Family History and History’s Ironies: Births, Deaths and Forced Migration

This post, written from England, is more personal than most that have come previously but at the same time this outline of aspects of my family history should illustrate the historical complexities that have shaped the lives of people connected to the territories that now form western Ukraine.

My time in Ukraine was bookended by the death of a close family friend at the beginning and the birth of my sister-in-law’s first baby at the very end. The birth is easier to deal with here: four hours before my wife and I caught the train to Kyiv on Thursday 5 June, my wife’s sister gave birth to her first baby, a healthy boy named Vitaliy, at the maternity unit of an Ivano-Frankivsk hospital.

And now the story of the death which lead into a family history, a story which to some who read this will be all too familiar while for others it will be, perhaps, a quite extraordinary tale.

On 22 August 2012 I flew from London Luton to Kyiv to begin life in Ukraine after getting married in Ivano-Frankivsk in July that year. On that same day, 22 August, a man who grew up in Stanisławów (Stanislav[iv]), as Ivano-Frankivsk was known until its 300th anniversary in 1962, died in Leicester at the age of 90. This man was Kazimierz “Bob” Wojtyło who lived for the last few decades of his rich life in the Leicestershire village of Queniborough, where I was raised. The day before Bob’s death, I happened to come to his house with my mother to deliver some magazines. It was clear that he was in difficulty with his health, so an ambulance was called and I witnessed as he was taken out of his home for the last time. Just before I left for Luton airport, I learned of Bob’s death. So as the life of one man who was born in Stanisławów ended in Leicester, a young man (I was 28 in August 2012) raised in Leicester moved to Ivano-Frankivsk to start a new phase in his life.

Gravestone, Queniborough Cemetery, Leicestershire

Gravestone, Queniborough Cemetery, Leicestershire

This coincidence certainly had a conscious and unconscious influence on my time in western Ukraine, with this personal event making more aware than simply from a theoretical-academic perspective (I was in the midst of writing my PhD then, too) of the ghosts of the past that shape current behaviour, attitudes and interpretations.

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Photo from ukrfoto.net of the centre of Ivano-Frankivsk with Kazimierz Wojtyło’s former home the building after the crossroads on the left. It’s now above a jeweller’s shop and links to a building of the Medical Academy. It also overlooks the Rally Square (Vichevyj Maidan) by the post office.

So how did Kazimierz Wojtyło, or Bob, end up in a rural Leicestershire village? And how did his fate connect to the fact that I was born and raised in the same place? Well, he left Stanisławów in the first years of the war during the Soviet invasion of 1939-1941 of the Polish eastern borderlands that were incorporated in 1939 into the Belarusian and Ukrainian SSRs. The details I present here are based on memories of conversations with him. After being involved in some kind of partisan group in his late teens, trying to escape towards Romania, he was deported to the depths of the USSR. With the amnesty that was granted to prisoners taken there in 1939-41, Kazimierz travelled like tens of thousands of other people towards Central Asia and the Middle East with the hope of joining the Anders Army, for those who were fit and young enough, or to find their way into British-controlled areas. Kazimierz ended up in Palestine at the end of the war and was then offered a choice of destinations by the British authorities.

While his brother chose Australia, Bob chose Britain where he worked for over a decade before moving to Australia. A well-paid spell in mining in Western Australia was cut short and he returned to the coalmines of Nottinghamshire. After a few years in that job he took on the Horse & Groom pub in Queniborough, the village where he is now buried alongside his first wife and survived by his second wife. This village pub attracted local drinkers, as well as some workers from Poland who were employed by this man, reported to be Pope John Paul II’s cousin (there’s a slight difference in the spelling of the surnames). Among these Polish workers was my mother, while among the drinkers was my father (who died in 2005).

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Dąbrowica/ Дубровица train station, on the line from Lviv to St Petersburg via Belarus, taken on the day of the summer solstice in 2008. This is the home town of my grandmother. Dąbrowica/ Дубровица is now in Volhynia, NW Ukraine, while in the interwar period it was in Poland.

Now, why did my mother choose to come to Leicestershire where she first worked in the Horse & Groom, cooking and cleaning? This requires another long digression into family history, particularly that of my maternal grandmother and her relatives. My maternal grandmother was born in the early 1930s in the town of Dąbrowica (Дубровица) in the Volhynia region of what was then Poland and is now northwestern Ukraine. Her mother was of Ukrainian origin, while her father was the descendant of settlers who were awarded land and jobs in the eastern borderlands by the post-World War One Polish authorities as part of a Polonization programme. In 1939, my great grandfather – also Kazimierz – went off to fight for the Polish army and ended up in Siberia before finding his way to Scotland where he was part of the Polish air force serving alongside the RAF. He established a new family in Scotland and left behind three children who had ended up in Poland’s new postwar lands, the Recovered Territories acquired from Germany in 1945.

His wife, so my great grandmother, died on the journey from Dąbrowica/Дубровица to Germany, where she, her children and family members were taken in 1943 in a humanitarian exercise conducted by the Nazi authorities to protect Poles from ethnic violence conducted by Ukrainians in Volhynia against Poles, or – as was the case here – against people who were perceived as Polish. After marrying a Pole, my great grandmother and her family were marked out of the Ukrainian community. So in 1943, my grandmother, as a teenager, ended up in the Magdeburg region from where she moved after the war with her siblings and aunt to Poland’s new lands, settling just over the Neisse/Nysa River near Zgorzelec. In the early 1950s she the son of a family of voluntary settlers, who came to Poland’s new lands from the Tarnów area of southern Poland. My mother was born soon after and during the so-called “Carnival of Solidarity” period in early 1980s Poland, where certain travel restrictions were lifted, she managed to come to Britain initially with no intention of remaining, merely to earn enough money to buy a flat in Wrocław.

