Back in the UK

2014-06-11 18.40.15

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.

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“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.

“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.

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

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

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

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

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

Fabbrica sign

Fabbrica sign

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

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

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

Fabbrica, new Italian restaurant in Ivano-Frankivsk

Fabbrica, new Italian restaurant in Ivano-Frankivsk

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

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

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

Milling and Making Pizza and Pasta at Fabbrica

Milling and Making Pizza and Pasta at Fabbrica

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

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

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

 

Exchange Rates 12 April 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

Exchange Rates 12 April 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

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

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

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

Old Exchange Rate? Only for Ukrainian Products!

Old Exchange Rate? Only for Ukrainian Products!

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

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

 

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

Jesus confronts the black land rover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image

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

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

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

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

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

Product Boycott

 

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

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

Image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An ordinary, post-revolutionary working day. And an art installation about Putin and Stalin appears.

Today I went to work, ate some soup and a bun in a still-Soviet-style café (Pirizhkova opposite the post office), went to an art exhibition, wandered the city for a bit, then taught another class, did a bit of shopping and came home. An ordinary day, pretty much, like this one two weeks ago. And so everyday life goes on in post-revolutionary Ivano-Frankivsk, although the traces of the events of the past four months and the fear of war are evident in the city.

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The most striking thing that appeared in the city today was this ‘Memorial to Russian Aggressors’. Standing on piles of tyres reminiscent of those that burned on Maidan in Kyiv, a wooden cage is home to three mannequins’ torsos with rather crude print-outs of the faces of Putin, Stalin and Dmitri Kiselov, the rather eccentric but powerful Russian journalist. The presence of Kiselov indicates a feeling, perhaps, among the creators of this installation that the “information war” or “propaganda war” that is ongoing is being used as a significant weapon against Ukraine.

 

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According to the organisers of the installation, created by the ‘Student Svoboda’ organisation, ‘Kiselyov’s aggression is different from Putin’s and Stalin’s only in its methods, which are no less dangerous than military actions.’ Quite a hyperbolic claim, that.

The memorial’s appearance has received a fair amount of coverage in the local press. It is unclear how long it will be standing there in the centre of Vichevyj Maidan, or Rally Square, where the first Euromaidan protests and gatherings took place in the city.

 

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Clearly, the students who created this are not art students – or if they are, then we should be very worried about the quality of works that are being produced by the university’s fine arts department – even if there is some vague resemblance to one of Francis Bacon’s works.

 

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With a bit of time on my hands before teaching, I headed to the recently-opened Centre for Contemporary Art at the bottom of Shevchenko Street near Sichovych Striltsiv by Hotel Dnister. I’m giving the exact location, since despite the Centre existing for several months now, it is rarely open when it says it should be open and so I doubt many people in the city have noticed its existence. Today, though, it was possible to a see a new exhibition titled ‘Spring/War’ (Vesna/Viyna, crossed over on the poster).

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The local artists featured referenced recent events in Ukraine, with Yuriy Bakay making an installation of a piece of metal found on Maidan in Kyiv and then roughly packaged for him to bring back to Frankivsk. It was the most interesting commentary on the fragmented, violent and ambiguous experience of Euromaidan and revolution. A slightly older by another artist work was revived as something of a prescient piece titled ‘Sniper’, reflecting perhaps a sense of foreboding. One work among the others referencing present sentiments was one that revived the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism. It’s not clear why the organisers of the exhibition thought it a good idea to include that. We’ll make further investigations.

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A terrible art exhibition in a wonderful space.

So, the exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Art was pretty poor, although nowhere near as awful as one we chanced upon last week. My wife and I were heading through the pleasant Bastion complex and saw that there were a lot of people in the gallery there. It turns out it was the opening of this exhibition, which was a load of new age commentaries on celebrity culture. The paintings had the aesthetic of works which are supposed to be parodies of naïve art, except there was no parodic element to this, purely kitsch couched in new age pseudo philosophy.

This post was supposed to be about everyday life but seems to have become a review of recent art exhibitions in Ivano-Frankivsk. That could be a new strand to the blog. Anyway, back to the everyday.

