to continue cooperation whereby students can attend his Bukovel ski resort on various apprenticeships and internships. Signing it on 21 May, in the run-up to the election, seems like rather convenient timing, while questions should also be raised about the close relationship the university – which nominally ought to be autonomous – has with Shevchenko, who appears to be the institution’s favoured candidate. However, a local newspaper reports that incumbent mayor and parliamentary candidate Viktor Anushkevychus was speaking at the Tourism Department of the Precarpathian University and posters were displayed stating that attendance was “compulsory”, a violation of electoral – and presumably – university rules.

Shevchenko is also controversial in the city because of his involvement with the bankrupted and now amateur local football team, FK Prykarpattya. It seems he lost interest in pumping money into the club quite quickly. The current campaign has also infuriated locals who have been receiving unsolicited texts from his campaign team informing people when Shevchenko will be appearing on regional television. Suspicions were raised that PrivatBank’s client list was being used, although that is denied. Instead, numbers from the database of Bukovel, the ski resort he co-owns, were the source and a list of “supporters of the candidate”.

* UPDATE, 23 May 2014 * A local newspaper is reporting that Shevchenko has broken electoral rules by giving free gifts to student-participants of an art competition. Presumably a free concert is falls within similar guidelines?

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Today’s fundraising concert. Totally not part of Shevchenko’s electoral campaign. The by-election is this Sunday.

What was truly odd about today’s event was that it took place not in the city centre (perhaps Shevchenko’s rival, current mayor Viktor Anushkevychus put the kibosh on that?) but in a small square between two Khrushchev-era blocks of low-rise flats outside the city centre. Close to where I live, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to experience this provincial electoral campaign – sorry, patriotic event in support of the Ukrainian military that just happens to be organised by a millionaire electoral candidate. I dragged my wife along using ice cream from a nearby shop as a bribe and we went along to watch the campaign show. Sorry, did it again. We went along to watch the concert in support of the Ukrainian army.

The MC made sure that the sparse crowd knew that Shevchenko had sponsored the event between each act, although there was no overt mention of the election. One of the acts, who you can watch on my video here, is apparently a former Ukrainian Voice participant. I’m not sure how far she got, but my wife was convinced – and I’m pretty sure – that she was lip-synching today. Her music is typical of the event which featured, basically, bad Central/Eastern European wedding band backing music with some generally patriotic songs reflecting upon beautiful landscapes, beautiful language or heroism. This guy was an exception, as he forsook the bad wedding music and went for a bit of a crooner vibe. But patriotic. It was hard to stand much more, and the ice cream had been eaten, so we headed home, passing people coming back from a walk around the city lake making comments like “what the hell is that racket?” Even back home it was impossible to escape the electoral campaign – dammit, patriotic fundraising concert for Ukrainian soldiers – as it resounded around the area and beyond. (That link is to another video.)

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Bizarre setting for this concert, between some Khrushchev-era flats and beside a dilapidating heating plant.

The concert was sparsely-attended, perhaps no more than 150 people, including loads of kids and the people hanging out of the windows of the numerous flats facing onto the square. Even if children were allowed to vote in this election, I’m not sure this concert would have done much to convince them, with the singers struggling to get their “hands in the air”. And this was the sole trick of which they availed themselves, besides appealing to a kind of sentimental patriotism in the songs. It didn’t help, perhaps, that the sewer covers in the square were not quite tight and on this hot day the stink was pretty awful. Sadly, Shevchenko himself didn’t turn up – but it’s not part of the political campaign, so why would he. Still, no one made much fuss about insisting on calling or texting 565 to support the military.

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As to the other candidates in the by-election, they are not immune to gimmicks. Mykola Havryliuk, a young man responsible for the Typical Frankivsk portal, organised on Sunday an event letting off 352 Chinese lanterns. All part of the celebrating the city’s anniversary, not the campaign, you see. Still, at least he is involved personally in his electoral campaign, as he handed me a leaflet on Monday and exchanged a couple of words. Lots of candidates, meanwhile, are having their campaigners gain access to flats and are leaving newspapers and leaflets attached to door handles. This newspaper is a rather impressive effort, although the candidate is unknown to anyone I’ve asked. I say it’s a newspaper, but really its a newsletter all about Mykola Petrunyak. Although he does have an interview with Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh who is much less enthusiastic about the EU than Petrunyak, who promotes – in the title too – a European Ukrainian. Interestingly, he stresses his connections to Ukrainians working abroad, of whom there are very many in this region, sending money back to the city and funding their families, as well as the building boom here.