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Dąbrowica’s Roman Catholic church which is now used once a week for prayer.

However, conditions in Poland changed with the situation turning towards Martial Law at the end of 1981, so she ended up staying and marrying one of the men from the pub. So, why Leicestershire? Down the road from Dąbrowica/Дубровица in what was known as a colony or kolonia, so a new settlement founded by Polish post-WWI settlers, lived my grandmother’s first cousin. She and her family were deported in 1940 by the Soviet authorities to the depths of the USSR. Settler families were among the chief groups subject to deportation, since they were seen as agents of Polish imperialism and kulak farming.

With the amnesty, my grandmother’s cousin along with many others travelled southwards and found themselves in Central Asia before being taken by the British to what was then the British-controlled Tanganyika Territory in East Africa. Here my grandmother’s cousin married a man who came from a family in a similar situation but had lived in the Belarusian-Lithuanian borderland before he and his settler forebears were deported to the depths of the USSR. They had a daughter in East Africa, with my grandmother’s cousin’s husband even learning Swahili. He says he would have stayed in East Africa but his daughter suffered from Malaria and so they opted to move to England, ending up in a displaced persons’ camp near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire. My grandmother’s cousin’s husband’s brother, meanwhile, had opted to move to Australia, instead. Later, in the twenty first century, my grandmother’s cousin’s daughter’s son, born in Leicester, moved to Australia and ended up settling, completely by chance, in the same small village on the NSW coast where my English father’s sister and her family moved in the 1980s. Another one of those strange coincidences in family history.

Still, my grandmother’s cousin never moved from Leicestershire. My grandmother came to visit in the UK in the 1970s, visiting her cousin in Leicestershire while also having contact with her father who had settled in Scotland. My grandmother’s cousin and her family also visited Poland on several occasions in the 1970s, travelling by car to visit relatives scattered around the reshaped postwar country. This contact with the family in Leicestershire is why my mother was able to stay with them and eventually settle in the East Midlands where she remains to this day.

I was raised in a bi-lingual household, attending Polish Saturday school, acquiring a GCSE and A-Level in Polish, before studying it with German in London from 2002. I finally got around to acquiring Polish citizenship earlier this year. I visited my family in Poland basically every year of my life from the age of 9 months, then lived in Poland as an Erasmus student in 2004 before meeting the woman who would become my wife on a summer school for foreigners studying Polish held in Lublin. Only a few years after my wife, from Ivano-Frankivsk, first visited the UK did we visit Kazimierz Wojtylo, or Bob, together. While on previous visits I’d learned that he was somewhere “from the East”, he was never really given a chance to present his history as usually it was assumed on his behalf that “the young ones” won’t be interested in his story but we were simply being polite by listening.

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Дубровица Orthodox church, somewhere that my grandma used to hang out close to her home.

However, once he learned that my wife was from Stanisławów/Ivano-Frankivsk, his memories flowed and he felt like he’d finally found an audience who would listen and understood where he had come from, both in the geographical sense and in the historical sense. And Bob, too, was fascinated to learn what had happened to his home town and, like us, was genuinely baffled that somehow history had conspired to bring, in the last years of his life, living contact with his home town. He has kept some memoirs, so hopefully one day it will be possible to read those. My wife and I managed to make a short film for him, which I hope he could see something of, as his failing eyesight tried to take in the images of today’s Ivano-Frankivsk, including his city-centre flat, that we had put together just a few weeks before he passed away.

Meanwhile, in summer 2006, my wife and I visited Dąbrowica/Дубровица after I had earlier that year listened to my grandmother, her sister and their cousin describe the town. So we tried to see as much of the town and as many of the places that were significant for them in their childhoods. Unfortunately, my grandmother died in August 2006 while my wife was on her first visit to the UK so we never had the chance, beyond a description over the phone of what we saw in Dąbrowica/Дубровица, to show her how her home town had changed. She remembered it, of course, although the memories attached to it that remained most strong were traumatic, histories of the war and Polish-Ukrainian ethnic violence, as well as Soviet deportations of family members.

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Some gravestones of distant relatives that we stumbled upon in Дубровица/ Dubrovytsia.

Aside from shaping what I studied as an undergraduate, my family history also shaped my doctoral thesis. But it seems that my family’s story based around forced migration and deportation is a reflection of what, since 1989, and also in opposition memory under communism, has formed the dominant narrative in public memory, as well as in academic studies of population transfers. In a sense, my maternal grandfather’s story, the son of voluntary migrants, coming to former German lands seeking a better life or to make a quick fortune, was the basis of my thesis, so looking at the forgotten stories and experiences from the past that form today’s social realities, today’s communities.

What this blog post will have given readers, I don’t know. Perhaps an interesting story. Perhaps an indication of the complexities of identity constructions, even for the second and third postwar generation, of people whose family histories are connected to the contested Polish/Ukrainian/Belarusian/Lithuanian/Jewish/Soviet/German borderlands. My grandmother’s cousin, for example, just last week – now into her 90s – praised living in Britain in a manner more heartfelt than I’ve heard from anyone, praising the welfare state and NHS sincerely. But she still cries, like her husband, when the memories of wartime Poland and Siberia, or postwar East Africa, emerge. The scars aren’t healed. My mother maintains links to her Polish heritage, but she can’t ever see herself living in Poland again.