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Life goes on as normal to a large extent. People continue to park like selfish idiots, as shown above, or here, where I made my debut as a published photographer thanks to sitting in the awful Royal Burger. It is also interesting that a new bank has opened in the current conditions in the city, not because of the weakened economy, but because it is the Savings Bank of Russia (Sberbank Rossii).

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However, there is now a campaign to challenge selfish drivers, whether by getting the traffic police more involved in such offences as happened last week, or by spontaneous civil actions of placing stickers and notices on drivers’ cars.

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Questionable building projects continue apace, including this one right outside the Administration Office, covering up an attractive old school in the historical heart of the city.

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Traces of Euromaidan in its popular public manifestations remain evident, although this flag – which has become tattered – is perhaps symbolic of the way in which those aspirations did not turn out as hoped for in the early days of civil protest.

 

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Europe also appears in the guise of a idealised location of style and aspiration, as this ‘Euro Fashion’ shop shows. It offers, according to the signs in the window, ‘elite fashion at reasonable prices’, while you can also ‘deposit clothes on commission’, meaning that the shop will sell your goods on your behalf.

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Outside the Regional Administration office no more rallies take place, while a few men in military fatigues, unarmed, mill about, although it is not clear why. They might have attended some council meetings, now that Right Sector and Self-Defence have forced themselves into being accepted as part of the local political apparatus. Or they just came out from the tent city, well, tent village now, that remains on the square to use the facilities and have a chat. Two policemen stand nearby, showing that their presence is returning to the city after a rather worrying period where control was not evident.

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And so it is that life goes on in this post-Maidan and post-revolutionary city where now a the fear of war and the collapsing currency are perhaps the most immediate legacies of the events of the past four months. The Hrynia lost another 1% or so in value against the dollar since Friday. There have been no right-wing, armed marches for a while now. Mourning is taking a more civic and civil form.

Yanukovych and his regime are gone, that’s another clear consequence of the revolution. Election campaigns are starting – for the presidency with 23 candidates – and for the local parliamentary seat freed by Oleskandr Sych becoming deputy PM.

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Exchange rates on 28 March 2014

 

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Exchange rates on Monday 31 March 2014. UAH loses 1% since Friday.

That may bring immediate personnel changes, but whether things will change significantly in everyday life in terms of the civil revolution – to end bribery, corruption and selfishness in public spaces – that’s something that will take long-term effort. And could depend strongly on whether the economy remains sound.

Fake Heritage, Slow Fast Food, a Glossy Magazine and a Book

The situation in Ukraine remains perilous – with the Russian annexation of Crimea, the uncertainty over who is ruling in Kyiv and the rise of the far-right into positions of power within local and national structures of authority. However, as this blog hopefully reflects, in contrast to what remains the focus of the general media, in everyday life a certain normality or normalisation is (re)-emerging. An everyday order that has emerged as a mixture of what went before Euromaidan, the revolution and Crimea, and something new, overshadowed by tragedy, danger and fear.

So, although the most popular posts here have been about Right Sector and far-right marches, there’s little new to report on that front. I’m  not hiding or censoring anything – simply, there was a purge of right-wing imagery from public spaces, the revived rallies were largely a failure, while protesters claiming to represent the people of the Ivano-Frankivsk region have disappeared from the police HQ and instead their leaders seem content to occupy, now legitimately with keys and suits rather than violently, offices within the regional administration.

When there were demonstrations, protests, arson attacks or torchlight processions, this blog covered it. Now there are none, the everyday prevails. Hence the perhaps, for some, flippant title and subject matter of today’s post.

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For several years, a historical building – namely a brewery first opened in 1767 – in the centre of Ivano-Frankivsk close to the market on Novhorodska Street was being renovated which here, most often, equates to a complete rebuilding. This is what happened in the case of the city brewery which under communist rule and indeed in the early years of independent Ukraine still produced beer. (My father-in-law chose this company for his free shares that were issued to all Ukrainians at the time of marketisation of the economy. Not a wise choice, it turned out, although the rest of my wife’s family chose better, opting for the local energy company.)

