A Trip to Kolomyya: 60 km away and a very different atmosphere

Image

On Saturday this weekend, my wife – who is a Ukrainian – and I travelled to the town of Kolomyya/ Kolomyja/ Kolomyia/ Kolomea/ Коломия. (With the regular changes to official transliteration methods, it’s not clear what the correct form should be in English). The town is around 60 km from Ivano-Frankivsk and is home to some great tourist attractions and also my wife’s grandmother, which was our reason for travelling.

Among the attractions is the Easter Egg (Pysanka) Museum (above), which has a huge collection of traditional Ukrainian painted Easter eggs, as well as examples from around the world. There is also the astounding Museum of Hutsul Folk Art, behind the Easter Egg Museum, and a short way off the main street, the town’s History Museum, offering a very insightful history of the town. Kolomyya has around 65,000 residents, making it the third biggest town in the Ivano-Frankivsk region after the capital and Kalush. Kolomyya, apart from having museums arguably superior to Ivano-Frankivsk, is a useful transport hub for getting you into some more obscure corners of the Carpathian Mountains or it makes a neat stop off along the way to Chernivtsi. Anyway, the tourist guide bit of this post is done.

Now I will focus on giving a sense of the atmosphere in the town and what can be judged from observing the urban space about attitudes to the recent events, including the Revolution.

Image

This is outside the town’s History Museum. The plaque to nationalist leader Roman Shukhevych, complete with UPA emblem and the ‘Glory to Ukraine/ Glory to the Heroes’ slogan, is admittedly larger than the museum’s own name plate, but this kind of imagery is – after months in Ivano-Frankivsk – unusually rare in Kolomyya.

Saturday felt like an ordinary day, no different from any other visit to Kolomyya. We arrived by bus from Ivano-Frankivsk, a typically overcrowded bus which was designed for maybe 40 people at most, including standees, but managed to carry 60 or more at one point. It was market day in town, with the main market heaving while the central street, Chornovola, was full of people trading cheese, fruit, flowers and other things. The cafes seemed fairly full as we passed them.

What was most striking the difference to Ivano-Frankivsk’s urban space which, as far as informal notices and such like around the city, is dominated by nationalist imagery, including the adverts for joining paramilitary organisations like UNSO or the stickers placed over municipal institutions supporting Right Sector (Правий Сектор), not to mention marches by that grouping and even more extremist associates.

In Kolomyya, we covered the entire town centre and some suburbs by foot and noticed very little nationalist imagery, slogans, stickers or colours. Instead, the EU flag and the original objectives of the early civil revolution of November and December 2013 seemed more evident. The Easter Egg museum, like the nearby Pysanka Hotel, flew the flag alongside the Ukrainian one.

Image

The Town Hall, which also doubles as the centre of the town’s revolutionary resistance committee, does not feature a single red-and-black flag. Instead, the flags of Ukraine, the EU and the Ukrainian Navy fly side by side, below the town’s crest.

Image

On the balcony by the flags there remains a plaque to Polish-Lithuanian revolutionary and freedom fighter (who is also an American hero), Tadeusz Kosciuszko. He was a leader in the 1794 Uprising which sought to defend Poland’s 3 May 1791 constitution and Poland’s sovereignty against encroaching Prussian, Austrian and Russian empires. Given the circumstances facing Ukraine, it seems apt that a trace of Kosciuszko remains in the town.

Generally, though, the extent to which the past of other communities once significant in western Ukraine is remembered is a contentious issue and best left for another time. No doubt any deepening of Ukraine’s relations with Europe will lead to the questions of the Polish and Jewish past in the region being examined more closely. (Back to tour guide mode: Kolomyya is also an important site for Jewish history, with one of the town’s synagogues remaining.)

Image

Below the Kosciuszko plaque, there is another, this time commemorating Ivan Franko, the man in whose honour Stanislaviv was renamed Ivano-Frankivsk in 1962. Kolomyya probably has a better claim to being named after him, since he was imprisoned here in 1880, as the plaque notes, while he also spent a fair amount of time having his syphilis treated. (I’d have got a photo of the clinic, but it’s a bit out of the centre, on the way to the train station.) It seems apt that two democratic revolutionaries are honoured on this one building which is now the headquarters of the national resistance committee.

Image

Here the symbolism is dominated by the colours of the Ukrainian national flag, with the local crest (the eagle) prevalent alongside the Ukrainian trident within the circle of the EU starts. I can’t recall seeing this imagery in Ivano-Frankivsk for a long time, apart from on the beanie hat of a small boy who was travelling on the same bus to Kolomyya in the morning. While the entrance to Ivano-Frankivsk’s administration building is covered in Right Sector stickers and paramilitary recruitment posters, Kolomyya’s is free of any such imagery. Even the small poster remembering the first Maidan dead is restrained and sombre, avoiding any nationalist symbolism.

Image

Image

 Indeed, even local shops – and not just this one – are proud to fly the EU flag, with this banner saying ‘Ukraine is Europe. Your contribution is important.’ This remains an echo of what seems to be, in the urban of space of Ivano-Frankivsk, largely forgotten, namely Euromaidan – the civil movement towards a European Ukraine.

Image

The only red-and-black nationalist UPA flag we saw flying in the city was outside this shop, Euro Second Hand. So even this shop has some connection to the European ideal, this time reflected in cheap clothes – seconds, second hand or sales items – imported to Ukraine and sold at affordable prices.

Image

The only Right Sector sticker we could locate in the town was – not unsurprisingly – on the memorial to the Maidan dead constructed on the city’s Rally Square opposite the town hall tower. While Right Sector had left a tasteful wreath, their representatives also decided that it would be worth putting at the top of the this memorial the group’s familiar sticker of a balaclava-wearing man.