I now have dual nationality, but see myself as a Polish-English mix. Not British, because I lived in Scotland for about five years, and came to realise my Otherness there and the relative failure to construct a sense of Britishness that both I and the Scots I knew could identify with. My wife is purely Ukrainian, but has strong connections through her work and studies to Poland, and Polish is the language we speak mostly with each other. So what our kids will come to speak and, even more complexly, come to identify with is anyone’s guess.

Transnationality and cultural hybridity are trendy terms in cultural studies now, but this is a reality that ordinary people in provincial Poland, provincial Ukraine or provincial England, as well as Australian settlements, have been living out for decades.

And perhaps, to finish, another thing that perhaps this post will give readers is a reminder of life and death in the everyday, a peculiar jolt like the one I had when  I realised how my experience in Ukraine – a land now living up again to the ‘Bloodlands’ sobriquet given to it by historian Timothy Snyder and by history, as tragedies of conflict play out again in ordinary people’s lives – was bookended by a family birth and the death of man born in Stanisławów.

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Back in the UK

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Chicken Kievs accompanied by pork patties with vegetables and salad on a table in England. I guess my mum wanted to help to acclimatise to life back in Britain.

On Thursday 5 June, my wife and I boarded a train in Ivano-Frankivsk, travelled to Kyiv and then flew to London on Friday. So since then, we have been out of Ukraine. The date was chosen as we were attending our friends’ wedding in Sheffield on Saturday. Family and work commitments mean my wife will return to Ukraine for part of the summer, but for me – the author of this blog as “UA-UK Lecturer” – my time in working and living in Ukraine is almost certainly over. I started living in Ivano-Frankivsk this time around in August 2012 after getting married in Ukraine earlier that summer. I worked for four semesters at the Precarpathian National University, adding to the semester I was employed at the university in 2008.

It is over six months now since I completed my PhD at the University of Glasgow and I have spent that time applying for various lecturing and research positions around the world. With a doctorate in something fairly obscure and interdisciplinary, so on postwar Polish social history (if you want to know, the title of my thesis is Peasants, Professors, Publishers and Censorship:  Memoirs of Rural Inhabitants of Poland’s Recovered Territories (1945-c.1970)), and with the current climate in British academia especially, where the arts and humanities are being denigrated, then finding a job or a research post is not easy. Of the ten or so posts I have applied for, there have been over one hundred applications for one post and over fifty for another. I didn’t realise there were so many unemployed or underemployed specialists in the Central and East European region.

Today, my wife and I attended a very interesting one-day symposium hosted at the University of Warwick by scholars working on Belarus and Ukraine by and large in culture and language studies. The aim was to seek to develop projects and ideas for promoting the study of these countries beyond the social sciences and within the British academic context. While Russian and even, to some extent, Polish studies are seen as successful in attracting students and  funding (Polish and Czech studies have faced struggles, though) Ukrainian and Belarusian studies have been overshadowed. And the problems discussed today were indicative of the difficulties facing young scholars in the arts and humanities, and particularly Slavonic and East European area studies: there is a lack of undergraduates coming into the field and this affects job opportunities and ultimately funding opportunities, while research funds are, anyway, harder to come by in the current environment where profits come before learning and cultural needs. Scholars working in Britain will, then, continue to face the difficult of how to represent these countries, their people and their cultures through a paradigm that is not dominated by questions of protest and opposition or by these countries being objects of Russian and Western policy.

And so, anyway, I plan to spend the summer in Britain applying for more posts and seeking to make ends meet. The question now is what to do with this blog. It seems to have built up a fairly decently-sized readership, producing some debate and dialogue. It is also something that is read more widely than anything that I have published so far in the academic sphere and, in all probability, will have a wider readership than anything I will write in future.

I am open to suggestions from readers for how to continue the blog, if at all. I have some ideas and materials collected during my time in Ivano-Frankivsk for posts that I will develop as and when possible over the coming weeks. I will keep an eye on the local news from Ivano-Frankivsk, but I don’t plan on producing news summaries. I might comment on any relevant events, although it is not really worthwhile doing so extensively without experiencing at first hand events, their consequences or responses to them.

So, your author is still here and active on this blog, but it is likely to transform over time into something different to the chronicle of the revolutionary, the political, the everyday and the culinary that it has been so far.

Thank you all for reading, from the handful of individuals who clicked on to the first posts to the hundreds who now find their way to the most recent posts. And I hope to provide more inspiration, information or infuriation in the weeks and months to come.

From Storming to Mourning the Security Service in Ivano-Frankivsk – Part 2: Or, From the Corridor of Shame to the Pantheon of Heroes

Police mourning their fallen colleagues, 2 June 2014, central Ivano-Frankivsk

Police mourning their fallen colleagues, 2 June 2014, central Ivano-Frankivsk

This is the second of a two-part blog post. In the first part on the funeral of National Guard soldiers, formerly of Berkut, killed fighting for Ukraine in Donetsk region, I presented the mourning that took place in the city over at least three days since 29 May. Here I look more at the political controversies, as well as the questions for memory and memorial culture, that have emerged in light of these deaths and the burial.