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More by-election campaign materials. European Ukrainian and “pick the future”.

It is interesting to observe here the different approaches to campaigning, with a real cross-section of traditional door-to-door canvassing, leafleting, meetings, attempts to impress with big events, gimmicks and freebies (that seem to backfire), as well as turning to social media by younger candidates, especially. There are also question marks over the fairness of incumbent mayor Viktor Anushkevychus being still in post while campaigning and thus having access to certain political and media resources, as well as a greater public profile. However the by-election campaign is being conducted, the candidates are likely to enjoy a particularly high turn out owing to the presidential elections.

And, in an update on recent posts about the Armoured Personnel Carrier farce and the stand-off between Maidan Self-Defence and the police authorities in the city (it has been a pleasure to write about something different today, more light-hearted), there was no sign today of any protest outside the police HQ. Everything was cleared up, the doors unlocked, the remnants of the burnt tyre cleared away. It seems increasingly to be the case that these protests are part of a campaign for particular interests in the city to secure “their man” for the police posts rather than a genuine civil movement.

Now who could possibly – after what is now being called the “Revolution of Dignity”, rather than Euromaidan now – be so cynical so as to co-opt apparent patriotic sentiment for political ends?

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All cleared up again after yesterday’s farcical encore

Police HQ Blockade Farce: the encore. Padlocked gates, burning tyres but no APC or Right Sector.

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Padlocked gates of Ivano-Frankivsk, 19 May 2014.

 

On my way to work yesterday afternoon, I passed the police HQ again on Sakharova Street. The armoured personnel carrier had not returned, the street was empty of people and traffic was moving smoothly (for this congested city). Renovations were ongoing on the neighbouring burnt-out Security Service HQ. So, at this site of ongoing protests, things seemed peaceful, as if some normality were returning to relations between police and activists belonging to Maidan Self-Defence. The previous evening, so on Sunday, returning by bus from an outlying suburb, I had seen a joint patrol by police and activists.

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Tyres by the padlocked main entrance to Ivano-Frankivsk Police HQ, 19 May 2014. The latest in my series of crap photos. This car has nothing to do with the protest. I just didn’t look when taking the picture.

 

However, on my way to work yesterday I soon felt that this peace was odd and something had to be amiss. The main gates to the police HQ were locked shut and tyres were blocking the entrance. Even during the stand-off with the armoured personnel carrier parked outside, the police HQ continued to operate and the doors were open to citizens (except when there were physical blockades of the doors, as I wrote). Tyres, including a burnt one on the spot that the APC had occupied, are a symbol of the protests in Ukraine, whether in the west, Kyiv or the east. And padlocking and chaining the doors shut from the outside also seemed unlikely on the part of police trying to protect themselves. Something was definitely amiss, yet there was not a single person in sight, whether from the Self-Defence side or from the police.

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Not a contemporary art installation.
A burnt tyre outside Ivano-Frankivsk police HQ, 19 May 2014.

 

It was clear that some form of protest had taken place, but it was not until I got home and could check the local press websites and news portals that I could figure out what had happened.  The clearest image is given by this video news report from Channel 112 provided by Ruslan Kotsaba, local civil society activist, satirist and journalist – and now also parliamentary candidate in the upcoming by-election in the city. He was there at the time when the abovementioned tyre was burning and explains that the protest is part of the long-term campaign against the nominated head of police. Kotsaba then speaks to an activist from the Maidan Self-Defence group who outlines the organisation’s position.

This young man, who cannot be considered articulate, is the coordinator of Self-Defence in Ivano-Frankivsk city. He first declares that the group are against “the inactive authorities who are failing to participate in state-formation processes”. He then adds that we “had asked, begged for a decent head [of police], one who was born in our region, someone we more or less know, who will work towards raising up our country [kraj].” He suspects the authorities are “shoving on us short-term servants who might steal from the country, destroy our country, who might carry out illegitimate elections or might falsify them”. The coordinator then stresses that Self-Defence feels previous protests have been ignored and now “we’ve had enough. Either you start to work properly and listen to the community, or you should retire. We’ll create order ourselves.” Kotsaba, the journalist, then ends by stating in his ‘back to the studio’ bit that this is “sad news but it will repeat”.