Image

Seeing as no one from Right Sector was killed on Maidan, I interpret this as further evidence of the organisation attempting to appropriate the Maidan dead for its own cause of national revolution.

Image

Nearby there was also some kind of rock monument, perhaps symbolic of a Ukrainian grave-mound (могила) constructed in villages and towns to mark those killed in war, uprising and revolution. It is not clear what the pile of rocks in the town centre is supposed to signify, but someone had the idea of graffiting it with the slogan ‘Glory to UPA, the Heroes of OUN.’

Image

Next to this graffitied pile of rocks there was one of the town’s memorials to Taras Shevchenko whose 200th anniversary was celebrated a week ago. In fact, it’s more of a memorial to a memorial – one which was destroyed in 1914 by invading Russian troops. Still, no one a hundred years on has thought to turn this monument into a symbol of anti-Russian sentiment. I’m not so sure it could survive in Ivano-Frankivsk without a few stickers or red-and-black flags.

Image

At some point on Saturday, possibly while we were at grandma’s house, a march through the city did take place, as the local press reported. There was one red and black flag, although the main message of the protest was anti-war and calling for Crimea to remain with Ukraine. It is also clear that young people, possibly students and college pupils, were largely involved, again suggesting something closer to the spirit of the early days of Euromaidan.

Image

ImageImage

They gathered, admittedly in very small numbers, by the main Shevchenko monument in the town, although there was no trace of their presence when we passed the monument.

In Ivano-Frankivsk yesterday there was also a student-led anti-war protest calling for national unity. The weather was pretty foul, while students also tend to go home on weekends here, so that probably limited the numbers present. None, unlike in those in Kolomyya, bore any EU symbols, though. Today in Ivano-Frankivsk, meanwhile, there was another rally although the pictures show that this too, like the one on Friday, was hardly well attended.

Image

On a wall near the Kolomyya’s History Museum there was also evidence of a more radical strand to the earlier stages of revolution, this slogan calling for ‘Death to Yanukovych’. There’s also a faded happy birthday message to someone on the same way.

Image

This plaque, meanwhile, shows Kolomyya’s willingness to cater to visiting tourists, although sometimes, despite the best intentions, mistakes can emerge. After all, English is a real pain in the arse to spell. 

What the visit to Kolomyya suggests is that the situation in Ivano-Frankivsk, with the domination of the urban space by nationalist imagery and marches, could be something of an aberration, a local specificity, rather than something that prevails across the entire region. This is significant, since those who appropriate the balcony at Friday’s rally, claimed to speak for the people of the entire region, as well as the city. Indeed, their main gripe was with the regional administration. It seems that if support for Right Sector in Ivano-Frankivsk is marginal, and their apparent domination of the city space is an effect of their ‘successful PR’, as one representative of Self-Defence told me on Wednesday, then broader support across the region is even more of an illusion.

For now, the regional administration is holding out against the attempts to usurp power although it seems unlikely that Right Sector will shift away from its attempts to impose its will by force.

Still, the trip to Kolomyya was a refreshing change from the atmosphere in Ivano-Frankivsk and revived a sense of the initial purpose of the protests in Ukraine. Just as focussing on Kyiv gave a false impression of the situation in Ukraine generally, it seems that focussing on a regional capital gives a misleading image of the situation in the surrounding area.

Image

Yesterday Kolomyya also saw the funeral of the world’s oldest woman, Kateryna Kozak, who died at the age of 117 (in the 118th year of her life according to this funeral announcement). She lived through Austro-Hungary, the West Ukrainian Republic, the Second Polish Republic, Soviet Rule, German rule in the General Gouvernement, the USSR then Independent Ukraine. Her life, like that of my wife’s grandmother, is a reminder of how much historical change, how many empires, this part of the world has seen. Let’s hope that another geopolitical change isn’t on the way with events in Crimea.

Advertisements

Roman Huryk’s Funeral and his intriguing burial place.

ImageRoman Huryk (Роман Гурик) was a student in the second year of his philosophy studies in Ivano-Frankivsk who was killed on 20 February 2014 in Kyiv. He travelled to the capital with his father initially in December then returned in February when he was shot dead by a sniper as he shielded a female medic on Hrushevskoho Street. His final words entered on a social media website were: ‘It’s now or never. Everyone to Hrushevskoho Street. To death.’ Two memorial gatherings were held at the Prosvita Centre, the HQ of student resistance in the city, this weekend, gathering thousands of mourners. His funeral was held today in Ivano-Frankivsk, attended by tens of thousands on the city’s streets. His body was laid to rest in the city’s Memorial Square, close to the Franko Theatre in the city centre.

A video of his funeral procession and burial is available from 5 Kanal, while further links to reports and photographs from local media can be accessed here: videos, photos, more photos, including the one borrowed above, and more from the local newspaper Reporter.

The funeral procession began at Prosvita with Huryk’s body taken to the front of the regional administration building a short distance away. The procession continued after a service lasting around an hour issued from the balcony of the administration building to the cathedral, where a shorter service was held. The coffin, with its lid still of, as is traditional here, was then taken past Huryk’s home on Mazepy Street, then to the university nearby. From there the procession headed towards the Memorial Square, although – quite wisely – it did not take the most direct route, past the partly-burnt out offices of the police and security service. The procession at Prosvita started at 10 am. It was around 1:45 by the time it reached the Memorial Square. However, the procession was so long that some in the procession were still on the corner of Sakharova Street, near the security service building, by the time the burial was over.

Image

This bus provided sound to the masses gathered with speakers tethered to the roof, with recent rallies having been plagued by poor audio equipment and volume levels.

It was announced today that a new road in Ivano-Frankivsk, an extension of Pivdennyj Bulvar currently called vul. Projektna (Project Street) will be named in honour of Huryk, while the square in front of the Regional Administration building (ODA, aka The White House), will be renamed Heroes of the Maydan Square. The collective term for all the anti-government victims killed in Kyiv is the ‘Heavenly Company’ or ‘Heavenly Hundred’ (Небесна Сотня). A sotnia is a term first used in Cossack military for a unit of 100 fighters, with the term subsequently applied throughout the history of Ukrainian military formations.