The brewery closed down and fell into disrepair, a situation so grave that the old brewery was torn down and replaced with this replica, or simulacrum, belonging to the category of fake heritage. It is now a restaurant belonging to the local chain Royal Burger.

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The plaque here states that this building is ‘a monument of architecture’, so the equivalent of being listed in Britain. It was the ‘malthouse of a brewery’ and is protected under No 1137-N. ‘It is protected by the state and any damage is punishable by law.’

It is noticeable that this plaque, unlike others in the city, makes no mention of the year of construction. It is unclear how this building can be considered a ‘monument of architecture’ and a listed building when it is a replica. And if damage is punishable by law, then whoever gave permission for this “reconstruction” and then for Royal Burger to take over the building without making any effort on the internal decoration to reference the building’s heritage should be prosecuted.

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For some reason, the architects decided to attempt some fake authenticity by leaving two fried-egg-shaped patches of uncovered brick, as if the plaster had fallen off the walls of this brand new construction. Indeed, beneath these plaster cast prostheses of authenticity there is one of the few signs of any history to the building. The bared bricks reveal the names of Polish and presumably Austrian brick companies, a handful of which may have been salvaged from the original. However, such bricks are easy to come by and theme pubs around the area are full of them without making any pretence to authenticity.

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If you want some genuine plaster-falling-off-the-walls experiences, then you don’t have to walk far. You could walk fifty metres around the corner to see this building.

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Or you could just look out of the window of Royal Burger and see across the road another building that belongs/belonged to the brewery complex. It won’t be long at all now until this building disappears from the city’s architectural landscape. Unlikely to be replaced by the Royal-Burger-type fake heritage, I’d imagine an apartment block springing up in this prime real estate location quite soon.

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The situation is quite desperate, as the back wall has partly collapsed, even if the walls appear quite smooth and may have been treated in the not-too-distant past, perhaps when the brewery was still active.

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Further attempts at referencing the heritage and history of the building are evident in including the name of the owners who took over the brewery in the nineteenth century, the Sedelmajers, who took over from the founders of the city, the Potockis, who had owned the brewery. The link that provided that information also notes that the original promise in 2007 was that a condition of rebuilding was that beer would continue to be brewed on the site. That never happened, of course.

A further attempt at referencing the history of the building is in the writing forged – an apt word – into the windows. It states ‘Piwo w Stanislawowie’, which doesn’t really make any sense reading it. It means ‘Beer in Stanislawow’, with the ‘l’ appearing particularly inauthentic as it ought to be a Polish ‘ł’. If anything, it should say ‘Piwo z Stanisławowa’, Beer from Stanisławów, or better still actually refer to the name of the beer once made there, Stanisławowskie.

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This is perhaps the most egregious example of a masking of the destruction of the city’s heritage in the twenty first century, although the destruction of buildings continues apace whether deliberately, by allowing huge apartment blocks to spring up on the site of small, one-storey houses, or by allowing old buildings to fall deliberately into disrepair before being replaced more cheaply and by more profitable buildings that pay lip-service, if that, to what had been there.

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Inside Royal Burger there is no attempt to even make passing reference to the building’s history. It is simply a generic fast-food joint that even in its menu effaces any indication that this building is in Ukraine or central Europe. Even McDonald’s make the effort, when moving into another foreign country, to make food which include some citation of local ingredients or classic dishes. The menu at Royal Burger is a purely generic interpretation of what was once American-style fast food. And the name and logo themselves reflects the building, as a kind of rip off of Burger King.

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My wife and I got some food in the restaurant – if I frame these whims as anthropological expeditions, I get away with doing a lot more stuff like this with her and have a chance of eating unhealthy food. I opted for the signature dish, the Royal Burger, er, Royal Burger meal. It’s two meat patties – possibly a pork and beef mix, that’s what it tasted like – in a sesame seed bun with decent sauce and salad. The chips were pretty decent, to be honest. However, the burger was problematic.

