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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Daytripping: Dolyna (Долина) – a town of two halves.

Yesterday my wife and I took a daytrip to the town of Dolyna (Долина), sixty kilometres west of Ivano-Frankivsk. Every other Saturday, we’re both free from work and have decided that we’ll try and visit the local area as much as possible. Our original plan was to go to Ternopil, a city about the same size as Ivano-Frankivsk, but we had to be back by the early evening for a first birthday party. So, we decided to head to Dolyna.

Our choice – well, my insistence on choosing Dolyna instead really – baffled everyone we spoke to. But this town with a population of just over 20,000 and a rich but forgotten history was full of the surprises and the delights of the provinces. The town yielded up over one thousand years of history – from its origins as a salt mining centre through to an oil boom in the late interwar period under Poland then under the USSR, which created the new town of Dolyna – hence the idea that it’s a town of two halves. And then there were the traces of the most recent history, Euromaidan, revolution and the threat of war.

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Before heading to Ivano-Frankivsk bus station, we stopped off at my mother-in-law’s flat to pick up a guidebook in Polish about Ukraine. We’ve lent out our Ukrainian guidebook to the Ivano-Frankivsk region. My wife and I were both a bit embarrassed to admit why we had come to collect the book, but we eventually revealed our plan. We revealed that we wanted to go to Kalush, the second-largest town in Ivano-Frankivsk region, and Dolyna, thirty kilometres further up the road. My mother-in-law replied, “Dolyna, it’s just a glorified village, but go there first then stop in Kalush on the way back. It’s more practical. But you won’t see much in either place.” So we bought our bus tickets to Dolyna – to make sure we got a seat – before double the number of people of people seated piled onto the bus about three metres from the barrier where an inspector is supposed to check that everyone on board has bought a ticket. That’s the way local bus travel works here.

We opened up the guidebook, checked the index and found one reference to Dolyna. Not a good sign. It was presented as a good base for exploring the Gorgany Mountains to the south of the town. We searched the Ivano-Frankivsk region section of the book and found another unlisted reference to the town, where apart from accommodation options, its former synagogue and saltmine were mentioned. Another unpromising sign. But we stayed on the bus for ninety minutes and reached Dolyna, a town of just over 20,000 people, making it the fourth or fifth largest – alongside Nadvirna and after the capital, Kalush and Kolomyya – in the region.

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The name Dolyna means, simply, ‘Valley’ and from the journey there it was clear why it acquired this name, with the town sitting surrounded by the Carpathian and Gorgany foothills. The bus passed through the village-like suburbs of the town, lending some credence to my mother-in-law’s claims, before passing through what resembled something of a town centre, a big roundabout proclaiming “Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the Heroes” and pointing to ways out of the town, towards Stryj, Khust or the railway station. We stayed on to the end of the route, hoping for a toilet at the station. A lovely specimen of the stinking Ukrainian outhouse model it was. The station, what we had passed along the way and the near silence of the guidebook suggested we wouldn’t need long in Dolyna. I suggested buying the return bus ticket for two hours hence, which my wife judged to be rather optimistic.  In the end, it proved to be too little, once we started exploring the town.

We never made it to the now disused salt mine, pictured above, which was the reason for the town being founded over 1000 years ago and even before Ukraine accepted Christianity in 988. Legends about town’s founding still reference offerings to the Slavic God Perun, asking for him to protect the salt mines. These were town’s main source of income into the twentieth century, so throughout Ukrainian/Rus’, Polish, Austrian and again Polish rule, before the boom in oil which was discovered in the late nineteenth century. This entire region, heading north towards Boryslav, was the first part of the world where oil wells were sunk during Austrian Habsburg rule. The region still produces oil and statistics suggest almost 70% of Dolyna’s income is from oil and gas production today. Forestry is also an important industry, especially in nearby Broshniv, which we passed through on the bus.

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So, we arrived at the station filled with little optimism, fearing that we’d wasted a wonderfully warm and sunny spring day. The first sight out of the station that greets you is an empty but impressive bike rack. It turns out the town has a developed network of cycle paths and lanes marked out, as well as a neat monument to the Penny Farthing. However, I don’t recall seeing anyone in the town riding a bike in the time we were there. Still, cycling infrastructure appears in western Ukraine to be a symbol of European aspirations – with Ivano-Frankivsk boasting an impressive collection of EU and Raiffaisen-Bank-sponsored bike racks and a series of signposts for a bike route around historical Frankivsk. Dolyna beats the regional capital, though, with its paths.