Huryk’s burial place is symbolic, since it is the city’s pantheon of national heroes and fighters for the freedom of Ukraine. As the university’s website announced, Huryk will be buried ‘alongside heroes of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) as a hero of Ukraine.’ The Sich Riflemen were a unit formed of Ukrainian paramilitaries who were incorporated into the Austrian forces in the First World War before forming the core of the Ukrainian military in Western Ukraine which was an independent republic in 1918/19. UPA is a more controversial organisation, active in 1942-1949, fighting occupation of Ukrainian lands, meaning it was involved in ethnic cleansing of the lands during Nazi occupation before becoming an anti-Nazi force and then fighting against Soviet occupation. It seems, however, the university made a mistake in aligning Huryk with UPA, since the Memorial Square represents more the broader Ukrainian Organisation of Nationalists (OUN), formed in 1929 in western Ukraine before splitting into moderate and radical factions in 1941.

Image

Image

You will build a Ukrainian state or will die fighting for one. To the eternal memory of those who died in the name of a free Ukraine. The fighters of UPA, the First Ukrainian Division Galicia* and member of OUN.

* NB this was a division of the Waffen SS.

Image

For Ukraine. For Freedom. For the Nation. – the emblem of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists.

Image

This contains earth from symbolic graves of Ukrainian Sich Riflemen.

Image

This is one of two sets of crosses dedicated to the Sich Riflemen. Huryk was buried at the end of this one.

It is clear to see how the tragic deaths in Kiev fit easily into a paradigm of western Ukrainian memory built around the idea of heroes who fought for Ukraine at various points in the twentieth century under various, contested nationalist banners.

However, what is intriguing about Huryk’s burial place, the Memorial Square, is the broader symbolism that it holds. However, these other ghosts of the past are currently inevitably overlooked. The Memorial Square has been built on the site of a former Catholic, largely Polish, cemetery which was adjacent to a church knocked down in the communist period and replaced by the Franko Theatre. The current Memorial Square largely lacks any trace of the previous graves, although a few have survived and remain in place. The largest structure within the Square is a chapel which was consecrated in 2002 ‘in honour of the memory of participants of national liberation struggles for the freedom of Ukraine’, according to the inscription.

Image

There remains in the Memorial Square, however, this particularly interesting gravestone, whose inscription to some extent reflects the narratives of heroism albeit in Polish.

Image

Image

The grave is for Zygmunt Mroczkowski, a doctor of medicine, who died on 13 May 1888; his adopted daughter Helena Csiszarik and his wife, Ksawera Mroczkowska (née Wartersiewicz).

At the top of the headstone there is a plea to God for him to return Poles their fatherland, his grandchildren their family homelands and bless the Polish lands.

Below there is a plea taken from Polish Romantic poet Juliusz Słowacki’s Testament: May the living not lose hope and bear before the nation the torch of education; and if necessary they head to their deaths one by one like the rocks thrown by God at the ramparts.

These words from Słowacki bear an uncanny resemblance to those placed on social media by Huryk before his death who is buried a few metres away.

Further Polish traces at the Memorial Square include this monument to Poles who died fighting in the First and Second World Wars, as well as to those whose remains rest in this space. It was donated by ‘Rodacy’, or fellow Poles, while Huryk’s grave is visible behind it. This is a memorial to those whose traces remain barely visible in what was once a major Polish and Catholic cemetery, yet at the same time it reawakens those traces and raises the ghosts of the past, showing that these were for centuries shared Polish and Ukrainian spaces, where relations passed not without trouble. Indeed, those commemorated in this monument may well have died fighting against Ukrainians, as well as potentially alongside them against Russian incursion after World War One.

Image

These spaces were also inhabited extensively by Jews, but few traces remain evident in the city of their lives here. The Kosmos cinema a few dozen metres from the Memorial Square and Franko Theatre was built on a Jewish cemetery, although no traces of that fact remain evident.

Still, the fact that Huryk now rests in a space that may be currently overtly overwritten by a narrative of Ukrainian heroism associated with nationalist movements, yet still contains traces of the multinational past of the city, brings hope that such a vision of a “European” city and memory can prosper. However, the Memorial Square also reveals the drama currently manifesting itself in terms of Ukraine’s future, its relations to its neighbours and the idea of Europe, as nationalist tropes become distinctly everyday features, intensified in the course of Euromaidan, here in western Ukraine.

Ivano-Frankivsk: A City in Mourning. Ivano-Frankivsk: Everyday life and the Revolution goes on.

Image

A 19 year-old student of the Precarpathian University philosophy department Roman Guryk, was killed yesterday in Kyiv during the fatal violence. Today, there were no classes at the university. A memorial service was held at the university in the morning followed by a memorial service outside the Regional Administration building. His funeral will be held on Monday, while the Student Resistance will be holding two memorials at the weekend in the Prosvita Centre.

Image

Image

Yesterday evening outside the Regional Administration building a memorial service was held for all those killed. The city marked what was already, before yesterday’s mass killings, already an official day of mourning following deaths on Tuesday, by becoming unusually quiet. Not only was it a case of people generally avoiding socialising in cafes, but shops were largely free of music while the massive advertising screens around the city were silenced.

Image

Usually these screens on the Market Square, by the theatre or, this one, on Vichevyj Maydan, or Rally Square, by the post office, the site of the original Euromaidan protests in the city, blare out unbearably loud adverts for local businesses. The concept of noise pollution is not yet widespread in Ukraine.