While the Self-Defence coordinator claims that his group represents “the community”, hromada, so conceived as the people of Ivano-Frankivsk, I would suggest that Kotsaba’s conclusion is closer to the general mood of the city. People are generally tired of this politicking that Self-Defence supports, provincial concerns effectively, while the east of the country is under threat. Oddly, this means having to agree with a statement from the local branch of Right Sector. The organisation denied any involvement in yesterday’s protests outside the police and security service HQ and deemed them “damaging to the Ukrainian cause”. Right Sector Ivano-Frankivsk added in its statement its suspicion that those involved were “seeking to install their people in positions of authority in the city”. The statement from the Self-Defence coordinator, after all, suggests a desire to have someone familiar, someone local, so – in all likelihood – someone well-versed in local networks and systems of nepotism, protection and mutual back-scratching. So, essentially, someone unlikely to rock the boat or bring about reforms to systems of corruption. There are, after all, strong suspicions in the city that some elements in Maidan Self-Defence are connected to possibly not-entirely-legitimate business interests, hence a somewhat selective approach to sorting things out where corruption is suspected.

This opinion piece from the local press suggests that Self-Defence is in danger of becoming a mercenary or “commercial” group, available for hire to push through a particular sponsor’s demands. After all, the author argues, it is pretty odd that certain names that mean nothing much at all to the people of Ivano-Frankivsk are being put forward as candidates for the posts of head of the Security Service or police.

According to this report, meanwhile, there was “pushing and shoving” at yesterday’s protest, with “activists” managing to enter the building. This resulted in “a compromise”, so a meeting between “activists” and the head of the Security Service (SBU) in Ivano-Frankivsk region was organised. So, the Maidan Self-Defence have extended their protest to seek, further, the removal of the head of the Security Service, too, accusing him of having worked against Maidan activists during the winter protests of 2013/14 and continuing to harm Ukraine. There were also concerns voiced that some members of the SBU “Alpha” unit had been involved in some kind suspected of “terrorist attack” on gas pipes in the Rozhnyativ district of Ivano-Frankivsk region which caused significant damage to a pipeline running from Siberia through Ukraine to Uzhorod and on to the EU.

A Civic Council has been formed to enable facilitation of communication between the Ministry of Internal Affairs organs (police and SBU) and the population. However, the Self-Defence activists are against this council since they believe that it is unelected. However, I don’t recall any election to establish the legitimacy of these people conducting their variant of mob democracy. Those “activists” present at the meeting decided that any further action should be postponed until the conclusion of the elections, contrasting with the coordinator’s concerns, expressed in the video interview with Kotsaba, that falsification was feared. Still, as Kotsaba suggested this “sad”, I would say farcically tragic, story is likely to run and run.

Even today there were threats to make the action more radical, although the Armoured Personnel Carrier is not going to be used as “it is being prepared for war”, according to this report. There are still calls in this report for compromise although this means not selecting the nominated head of police, whose home region of Volhynia seems to be facing a more intense stand-off with police in Rivne with an infamous Right Sector activist having been killed by state agents operating with the current Kyiv government.

While the calls for compromise might sound optimistic, I’d say that if the local police can’t exert enough authority to get rid of a burnt tyre from the front of their building with no one around, or remove a padlock and tyres from their own HQ’s main entrance in an otherwise peaceful city – then there is a definite deficit of democracy and authority.

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The square outside the Regional Administration Building, aka the White House, in Ivano-Frankivsk. 19 May 2014.

Meanwhile, yesterday on the square by the Regional Administration Building the Maidan Self-Defence camp remains in place, albeit much smaller than at its height. Some workmen, meanwhile, were repairing some of the stairs and stonework around the square which had been damaged partly by protests but mostly by skateboarders who were still out in force yesterday. In the above photo you can see the monument which is now a site of contention. The two figures, musicians representing east and west Ukraine, were once united by Lenin. Now the plan is to partly recycle the monument by including a new sculpture. However, the city council cannot decide if marking Maidan or commemorating the “Heavenly Hundred” is the best way to achieve the desired effect. I suspect that it is too early to tell whether more apt is marking the overthrow of a government or the tragedy inflicted by it, celebratory or mournful is the choice.