Unlike Burger King, these patties were not flame grilled, more slopped in some oil and fried or heated a bit, school-dinner style. And they were of an odd size and oddly positioned, so being smaller than the bun they shifted about like hockey pucks and meant the whole burger was quickly destroyed, falling into pieces and the salad going everywhere.

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The coke that accompanied the burger meal only arrived after about fifteen minutes, together with this Caesar Salad. To be fair, the salad was definitely fresh as when we ordered we were told there would be a wait while it was prepared, so perhaps defying the idea of fast food, and it was pretty alright. And both meals, the burger and the salad, were brought to our table. We won’t be going back to Royal Burger, as it’s quite pricey for what you get, and not really a nice place to be, especially with the horrors wrought upon the building.

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Now, in media news, a bit of shameless self promotion. I found out today that I have been featured in a glossy magazine, Ivano-Frankivsk’s Versal which is like Vogue in terms of content and approach. For anyone who hasn’t read Ukrainian Vogue, it’s quite an upmarket magazine that includes some serious social commentary and cultural news, alongside loads of adverts. This magazine, Versal, aspires to that. A former student got in touch and asked for my views. So I wrote an email, having not eaten for forty eight hours, as it was while I was suffering from food poisoning. So were I fully functioning, I may have said something more profound on my debut in a glossy magazine. (This was not the interview with a journalist I mentioned in a previous blog – that’s still to come out).

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So on the cover of this ‘fashion magazine’, aside from the adverts, the featured topics are ‘Sexual training in Ivano-Frankivsk?’ (Answer: you might have to go to Lviv for now.); The Psychosomatics of Women; and Be Trendy – Love Ukrainian products.

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Inside, a feature with yours truly above an advert for a very good restaurant, Franko, which seems to be getting into austerity mode by promoting its three-course deal for 75 UAH, now less than £5 ($8) with the gradual collapse of the currency. The transliteration of my surname is technically correct but stylistically questionable, but not qualms as my words aren’t changed too much (Ukrainian journalistic practice isn’t always up to scratch on this point). I talk about my rising awareness of the seriousness of the situation in Ukraine in November 2013, trying to get students then to realise the same, while I end on an appeal for people here not to live in fear of the minor powers who have demanded bribes in the past and to rise above that. Then I make a call for people to realise the multicultural, multinational history of the city, rather than submit to the quixotic but ultimately dangerous appeal of nationalism, which writing this email in late February I sensed was on the rise. Indeed, a day later the torchlight procession took place.

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What is particularly touching is that I have been included in a feature which presents ‘conscious, passionate Ivano-Frankivskians’, three people who talk about ‘what to do to make things better in their own country’. I have been accepted as a full resident of the city, and indeed even an honorary Ukrainian! I recall that when I first posted about the torchlight procession, a response even from people who have been friends and colleagues for years was that I didn’t have the authority to write and that people could do what they want in ‘their city’. Implicitly, despite having spent over two years living here, even friends didn’t judge that the city could ever be mind, I’d always be an outsider.

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It’s also nice to feature in a magazine that it so eclectic – social commentary alongside adverts for ‘Hair Empire’ salon and a wonderfully insightful history of Hutsul, so local mountain-dwellers, jewellery and traditions.

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This evening, meanwhile, my wife and I attended the booklaunch of a collection of articles written since November 2013 by five leading male Ukrainian authors. Four – Taras Prokhasko, Ivan Tsyperdiuk, Yuriy Andrukhovych and Yuriy Vinnychuk were present today in Ivano-Frankivsk, while Serhij Zhadan was absent, possibly still recovering after being badly beaten up during what proved to be fatal protests in Kharkiv earlier this month. The book is title ‘Euromaidan: Chronicle of Perceptions/Feelings (відчуття)’.

The four authors spoke, but did not enter into discussion, then read from their book. It would possibly have been more interesting to have attended their talk held at 5pm at Hotel Stanislaviv, rather than this 6:30 pm meeting at Ye Bookshop, but I had other commitments. Here there was some attempt, I felt, particularly by Andrukhovych, to overstate his role and literary figures’ role more generally in the protests. However, he did have interesting insights into censorship practices employed until the collapse of the Yanukovych regime, with the entire block he was staying in in Kyiv having its internet quite literally cut – the cable was removed – once the authorities worked out he was blogging and translating from there.