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Outside the station you are also confronted by a juxtaposition of two current trends, resulting from the protests of late 2013/early 2014. One shop to the right of the bike rack flies the black-and-red UPA, nationalist flag which has become an everyday symbol in this part of Ukraine, indicating both the rise of nationalist sentiment as well as framing the events as another stage in Ukraine’s liberatory struggle, to use the terms of the advocates of such views. To the left of the bike rack, a shop has the EU flag in it is window.

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Walking from the station, back up to the roundabout, you pass a rather desolate looking market on the right with. Clearly there were aspirations for something greater, but a general hotchpotch of kiosks seemed underused. However, one did offer this rather charming gnome riding a pig for just 298 UAH, so £16 or $27 today. On the left of this street there were some older houses, perhaps built around the time the station emerged in the 1870s, when the line through Dolyna was completed. One such house offered ‘Shoes and Clothes from Germany and Denmark’, while further up the street a newer building offered a Second Hand ‘bazaar’, presumably with goods from the US and UK. Sadly, it was shut by the time we had arrived, although Ivano-Frankivsk is full of such shops, where you can find clothes that have come from sales across Europe or from British charity shops.

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Heading past the roundabout you encounter on what seemed to be a kind off high street a souvenir shop which at this point still seemed rather optimistic. Nearby there was a billboard indicative of the influence of the current political and geopolitical situation on consumer habits. I don’t know who Roman Krekhovetskyy, the man pictured on the billboard is, but his campaign reflects the boycott of Russian products which is gathering popularity in this part of Ukraine. Over a dozen grocery shops in Ivano-Frankivsk have removed Russian products from their shelves. Here the slogan says: ‘By buying Russian goods you are funding the occupiers’ army.’

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We carried on down this apparent high street, Hrushevskoho, sensing that perhaps whatever history the town had, had been built over by a model Soviet town, with low-rise flats, a rudimentary grid system as long, wide streets. We passed a cinema, indicating another connection to Britain beyond the second-hand clothes shops as it was named after Charlie Chaplin. We got some nourishment, with the influence of Tatar or Cossack cuisine on Ukrainian food evident from this stall. I also enjoyed an ice cream, this one indicating the huge success of western Ukrainian pop group Dzidzio. There’s more about this pop-folk novelty group in English here. The band, especially the distinctive front man, advertise many things including flats in Ivano-Frankivsk while they’ve also got branded ice cream now. I think the perfume range can’t be far off.

As you, readers, can see, I was getting a bit desperate for things I thought I could include from the Dolyna adventure. But then we found a map of the city with its attractions listed and we realised that we were in a town of two halves. There was this Soviet new town that we had wandered in to, built to house the influx of workers related to the oil boom, which doubled the town’s population. And then back down the road and down a hill was the old town, where the synagogue mentioned in the guidebook could be found. Suddenly, two hours seemed like it might not be enough.

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The new town seemed very clean, tidy and well-maintained, with decent roads, indicative perhaps of the income the town generates from its oil and gas production. At the end of one street in the new town’s centre, a church was being built, replicating a process all around this part of Ukraine where churches are now springing up like mushrooms. However, this is clearly the only the church in the new town, an institution Stalinist-era architects did not include in their plans.

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At the end of Hrushevskoho Street is a large square where the town’s main institutions are located, and this can be considered the centre of the new town. There are some large, somewhat abandoned-looking Soviet-era department stores as well as a giant, disused cinema, replaced by the smaller Chaplin Cinema down the road inside a new block of shops housing a supermarket. This square is home to the regional museum, a school, the town hall and the Prosvita cultural centre. The Prosvita centre bears an interesting collection of posters on its windows, starting with one marking Shevchenko’s 200th birthday, with three posters keeping the same aesthetic as the Shevchenko one but presenting the Heavenly Hundred, before presenting portraits showing the pantheon on Ukrainian nationalist leaders, topped off with the EU flag. This series of posters is, again, an interesting collection of the current trends and concerns in Ukraine, where European aspirations are paralleled with a rise in celebrating nationalist heroes, with those killed at Maidan – the Heavenly Hundred as they are known – incorporated into the narrative of national liberation struggles.