The six men from the region killed in the helicopter, including the three buried in the Memorial Square, were members of the Berkut special police unit until it was disbanded after Yanukovych fled the country and the new government assumed power. These men had volunteered to transfer to the new National Guard, a unit that replaced the Internal Military, and is responsible to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is also in charge of police.

Berkut officers were responsible for beating students and protesters on 1 December, which reignited the initial wave of Euromaidan protests and turned Kyiv’s Independence Square into the fortified tent city that was the heart of protests. Meanwhile, in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, after Yanukovych was deposed, in some places Berkut officers were greeted as heroes.

A Gryfon member and a member of the public

A Gryfon member and a member of the public

Troops from the Gryfon unit stand guard

Troops from the Gryfon unit stand guard

When the Police and Security Service (SBU) HQ was being stormed in Ivano-Frankivsk on 18/19 February, Berkut officers -including the six men killed near Slovyansk in the “anti-terror operation” – were present in the city. Indeed, they were inside the building. First ordinary police officers were brought out of the police wing of the building on Lepkoho Street and were greeting with shouts of “the police are with the people”, so an almost forgiving and celebratory greeting.

Later Berkut officers emerged – including the six men being mourned from Ivano-Frankivsk region – were made to walk through what is termed “a corridor of shame”, a kind of “guard of shame”, basically. The Berkut officers were released from the building, disarmed and their body armour removed, while the crowd mostly booed them. However, what is only now being appreciated is that in abandoning their posts, the then-Berkut officers betrayed their oath and abandoned their duties. Had things turned out differently in Ukraine, this act could have faced serious consequences. At this point, then, these men refused to fire on fellow Ukrainians.

After the police HQ was taken over, the crowd moved towards the Security Service wing of the building. That wing was harder to take and better protected, with “activists”, many associated with Maidan Self-Defence and Right Sector – and notably its youth wing, Tryzub Bandery – soon preparing burning tyres and the Molotov cocktails which caused significant damage to the building. It was then partly looted, while both sides – SBU workers and “activists” – burned documents, with a smaller-scale storming of the prosecutor’s office taking place, too, with documents burned there. The events at the prosecutor’s office remain to this day shrouded in mystery.

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So, Berkut officers, including the six men being mourned and the three men from the city buried in the Memorial Square alongside Roman Huryk, were in February perceived as some of the biggest enemies of the protesters on Maidan. Their unit was declared responsible for murders, hence the “corridor of shame” and, later, after the collapse of Yanukovych’s rule and the formation of new (para)military units, some members of Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence refused to fight alongside ex-Berkut and Ministry of Internal Affairs fighters in the National Guard. Some of the tensions are still evident in this Vice News dispatch, for example. However, some units are reconciled and it is reported that a someone formerly from the Maidan units was among National Guard members in the helicopter, three of whom are now buried in Ivano-Frankivsk’s Memorial Square.

The Memorial Square is a palimpsest of memorial culture – forgotten Polish-Catholic graves slowly regaining some prominence after the cemetery was turned into a park by the communist authorities and the nearby church demolished to make way for the theatre. Since Ukraine became independent, and especially in the twenty-first century, some Polish graves have been restored, with a memorial to Polish military present, among the graves of Ukrainian cultural, academic and military figures. But the rest of the dead, ordinary people, are generally forgotten as the pantheon of Ukrainian heroes from cultural figures to freedom fighters grows.

The history of the Memorial Square becomes a microcosm of the complex history of the city and its residents. And this time again it will be a site revealing the difficult, ambiguous story of recent history, of Euromaidan and its aftermath, the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Killed in action defending Ukraine from a threat to its territorial integrity, the three men enter the pantheon of heroes here in Ivano-Frankivsk.

It would seem that given Ukraine’s current situation and the tragedy that has befallen the families of the men killed in action near Slovyansk, the term “heroes” would be enough to lend some decorum to this burial in Ivano-Frankivsk. Indeed, largely this has been observed, although a public spat has emerged which has called into question not so much the amnesty granted the men when they belonged to Berkut, but the behaviour of organisations like Maidan Self-Defence and Right Sector, who like to present themselves as living heroes, embodiments of the spirit of Maidan.

Three crosses for the fallen men, 2 June 2014.

Three crosses for the fallen men, 2 June 2014.

The obvious tension that emerged with these men being buried alongside Roman Huryk, once deemed a victim of Berkut or associated snipers, was eased by the dead student’s mother who said she accepted the decision. However, her words reported in the press suggest a sense that the decision was taken over her head and she had little say, as the city council’s executive committee unanimously took the decision. Viktor Anushkevychus, the city’s mayor, spoke briefly on the matter, stressing the “symbolism” of Huryk “hero of the heavenly hundred” and “ex-Berkut heroes of Ukraine” being buried side-by-side, as it shows “that no one will be able to divide us”.

In this official statement, the totemic word “hero” is applied, seeking to heal all wounds and smooth history through what is in current conditions a sensible amnesty, casting aside partisan differences. Forgiveness had been issued to the Berkut men after walking the corridor of shame, they performed their penance, and on top of that they gave their lives for Ukraine, and only then earning their hero status.

However, close to the surface there still bubbles the ambivalence of relations between state and society, as Euromaidan and the deaths of the “Heavenly Hundred”, including that of local student Roman Huryk, have yet to be granted closure. Equally, whoever “we” are, who Anushkevychus states shall not be divided, is not clear. Is it the community of Frankivsk? Is it Ukraine – divided by Yanukovych’s government and now fighting united, with even former enemies now side-by-side? It’s not clear, especially given that Ukraine is now effectively engaged in a localised civil war. It is not proving easy to mobilise public enthusiasm, or indeed men to fight en masse, in what is proving to be a dangerously deadly fight in eastern Ukraine.