The city is clearly in mourning and shock, with the mass deaths in Kyiv and the death of a local student adding to the feeling which disrupts the usual atmosphere of this Central European city characterised by cafe culture, by going for a stroll around the city, by sitting on benches and having a chat or playing board games. Those aspects of the city’s life are clearly muted.

But still, everyday life goes on, or struggle on, while the revolution and resistance also continues in its various innovative and potentially violent ways.

In terms of everyday life, the potential collapse of the currency or economy is taking its toll, as are feelings of panic induced by fears of martial law or a state of emergency. People have begun making massive withdrawals from cash machines and banks, with queues forming at odd times outside the State Savings Bank or branches of PrivatBank not having any cash. The cash, where possible, might be exchanged into solid foreign currencies, or it has been spent on stockpiling goods. By Thursday night, the supermarkets that remained open were clearly short of cooking oil, grain and buckwheat, milk and bread, while other reports suggest salt was in short supply. Not everyone, though, as cash to withdraw or exchange, since many state employees, including university lecturers, had not received their pay this month. Only this morning was some money paid into accounts, although this was merely one third of the amount due. Either the state is deliberately trying to control the amount of money available to stem panic buying – or the state treasury is actually running out of cash.

At the moment, there is no evidence that lecturers are willing to self-organise like the students or those who are occupying central Kyiv.

Most private businesses are running as usual, although the three stores of supermarket chain Silpo were blockaded on Tuesday and Wednesday. Likewise, the central market was shut down with stallholders stating that they were “forced to volunteer” to go on strike. The market is owned by a local Party of Regions figure, thus it was forced by local activists to shut down. I have not been able to establish the connection between Silpo and the Party of Regions. However, by today the supermarkets and the market were open again and well-stocked and doing a roaring trade. Prices, despite the weakening of the Ukrainian hryvnia, seem fairly stable – for now.

Another store that was blockaded was Epicentre, the Ukrainian B&Q. The managers of the city branch were asked to supply goods useful to protesters in Kyiv, which they duly did, even putting online an invoice which became their donation to the cause. That store will remain closed until the conclusion of the revolution, according to activists. Yesterday evening, when we entered the Student Resistance HQ, we could see young men and some women working on turning these goods into shields and basic weaponry, while they also possessed some ready-made versions. They’ve now sent a convoy of weapons, shields and fighters to Kyiv.

Yesterday, there were reports that busloads of “titushky”, or government-sponsored street fighters, were being transported to the city. This meant that all roads into the city, beginning with the bridge over the river, were blockaded and patrolled by baseball-bat wielding youths. No titushky entered the city, although the rumours that they were already in the city spread like wildfire especially among the older population less likely to have been online with up-to-date information. However, the fear of potential violence did close a language school in the city for the day, while some students were summoned home by their parents.

The situation in the city is currently fairly peaceful compared to Tuesday and Wednesday when the Security Office was being stormed, likewise the Prosecutor’s Office and the Tax Office. Despite this relative calm, it is somewhat disconcerting to see order being kept by teenagers and men in their twenties masked and with baseball bats. Representatives of Right Sector/ Pravyj Sektor and Maidan Self-Defence are cooperating with police as of tonight in patrolling the city. Lviv police today went to Kyiv for the first time and joined the protesters, offering their protection while also siding with the more moderate Maidan Self-Defence in order to support the negotiated end to the current regime. Ivano-Frankivsk police are likely to follow suit. Although in Kyiv they might encounter Right Sector activists who, at the moment, seem determined to push through a violent end to the Yanukovych regime, promising to use arms in storming government buildings tomorrow morning.

Mass Student Marches Again: This time with baseball bats

Franko Times Baseball Bat Student Protests

Collective attitudes and levels of enthusiasm or indignation change quickly here. Whilst Monday was shrouded in a sense of general apathy and disillusion at what seemed to be endless negotiations in Kyiv, this atmosphere has now lifted owing to the events in Kyiv and the large number of deaths. Although Monday also saw the formation of a Student Resistance HQ, with a group of activists – seemingly associated with or at least protected by right-wing organisations – setting out fairly reasonable, largely everyday demands to rectors and national ministries for improving student living conditions (but not touching upon the educational process itself very much), it seems that this event did little to engage the students’ mass enthusiasm.

These demands did, however, lead to a large-scale meeting of students, student representatives and university authorities. Lecturers, as usual, were left out of the process. The university now calls such gatherings ‘traditional’, although the reports from the meeting suggest little was done to actively address the demands raised by the Student Resistance.

Today, however, following the fatal violence in Kyiv and the increasingly radical atmosphere in Ivano-Frankivsk, a mass student march and strike took place, beginning around 9:30 am and eventually making its way to the city centre where at least 10,000 students gathered and formed a rally. Apparently this strike is now permanent, although there is a decent chance that the same negotiated conditions will emerge as in December, where the strike hours were reduced to 12:00-14:00 and lecturers were expected to, though in reality rarely did, conduct classes after 2 p.m., while the timetable was reduced – ironically – to a European-style curriculum of core courses. Equally, it could prove to be the case that students themselves will request that lecturers hold classes despite the strike, as happened in late 2013.

What is certainly different, however, in today’s protests – as these images show – is that some students are attending them in masks, military gear or armed with baseball bats, indicating the rising radicalisation of the protests around the country and their increasingly violent nature. It also shows that there is no fear of any intervention by police, special forces or indeed university authorities.

The university rector was encouraged by activist protestors to lead the university’s march into the city. Perhaps fearful of the fate of a predecessor who, despite having been elected to the post of rector shortly before the Orange Revolution of 2004, was forced out of his post by student protests after that revolution’s conclusion, the current rector is taking a more active stance and siding with the student protester despite his attitude in 2013 being one of clear reticence.

