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

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

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

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

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

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

A Gryfon member and a member of the public

A Gryfon member and a member of the public

Troops from the Gryfon unit stand guard

Troops from the Gryfon unit stand guard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three crosses for the fallen men, 2 June 2014.

Three crosses for the fallen men, 2 June 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The coffin is carried towards Konovaltsa Street

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A cross in memory of Volodymyr Sharaburyak, killed near Slovyansk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police mourning on 2 June 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

Police mourning on 2 June 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

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

Mourners, Memorial Square, 2 June 2014

Mourners, Memorial Square, 2 June 2014

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Product Boycott

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Storming the Security Service and Police HQ

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Tuesday 18 February 2014: this was the day that the protests and government responses brought large-scale fatalities in Kyiv. The news of the mass protests and fatalities in Kyiv brought a radicalisation to the atmosphere in Ivano-Frankivsk. While also inspiring peaceful mass student protests today and a blockade of the city’s branch of Epicentre (Ukraine’s B&Q), which is owned by Party of Regions MPs, last night saw a storming of the city and regional office of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU/СБУ) and police. The SBU is effectively a successor to the KGB, while the SBU and police are both part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVS/МВС) and thus occupy the same Habsburg-era building on Sakharova Street, near the university and maternity hospital.

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Right Sector (Правий Сектор) stickers adorn the sign on the White House and buses prepare to take, potentially armed, activists to Kyiv.

After a day of increasing tension and numbers of people milling about on the street waiting for something to happen, last night saw protesters retake the White House (city and regional administration) without resistance, but the storming of the SBU building ultimately resorted in molotov cocktails, part-destruction of the building and general smashing of windows and anything else accessible by probably some 200 people of a crowd of a couple of thousand.

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By the time we arrived around 11 pm, a large crowd had already gathered and one entrance to the building was being stormed. It was the entrance to the police section of the building, so the organisation less hated than the SBU. As we approached from the university side, we could hear windows being smashed, as well as a mixture of cheers followed by jeers. The latter were a result of police leaving the building, as well as some Birkut (special forces) members. They left without resisting and ultimately brought joy to the crowd who then sang the national anthem. That part of the building was secured by protesters as part of an occupation.

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The building did suffer some pointless damage as a number of people waiting for something to happen started smashing windows after the police had left, while some of those trying to smash windows showed great persistence even as they continued to throw for several minutes the same oversized bricks at metal bars which were positioned too narrowly to allow that brick through. Others were more effective, though, while some decided that it was necessary to smash police crockery through a basement window. Still, overnight, no more damage was done to this part of the building despite being easily accessible through unusually poorly secured windows, which had no bars on them and offered easy access into the building.

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The building was also graffitied, although by this afternoon that had been painted over. It is not clear who painted over the graffiti, although it is unlikely to have been the police who were nowhere to be seen in the area or, indeed, in the city.

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Here the graffiti read: “Yanyk shitbag” and “Tear off your badges of rank”. Both are written with the ‘o’ sound replaced by ‘a’, suggesting either very poor Ukrainian ability or a satire on the current government’s perceived Russification of Ukrainian. By today, this grafitti had gone, as had any trace of the signs showing which institution is housed here.

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What was evident last night (in the early hours of this morning) was the lack of any leadership over events, as the storming of the building took on a largely spontaneous form and those present and most active, seemed to be reduced to a primitive masculinity taking pleasure in loud bangs, smashing things with bricks or sticks, or setting fire to things. The only time any leadership seemed clear was when a man in an orange helmet decided that a group should storm the local prosecutor’s office, which they duly did.  An older man talking to the orange helmeted younger man did ask, though, “where’s the left sector?”, referring to the prevalence of nationalist Right Sector activists. “It used to be the left sector active around here. Now nothing.” Then he suggested storming a few buildings, including the prosecutor’s office. Today, piles of documents were still smouldering there in what some in the city suspect was not necessarily an act of revolution but potentially an attempt to benefit by destroying documentation relevant to particular cases. This suspicion seemed potentially justified, since today there was no evidence of revolutionaries guarding this building, while people inside were trying to get things back in order.

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However, clearly not at work today was the SBU/Police building, although there are reports that its functionaries are on the streets of the city today, wearing balaclavas and joining the ranks of protesters. As some protesters last night headed off to storm the prosecutor’s office, another mass movement of the crowd took it about 20 metres to the left to the SBU entrance. This door was protected by some functionaries inside the building and unable to get inside by storming this part of the building (a ladder would have done the trick as first-floor windows without bars were open but in the heat of the moment, few think practically) molotov cocktails started flying, while tyres soaked with petrol were put by the doors. These weapons were clearly prepared by a small group of men in their teens and twenties. The smells last night/early this morning were quite unusual, with something resembling frying doughnuts giving way later to the smell of petrol before the burning started. The scent of fuel made it ominous that fires would be started.

