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. 

 

Post-election News Update and Three Days of Mourning

After the weekend’s elections, which I wrote about here, life in the city continued largely as normal. However, three days of mourning were announced, beginning today, since six of the twleve soldiers killed in the helicopter that was shot down on 29 May in the Donetsk region are from Ivano-Frankivsk region. As this report shows, a shrine to the men has emerged on the memorial to MInistry of Internal Affairs workers who have been killed on duty. The period of mourning means that concerts are by and large cancelled in the city, as are any other celebratory events, night clubs shut down while cafes turn down their music. Their funeral will be held on Sunday and they will be buried at the city’s memorial square, where Roman Huryk – a young student killed on Maidan in Kyiv in February – is also buried.

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Bars on the tax office window in the city centre on Nezhalezhnosti Street. Despite going to the bookshop next door regularly, I’d never spotted this until my wife pointed it out. Thanks to tweeter @svlmoscow for pointing out these are possibly early c. 20 guns, 1910s-1920s. The shape looks a bit like the Ukrainian trident.

Yesterday, a pre-planned march took place, which happened to coincide with the deaths of the local soldiers in eastern Ukraine. The march was variously called the Fan March or the march for national unity. Although it began as an initiative of local ultras (I’m not sure which team they support, given the distance of several divisions to the professional leagues of any team in Frankivsk), the pictures show that the march attracted a broad cross section of the city’s inhabitants. Following the march, accompanied by patriotic songs, flares were eventually let off the Franko monument by the city’s main theatre with the anti-Putin “la-la-la” anthem fairly popular, judging by these videos. On 28 May, meanwhile, the mothers of Ivano-Frankivsk accompanied by others held a protest outside the Security Service building (I’ve covered plenty of those, but this one was different): they were protesting against Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence and those groups’ conflict with the police, including their protests outside the police HQ or use of APCs on the city’s streets. While Right Sector and Self-Defence claim to speak for the city community, it seems that these mothers can stake a better claim to represent the population’s views. Although the mothers were calling for peace, it seems that it was already under threat, even though “activists” had also called for a week of peace and quiet in the city. Early on 27 May, Viktor Nemish’s car was subject to a suspected arson attack. Nemish is a local councillor, head of the coordinating council in the city (responsible for negotiating between the city authorities, state institutions and the population – although really that means the Maidan Self-Defence and Right Sector). On 29 May, meanwhile, notorious local UNA-UNSO activist “Chimik”, the Chemist, Mykhailo Boychuk had his car set on fire. Not the APC, which is almost certainly his, but  a small van. For now, there are no suspects, although it seems clear that the two arson attacks were not a coincidence. It seems like the story of the tensions between the people of Ivano-Frankivsk, Right Sector and Self-Defence, and the police, has a long way to run, getting murkier by the day. A new police head has been nominated, someone who is from the Ivano-Frankivsk region, satisfying the parochial demands of Maidan Self-Defence, while he also has a clear anti-Party-of-Regions past. However, it’s not clear if he has been able to take up his post, with the coordinating council – headed by arson-attack-victim Nemish – yet to approve his candidature. Meanwhile, Right Sector members entered the city’s tax office on Wednesday to protest against the new head who had been nominated. They claim to be countering corruption and nepotism with their campaign, although the news report linked to here suggests that there is a connection between Right Sector’s opposition to the new head and the rather fishy matter of an ongoing investigation into the local vodka plant. The photo accompanying this blog, meanwhile, is of the bars on a window facing onto the city’s main street from the tax office. Despite often visiting the bookshop next door, I had not spotted these intriguing bars where guns are moulded into shapes protecting the windows. A reflection, perhaps, of past methods used in tax investigations? Or a sign of things to come? Meanwhile, all of the votes from the region have been counted in the presidential election (and from the city’s by-election). It is confirmed that here Poroshenko got 65%, exceeding the national average by 10 points, while Tymoshenko was slightly more popular than nationally with almost 15%. Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok got 1.8%, about 0.7 points more than nationally, while Dmitro Yarosh, leader of Right Sector, got 0.6% of the vote in the region, so below the national average. If western Ukraine, and Ivano-Frankivsk specifically, is the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism, it’s not evident in the election polling. In the parliamentary by-election, the Svodboda candidate got just 14.9% of the vote, despite the now-deputy-PM Svoboda candidate winning with over 30% in the 2012 elections. The winner was notorious local businessman and Ihor Kolomoyskyy associate Oleksandr Shevchenko with over 37%. Second was incumbent mayor Viktor Anushkevychus with just over 25% – who is now condemned to sort out the messes he’s made in the city over seven years as mayor. And so, Ivano-Frankivsk is again a city in mourning, with the events in eastern Ukraine now seeming closer and more real in the city. At the same time, everyday life goes on, too, as the city and its residents seek to maintain some semblance of normality in post-Maidan, post-Revolution and now post-election Ukraine.

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.