Student protests in Ivano-Frankivsk: Reorganisation

Although the mass of students in the city remain fairly passive or disenchanted, an active core – as is usual for any insurgent movements – have set organised and set out demands for a revolution in student life. Activists representing students from all three state universities in Ivano-Frankivsk – the Stefanyk Precarpathian University (PNU), the National Medical University (IFNMU) and the National Oil and Gas University (NUNG) – yesterday marched through the city and occupied the Prosvita cultural centre, close to the local and regional administration building (“White House”). This will be the Headquarters of the Student Resistance (Штаб студентського спротиву).

The students’ eight demands, issued to the universities’ rectors, the city council, and the Ministers of Education, Health, Internal Affairs and to the Prosecutor General, are – as the document below shows:

1) freeing all students arrested and charged during the revolution

2) increasing the student grant to the level of the minimum monthly salary

3) annulment of charges for academic services in universities, including charges for retakes at the Medical University

4) 24-hour access to student halls

5) securing satisfactory conditions in student halls by including students in supervisory councils

6) securing the foundation of commissions against corruption and bribery in universities

7) running public transport until midnight

8) free internet access for students in student halls, libraries and university campuses.

 

These demands cover most aspects of what affects students on an everyday level, bar perhaps the most obvious thing, which is the organisation of their studies. Despite constant declarations, especially at PNU, of the “European” nature of the university, there is widespread failure to initiate any of the provision of the Bologna Process beyond issuing ECTS credits, which enable students to translate their grades into a European scale should they seek work or further study abroad. Students often have to pay for their ECTS certificate, which should be provided for free. Students are worked beyond the limits for the number of hours stipulated in the Bologna Process provisions. And they have absolutely no choice in the courses they take.

While these eight demands address many fundamental issues affecting student life, I am not certain that these student revolution will gather widespread support without finding a way to overcome a general apathy among the mass of students who remain convinced that the existing system of corruption and a lack of investment in student facilities is insurmountable.

 

Image

 

More details on the student protests and photos of yesterday’s march can be found here and here.

Warning Strike: Not a resounding success

Image

 

At the university today, there was no evidence of the strike. Between 12:00 and 13:00 most lectures proceeded as normal, while no students or staff protested on university grounds. However, local press estimate that between several hundred and a couple of thousand people did gather outside the barricaded municipal and regional administration building (aka the White House). Around Ukraine there were various other gatherings in municipal places or by workplaces. However, it is hard to argue that the warning strike, chiefly promoted by Vitaliy Klitschko’s UDAR party and the trades unions, was a resounding success or, indeed, that it generated much social resonance at all.

Health and Safety in Practice: An Update from Room 813.

IMG_1848

This week, I led a seminar on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the room allocated was 813, meaning we were on the highest floor of the Humanities Block.

Before examining the conditions of Winston Smith’s arrest and the threats of Room 101, I discussed with students their options for escaping room 813 in case of fire. The first suggestion was a parachute, although no one had packed one. The second, less ironic suggestion, was to use the central staircase, with the students aware that the emergency exit was shut. Asked why that staircase was shut, one student replied “because there are no fires or emergencies, the university doesn’t need to keep it open”. I had to explain that the Ukrainian name for emergency exit literally means ‘spare exit’, thus the idea is that it is used only when necessary. It seems that this student had neatly internalised doublethink, the logic of the university authorities.

Asking the students what fire safety equipment they expected as a minimum, the leading student in the class responded ‘water supply’. It seems that expectations have been lowered to the university’s level. Asked what good a water supply is without a hose – since there are no hoses anywhere in the Humanities Block – one student replied that she could wet her clothes. Evidently, some fire safety techniques had been imparted to the students in the course of their Occupational Health and Safety classes, which third years also take. Wetting her clothes would probably prevent some degree of burning and make burning to death slightly less painful. As far as I could learn, the third years’ lessons on Occupation Health and Safety consist of exercises in basic physics, given the teacher’s specialism. I’m not sure if one of the questions is, “how long would it take a student weighing 55kg to hit the ground if she jumped from the window on the eighth floor of a burning building?”

Asked why the university holds it staff and students in disdain, the students looked quite shocked at the thrust of the question. Asked why they don’t complain, there was further evidence that the students had internalised the logic of the system. ‘They’d tell us there’s no money, so there’s no sense in complaining’. The university’s imagined word is final. There was some consternation, however, that the university’s Inner Party in the Central Block was protected by fire extinguishers and hoses, although there was little willingness to recognise that they were being left to fend for themselves in a death trap of a building, with their tuition fees being squandered elsewhere.

If the university has managed to impart any knowledge effectively, then its version of doublethink, crimestop and logical obedience is it.

Another letter to the students a fortnight on.

Since I have to leave Ukraine today, on the 18th day the protests, in order to attend my PhD viva in Britain, this blog will be updated less frequently for the next week or so. Before departing, I have emailed my current students. 

As concerns the potential revolution in Ivano-Frankivsk, the daily meetings continue, as does the literary “bastion” on Mickiewicz Square  in all weather. Today sees a new mode of gathering: an ecumenical prayer for Ukraine at 14:00. The students have been asked to schedule their strikes at 14:00, too, next week in order to avoid disrupting classes. This seems like an effort to trouble the solidarity between students and workers. Judging from meetings with students, however, it seems that many of them have their upcoming exams as their chief concern, thus the protests are seen among some students as something of an inconvenience, especially with a sense of slowing momentum taking hold. An interesting debate took place on TSN, the news service on oligarch-run 1+1 TV, between the mayors of Ivano-Frankivsk and Donetsk. Although there was tension between them, the interview made clear that Ukraine needs more intra-national dialogue in order to facilitate a functional state.Image

The Literary resistance continues in all weathers.