And indeed they did start. This newspaper report shows the inside of the building today, which has become the city’s number one attraction as members of the public visit it. These are my before/during/after shots.

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 Beyond expressing frustrations in a visceral manner, there was no real reason to set fire to this building. The symbolism of showing how emasculated the state’s security services are in the city could have been achieved by simply taking the building, as happened with the police side of it. However, the young men preparing molotov cocktails who we spoke to declared two reasons for setting fire to this building. Firstly, “force is the only argument they understand” and secondly “they won’t give up the arms and shields inside without this”. The point was to force whoever may have been inside to relinquish control of stocks of police arms and shields and anything else of use. This region has been accused of transporting arms to Kyiv – with nine police killed there, it seems they must be being used – and it seems the radical protesters knew where to get them. In neighbouring Lviv, the military arms depot went up in flames, which may have been an inside job, to – quite wisely -sabotage any radical attempts to get hold of arms.

We also suggested to these young men that this building could be given over to the city’s use – as a school or university – but they failed to accept that and decided that this “stolen” property must be returned to the “nation”. The fact that any renovation will be funded from the “nation’s” pockets didn’t occur to many people. Seeing the building go up in flames, rather than out of any sympathy for the SBU or police, we called the fire brigade. They eventually arrived, although long after 1am, after we had left. Initially on the phone they refused to come unless we could provide a building number for the SBU office – which was not visible at all, even though it is obvious to anyone in the city which building is the former KGB HQ opposite the maternity hospital. Once they did arrive, news reports say that protesters initially resisted allowing the fire brigade to tackle the blaze, before two engines were eventually allowed close enough to the building. According to the phone operator, we were the first to call. Although most of those present were passive, there was little in the atmosphere to suggest that anyone else would have called. Except maybe the owner of this bike, attached to a tree outside the burning building.

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 I’m touched by the idea of turning up to a protest/riot/storming of the security service on a bicycle then also taking the care to lock it to a tree.

This guy also survived unscathed, standing opposite the protests in a Ministry of Internal Affairs-sponsored chapel.

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Above him, this image, which is used by the Ministry to symbolise its work. It seems, though, that the people have assumed now the role of St George and the dragon, at least here, has been slain. Although it could prove still to be a hydra.

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Winter Barricades in Ivano-Frankivsk

This blog had gone quiet for almost two months owing to the fact that I had been out of Ukraine and back in the UK. It did not seem fair or insightful simply to offer comments from abroad based on media reports.

I arrived back in Ivano-Frankivsk this morning following a typically adventurous coach journey from Warsaw. The exhaust pipe required fixing in Lublin, so the drivers and many of the passengers helped out, treating a multi-tonne Volvo in much the same way as a Zaporozhets, taking apart the exhaust pipe, clearing out some pipes, and fitting it all back together again to stop the fumes coming inside the coach. At the border I had the usual exchange which initiates an attempt to get a bribe as the border guard claims my photo does not resemble me and so on, asking for additional id, while I pretend not to speak Ukrainian. Ultimately she found that I have temporary residence in Ukraine and the efforts to question the legitimacy of my documents stopped.

Returning to the city, I found that the greatest change was that the square outside the Regional Administration (ODA), also known as the “White House”, has been surrounded by barricades built by protesters. Very professional they seem, too, these barricades. At some four or five metres high, there are outer walls protecting an inner compound that surrounds the main entrance to ODA, while all the side doors have been blockaded. There is no police presence whatsoever, as representatives of the National Resistance group guard the doors and volunteers staff the barricades which can be entered with little difficulty, other than the fact that the entrances are very narrow, forming corridors that permit only one person at a time. The barricades are made of snow, sacks of snow, pallets, tyres and other items. They should survive for at least another six weeks while the frosts last, possibly longer.

We entered the ODA building, with only males being patted down. It was policy, the doorman said, not to pat down women. What this reveals about the gender relations of Maydan is perhaps quite insightful, or perhaps at least about the gender relations that prevail among the more active, military-minded groups that are involved in Maydan. I will return in the week and explore the ODA building and the workings of the occupation there. There is a system of passes and clearances that need to be acquired to get beyond the first foyer, it seems. Adverts meanwhile revealed that in the city there is something of a vigilante protection group, offering support and protection for any activists that have been subject to threats. Equally, the Maydan in the city seems highly transparent, publishing daily accounts of income and expenditure.