Vinnychuk was the most humourous and irreverent of the four, while the whole book generally should give something of an impression of the changing emotions, feelings and perceptions as the protests then revolution proceeded. The local press have covered this book in more detail here.

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It is useful and insightful that the authors have chronicled their articles, their views, as this will prove a useful document in challenging the totalising narratives and histories that will inevitably emerge shortly and continue to be battled over in future, as to what the real “Euromaidan” or “revolution” was. Here, five authors with differing views and experiences, who themselves changed their minds and their feelings changed over time, create a stumbling block to that kind of totalising claim, even if the role of literary figures might come to be exaggerated somewhat, as it has done in the past (Milan Kundera, looking at you).

In an architectural aside, the ceiling and colour scheme more generally differs very little from that in Royal Burger. But the Ye Bookshop is an evidently new building with no pretence to heritage.

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And to finish off for today, two posters from the university – No to War in Ukrainian and Russian, both accompanied by calls to reject bribes. The two strands of what seems to concern Ukrainians here most right now in one place – a civil revolution and saving the country from war.

Frankivsk’s New Soviet Theme Pub, Young Professionals and a local news update

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Last week a new bar opened in Ivano-Frankivsk on Kurbasa Street, near the Philarmonic Concert Hall, in the city centre. My wife and I visited it for the first time this afternoon. It is called ГОСТ, a reference to the Soviet-era standards agency which continues its work today in providing standards for quality and measurement across the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The name of the pub is unusual in that it references the Russian version of the name of the agency, rather than the Ukrainian ДЕСТ, while the theme of the pub is unique for this western Ukrainian city, since it is a Soviet theme bar. Not some kitsch appropriation of Soviet and communist symbols, but a kind of homage to the everyday tastes of life under communism.

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There are in the city plenty of bars and cafés which remain Soviet in style, including one of my favourites, Renata, above. Another old favourite, Bilyj Kamin’ (White Stone) no longer exists, but this great article shows that cafe, which is now a jewellers, alongside a couple of other (accidentally) retro cafes in the city.

Renata is located on the central Nezhalezhnosti Street and today tables and chairs were out for the first time this year as temperatures reached 22 degrees Celsius. Other Soviet-era legacy bars and cafes that I enjoy include Krystal and Pirizhkova. The latter specialises in savoury and sweet buns, as well as soups and chicory or wheat-based coffee with condensed milk. The recipes have remained unchanged there for decades, likewise some of the staff. Krystal like Renata offers a fuller menu, including booze, with cognac probably the most popular choice to go with soups, salads, meat patties on bread and coffee still made with Soviet-era, I think Hungarian, espresso machines. Pirzhkova attracts all sorts of people, from kids to pensioners seeking quick and hearty food, while Krystal and Renata tend to attract an older crowd, those who still remember the Soviet days.

These cafés fascinate me and probably deserve a post of their own. ГОСТ is an exceptional case, however, because it is the first stylised Soviet theme pub, designed and run by people whose childhood incorporated the final years of the Soviet Union.

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The city features plenty of other stylised theme pubs referring back to other periods in the city’s history or to imagined visions of other countries’ pubs. The original among this type of pub, opened a decade ago, Desyatka, features Austrian/Habsburg and Polish stylings. Pyatnytsa tries to look like an English pub, while Legenda, recently opened at the end of Nezhalezhnosti/ Sichovych Striltsiv mixes British and German themes. Piwnica on Sichovych Strilstiv goes for an interwar-Polish vibe, while Leprechaun – well, no need to explain that one, likewise Bavaria. While pubs in Poland already a decade ago, if not longer, such as PRL in Wrocław, adopted a faux communist-era look, ГОСТ is the first Soviet-era stylisation I have encountered in Ivano-Frankivsk.