 

Dear Students,

Two weeks ago I wrote to you all at a time when it was not clear what would emerge from the first sparks of protest in Ukraine against the government’s decision to abandon the EU Association Agreement. 
The situation, in terms of what the outcome of this insurgent wave of protests will be, remains unclear. However, it is clearly evident that a large section of Ukrainian society – particularly in your region of western Ukraine – supports Ukraine’s European aspirations, while also finding the current government’s politics and its treatment of peaceful protest objectionable.
It is also clear that, when called upon, students in Ivano-Frankivsk can join a wave of protests, developing consciousness and awareness of the civil, social, political and geopolitical conditions that will shape not only the future of your country but also – and perhaps more importantly – your generation’s future. 
Perhaps two weeks ago not all of you were aware of why your Student Senate and your colleagues were summoning you to strike or why it should be students who lead the protests and encourage a broader swathe Ukrainian society to take to the streets.
I would say that your university, our university, has not been as supportive as it could be of the strikes and student protests. Firstly, it took until the twelfth day of protests for our rector to make an official statement (the gathering on Tuesday by the Stefanyk Statue https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjqF_towpXg). His speech was not explicit in supporting the student protests and strikes, while it also failed to answer many questions which I know concern many of you: what will happen to lessons missed, to exams, to your grades or your stipends.
Secondly, there has been no overall policy from the university meaning that not only each deparmental/institutional Dean but indeed individual lecturers have been able to impose their own vision on the protests (so ordering you to attend classes when you would rather be on strike or threatening punishment for non-attendance). This lack of policy has led to confusion and weakened the strike movement. There has also been, as far as I can tell, no official policy issued to lecturers and what they should do during the strike hours. This has meant that the traditional student-lecturer divide has remained intact at a time when unity and solidarity is required more than ever.
Thirdly, on Thursday the rectors of our university, the Oil and Gas University and the Medical University issued a request for students to move their strike from 11:30 to 14:00 so that fewer classes would be disrupted. Intentionally or not, this has the effect of disrupting the solidarity between students and workers who are on strike and customarily gathered at midday at the ODA (white house) building.
I would argue that these are not the actions of a university that fully supports students’ and society’s actions towards a European future.
 
The question now, regardless of the outcome of the current protests, is what can you and your colleagues achieve. Speaking to some of you in the past fortnight, I realise that there remains a sense of despondency that you cannot change much in the spheres that affect you directly: the structure and reality of your studies in particular. Indeed, it is a particular irony of these protests that you have shown yourselves more willing to challenge the government and the state apparatus, including its Berkut riot police, than your university authorities.
Another irony of these protests and strikes is that for the first time in your university experience you have a structure of studies which resembles that of European countries. Your Dean has asked that you attend two classes a day and only in your main subjects. In this situation you have around 15 hours a week of seminars and lectures, all centred on courses that are related to your major subject.
Your university declares itself  ‘Найкращий класичний університет Прикарпаття європейського зразка’ (https://www.facebook.com/VasylStefanykPrecarpathianNationalUniversity/info?ref=ts). However, I have studied in four different European higher education systems and I see very few similarities in those systems to that which exists here. 
In all four of the higher education systems I have studied under: students have a choice of courses within their major degree subject; they are not put into groups in Year 1 and left to experience studies with the same 10-15 people for four-five years; students have a maximum of 15 hours per week of lectures and seminars; the Bologna Process consists of more than simply giving marks out of 100 at the end of each semester; students have time to participate in university life and student life in autonomous forms; a bachelor degree usually lasts three years not four; a semester is about 12 weeks, not 17; there is no bribery or terror imposed on students; there is little overt nepotism; there is toilet paper in the toilets.
I realise that you might think that it is best to keep quiet and avoid causing trouble within your university, that it is best to simply get your degree certificate and leave. But the terror and corruption that can emerge within the higher education system here – eliciting bribes, refusing to give pass grades to students who complain, allowing “favoured” students to pass courses and get their degree without the same effort required of ordinary students – will pass into the next generation of Ukrainian society if you do not combat it now.
You are that generation who will make the future of Ukraine. Even if the pro-European political and civil forces succeed in the current revolution, Ukrainian social and educational structures will not simply change by order from above. People like you need to change the system in its everyday forms, the forms you experience and will experience, from below.
Now is a pivotal moment in Ukraine’s history. The events in Kyiv will grab the media’s attention, the politicians’ attention, the world’s attention. But the only way to ensure that you experience a European future – without abandoning your country – is to work towards this consciously on an everyday level. Changing your university is a good start.
How to achieve this, I don’t know. But a good start would be to break down the barriers between groups within the same course. Groups 11, 21, 31, 41 speak to groups 12, 22, 32, 42, and you speak to 13, 23, 33, 43. And then students of foreign languages speak to students in history and philosophy, and to students in computer science and in physics. And Precarpathian students speak to Oil and Gas students. Ivano-Frankivsk students speak to Lviv students and Kyiv students and Kharkiv students and Luhansk students. Ukrainian students speak to Polish students, to Czech students, to Molodovan students, to Russian students. And don’t just speak, but meet, exchange ideas and – most important of all – work together.
Whoever, in the Soviet times, thought of the system of dividing university students into fixed groups did so for a reason. It was to limit the spread of ideas and criticism. It was part of a system of divide and rule. There is no reason for that to exist now.
Work together, talk together, don’t let the system of divided groups and divided departments make you think that your fellow students are competitors. They are your colleagues and comrades. Work together, think together, meet together, and then change will happen organically.
Universities produce the people who make the future society of a country. Politicians – whatever their political outlook – cannot change a country alone from the top down.
This is your task now, to change the country from below.
I am leaving Ukraine today because of unavoidable circumstances: I have my thesis defence (viva) next week in Glasgow, Scotland. However, I will come back as soon as I can and look forward to working directly with those of you that I am scheduled to teach in 2014. Those of you who, sadly, are no longer my students, this does not mean that our collaboration is over. University, after all, should be about more than just what happens inside a seminar room or lecture theatre.
Good luck with your exams and your revolution.
See you in 2014
 

Days 10, 11 and 12: Strikes, ‘provocateurs’ and a rector speaks.