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Poster proclaiming “Eternal Glory to the Patriots of Ukraine”. The photo shows Ihor Ivanov, a Right Sector fighter killed in Odesa. “To the eternal memory of a Hero of the Ukrainian nation.” It then cites psalm 48:21 in a call for vengeance.

As regards mourning, this poster stuck on the wall of the administration building proclaims “Eternal Glory to the Patriots of Ukraine”. The photo shows Ihor Ivanov, a Right Sector fighter killed in Odesa. “To the eternal memory of a Hero of the Ukrainian nation.” It then cites psalm 48:21 in a call for vengeance. While some  national media have been more subtle and expressed greater decorum in response to the Odesa tragedy, this poster is perhaps more typical of a response I have noted among some here which makes an ethically-questionable clear division between Ukrainian heroes killed and Others, those killed who – following this logic – must have been enemies and are deemed non-Ukrainian. The response to Odesa is something I considered elsewhere on this blog.

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The EU flag is back on both Administration Building balconies. 19 May 2014.

After a period where those claiming to speak for the community attempted to claim the square outside the city’s White House and the Maidan-era tradition of rallies for their own cause, as I wrote here, the square is once again a car park for many suspiciously expensive motor cars belonging to employees at the Regional Administration and elsewhere. While the most radical point of Maidan “activist” resistance to the post-Yanukovych order in the city meant removing the EU flag from the balcony where Self-Defence and Right Sector addressed sparse audiences, that flag is now back with the red and black “Bandera” or UPA nationalist flag relegated to position at the side. However, any great enthusiasm for the EU and what it might promise is not really in evidence in the city, barring the by-election campaign by local businessman – he part-owns the Bukovel ski resort in the nearby Carpathian Mountains – Oleksandr Shevchenko. The Europe Day celebrations in the city were a huge flop, judging by these images. That is probably why this report stuck to text only despite its declaration that “people support the event solidly” in the city.

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Oleksandr Shevchenko’s by-election banners. The only ones which make extensive use of EU symbolism in the city.

A better-attended event, filling the Vichevyj Maidan (Rally Square), was the visit of Radical Party leader and presidential candidate Oleh Lyashko, recently seen questioning a “separatist” capture and filmed wearing only his underpants. Lyashko filled the square, perhaps not packing as much as Petro Poroshenko’s visit did, but then Lyashko himself was the sole attraction in this case rather than the massive show that Poroshenko put on. Lyashko’s populism was also evident in him singing the now famous anti-Putin song, Putin Hujlo (Putin’s a Cunt – sorry if you’re reading this in Russia, I think it’s illegal to use swear words there now – here’s some asterisks for you to use where necessary П**** Х****). Lyashko, however, got the tune a bit wrong. Maybe it’s a regional difference, like in church when people from different areas sing the same hymn quite differently.

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Archery practice: targets are Putin and Yanukovych. Central Ivano-Frankivsk, 17 May 2014.

More reflective of the current mood, perhaps, is this city-centre attraction, a makeshift archery game with Yanukovych and Putin as targets. Yanukovych’s portrait had far more holes in it. Perhaps he’s an easier target, rather than now more hated?

And so, that’s my update from Ivano-Frankivsk for now. A bit of political posturing and dangerous games with the police; the election campaigns go on; popular dislike towards Putin takes various forms; the EU seems less popular than it could have been; but – what goes without saying but hasn’t been said explicitly here – everyday life carries on and prices, for now, have stabilised with the dollar costing about 12 UAH for a few weeks now.

 

“Don’t sponsor war”, or: The cat food is still Russian. An update on the boycott of Russian goods in Frankivsk.

In a previous post I wrote about the experience of one shopkeeper in implementing a boycott of Russian goods in his small chain of grocery stores.