The town hall bears the Ukrainian, EU, local and UPA black and red flags, although by the main entrance there is one of the strongest condemnations of Russia’s actions I have seen expressed on a public building in Ukraine. In the window, above a poster of Stepan Bandera, there is a hand-made poster which declares ‘Putin the Fascist wants the deaths of millions of people in both Russia and Ukraine. Shame on Putin, no to war!’

The square also has a monument to Ukrainian historian and politician, Hrushevsky, who occupies the plinth once given over to Lenin. Besides Hrushevsky there is a small shrine to the Heavenly Hundred.

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The town’s largest memorial to the Heavenly Hundred is further down the main street close to a stadium on a series of concrete blocks which once must have served for proclaiming Soviet Party slogans. On a wall by the museum, meanwhile, there is a poster marking Shevchenko’s birthday which is common throughout Ukraine, as the selected quote links to Ukraine’s current struggle. ‘Struggle – you will win. God is on your side.’

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This architecturally Soviet space is now dotted with monuments to Ukrainian heroes, national suffering and nationalism, reflecting post-1991 processes of the transformation of public memory. Hrushevsky replaced Lenin, while graffiti informally transforms public sites of memory. The most striking contrast between the post-Soviet public memory and the Soviet-era architectural surroundings is the cross erected in 1993 that stands outside a school, which is dedicated to the ‘Victims of Holodomor of 1933 which was created by the Bolshevik-Communist system in Ukraine.’ Still, the school also has a rocket for kids to play in, reflecting some memory of the Soviet Union’s achievements in the space race.

Nearby there is a monument to the memory of ‘the forced migration of Ukrainians from their ethnic lands.’ To find any traces of the other groups that inhabited this town before World War II, who also suffered forced migration and genocide, then you have to head to the old town. At the end of the nineteenth century, Dolyna had almost equal populations of Roman Catholics (about 2,100), Greek Catholics (around 2,050) and Jews (around 1,950), as well as about 450 protestants.

Time was running short with all the surprises the Dolyna was throwing up, so we took a taxi to the old town, about three or four kilometres away from the town hall by road. The fare, with the meter on and without revealing that I was foreign, was more than the cost of the bus from Ivano-Frankivsk.

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The old town is divided from the new town by a river and a small valley, while a road links the two parts that runs alongside a picturesque man-made lake, passing another new church. The main road into the old town, Mickiewicza Street, heads sharply down hill, revealing a completely different world of architecture. Lots of small, low-level, often one-storey houses reminiscent of the small towns and shtetls of Galicia. Indeed, aside from the loss of decoration to new plaster, not much has changed in this part of the town since much of it was destroyed in a few nineteenth-century fires.

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There are some newer buildings, including this one, which is the local Security Service office. Unlike the one in Ivano-Frankivsk, it survived the revolution unscathed, although anti-Party of Regions was evident on a wall by the local police base in the old town.

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The multicultural history of the town is evident with the old synagogue on Sheptytskoho Street still standing. It is now a ‘House of Prayer’, which suggests that it has been taken over by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Behind the synagogue is a memorial from the Soviet era which states, ‘On this site in 1943 German fascists shot dead a group of citizens of the town of Dolyna.’ Its ambiguity is typical of Soviet-era memorials  to Jews killed under German occupation, where there is no express revelation of the identity of the group. This monument is more ambiguous than most, which refer to ‘Soviet Citizens’. Here, the Jews were citizens of Dolyna but not even counted among the Soviet population. No one has yet deemed it necessary to update the memorial.

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A community that does remain evident in Dolyna, however, are the Poles. There is a direct bus to Warsaw daily, while the Roman Catholic parish remains active. We were lucky that at the time we were passing, the church was open, with a group of about a dozen children accompanied by a priest and two altar boys going through the stations of the cross. We could see inside a church that had been recently renovated with all the murals in Polish. In keeping with the stations of the cross theme, the parish seems to have built its own improvised Calvary Hill or Golgotha outside.

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The centre of the old town, by a square surrounded by a couple of shops, also features the Soviet war memorial. Like many in this part of Ukraine, its “eternal” flame has been switched off. Presumably that means less Russian gas is burnt. The hammer and sickle is still visible on the wall of names of ‘heroes of the Soviet Union of the Dolyna region who liberated it from German Fascist occupiers.’ Like the Ivano-Frankivsk memorial on the military base, the relief in Dolyna is artistically impressive.