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The menu features plenty of good, old-fashioned solid dishes as well as a few favourites from the time. It doesn’t go in for daft names for dishes (unlike the city’s kitschy nationalist/ UPA-themed Bunker on Hrushevskoho), it’s a no-frills kind of place. The menu begins with hard spirits, cognac top of the list of course and avoids anything unlikely to have been available at the time, so it’s purely Ukrainian and CIS-sourced food and drink. The beer on tap is from the First Private Brewery, established in 2004, but with its own no-frills image and Zhyhulivskye, which is a type of beer made in the USSR. Known until Stalinism as Viennese beer, it became Zhyhulivskye with a recipe guaranteed by the ГОСТ agency. Now numerous breweries make their own version of it. This beer is part of a trend of reviving Soviet-era brands by Ukrainian producers, including chocolate bars with seagulls and matrioshkas on them, or soft drinks – like the one in the first picture. They also only sell Pepsi, and in bottles with old-school labels. If I’m not mistaken Pepsi beat Coca Cola to the Soviet market, although it was overtaken post-1991/92.

The food menu includes a few salads, nothing too fancy, pierogi, varennyky and pancakes, before ending on desserts, including the outstanding smoked dried plums with walnuts in condensed milk. Really, it is amazing, and all for 12 UAH, so about 75p or $1 right now, meaning prices are comparable to the Soviet legacy bars and cafés.

Like the revival of certain brands, I would suggest ГОСТ is an indicator of a – perhaps surprising in the current climate in Ukraine, particularly the west – certain “Ostalgie”, to use the phrase applied to East Germany and the rise of a fascination with or curiosity about communism among different generations, including the one which did not have experience as adults of it.

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ГОСТ is decorated with photos of Ivano-Frankivsk in the Soviet era, as well as various objects including an East German typewriter, a Soviet-era radio and Russian- and Ukrainian-language books from the period. The interesting thing about the photos is that they make clear how much public memory overwrites or sidelines the communist period. It’s easy to find images of interwar or pre-WWI Stanislav(iv), or even the Second World War city under German occupation, yet harder to get a sense of what the city looked like and lived like under communism.

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Whether there is a genuine sense of Ostalgie or it’s simply a nice-looking bar with very decent prices that attracts its clients is hard to tell. However, the bar is proving a hit. Last night my wife and I couldn’t get a table, so we popped in for a soft-drink, some soup and the smoked prune dessert this afternoon on the way to the market. Last night the clientele was largely folk from our generation, mid-late twenties and early-thirties.

It was the same in the place where we ended up last night, another bar/restaurant that opened this month, Kondrat on Chornovola Street, between the centre and the university. It occupies a building that has seen two bars that were central to Frankivsk’s cultural life in the past, Chimera and Marmulyada. Kondrat last night was also filled with people of our generation and, recognising a few faces in there, people who would be classed as young professionals (but not yuppies). Why this might be interesting is that Frankivsk is a student city, with three large universities in a city of some 240,000. However, in contrast to a British university city which would be overrun with students, here the students seem largely absent at weekends.

This is possibly a result of their relative lack of income and lack of time, but also of a habit of often going back to home villages and towns each weekend. Instead, the folk filling bars and cafes of a weekend, aside from the regulars in Soviet legacy bars, seem to be an emerging class of young professionals, suggesting some disposable income and thus the potential formation of a middle class in Ukraine among our generation.

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The relative liveliness in the cafes and bars of the city this weekend, while partly a result of the improvement in weather, also suggests that the city is experiencing some degree of normalisation despite the threat of war and ongoing mourning. What is almost certain is that people were not out celebrating the signing by Ukraine of part of the EU Association Agreement. Although the Yanukovych government’s refusal to sign was the final spur to mass protests against the Party of Region’s rule, yesterday’s achievements hardly seem like a success given the cost at which they have been achieved – over 100 deaths of activists and police – and the annexation of Crimea by Russia. There is also a realisation that much is to be done t0 transform life in Ukraine. ‘Social Revolution’ is what the above graffiti calls for and this idea of a civil revolution, changing everyday behaviour and experience, particularly the phenomenon of bribery, is a desire and ideal – regardless of coverage of Right Sector or pro-Yanukovych rallies, as took place today in parts of Ukraine – ordinary Ukrainians across the country can share.