Some of the problems he noted was that it was not always possible to establish the provenance of goods owing to various tricks with barcodes or companies purporting to be British (with tea, for example) were merely holding company fronts for Russian-owned companies. Some goods, meanwhile, are impossible to replace with non-Russian goods currently, with chewing gum and pet food particularly problematic. Thus, as I spoke to him again recently, his stores still stock Russian-made and Russian-barcoded goods, the profits from which ultimately go to multinational conglomerates. EU-made goods, he explained, are still subject to import duty – whereas Ukraine can export more goods now without duty into the EU – thus EU-made cat food or gum would be prohibitively expensive. Frankivsk cats thus remain fed but with Russian-made cat food.

In a more recent development, one of the stores involved in the boycott was the setting for a nationwide advertising campaign, “Don’t sponsor war”. I have posted the advert below this piece, or you can link to it here. It has been shown on public television here, while also attracting significant online attention. Frankivsk was thus recognised as the leading centre of consumer-based resistance to Russia. I have not travelled far outside the city within Ukraine in recent times in order to judge how effective or widespread the boycott is.

There were some comedy moments attached to filming which took several hours. As well as featuring a real-life checkout operator who struggled to remain smile-free during filming, the actor playing the Russian soldier (or “little green man”) was mistaken by some passers-by and shoppers as a real fighter. Rumours thus spread that the shop was facing problems with the Maidan Self-Defence (Samoobrona), who have since March taken action against certain businesses.

The crew, meanwhile, had to import their own Russian products into the shop which had been cleared of any goods made there (aside from pet food and chewing gum). With filming taking several hours, there were fears that another locally-viral internet campaign might start trying to discredit the stores promoting the boycott.

Aside from the boycott, which has improved sales, the shopkeeper reports that running the business is, for now, easier than under the Yanukovych government as there are no more spot-checks or inspections by numerous institutions and state organs whose aim had been to extract bribes and payments, rather than improve or maintain standards.

“Don’t sponsor war” – a Frankivsk shop features in an advert advocating the boycott of Russia goods

This video was filmed in one of the shops involved in the boycott of Russian products and is currently broadcast on public television, while also attracting significant online attention.
I wrote about the boycott here .
A newer blogpost, above this video, gives an update on the boycott.

Oligarchs, Jews, Odesa, Frankivsk and Russia Today: Speaking Live on RT.

In the Now, 15 May 2014, Russia Today

This afternoon I received a tweet from a Russia Today producer asking if I would like to be a guest on the show In the Now. About three weeks ago I received a similar offer and was interview alongside Prof. Edward Lozansky of the American University in Moscow. I was told then that I would be talking about attitudes towards the Kyiv government in Ukraine, but we ended up discussing the Geneva agreements signed off a couple of hours previously. It was all very polite, professional and hopeful. The Geneva agreements, in the end and very quickly, failed to improve an increasingly desperate situation.

Today, the researcher from Russia Today told me that we would be discussing today’s revelations of leaked phone calls involving Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyy, owner of PrivatBank among other things. In one call, he threatened former presidential candidate and separatist advocate Oleh Tsarov saying that a $1m bounty is on Tsarov’s head while he should also fear for his family’s safety. In the second call, a Ukrainian businessman involved in trade with the Russia/Belarus/Kazakhstan free-trade area, claims that Kolomoyskyy is losing it, with the militia he sponsors allegedly responsible for the mass deaths at the Trade Union House in Odesa. The two men in conversation in the second tapped call were shocked that Kolomoyskyy was allegedly raising funds through the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community to fund the bounty on Tsarev’s head. I was asked to listen to the recordings, read transcripts and comment on them.

The first time around, too, when I was asked on to Russia Today I obviously was sceptical, given the fact that the network is Kremlin-sponsored and serves a particular role for Russia and its authorities. Friends I consulted advised caution noting that without live broadcast, my words could be misrepresented or taken out of context. One or two were utterly opposed to the idea, while others thought that trying to get a point across – especially if there is a chance of live speaking – is better than boycotting the network. The journalist that I had contact with on both occasions Anissa Naouai was professional, as well as being a tough and direct questioner who has shown her grit on CNN, too. So, weighing up the options, I agreed to speak. You can all judge for yourselves whether my decision was justified and whether my performance was adequate.