After the shock of the violent clearance of Independence Square in Kyiv early on Saturday and a sense that the carnival was over, the spontaneous occupation of St Michael’s Square followed by the mass demonstrations on Sunday revived hopes and gave fresh impetus to popular action. Indeed, masses of protesters are now leaving the provinces, particularly from Western Ukraine, and descending on Kyiv, with road blocks now far less restrictive than they had been a week ago. (One bus left from outside my place of work this evening – see below). Sunday’s protests in Kyiv even saw an attempt to break through lines of riot police outside the presidential administration using a bulldozer, something that has raised various accusations of “provocation” by government forces or hooliganism by right-wing militias. This event, which somewhat overshadowed the fact that at least 200,000 took to the streets of Kyiv on Sunday, reclaiming Independence Square and barricading off the government quarters while claiming Kyiv City Hall, has a resonance in Ivano-Frankivsk – the focus of this blog exploring revolution from the provinces. Meanwhile, the mass protests in Kyiv have been overshadowed themselves today by the failure to secure a vote of no confidence against the government.

In Ivano-Frankivsk on Sunday, too, mass gatherings took place, with a general strike announced for municipal and state workers (beyond essential industries and sectors, such as healthcare). This has been effective, with regional administration workers joining their colleagues on Tuesday. This strike has aided participation in mass protests in the city, as well as travel to Kyiv. On Monday some 15,000 people gathered at lunchtime outside the regional administration office, while at least 10,000 were present again today. Peaceful protest was given full support, as the mayor also joined the strike. On Monday evening, however, around 20:00 with some 500-1000 people gathered outside the regional administration building, a small group – including an allegedly-drunk councillor – broke into the building which was protected only by ordinary police. The mayor, together with the police, subsequently brought the situation under control.

The mayor, Viktor Anushkevychus, then made an emotional appeal to those gathered outside, who turned out to be young men, even boys, telling them quite clearly not to be idiots and to keep the peace. The young men declared that they had been informed of a “provocation” at the regional administration building and had come to help. However, it seems quite clear that there was no real “provocation”, so no government insiders trying to spark a situation, merely some over-zealous members of a grouping called ‘Pravij Sektor’ (Right Sector) who had decided to attempt to storm the building. The mayor, as shown in the video above, was concerned that any violence could be used by the government as an excuse to impose a state of emergency in the country. The mayor also referred to the situation in Kyiv, with the attempt to storm the presidential administration – an attempt which has been framed as one instigated by government provocateurs. There might be some credibility in those claims about Kyiv, but in Ivano-Frankivsk I myself witnessed an impromptu march and gathering by members of Pravij Sektor and the associated Tryzub (Trident) organisation after 9 p.m. on Sunday night. The leaders issued calls for armed rebellion and shouted down calls for peaceful protest. It seems that there are some in the city – in proto-paramilitary militias in particular – for whom a more Romantic form of armed rebellion in battle is a more appealing model than the more peaceful, negotiated route to overcoming the current rulers. However, ordinary civilians – as in Kyiv – proved here, too, quite adept at calming down the situation, ensuring that strikes and civil disobedience, rather than violence and Molotov cocktails become the face of these protests.

The attempted storming made it onto State Television news and was accompanied by footage from a Party of Regions rally featuring an MP declaring victory over Western Ukrainian fascists and “banderovtsy” (nationalist bandits) following the failure of the vote of no confidence. As an aside, the coverage on state television is more balanced generally now, with images of pro-EU, anti-government protests featuring prominently and not only in the framework provided by the Party of Regions.

The mass strikes now involving civil servants are an extension of the earlier student strikes, indicating something of a growing unity of Ukrainian society. Today, the rector of my university here finally spoke after limiting – much like President Yanukovych (now nicknamed “Yanusescu”) – his public appearances to a brief interviews with specially-selected media for the duration of the protests so far. The rector, whose speech I recorded, accompanied by his vice-rectors and other allies, deigned to speak to his students and staff at a grandiose gathering at the university’s central quad, beside the statue dedicated to the university’s patron. He declared that the university had always been supportive of the students’ actions and their peaceful protests, as well as their aspirations for Europe. On the subject of which he issued some generalities about what “Europe” means, although there was little talk of reforming the university which declares itself “Precarpthia’s Finest European-type university”. The grandiose gathering, or summoning of the students, also featured this music which has drawn derision here since the start of the protests.

The rector failed, however, to answer any of the questions which most concern the students in terms of their university life: will they lose marks for attending protests during the period of official silence? Will they have to make up missed classes (something that also concerns staff who have largely been present at the university during classes affected by strikes)? Will their exams take place at the end of this month as planned? Still, the students’ participation in the mass demonstrations continue, while continuing to attend the first and second classes each day enables them to discuss further action, while also maintain a sense that their studies are continuing. While municipal staff are now on their general strike in three regions of SW Ukraine (Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk), the students here continue to operate in their “warning strike” mode, so only attending part of the classes.

The advice of the dean of my department is for students to organise their days so that they only attend courses that form part of their major subject. A bane of the Ukrainian university system is that students have around 30 hours a week of contact time even in the humanities, with much of this taken up by subsidiary courses consisting by and large of an introduction to almost every other social science and humanities subject, as well as some “vocational” courses ( for example, health and safety at work; but no one has asked why the fire escapes are often padlocked shut). The irony of this advice from the Dean is that with just fifteen hours a week in class, with courses focused on the students’ majors, the strikes and protests have resulted in the students receiving a European-type course structure (albeit still without any element of choice of courses). In a meeting in a city-centre cafe with some students today – an informal way of keeping English classes going while also generating cross-group discussion (students here are limited to courses with the same group of 10-15 students throughout their university life) – I tried to communicate this fact.