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Of course, though, with the incorporation of Right Sector or Self-Defence activists into local and national institutions there could easily be greater official legitimacy attached to more nationalist interpretations of the historical past and recent events. Local MP and Deputy PM Oleksandr Sych wants  to revive the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory which, modelled on the Polish IPN, will become a political instrument for seeking to construct a singular, unitary version of the past.

The poster below for an exhibition, meanwhile, suggests a particular interpretation of Taras Shevchenko’s 200th birthday,with the national bard again stylised as a revolutionary, but this time one with a nationalist bent. The event was organised jointly by the Regional State Administration’s Office for Culture, Nationalities and Religion and the Ivano-Frankivsk Stepan Bandera Regional Museum of the Battle for Liberation. I would wager that, at least on a regional level, such collaborations will only become more common, as the state apparatus comes to sponsor a particular nationalist reading of the past and present.

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Shevchenko, the national bard, appears here in the guise favoured by Right Sector’s youths – a bandana masking the face, while he is “supported” by two Molotov cocktails. The exhibition was in honour of his 200th birthday and the ‘Heavenly Hundred’ of Maidan dead, none of whom were from Right Sector.

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Here meanwhile there is a poster for another project, this time of a more civil type, calling for a revival of the tradition for each household to have a portrait of the national bard. Below is a poster promoting the ‘social revolution’ – rather than the dangerous national revolution desired by Right Sector and its social nationalist affiliates. The small black poster states that if you give or take bribes then you have the blood of the Heavenly Hundred of your hands.

The ideological appropriation of the Maidan dead by Right Sector is worrying and, I believe, immoral. But the message of the small black poster, a form of moral blackmail perhaps, should nevertheless be more effective in assisting the social revolution in Ukraine that will change everyday life for Ukrainians, slowly, for the better.

In local news, certain media outlets continue to peddle the myth that Right Sector and others represent ‘the city community’, as these organisations continue to oppose certain appointments, particularly in the police department. It seems mass social support is not forthcoming, while the rallies which were re-launched last week and appropriated by Right Sector and Self-Defence, seem to be having little resonance. Meanwhile, Right Sector which claims to be against all forms of traditional politics and condemned the system, has now decided that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. It has announced it will become a political party. However, Right Sector and Self-Defence refuse to cooperate with the new National Guard, a military organisation created by the state which recruits reservists and volunteers. They argue that their men cannot fight alongside former police who had been on the other side of the barricades in Maidan. The local authorities have agreed to form a separate unit for them but won’t arm the RS/Self-Defence unit, which is quite wise.

Sections of the local press, however, finally seem to be developing a critical stance towards the local patriots who consider themselves to be the voice of the community, with an important regional newspaper, Galician Correspondent, criticising the ‘double-standards’ of those calling for lustration. Indeed, it turns out the chosen candidate for head of police among those claiming to represent ‘the people’ and ‘the community’ is an ex-KGB agent!

The real army, which is raising funds from civilians who dial 565 which gives them 5 UAH or 30p/50 cents, is visiting local schools to explain what to do in case of emergency and war. Since most of my students didn’t know what to do in case of fire at the university, they might also want to come and give some talks to undergraduates.

In media news, you can catch the latest local news and debate on an online tv station, IF-TV from 6pm each day. It broadcasts live on the massive jumbotrons around the city at that time, too, and probably has more viewers there than online. Last night, there were more presenters than viewers most of the time. However, it has to be said that the level of local news sources online, in newspapers and on tv here is very impressive. Whereas my home city, larger than Frankivsk, has just one newspaper and tv news bulletins are limited to a couple of bulletins a day on BBC or ITV, here there are at least three newspapers, three full-time tv stations and over half a dozen internet news portals covering the city and region. I was interviewed by one outlet earlier this week and when asked what was most exceptional about Ivano-Frankivsk, I mentioned the media landscape, which surprised the intelligent and insightful young journalist I was talking to. The expected answer tends to concern food or drink, which brings this post full circle.