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

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

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

Shevchenko's concert in no way electioneering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All cleared up again after yesterday’s farcical encore

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

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Padlocked gates of Ivano-Frankivsk, 19 May 2014.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Now, 15 May 2014, Russia Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

PrivatBank terrorist van graffiti. Kolomoyskyy owns the bank.

PrivatBank terrorist van graffiti. Kolomoyskyy owns the bank.

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

Kolomoyskyy Zhidobanderivets

Kolomoyskyy Zhidobanderivets

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frankivsk Armoured Personnel Carrier Farce enters interval

After the farce surrounding the Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence Armoured Personnel Carrier that has been stationed outside the city’s police HQ for three weeks now entered a new act yesterday, this Frankivsk farce seems to have entered another interval today. The main prop, the APC, remains on stage but the actors – aside from a couple of blokes – have disappeared. For now – I would say.

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APC Frankivsk 6 May 2014 outside police HQ

It’s quite likely that another protest against the chosen head of local police, Serhiy Pidubbnyj, will be held shortly. Today’s media reports, though, are silent on the fate of the new police chief, so it’s not clear if he has begun work or if he is doing so, but quietly.

I passed the police HQ again today after teaching a seminar this afternoon and found only these two guys jumping in and out of the APC. Police and the public were entering the building freely, while traffic was moving along vul. Sakharova without any trouble. Yesterday’s protest can be seen as a PR stunt, but it is also an indicator – as is the ongoing presence of this APC outside the police HQ – of ‘weak state structures’ and the ‘cockiness’ of Right Sector, as Mark Galeotti puts it.

Right Sector and Maidan APC in Frankivsk outside police HQ, 6 May 2014

Right Sector and Maidan APC in Frankivsk outside police HQ, 6 May 2014

This cock-sure attitude and weakness of the state locally will inevitably lead to another act in this farcical stand off between the city authorities and small but potentially dangerous groups in the city. Here’s hoping that it won’t turn to tragedy.

What had changed since yesterday on this building, I noticed today, was that scaffolding had been erected to repair the Security Service (SBU/ СБУ) wing that was damaged by “activists” throwing Molotov cocktails on 18/19 February as news of mass killings on the Maidan in Kyiv spread. The local press reported today that it will cost some 8 million hryvnias to repair the building and reinstall equipment inside. In pre-Maidan rates, that’s just under $1 million; now it’s just over $0.5 million – but still, a huge amount to find.

Repairing the SBU wing in Frankivsk. $1 million-worth of damage.

Repairing the SBU wing in Frankivsk. $1 million-worth of damage.

According to the report, the repairs will be funded from city and regional budgets, with not only the façade being repaired but also the equipment inside. From the report it’s easy to deduce that the local Security Service is hardly capable of functioning at the moment.

Meanwhile, the iron entrance gates are being restored by professional blacksmiths sponsored by a local businessman who also organises Frankivsk’s international blacksmiths’ festival. Some of these blacksmiths also rebuilt a footbridge near Maidan in Kyiv which was damaged during the February fighting.

While this philanthropy is admirable, as is the willingness to restore these gates to their former glory of 100 years ago when they were installed in the Habsburg era, there are very few calls to hold responsible those who set fire to the building and have them pay something back to the community that they claim to represent.

I’ll be out of Frankivsk for a few days again, but I’ll be back with the blog next week and will be sure to bring updates on any further acts in the farce. And I’ll describe any new dramas that emerge, as well as represent the everyday and the unremarkable.

Armoured Personnel Carrier in Frankivsk: The Farce Continues

Yesterday’s post on the presidential election campaign ended on an optimistic note regarding the “activism” of Maidan Self-Defence and Right Sector in the city. Unfortunately, this optimism proved premature as the farce of the selection of the new head of police in region entered a new act today. Since 25 April, an armoured personnel carrier has been stationed outside the police HQ in the city, so the building whose Security Service wing was burned out in mid-February. The campaign to prevent Volhynia native and experienced police functionary Serhiy Piddubnyj becoming head of Ivano-Frankivsk region police has been going on much longer.

APC outside Ivano-Frankivsk police HQ, 5 May 2014

APC outside Ivano-Frankivsk police HQ, 5 May 2014

Today was supposed to have been Piddubnyj’s first day at work, although he never turned up, at least not through the front door. Perhaps because since this morning a crowd of a hundred or so “activists” had been awaiting his arrival, hoping that he would take the APC “Taxi to Dubno” back to his native region.Most probably the armoured personnel carrier belongs to one of these guys, interviewed here, with the article asking if they are “extremists or defenders”. Good question.