Looking at the video, the introduction – as well as the framing through images that accompanied what I was saying – make clear that a particular interpretation of events that RT had, even if the title of the piece (“A Ukrainian oligarch might have been behind 50 deaths in Odessa”) as well as the researcher stressing that “Of course it’s all unconfirmed, and these are just leaked phone calls, but we would like to discuss the possibility of that“, made clear that much of this was quite likely conjecture or possible even sensationalism. Although my task was to be to discuss these phone calls, it was quite easy to bat away this issue by stating that it was just conjecture and so while certainly intriguing to talk about there’s not much point in doing so.

I expected to be grilled further on the gaps in the story that I suggested, but this never materialised. So I can explain those gaps here. Kolomoyskyy swears his apparent vengeance on Tsarov because of the death of ‘a Jew’, ‘a member of the Dnipropetrovsk’ Jewish community in Mariupol on 9 May. (This BBC report shows some of the gruesome events from there that day.) As it turns out, the man in question was not Jewish at all… but a trainee orthodox priest, who qualified in Volhynia, but is originally from the Verkhovyna district of Ivano-Frankivsk region. He was a member of the National Guard, so the state’s volunteer military force who often have minimal training but are now sent into the heat of battle or into tense civilian situations. The dead man in question, Bohdan Shlemkevych, was about to finish his stint in eastern Ukraine and return to Ivano-Frankivsk region. I had thought that this connection to Frankvisk was why I had been invited on to RT, but no mention was made.

Here is a news report on Bohdan Shlemkevych’s funeral. The TSN report also states that he was 21 and killed after his bullet-proof vest was pierced.

PrivatBank terrorist van graffiti. Kolomoyskyy owns the bank.

PrivatBank terrorist van graffiti. Kolomoyskyy owns the bank.

Beyond discrediting Kolomoyskyy by associating the militia he sponsors with the mass killings in Odessa, I am not quite sure what the purpose of RT pushing this story is. There is a heavy question of Jewish involvement in these recordings, with the Jewish community of Dnipropetrovsk apparently conspiring to murder pro-Russian politicians. Whether there was some kind of anti-Jewish intent here on RT’s part, I can’t say. But a paradox that has emerged with Kolomoyskyy’s rise to prominence, a point I made in the interview with RT, is that he has become something of a national hero. The official Euromaidan social network feeds have been sharing memes of him as “Zhidobanderivets”, or “Jew-Banderite”.

Kolomoyskyy Zhidobanderivets

Kolomoyskyy Zhidobanderivets

Given that one of the first charges against Euromaidan, and more strongly later once the prominence of some right-wing groups emerged, made by Russian media was that it was anti-Semitic. Here, though, we have a “Jew-Banderite”. Quite a paradox. Kolomoyskyy funded the fuelling of Ukrainian military vehicles when the threat to Crimea emerged and now he has a militia, while he is also offering bounties for capturing “Moskali”, a derogatory term for Russians, applied by him to those deemed separatists. $10,000 a head.

So, with attention turned away from the question of the phone calls and Kolomoyskyy, I was asked more about the perception of another oligarch, Petro Poroshenko, who is likely to win the upcoming presidential elections. I’ve written about his visit to Frankivsk here. And so things turned to a more everyday topic, or at least to an area I feel more qualified to speak on and more comfortable speaking about.

What reading about Kolomoyskyy and listening to the phone recordings did open my eyes to even further, though, is how murky things are right now in Ukraine and how dangerous the situation is becoming. While there are some successes in what the state calls the “Anti-Terrorist Operation”, it seems that largely it is various militia with different sponsors that are being sent into eastern regions. Or, even more ominously, are simply making their own way there as this rather eye-opening report from the Guardian shows.

Presidential candidate Oleh Lyashko wants to form his own militia/ paramilitary. He already has 3,000 men. Oligarch number one Akhmetov is forming his own from his metal workers and miners. Kolomoyskyy has his Dnipro units, while there are others being trained just down the road from here, as I wrote yesterday, supported by the state and stemming largely from Right Sector and UNA-UNSO. Supposedly there is a central coordination centre for “anti-terrorist operations” but the number of militia is growing and actions seem to be taking place out east that lack any sense command.