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Walking back through the old town, up the hill to the station, past where Dolyna fort once stood, we spotted the local library located in a house featuring an impressive example of local woodcarving and wood decoration.

We caught the bus back to Ivano-Frankivsk, which this time took just an hour as it didn’t stop at each village, packing impossibly more people on board like the bus to Dolyna, where we enjoyed a surprisingly pleasant afternoon full of unexpected discoveries. Far from a “glorified village”, we found a town with a thousand-year industrial history and multicultural past.

We had escaped the city for a bit, escaped the news for a while, although we passed through a village called Майдан (Maidan – a word of Turkic origin which means ‘place’ or ‘square’), reminding us of Ukraine’s recent history as well as emphasising that in spite of everything, everyday life carries on. (I tried to get a better picture of the Maidan sign, but the driver was speeding and his crucifix attached to the Ukrainian flag got in the way.) Meanwhile, back in Ivano-Frankivsk ‘maidan’ in the new meaning of the word, as an active political protest occupying a central public space, is beginning to fade.

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Storming the Security Service and Police HQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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State Television Coverage of the protests and censorship

This blog began by drawing on a series of my facebook posts. On Thu 21 November/ Fri 22 November, I feared that this potential revolution would not be televised. My fears were based on observation of Ukrainian television, where even the once oppositional TVi had become meek following a forced takeover (in which British “shell companies” and the government that sponsors such a model of corporate ir/responsibility play a great role).
However, it has become clear that local stations based in Western Ukraine: http://zik.ua/, http://24tv.ua/ – are active in covering the protests.
Meanwhile, http://5.ua/ – the station owned by the oligarch Petro Poroshenko has again taken up its role as the chief source of information, like it did in the Orange Revolution. Indeed, Poroshenko – following a recent, costly run-in with Russia over importing his confectionery – has become one of the leading figures of the public opposition to the current government during these protests.
Noticeable in the coverage is the use of non-professional camera operators alongside embedded reporters – sometimes doubling up on the role – who are broadcasting live using internet connections to television stations, including the new venture http://hromadske.tv/. This Citizens’ TV is now being broadcast live on Lviv’s ZIK station.
Mustafa Nayyem is one of the chief figures associated with Citizens’ TV and is now on the front line of protests, as citizens are face to face with the Berkut riot police outside the presidential offices.
This video here shows, meanwhile, the Pershyj channel, State TV no. 1, where all day songs have been broadcast alongside tributes to Soviet-era music stars.
Meanwhile, on Friday night, the famous Lithuanian-Jewish talkshow host Savik Shuster, who has been broadcasting in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution, threatened that that evening’s show would be the last on Inter, owned by oligarch and ex-security-service head Valeriy Ivanovych Khoroshkovsky. His live show started an hour late after Party of Regions representatives sought to prevent opposition leaders appearing live. After an hour of a Russian soap, Shuster forced his show on air and – though evidently shaken (http://3s.tv/) –
managed to lead some of the most compelling television I have witness for three hours.
Eventually he shed his highly professional sheen of objectivity and told the Party of Regions representatives, who had accused Shuster of manipulating reality, that they “wanted to return to the USSR”.
As with the population at large, these protests have taken away from the media a certain fear and a number of stations, as well as of course social media and online news portals, are reporting what they can and generating a pluralism of opinions.

Night 9/Day 9: The Carnival is over; violence begins: state-sponsored boxers and riot police.

The cameras of the world’s media are trained on Kyiv, where the violence of riot police against peaceful protesters has been documented. Last night (4 a.m. on 30 November, local time) the Euromaidan in Kyiv was cleared from Independence Square. This afternoon in Kyiv, a large-scale demonstration has sprung up spontaneously on St Michael’s Square after some of those injured fled up the hill and sought sanctuary in the Church and its monastery. Some riot police then blockaded those people inside the monastery.