Ivano-Frankivsk's newest street, running of Hetman Mazepa Street as part of a planned city centre bypass, is now named after Roman Huryk, the local student killed on the Maidan on February 2014.

Ivano-Frankivsk’s newest street, running of Hetman Mazepa Street as part of a planned city centre bypass, is now named after Roman Huryk, the local student killed on the Maidan on February 2014.

During Euromaidan and the subsequent Crimea crisis, for people here, the enemy was clear: Yanukovych and the Party of Regions, Putin and his “little green men”. But now, heading eastwards to fight against fellow Ukrainians, even if they are supported by Chechens, Serbs or Russians, is less of an easy option than joining what were, at least until the final days of Yanukovych’s rule, largely a relatively safe form of mass protest during Euromaidan. Today, despite the threat to Ukraine, there is very little of the popular nationalism that seemed to flourish after the deaths on Maidan and the fall of Yanukovych. Instead, an atmosphere of fear and apprehension alongside a stubborn pursuit of everyday life prevails. And there is no cathartic compensation, for the community at least  – obviously not for those who lost loved ones on Maidan – as there was when Roman Huryk was killed on Maidan, as by the time of his funeral, the rule of Yanukovych and his government was collapsing. Now, instead, the danger facing eastern Ukraine seems more real -regardless of the physical geographical distance – as local men fought and died there, leaving a trace of distant Donetsk in Frankivsk.

While some groups, particularly Maidan Self-Defence and, increasingly rarely now though, Right Sector, locally present themselves as the bearers of the legacy of Maidan, of heroism, it seems their claims lack social legitimacy. Now, as the threat grows more acute, it could become much more difficult to mobilise men to fight in eastern Ukraine, with volunteers serving in large numbers already now.

Any squabbles Maidan Self-Defence or Right Sector get engaged here in Frankivsk can seem petty when an acute threat faces Ukraine in the east and masses are dying on both sides, particularly with the Ukrainian authorities resorting to increasingly strong-arm tactics, including aerial bombing. (Ukrainian reports state 300 “terrorists” or “separatists” were killed just yesterday, 500 were injured, with two Ukrainian servicemen killed and 45 injured.) The harmony sought by burying the men as heroes, the unifying effect, has been disrupted on the local level by seemingly petty squabbles, as ghosts of past political differences emerge and the corpses of the dead are used for apparent points scoring.

Police HQ on 18/19 February 2014 after being stormed. The anti-Yanukovych graffiti was gone by the next day.

Police HQ on 18/19 February 2014 after being stormed. The anti-Yanukovych graffiti was gone by the next day.

After the deaths of the ex-Berkut officers in the helicopter near Slovyansk, a local councillor, Mykola Kuchernyuk, stated that the deaths were partly a result of this looting of the security service and the failure of Self-Defence and Right Sector to return the bullet-proof vests and so on. (A big PR stunt emerged a few days ago, stressing that Self-Defence returned some vests, but the numbers don’t add up.) Indeed, after storming the the Security Service and Police HQ in February, the “activists” of Maidan Self-Defence and Right Sector looted some equipment, largely bullet-proof vests and shields, that were intended to be sent to Maidan in Kyiv or used in Frankivsk, if things got further out of hand.

Kuchernyuk can’t understand why the Self-Defence still need these vests, since ‘there has not been a single provocation noted by police against them’. In an escalation of the war of words that his first article provoked, Kuchernyuk has even called for an “anti-terror operation” in the city… to get rid of Self-Defence. He argues that the units have failed to disband or join the National Guard or Territorial Defence, as a parliamentary degree required them to do by 18 May. In the city, he believes, Self-Defence are terrorising the population and the authorities with their methods, including the APC outside the police HQ. Kuchernyuk also rejects the organisations’ claims to speak for the people of the city – since, as he rightly recognises, the people of the city largely want peace and quiet, rather than paramilitary organisations fighting over local positions of authority.

The reemergence of the spectre of recent history and the failure to lay to rest the complexities and controversies that saw the city divided and protesting in February against the state security apparatus, which is now afforded hero status, put Right Sector and Self-Defence in a difficult situation. People in the city and the local press remembered that it was these organisations that formed the Corridor of Shame and then looted the security service, taking away vital protection equipment. Of course, lacking the benefit of hindsight, the actions in February seemed justifiable in working towards bringing down Yanukovych’s rule and his security apparatus.

So, in a sense one aspect of the response from the Maidan “activist” core is understandable: don’t blame us, we were doing what we had to at the time. And their response that some politicians and councillors today, including Kuchernyuk, are seeking to exploit the helicopter tragedy for political gain today, seems reasonable. More questionable, perhaps, is the assertion that the “corridor of shame reflected the demands of the community”, as it is never clear in the conditions of mob democracy that emerged during the sharp end of protests here which elements of the community are represented in the actions of the most active elements.