The photos below depict the barricades around the Ivano-Frankivsk White House.

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This is one of the middle zones between the outer walls and the inner compound with homemade shields.

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The building sustained some minor damage in the taking of it a couple of weeks ago but there seems to be little evidence of anything more substantial being damaged.

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 13 and 14: Poetic manifestations, court threats and a moral quandry

The region-wide general strike in Ivano-Frankivsk continues, with a mass rally each day outside the regional administration building. However, the local Party of Regions councillors have complained to a court about the strikes. Equally, the large-scale blockades of ministries and state administration buildings in Kyiv have been considered by a court, which has given protesters five days to clear the pickets before threatening the use of force. Whether the government would dare to use force against the population again is unclear given the global coverage that the clearance of the Euromaidan on Independence Square received and, in particular, given the popular outrage and mobilisation that this inspired. The blockades could, however, inspire dialogue between the opposition and the government following the failed vote of no confidence.

It is becoming clear that the initial pro-EU protests have become more political, with bringing down the Yanukovych-Azarov Party of Regions government the dominant aim now that the EU Association Agreement is an unlikely prospect under that government. This realisation has meant a shift away from the insistence on a purely civil protest, focussed on Ukraine’s and the city’s proto-civil society and the rise of political parties’ influence. For the first time, then, party tents appeared at Ivano-Frankivsk’s evening rally, with Svoboda and Batkivshchyna present. Of the opposition parties, Klitschko’s Udar was absent. Earlier in the protests, before the failure of Ukraine to sign the agreement, Svoboda had pitched tents outside the Regional Administration in the city, but these were removed as the civil nature of the protests prevailed. This is unlikely to be repeated now as the civil side of the protests fades and government-level negotiations take centre stage, against a background of the continued popular occupation of Kyiv and blockades of government/ state institutions.

Since the start of the protests in Ukraine, it has been evident to me that ordinary people themselves clearly sought to distance themselves from being declared “political” – as being “political” was perceived as necessarily being involved in a party, something that clearly bears some form of social stigma. Thus the civil thrust of the protests and manifestations was expressive of a popular will, although it is now clear that the civil movement can now achieve little without engaging with opposition political parties, even if this arouses some degree of scepticism. (A number of cities’ Euromaidans barred political figures from appearing on their stages, at least initially).

Although the protests are increasingly political in terms of the accepted involvement of politicians, ordinary people’s actions and generosity are the spine of the Kyiv protests.  Ivano-Frankivsk citizens raised around 80,000 UAH (some €750) in two days to offer support for the 1,500 or so locals who are in Kyiv. Indeed, the Kyiv Christmas tree at the centre of the re-occupied Independence Square, is now decorated with flags from all over Ukraine, although western regions are predominant.

The protests have also inspired alternative forms of creative use of the streets that would not happen in any other circumstances. Thus, starting yesterday, a Literary Maydan was launched, with local people – as the pictures below show – coming to Mickiewicz Square to read their own poetry or literary creations, as well as works by others. Starting at midday, the event was still going strong after 3 p.m.

At the university, meanwhile, the system of a semi-strike continues, with students told by the dean of one department to reschedule classes for the first and second lessons, meaning that they can strike from 11:30 onwards. They should also ensure that the reschedule only their core courses, rather than attend the many minor subjects. (I have written about this previously). The students are coming to appreciate this European-style scheduling, which has reduced their contact time by half, so to something approaching European standards.

Tomorrow, however, I face something of a quandry, since a group has asked me to teach our scheduled class in the third period, which is the time that the strikes begin. Since few lecturers are evidently striking or even encouraging protests – in contrast to this excellent Lviv lecturer – my reservations have struck the students as unusual. I have thus proposed to meet 15 minutes before the scheduled seminar at a neutral point – the corridor by the lifts – to take a democratic vote on how to conduct the class and where to conduct it, with options of the usual classroom, a university cafe or a city-centre cafe available, as well as any students’ own suggestions. Since these are the first strikes these students have participated in, or indeed ever heard of in many cases, it can be difficult to communicate the moral economy of a strike – so there is no sense that holding the third class is an expression of a lack of solidarity, that it is breaking the strike and could be the action of a “scab”. I have left myself at mercy of the students’ democratic will, although even the concept of majority voting can be difficult in a system where there are class monitors who are often entrusted with taking decisions on behalf of the whole group. It is rare for any group to have overtly split opinion and dividing itself accordingly.

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Literary Maidan in Ivano-Frankivsk, 4 December 2013. Ordinary people gather to read their own poetic work or recite others’ literary creations by the Adam Mickiewicz monument in the city centre.