It’s not clear from any media reports what grievance Maidan Self-Defence and Right Sector have with Piddubnyj, other than that they are categorically opposed to his role.* While the media continue to claim that this small group of activists represent “the community”, in reality public opinion in the city has very little interest in who is head of police and instead is more concerned by the ability of these groups to continue to blockade streets and administrative buildings.

*UPDATE: Since writing initially, I have found this interview from 5 Kanal, Petro Poroshenko’s news channel and one of Ukraine’s most watched. Here a representative of Self-Defence claims that they don’t want Piddubnyj because “he’s not from this region”, “he’s an outsider” and the “community doesn’t want him”, with Kyiv failing to listen to the demands. First-hand evidence, then, of these organisations declaring themselves the voice of the community, which is quite far from the truth. Presumably, too, these organisations and “activists” are angered by the fact that the new head of Odesa police is from… Ivano-Frankivsk region. Viktor Nemish is the local councillor who in local power structures is the voice of these organisations, and he claims that only two candidates are acceptable to these groups after conducting a folk version of “lustration”.

If the simple reason for opposing Piddubnyj is that “he’s not from our region”, then this is quite a worrying insight into the mentalities of these groups that claim to speak for the city community and seek to determine its future. If someone from Volhynia in north western Ukraine is unacceptable, then what chance does anyone more exotic stand in the city?

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The groups involved today were: Maidan Self-Defence, which took on a coordinating role in the protests in Kyiv and locally, but now seems to be some kind of semi-paramilitary gang of camouflaged men; Right Sector, who locally at least are basically UNA-UNSO, a paramilitary group, plus the youth organisation Tryzub (Trident); and Automaidan, with the Kalush branch most evident today. Very few police, beyond traffic cops blocking the street, were visible when I passed about 13:30 this afternoon, although the media show that many uniformed officers did come out to declare that “the police are with the people”. (The photo reportage linked to here also manages to be typically sexist towards female police officers) It’s not clear what intention the police had with this statement, although since most have declared loyalty to the new head it was presumably a rejection of the “activists'” attempts to appropriate the voice of the people of Ivano-Frankivsk region.

Ivano-Frankivsk, 5 May 2014, APC outside police HQ with Maidan Self-Defence, Right Sector and Automaidan "activists"

Ivano-Frankivsk, 5 May 2014, APC outside police HQ with Maidan Self-Defence, Right Sector and Automaidan “activists”

Some obvious questions that are raised by this farce are: how is it possible for someone to park an APC on a main street in the city centre and outside the police HQ and get away with it? It suggests the police here are weak and in fear of these paramilitaries, or they are somehow coordinating with them on a more significant level than joint patrols around the city in the aftermath of Euromaidan. Should these “activists” get more active and violent, what are the chances of the police or other forces in the city halting them?

Another question is in whose interest is it to disrupt the installation of the new police head? The declaration that it is in the interests of the “community” does not wash, so it is necessary to inquire what connections these organisations and their paramilitaries have to various political, business or criminal interests in the city and the wider region. I’m not suggesting that these connections necessarily exist but it is worthwhile investigating.

The only sensible suggestion surrounding this whole farce – beyond internet comments which suggest that these blokes who claim to be the region’s biggest “patriots” and “heroes” are actually harming their country – is to hold elections for the head of police. Obviously, however, given the popular indifference to this question then it could be easy to swing any election in favour of these groups’ and their backers’ interests.

My own suggestion is that if these blokes are such heroes and so concerned for their country, then the Ukrainian army is waiting with conscription for 18-25 year olds having been reinstated. That could also solve the problem of having so many men with little to do in the middle of the day marching around the city, potentially armed, and causing more trouble than good. Indeed, for anyone coming to Ivano-Frankivsk from outside the area, these camouflaged groups and their APC are really the only visible sign in the city that the country is actually in crisis.

New sushi restaurant opens on Frankivsk's main street

New sushi restaurant opens on Frankivsk’s main street

It is, as I mentioned yesterday, a source of a sense of incongruity being in this part of Ukraine while the foundations of civil conflict, or worse, grow deeper in other parts of the country. Aside from the presidential campaign coming to town, new restaurants continue to open including this place on the main street, the “Stumetrivka” or Nezhalezhnosti Street. It’s a sushi bar, suggesting there’s some nouveau riche cash still sloshing about the city. The owners of the restaurant, meanwhile, have taken liberties with this neat nineteenth-century building and destroyed the original façade with new doors and windows, including extending their size which is probably against planning regulations. But no one cares much for those in the city – as my post on the infamous Royal Burger brewery building showed.