Of course, the response to the accusations against Right Sector and Self-Defence have taken on an ad personam quality, with Kuchernyuk’s past membership of the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (United) emphasised, since this Party sided with Yanukovych against Yushchenko around the time of the Orange Revolution presidential elections. This led to the councillor being labelled now “a potential Judas separatist” (see the caption accompanying the linked article’s picture). This same report, which neatly spans in its allusions to betrayal the entire cultural-historical spectrum relevant here in western Ukraine – from the crucifixion of Christ to the martyrdom of today’s Ukraine – also attempts, however, to falsify recent history.

What a building that hasn't been subject to an arson attack looks like. Apparently.

What a building that hasn’t been subject to an arson attack looks like, apparently, according to frankivsk.net.

The report claims, ‘As everyone knows, really Right Sector and Self-Defence protected the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MBC) of Ukraine buildings from marauders. And it is only thanks to Right Sector that there were no arson attacks on the MBC in Ivano-Frankivsk.’ Maybe in Ukraine there is some technical definition of arson (підпал) that I’m not aware of and the term does not in fact cover throwing burning molotov cocktails through windows of a building with people inside. But I saw the building on fire that night. And maybe there is some definition of ‘marauders’ that I don’t understand, but the aftermath of the events of 18/19 February suggests a significant level of looting and damage, with repairs subsequently estimated at $1 million.

Now, just maybe, the young men and teenagers we saw filling up molotov cocktails were not part of Right Sector. But that seems unlikely, given the commands that were being issued that evening and the fact that numerous Tryzub members – incorporated into Right Sector – were out that evening.

It seems that the controversies emerging from Euromaidan and subsequent protests have a long way to run. And, rightly, in time they should be debated, but such squabbles appear unbecoming while the dead are waiting to be buried or have just been laid to rest.

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Top: “Eternal glory to the heroes who fell for the freedom and independence of our fatherland.” Bottom: “And in the memory of generations to come your names will not be forgotten.”

Still, it is interesting to observe now are the local-level debates, confrontations and images that emerge, giving some insight into the way the memory and subsequent history of events is constructed. While battles rage in eastern Ukraine now, with civilians and combatants dying and suffering injuries, here in western Ukraine some apparently rather petty battles are taking place, battling for the future: the future right to write history and secure the strongest claims to the totemic term “hero”.

For now, though, aside from petty struggles seeking to usurp apply labels of good and bad, heroism and betrayal, the sensible approach to push forward for now a sense of amnesty and unity reveals the complex processes that await the historiography of Euromaidan and its aftermath. And these processes are evident in vernacular memory, which recognises often that circumstances change, individuals as members of organisations end up in unforeseeable situations that make them seem an enemy to some, heroes to others, then another change and perceptions are reversed.

In this way, vernacular or popular memory can seem to serve as a better archive of the ambiguity of historical events. However, over time it can submit to authoritative narratives that emerge which want a simplified history, black and white definitions of heroes or enemies, making the imagined nation or the political state, rather than ordinary people, the agents of historical and political change.

Mothers and children mourn in monumental form their fallen fathers and brothers. The Red Army war memorial, Ivano-Frankivsk, 2 June 2014.

Mothers and children mourn in monumental form their fallen fathers and brothers.
The Red Army war memorial, Ivano-Frankivsk, 2 June 2014.

Meanwhile, whatever the grand narratives of relations between western Ukraine and the Red Army, ordinary people still come to mourn their lost loved ones a sites of memory around the city, including the Red Army memorial. No longer the premier site of memory in the city, it still has significance for families affected, as the Memorial Square now becomes the central site of mourning and heroism in the city.

And, sadly, these new sites of memory, mourning and heroism emerge because of further tragedies befalling families in this region in military action that, in turn, is causing tragedies for people in eastern Ukraine and elsewhere.

From Storming to Mourning the Security Service in Ivano-Frankivsk: Part 1 – Troops mourned and buried in the city

Police mourn their fallen colleagues, Sunday 1 June, Ivno-Frankivsk

Police mourn their fallen colleagues, Sunday 1 June, Ivno-Frankivsk

On 29 May, a Ukrainian military helicopter carrying military and nonmilitary service personnel was shot down by fighters near Slovyansk in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. At least twelve men were killed, including one general from Lviv and six members of Ministry of Internal Affairs units, who were from the Ivano-Frankivsk region.

Three days of mourning were announced in the city, starting on 30 May, meaning all loud or celebratory cultural events were cancelled, which I wrote about here. On Sunday 1 June, a mourning service was held outside the Security Service and Police HQ in Ivano-Frankivsk for the six men, before the three of them who were from the city were buried in Ivano-Frankivsk’s Memorial Square, next to the Franko Theatre, on Monday 2 June. They were buried alongside the young student Roman Huryk, who was killed on Maidan in Kyiv in February. I wrote about his funeral here and the mourning that preceded it.

In this post, I depict the mourning and funeral in the city for the men killed in action near Slovyansk in the government’s “anti-terrorist operation”. I also outline certain ironies of fate surrounding these events, as well as the controversies that have emerged as a result. After all, the six men killed are former members of the Berkut special police unit – once a leading enemy of Euromaidan protesters. The Security Service and Police were a target for protests in the city during Euromaidan, subsequently remaining a site of demonstrations long into the spring after the collapse of Yanukovych’s rule.

For those of you who want to skip the description, then head to the second part of this post, dealing with the political and historical controversies surrounding the burial.

Tributes laid to six men from Ivano-Frankivsk and a general from Lviv killed in a helicopter shot down near Slovyansk.

Tributes laid to six men from Ivano-Frankivsk and a general from Lviv killed in a helicopter shot down near Slovyansk.