Numerous historical analogies have been applied to Ukraine already since the start of what became Euromaidan in November. It seems, ominously, that Yugoslavia of the 1990s is the next. If Kolomoyskyy’s militia was involved in a plan that backfired in Odesa – a few light beatings rather than mass killing – then clearly those actions can be deemed one step towards a Yugoslavia-type situation. For now, though, it’s the job of journalists to verify and investigate those telephone recordings rather than sensationalise them. I’m not sure how keen western media and Ukrainian media will be, though, to look too deeply into it.

Meanwhile, in Ivano-Frankivsk today, the university hosted a meeting between candidates for the parliamentary by-election. I was teaching so couldn’t attend, but my wife says that some questions were clearly planted, while the classic trick of asking the price of milk, bread and so on, caught a couple of candidates out. The city council, meanwhile, cannot decide whether the square outside the regional administration building should be renamed in honour of the Maidan or the Heavenly Hundred.

 

Frankivsk Right Sector Armoured Personnel Carrier Farce Ends. State-sponsored paramilitary training camps start.

The last couple of posts here focussed on the presence of the Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence armoured personnel carrier (APC) that had been parked since just after Easter outside the Ivano-Frankivsk police headquarters, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MBC) building.  My previous post suggested that an interval had been reached in this farce with an inevitable new act to follow. Passing the police HQ on Monday, the APC was still parked outside the entrance. There was one young man stationed on the vehicle with Maidan Self-Defence badges on his camouflage gear.

Right Sector/ Maidan Self-Defence APC, Monday 12 May 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

Right Sector/ Maidan Self-Defence APC, Monday 12 May 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

That’s the APC there on Monday, hidden behind a tree. I’d just got back from Belarus that morning so perhaps my habit of being cautious in photographing government buildings developed there meant I took this poor photo.

Anyway, passing the building today – on a bus, so there’s no photo yet – I noticed that the APC had disappeared. The small parking bay outside the building was vacant and there was not a single “activist” by the building. The local press – and even the national news – so keen to cover the presence of the APC outside the building are completely silent about its current whereabouts, the reasons for its disappearance and how the removal was negotiated (if indeed there were negotiations).

There is also no word as to whether the dispute which triggered this long-running farce, with blockades by Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence beginning as early as March this year, had been resolved. It seems that the Kyiv-nominated head of police remains in position although the “activists” were vehemently opposed to the man from Volhynia.

When I first spotted this news report about a Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence military and ideological training camp, I though that perhaps the APC had been put to use there. However, the video report – a must watch, even if you don’t understand Ukrainian, to get the sense of what I’m about to write about – shows no APC. The camp also took place over the weekend, as it was mothers’ day, and the APC was in place on Monday.

The only insignia visible on vehicles in the video are those of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine (Державна служба України з надзвичайних ситуацій), formerly its own Ministry, responsible for dealing with emergency or extraordinary situations of various sorts. Now the Service is part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

While I was aware that Right Sector in the local region was organising various military and ideological training camps through the UNA-UNSO organisation and its youth branch Tryzub (Trident) named after Stefan Bandera, this report is the first I have seen that shows that the Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence paramilitary training camps are being funded and supported by the state on the national and regional level, as the video report states.

The camp involved people from this region as well as others who had travelled from Kyiv.

My initial interpretation was that this camp, taking place in the Halych district near to Ivano-Frankivsk, must be a National Guard training camp. The new National Guard are a reserve military force and they are already in action in eastern and southern Ukraine causing fatalities, as this Daily Telegraph video shows.

The Ivano-Frankivsk training camp could be preparing participants for entry into the National Guard, since Right Sector units are part of the NG. However, the video makes no mention of the National Guard. Obviously, this could be part of the mythologisation of Right Sector that some small elements of the local media are involved in. (There are other elements of the media here that are actively critical of it.) However, given the fact that a thirteen year-old boy is being trained to shoot, as the video shows, then it’s unlikely to be part of official National Guard duties. 18 is the minimum age.

It seems, then, that the State Emergency Service is funding and training paramilitaries who are not necessarily going to be included into the National Guard which might at least have some semblance of military hierarchy and order. If Ukraine is heading for civil war, then it seems numerous fighters – men, women and children – are being trained just up the road.

The farce of the APC outside the police seems relatively benign now given the tragedy that could follow soon with the involvement of those being trained up here in paramilitary camps rather than being sent into the proper army.