The tragedy in Odesa has, however, been recognised officially in the city, with more raucous events within Ivano-Frankivsk’s City Day anniversary celebrations, scheduled for 9-10 May, cancelled. So this means that there will be no rock concerts and such, since these fall within the traditional nine-day mourning period. The annual blacksmiths’ festival will go ahead as planned. Aside from this official gesture, though, there’s little evidence of mourning in the city for those killed in Odesa. Although the Fabbrica restaurant that I have written about did abandon owing to events in Odesa its traditional closing dances over the weekend.

Meanwhile, as the country plunges further into crisis, those in Self-Defence and Right Sector who claim to be the greatest heroes and patriots continue to fight their absurd, farcical struggle over the head of police on the streets of the city.

Presidential campaigning in the western provinces of Ukraine; tragedy and uprising in the south and east.

In this post you’ll get: comments on Odesa, mourning, Petro Poroshenko’s presidential campaign roadshow, other candidates’ visits to Ivano-Frankivsk, and the new constellation of political posters in the city.

Presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko comes to town as things in Odesa turn tragic.

Presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko comes to town as things in Odesa turn tragic.

I have been away from Ivano-Frankivsk and Ukraine for a couple of weeks, hence the lack of updates on the blog. However, after a trip to Poland at the end of April, then the Carpathians over the May holiday, I am back in Ivano-Frankivsk. Since the last blog updates, the situation in Ukraine generally has grown more critical and indeed tragic. The horrific events in Odesa, with people burned alive – including youths, as reported here – has begun to draw attention to the seriousness of the threat of civil war. Whereas, perhaps, Luhansk or Donetsk seemed very distant from Galicia, Odesa is a city many here have visited for holidays and is reachable within 12 hours by train, rather than the 24+ needed to reach the east. Although the national media are carrying symbols of mourning – images of candles burning, or indeed real candles on news desks – the narrative being presented is largely one that isn’t willing to fully explore events in Odesa. Meanwhile, some of the reaction on social media has been less than compassionate – even hubristic – given that not all of those in the Odesa Trades Unions building were “separatists”, “pro-Russians”, “anti-Maidan” or whatever other labels are being applied. Some usually sensible people are sharing images such as this one – as well as much more tasteless memes – where ‘the patriots of Odesa’ are being mourned, so those who are termed “pro-Ukrainian” or “pro-Maidan”, with the rest of the victims implicitly condemned.

Before I get misunderstood or accused of being “pro-Russian”, or not understanding “Ukrainian realities”, my point is this: those participating in the protests in Odesa and elsewhere are a mixture of people, ranging from professional soldiers and fighters – including Russians and other non-Ukrainians – to ordinary people on the street. Whether or not you agree with what those on the streets of Odesa, Luhansk, Slovyansk and elsewhere are fighting for, or protesting against, when a mass killing occurs, with a variety of victims, then decorum and respect are dignified responses.

The point of this blog is to record and comment on life in Ivano-Frankivsk, so it is to that which I now turn.

On the road with Poroshenko. Perhaps his own bus manufacturing company made this vehicle?

On the road with Poroshenko. Perhaps his own bus manufacturing company made this vehicle? The slogan reads “Live anew”.

When returning from Poland on Wednesday morning, 30 April, after a week or so away, the most obvious difference in the appearance of the city since the last week of April was the overwhelming number of presidential campaign  posters that had appeared (and by-election materials – Frankivsk is exceptional in that there is a by-election for parliament, too, on 25 May as the existing MP, Oleksandr Sych, is now in the Cabinet). It was noticeable that those of Petro Poroshenko, “the chocolate king”, far outnumbered anyone else’s. Indeed, the total number of his posters probably exceeds those of all other candidates combined. He is the wealthiest and currently leading candidate for election.  He visited the city on 2 May and we returned from the mountains in time to catch his show and his promise that under his rule people will “live anew”, the main slogan of his campaign.

I call it a show because the meeting – held on the city’s Vichevyj Maydan (Rally Square), by the post office and site of the first gatherings which became Euromaidan – was massively stage-managed and on a huge scale. The posters around the city announced that not only would Poroshenko be speaking, but also the rock performer Taras Chubay and another band would be performing. The event, starting at 18:00, also had two MCs, guest speakers including a poet and a playwright, as well as Yuriy Lutsenko, a politician who was released from jail about a year ago after being imprisoned on political charges. A crowd of several thousand packed the city streets in numbers not seen since Euromaidan to hear Poroshenko and catch his show.

Taras Chubay and band play some decent rock using Andrukovych's poetry.

Taras Chubay and band play some decent rock using Andrukovych’s poetry.