The memorial service, панахида, for the six men from the region, like the funeral for the three fighters from the city itself, was very much a public event. Around two thousand people, according to news reports, braved the downpours and attended the mourning service on Sunday, held at 1pm outside the Police and Security Service HQ on Lepkoho Street. The crowd sang dirges and mourning hymns, while a police band later played as the coffins of five men were carried to Konovaltsa Street. (The sixth body has only just been released to return from eastern Ukraine and a separate memorial service was held on 5 June before the man’s planned burial in Kolomyya region.)

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A colleague carries the coffin of a fallen comrade along Lepkoho Street on Sunday 1 June.

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The coffin is carried towards Konovaltsa Street

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A cross in memory of Volodymyr Sharaburyak, killed near Slovyansk

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Three of the men were from other parts of the region and their remains were taken to their home districts for burial. Ivano-Frankivsk police are switching to Prius cars, by the way.

This corner is the site of a memorial to Ministry of Internal Affairs workers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.Since the announcement that the helicopter with local men had been shot down, hundreds of mourners paid their respects by this monument. On Sunday, the coffins were placed in the back of van-type hearses, with the remains of two of the men from Kolomyya region transported for burial there.

Local press video coverage of Sunday’s memorial service is available, while there are plenty of photos here.

On Monday, at 11am, on a grey, overcast, chilly day, the funeral of the three men from the city began at the Greek Catholic Cathedral where several thousand had gathered to pay their respects. A few key roads around the city centre were closed, though traffic was still flowing a few dozen metres away.

Soldiers in a funeral procession, 2 June 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

Soldiers in a funeral procession, 2 June 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

The crowd was notably smaller than for Roman Huryk’s funeral, which on a mild February day at the height of the Euromaidan and Yanukovych-related violence in Ukraine filled the city’s streets and the huge square outside the regional administration building. Still, it was a sizeable crowd of several thousand who gathered by the cathedral and then joined a procession to the city’s Memorial Square at the opposite end of the central Nezhalezhnosti Street.

Police mourning on 2 June 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

Police mourning on 2 June 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

I followed the procession (following an unpleasant incident that happened to me and I wrote about here), noting that the crowd had thinned somewhat along the way. Local councillors and officials, including the mayor spoke at the funeral conducted by several priests before the coffins were buried accompanied by a gunfire salute. Members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Gryfon unit, as well as hundreds of serving police and some military were present. However, there is anger that there was no official representation from Kyiv, with one relative of a man killed reminding Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk of his promise made on Maidan, “If it’s a bullet to the head, then so be it.” There is a sense that career politicians are now in power and have forgotten about the promises made, as young men and women continue to die as Yatseniuk and others sit safely in Kyiv.

Mourners, Memorial Square, 2 June 2014

Mourners, Memorial Square, 2 June 2014

A male choir had sung the the mourning song associated with the “Heavenly Hundred” of those killed on Maidan and with their microphones left on, the pained weeping and wailing of women came across the sound system and this seemed to stun and silence those gathered more than anything. After the coffins were finally laid to rest the Ukrainian national anthem was sung and this man gave a salute forming the Ukrainian national symbol, the trident. It was quite a touching gesture, (although reading this article this morning put the salute in a different context) as he stood apart from the large part of the crowd, mourning in his own way, as earth was scattered over the graves that will reside in the Memorial Square alongside Roman Huryk.

A man gives the Trzyub/Trident salute as the national anthem sounds during the funeral of three Frankivsk men killed near Slovyansk.

A man gives the Trzyub/Trident salute as the national anthem sounds during the funeral of three Frankivsk men killed near Slovyansk.

In Part 2 on this theme, I write about the politics and controversies surrounding this burial, as well as the wisdom and qualities of an everyday, vernacular memory. 

 

“Go back to Poland”: On The Revolution of Dignity, or How a bad driver justifies his selfish parking in Frankivsk

Революція гідності

An angry driver confronts me for informing him that the Ukrainian highway code prohibits him from leaving his car on a pedestrian crossing. I was eating a sour-cherry-filled warm bun at the time and wanted to get a coffee from the place across the road with the ice cream cone.

 

Today, Ivano-Frankivsk paid tribute to three police workers from the city, formerly part of the Berkut unit, who were killed when their helicopter was shot down near to Slovyansk in Donetsk region. I will write more about the mourning later today. This episode, however, would disrupt that narrative, hence the separate post now.

I would like to stress that arseholes are encountered the world over, so this post should not be read as an “anti-Ukrainian” rant. But it should be read in the context of the past months’ events which are now sometimes referred to as the “Revolution of Dignity”, or “Революція гідності”.

So this post intends through this rather insignificant event, on the grand scale of things, to work up towards a discussion of the questions of the values and attitudes that are being discussed right now in Ukraine. It is also offers insight into something of in the microcosm of relations between society and the police, between discipline and punishment.

Having watched the funeral and the start of the procession outside Ivano-Frankivsk’s Greek Catholic Cathedral, I decided to get a small bun from Pirizhkova, a long-standing Soviet-era cafe specialising in buns, soup and wheat-based “coffee”. It could be a long march through the city, I thought, and I could do with a coffee too after a morning of editing a translation.

So with a warm, steaming bun in my hand I approached the nearby pedestrian crossing on Sichovych Striltsiv Street to go to the place with the ice cream cone outside it on the photo above. You can get really good espresso for just 3 UAH and buying coffee there probably supports the deaf-mute community of Ivano-Frankivsk, whose community centre is inside the building.