This discussion – highly unusual in terms of breaking down usual staff/student barriers here – also revealed that some students who had initially felt compelled by an order from university staff to attend the protests had now come to realise the greater sense and aspirations behind Ukraine’s protests, of which they were now part. However, the prevailing mood was that while the country’s rulers might be changeable and could be toppled, the university system will remain as it has been long after they have graduated. The fleeting nature of students’ presence at these institutions, while the less-than-dynamic staff turnover in Ukrainian higher education, mean that their despondent predictions regarding higher education seem likely to be borne out. At least perhaps until all young Ukrainians can study abroad – rather than only those whose parents can afford foreign tuition fees – and even greater competition will force reforms on higher education here.

Certainly the student protests laid foundations for the current mass strike in this region, which means that numbers of older Ukrainians are travelling to Kyiv, while the part-time nature of the warning strike here actually serves to keep the mass of students in place.

Image

One bus ready to leave for Kyiv, taking a coach-load of protesters and the necessary provisions. Hopefully the revolution will also bring about an end to unnecessary spelling errors.

 

Days 6 and 7: more (radical) protests, a street university and pessimism inside “Precarpathia’s finest classical, European university”

The sixth day of protests here saw more open-air democracy, with the city’s student councils meeting outside the Regional Administration Office (aka The White House). The head of the regional administration subsequently offered to meet with student representatives who rejected his offer. The fear was that the meeting would be exploited and misrepresented in local television. While the students call for revolution, or at least bringing down the current government, the head of the local administration – from the ruling Party of Regions – is calling solely for a peaceful Europeanisation, so the kind that would presumably keep him and his party in power.

Alongside the protests outside the local White House, the foundations of a Free University have been laid, with  local writer Taras Prochasko giving the inaugural lecture to thousands of students and others gathered from midday on Wednesday. He was followed by a university lecturer, whose stance in appearing publicly and on stage in these protests in quite exceptional.The current events are certainly a “studentskyj maydan“, or student protest, with little connection to the mass of lecturers. Certainly a number of lecturers are joining their students on the streets, but a general concern among lecturers seems to be over how to account for the missed classes and what sanctions or punishments might follow. Being discussed are compulsory Saturday lectures or counting the non-attendance as an unjustified absence, which ultimately affects students’ grades for the semester.  Despite the Ministry of Education suggesting that students could even lose their grants – and thus have to pay tuition fees of around €1000 annually as a consequence – it seems that for the mass of students are abandoning the university after the first session of the day, and thus striking. A degree of fear, thanks to the mass nature of the protests, has thus been overcome.

However, in conversation with one group of students today – with the topic of the protests largely replacing what was planned for today’s seminar – there seems to be little willingness to engage in future in protest directly against the university authorities. The students outlined, without prompting, aspects of large-scale corruption, bribery or “a lack of objectivity” in grading (favours, payments and obedience count for more than ability in some cases), but the consensus in that group was that since they would graduate in a couple of years, there was little sense in ruining their own degree by entering into conflict with the university authorities. What may have influenced these students, now over two years into their degrees, to act would have been knowledge of how degrees are structured in other European countries. Their university proclaims itself “Найкращий класичний університет Прикарпаття європейського зразка” – “Precarpathia’s best classical university of a European type” – although the students had not yet taken the initiative to discover what this European type is. A few basic sums today found that in order to get their Bachelor degree, the students have some three-four times more contact time than students around Europe. Here they have around 32 hours per week in the humanities, with semesters lasting 16-18 weeks, rather than the 12 weeks in Europe, and the degree still lasts four years, something that is being phased out in most countries. Many of their courses have nothing to do with their major subject, with these additional hours bringing little benefit, since testing is based on rote learning, while lectures and seminars largely restrict discussion and are instead based on transmitting information or “facts” as they are termed by the students. 

It seems that the willingness to take to the streets now is inspired in part by a sense of patriotic duty and an awareness that the future would probably be brighter if Ukraine were to have connections to Europe, although largely the participation is inspired by the sense of safety offered by the mass nature of the protests. Although the protests are calling for bringing down the government, the enemy is abstract and unlikely to directly affect the students’ everyday lives or indeed, what many are most concerned about, their immediate grades.

Cynically, it could be added that alongside these noble motives, a chance to skip class is welcomed. Even if students are absent from classes  – as the empty classrooms and corridors witness today show – it does not seem that they are now necessarily on the streets, marching or joining rallies. Today’s midday protest was much less well attended, although it appears that a large number of local students – after singing the national anthem, a patriotic song and jumping to the chant “khto ne skache, toj Moskal” (If you’re not jumping your a Muscovite) – went to “liberate” a college whose authorities are refusing to sanction protests. In a sense, then, the protests and students’ demands are becoming more radical within the organised core of the local marches and rallies.

However, there is also an increase in general participation in rallies, which have now become a permanent sight in the city, rather than as was the case earlier on in the uprising, that evidence of protests was visible only at the designated times of midday and 6 p.m. All day and all around the city, generally younger people are visible with painted faces or national flags wrapped around their shoulders, suggesting a state of both popular patriotism and popular pro-European attitudes (a quite alien concept for someone coming from Briton), as well as readiness to join any protests at any moment.

So, for now, a sense of radicalism pertains among the local protest leaders, while a carnivalesque atmosphere seems prevalent among the mass of participants. Perhaps enjoying the chance to break the rigid norms of university life, so escaping classes at a time when it is not necessarily officially sanctioned, they can do so within a movement which offers a safe framework for expressing frustrations caused by being in the university system here. Any kind of direct protest against the university leadership, which might actually change more-or-less immediately the students’ reality (such as providing toilet paper or turning on the heating when it is unbearably cold), still remains largely unthinkable.