After a brief introduction from the MCs, Taras Chubay took over. In deference to the then ongoing events in Odesa where some deaths had already occurred, he toned down the set and sang two or three songs based on Frankivsk poet Yuriy Andrukhovych’s works. The music, however, was still heavy rock played by a slightly aged but impressively tight band. After some poetry from a local poet Dmytro Pavlychko, with his reading largely appealing to the legacy of UPA fighters, local playwright Maria Matios spoke. I have a grudge against her because her rather depressing, patriotic, pathos-laden plays dominate the repertoire of the local theatre – so much so that they might as well make it her exclusive stage. One of my main passions is theatre, so Matios’ dominance seems to stifle any significant creativity or experimentation.

Local playwright Maria Matios appeals, like her plays, to a pathos-laden sense of patriotism.

Local playwright Maria Matios appeals, like her plays, to a pathos-laden sense of patriotism.

Local Poet

Local Poet Dmytro Pavlychko

After the cultural section, Yuriy Lutsenko appeared. Whatever you think of his politics, it is undeniable that he is a compelling and effective speaker. Although a few eyebrows were raised when billionaire (albeit not multi-) Poroshenko was not counted as an oligarch and instead something of a counterpoint to the various oligarchal clans that seek to rule Ukraine. I’m not sure what the technical or legal definition of an oligarch is but even if Poroshenko is relatively less well-off than, say, Akhmetov, Firtash or Kolomoyskyy, then he’s still pretty loaded and has had his fingers in political pies since the millennium at least. He was even a co-founder of the Party of Regions. Lutsenko, though, continued to hold the crowds attention, although it became clear that even his rhetorical powers were beginning to wane as he spoke for some 25 minutes. It turns out that Poroshenko had been delayed in the town of Kalush, after also performing in Kolomyya the same day, so Lutsenko was holding the fort.

Yuriy Lutsenko impressing with his rhetorical skills and holding the fort while Poroshenko is delayed

Yuriy Lutsenko impressing with his rhetorical skills and holding the fort while Poroshenko is delayed

Eventually, just before 19:00 the main attraction appeared on stage – but in keeping with his man-of-the-people, definitely-not-an-oligarch persona, he took to the stage by walking through the huge crowd, his image relayed on the massive screens. Obviously he was flanked by significant security, just in case. On the screens, too, there appeared images of crying older women, as if the nation’s saviour had appeared. My wife and I had taken her godson, aged 10, with us – and he seemed transfixed by the celebrity status of Poroshenko, and insisted that we remain to see him. Even seeing Lutsenko in person got the ten year old quite excited. I had to go off to teach a class, but my wife’s report suggests that the message was similar to Lutsenko’s – vote Poroshenko in the first round, he’s the main candidate, get over 50% and avoid a second round of elections and get the country running properly again.

Not an oligarch, apparently; Poroshenko enters the stage through the crowd

Not an oligarch, apparently; Poroshenko enters the stage through the crowd

I’m not eligible to vote in Ukraine – but I can see the appeal of this argument. As another two weeks, into June, of campaigning and of temporary rule in Kyiv can only cause further destabilisation. Another appealing aspect of Poroshenko’s campaign is that he is the only candidate to have declared in his manifesto that he will call immediate parliamentary elections. I have been assured, having spoken here to legal experts, that the current government is in place in Ukraine legitimately, at least in terms of the law (however murky it is). However, an election could aid the cause of creating greater popular legitimacy for whoever is in power in Kyiv, with more representation for those living in areas where MPs have resigned or disappeared from parliament.

However, the above comments could all be academic as the most significant doubt in my mind is over whether the elections can be carried out successfully at all. In Ivano-Frankivsk and western Ukraine, sure, the campaigns are going ahead, candidates (at least those with any chance of getting elected here) are appearing on the main squares of cities and towns around the region. But I can’t really imagine the same happening in areas in the south and east of the country where the threat or reality of violence is actual. And, equally, if referendums are planned for those same areas for a week today, regardless of those plebiscites’ legitimacy in law or among the population, they will influence the way the Presidential election is conducted. Obviously, the way things are now is almost impossible, a damned if you do/don’t situation regarding the elections and almost anything else.

The greatest emotion that observing the election campaign in full swing in Ivano-Frankivsk while news of events in Odesa was filtering through was one of incongruity.