As I approached the crossing, a car was turning onto the pavement and forcing me backwards or sideways to avoid it. As many folk in Frankivsk like to do, this centrally-located parking spot right on the crossing is a convenient place to leave your motor. The more socially-conscious drivers tend to avoid parking right on a pedestrian crossing, preferring to break the Ukrainian highway code more subtly by parking within ten metres of a crossing or on any convenient sidewalk. So having no scruples about parking right on crossing improves your chances of finding somewhere to park.

As former Brit in Ukraine blogger Graham Phillips recently wrote about cultural differences now he’s back in Britain: ‘Last night I wanted to go to a pub south of the river and was just wondering which pavement to pitch up and park my car on when all the yellow lines, stern parking notices reminded me that just parking wherever you like is no longer an option.’

As I didn’t want to get bumped into by this car, I headed to the passenger side and informed the occupants calmly in my best Ukrainian that perhaps they hadn’t noticed the traffic lights they had barely just passed, but they were in fact blocking a pedestrian crossing and as such the law does not permit them to park them.

After a bit of a bizarre stand off with me in front of the VW nibbling my still-warm bun, the car slowly inching forwards, the driver got out and confronted me telling me that I should keep on walking as I wouldn’t want any trouble with him. His wife, or whoever it was, sat passively in the car. I repeated my knowledge of the Ukrainian highway code although I couldn’t finish as he recognised that something was amiss with my Ukrainian.

He found a weak point and was going to use it. “A good life is it in Poland? Why don’t you go back there, Pollack? [Polyachku]” I informed him that I’m not actually Polish even if I do have a distinctly Polish lilt and rhythm to my Ukrainian. (Readers, my citizenship status is complex, so I technically am Polish although the document I have to prove it gives me no rights yet to be a fully-recognised Pole in Poland, so for now I still feel more British, well, English in fact, as a sign of respect to Scotland, where I lived for five years.)

I replied that my nationality has little bearing on the situation, as it is the man’s parking that is the problem. I had my phone in my hand at the time and prepared to take a photo of the man and his car. The driver deemed this “a provocation” – such a familiar term in current discourse in Ukraine. “Why is some Pollack provoking me here? Go on, eat your bun. And then back to Poland.” I carried on eating my bun while the man got up close and starting shunting me with his body. I held my ground a while while he suggested I call the police. I informed him that today would be a good day to summon the police, since they were all out in town at the funeral of their colleagues, while traffic police were controlling traffic flow around the city. I asked the man, “is this the way to honour the dead, parking like this?” He replied that no Pollack is going to lecture him on patriotism. I enquired as to whether he was “a patriot, a nationalist or just a racist” – yeah, I played that card – because he thought my apparent Polishness was so significant a factor in this matter concerning his poor parking.

The suggestion that he was a racist got his goat a bit, so the shunting became more forceful, so I took a few steps back, took my photo and kept my distance. The man started to follow, threatening to “hunt me down on the Sotka”, the local nickname for the main street in the city, and will “stick your phone up your arse.” Turning to more six-form-ish taunts, I enquired as to whether he enjoyed that kind of thing before making the hand signal that suggests he is all mouth and no trousers. I carried on my way along the Sotka, at the end of  which I found some ordinary police together with traffic police and informed them of the situation.

Unsurprisingly, they weren’t exactly willing to assist as they couldn’t leave their post, or very keen to radio/phone any colleagues to see if the guy’s car was still illegally parked, but I showed them the photo and they noted the number plate. The policemen seemed to enjoy having a foreigner to talk to though about life in Frankivsk and in Ukraine.

The general reaction to this story is that this incident is really a case for Maidan Self-Defence or even Right Sector to sort out. I don’t know if those organizations would be willing to assist a “Pollack”, maybe they would. But it seems that awful parking is one area that civil society is seeking to combat in the city.

There are online campaigns, such as this one that I contributed to, but the general impact of civil society, or just good citizens, on the behaviour of ordinary people is still small, not just in terms of parking. The strongest desire, aside from improving everyday conditions is Ukraine, is to end chamstwo, boorishness, selfishness, which includes the corruption of petty officials as well as the behaviour of people on the street. Perhaps the frustrations of slow change will bring more people onto the streets.

Today I met Pan Myroslav, a one man protest outside the Regional Administration Building, who in ten minutes of chatting got a lot of support from ordinary people passing by as they entered the building to sort out some matter or other. Maybe, soon, more  will join him if things don’t change? That’s what he hoped. He also didn’t seem to mind that he was talking to an apparent Pole, in fact, he said first that he could hear some English accent in my Ukrainian above all. He has a fine ear. The local press have started to cover his protest, too.

He is protesting about people remaining in office. "Away with the unworthy from their office posts". It's catchier in Ukrainian.

He is protesting about people remaining in office. “Away with the unworthy from their office posts”. It’s catchier in Ukrainian.

As I’ve said before on these pages, the revolution won’t be won until people stop parking like arseholes. And now that in some quarters the events that have been taking place since November 2013 are now being called “The Revolution of Dignity”, the battle against arsehole drivers seems to fit the guiding principle of a Revolution of Dignity (Революція гідності).

PS: Thanks all for the feedback on this post in various fora. This seems like a great model for stickers to use in Poland. ‘For parking badly now scratch it off.‘ Here is the link to the Polish movement that is taking direct, humourous action.