Other presidential candidates have also visited the city, although they came while I was away. Yulia Tymoshenko appeared on 1 May, holding a meeting in one conference centre, then appearing in the city centre, too, albeit without the song-and-dance attached to Poroshenko’s arrival. Olga Bogomolets, one of the best known medics from the Euromaidan protests, is standing in the election, too, and she spoke at the university at the end of April, while also holding a press conference in the city. There was very little, however, to announce her arrival in the university or beyond, while her posters seemed to be somewhat shoddy and subject to the elements. Bogomolets has, though, announced an alliance with Maksym Kytsyuk, a Sevastopol resident who was one of the leaders of Euromaidan in Frankivsk and a student here who was badly beaten in December by still unknown assailants. Oleh Tyahnybok, notorious leader of Svoboda, was also in town with his posters more noticeable about the city. Still to come is Anatoliy Hrytsenko, although there is no sign that any of the Party of Regions-associated candidates are planning to head this way.

Tyahnybok's poster with Bohomolets' obscured and sodden by rain, with another announcing another Taras Shevchenko-related event

Tyahnybok’s poster with Bohomolets’ obscured and sodden by rain

Meanwhile, with the presidential candidates in town, the mayors of Ivano-Frankivsk and Kalush travelled together to Donetsk region in an attempt to show national unity and hear the voices of ordinary people living in this now conflicted region of Ukraine. With Anushkevychus, the local mayor out of town, another candidate for the parliamentary seat here took his opportunity to mock his rival by taking a walk down Shevchenko Street. Its revitalisation, as I noted here,  has turned into something of a farce lasting over a year, with one of the city’s most prestigious streets now largely covered in rubble. The rival candidate, also called Shevchenko, has proposed renaming the street in (dis)honour of the mayor responsible for the farce. Shevchenko’s campaign is the only one that draws on European symbolism at a time when the EU seems increasingly powerless and lacking influence over the situation in Ukraine as the old Cold War powers play out their struggle again.

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Election campaign tents in the city centre with a much reduced stage in the background following Poroshenko’s departure

 

Oleksandr Shevchenko's campaign is the only one using overtly EU symbolism

Oleksandr Shevchenko’s campaign is the only one using overtly EU symbolism

 

As well as the mushrooming of presidential campaign posters, and a few by-election campaign tents, political posters have begun to appear again around the city in larger numbers, sometimes creating strange juxtapositions. There was also evidence of attempted sabotage, with Poroshenko not enjoying the support of Right Sector, it seems. It’s a bit baffling, too, as to why they’re putting their stickers in English.

Not everyone is pleased to see Poroshenko in town

Not everyone is pleased to see Poroshenko in town

Here various posters compete for space, with Poroshenko’s poster alongside that of Hrytsenko, as well as materials supporting the far-right nationalist OUN organisation, featuring the images of Bandera and Shevchenko.

Competing posters and messages

Competing posters and messages

Here, meanwhile, a poster for a singing competition held over several days in April and May by the central fountain in the city is accompanied by a Poroshenko poster revealing the full bill for his show, as well as a poster of Putin being shot through the head with the caption “This shit will soon die”.  The small poster at the bottom right, meanwhile, guides you to a nationalist portal called Neskorena Nacia or ‘The Undefeated Nation’ which wants ‘a Ukrainian Ukraine’. It declares itself to be the ‘leading Banderite portal’ and bears the OUN logo. It is noticeable that although the leader of Right Sector is standing for president, he is not campaigning actively and has indeed declared that his election funds are better spent, he feels, on sponsoring the fight against Russia. The nationalist message here, meanwhile, is one that predated the election campaign and indeed Euromaidan and events in south and east Ukraine.

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As for those who declare themselves to be Right Sector, or at least Maidan Self-Defence activists, they seem to have ceased most of their actions in the city now. The campaign against the regional head of police continues, although as something of a symbolic stand-off now with no marches being reported recently. However, the symbolic stand off means that now there is an armoured personnel carrier outside the police HQ. When I passed it on Wednesday, however, it was “staffed” by two young men who looked like teenagers with no one on the door. Obviously, an APC in the centre of Ivano-Frankivsk doesn’t look good and suggests that while Ukraine is under threat, local nationalist activists don’t really have their priorities straight if they think this is the best use of their resources. The report linked to above, meanwhile, continues the unfortunate rhetorical trend of deeming such “activists” the representatives of Maidan, whereas most of those active on Maidan or supporting its aims are now hoping that Poroshenko, or another president, will be able to bring some stability to the country and realise not only security but also the goal of improving everyday life in Ukraine in the long run.

Maidan Self-Defence in the crowd at Poroshenko meeting

Maidan Self-Defence in the crowd at Poroshenko meeting

 

While in Frankivsk everyday life and the election campaign seems to continue almost as normal, on the surface – with the tensions over war or civil war impacting psychologically – I can help feeling that it is somewhat incongruous now that such lavish campaigns are being carried out with the threat that hangs over the country.