The tent city occupation in Ivano-Frankivsk voluntarily disbanded on Friday afternoon. However, this does not mean that  the city’s activists escaped violence. Maksym Kitsyuk (Максим Кицюк, @kyts_me), the leader of Ivano-Frankivsk’s student protests, was last night attacked on his way home by three unknown assailants. They held back his friend while Kitsyuk was attacked and stabbed with a broken bottle. His leg is now in plaster and has been given numerous stitches. It could, of course, be a coincidence this attack – but that seems hardly likely. Instead, the authorities have most likely sought revenge, while also sending out a signal to other organisers that they ought to fear for their safety. A press conference was held today, well-attended by local and national media, condemning the attack. (I also happened to be teaching in the building where the conference took place).

Already on the first day of public gatherings in the city on 22 November, an ominous sign hung over the square where Ivano-Frankivsk’s population has gathered. A huge screen stands on the square outside the post office, issuing a constant stream of overly loud adverts. (One speaker questioned the legality of the planning permission for this screen and another on the Market Square outside the town hall. Certainly the are an eyesore). On that first day, one of the adverts running in the cycle was for a national boxing championship to be held in Ivano-Frankivsk. It’s main sponsor was… the ruling Party of Regions. Throughout Ukraine there is a network of sports clubs, into which the ruling Party has invested a lot of sponsorship. It seems that the deal rests on the fact that, when required, the ruling party can call on these sponsored boxers and others (sportsmeny, as they are known here) to act as a something akin to a street-fighting paramilitary.

The question of what to do next for local activists and students, meanwhile, remains. There are constantly a few dozen people gathered on the city’s square, debating and discussing, or displaying national symbols and colours. Given that it is the weekend, the number of students in the city declines greatly. Again, the mean in identical flat caps are more visible although they are now talking to students and younger people, something that was not evident a week ago. 

While implicit before the events of the last week, the pro-European sentiments and hopes of many people in this city are now very much in evidence. However, it seems that the current authorities are determined to crush them with violence, leaving perhaps only these traces – see the pictures below – of a “Europeanisation” of the city.

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Bike rack: Ivano-Frankivsk is a European city. Sponsored by an Austro-Ukrainian bank.

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Throughout the city there are rubbish bins promoting segregation waste and recycling, with “EU Project” forged into the bins themselves.

 

Day 8: The end of the local tent city occupation, the start of intensified protests in Kyiv

The occupation of Ivano-Frankivsk’s square has been ended by agreement of the organisers, who will be taking their fight to Kyiv, joining the main protests there which are demanding the resignation of the government following the failure to sign the EU Association Agreement.

Meetings will, however, continue here for as long as the protests continue in Kyiv. However, it is unlikely that the daily student strikes will continue, at least with the same level of mass participation as was witnessed this week.

How the students here will react now is unclear, since the civil disobedience of the student warning strikes has proven ineffective in securing the signing of the Association Agreement. However, these strikes have been effective in raising student awareness of their potential power albeit, somewhat paradoxically, in relation to the state authorities.

There is little willingness, for now, to challenge the power of local authority figures within institutions such as universities who, in fact, exert real power over students’ lives.

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Is this a symbol of the dying embers of students’ European hopes, or the sign of a still-smouldering urge to change and rebellion?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 5: More protests, more people, more confusion, more hope

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Police, hearing the national anthem at the start of today’s midday gathering, salute throughout.

After yesterday’s largely organised protests, which drew students out of the university at a particular time, the lack of central organisation today caused some confusion among students, as well as staff. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the Rector has not issued an official statement on the position of the university. Generally he is seen to have given approval for the students’ actions, and a brief interview with an obscure local tv station suggests the same. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9baZzCDvY0 (Obscure because two of the nine views of this video have been from my household, while the station is not on all cable platforms). However, besides the impracticality of the rector insisting students will need to make up for missed classes as the end of the semester approaches, in practice each departmental dean continues to issue individual instructions.

Some Deans are highly supportive and have effectively allowed students to attend protests with no further consequences. Others, meanwhile, forbid participation or insist that all absentees must be reported by group monitors. (Here, each group has a student – known as starosta, who is responsible for communication between the authorities and groupmates.) However, in the more restrictive departments, students are openly rebelling and failing to attend classes. Across the city meanwhile, pressure from two universities ensured that the Medical University finally relented and has allowed students to join the protests. However, individual lectures continue to exert pressure on their students, threatening sanctions for missing classes. Meanwhile, one university in the city – a branch of a Ternopil HE institution – continues to forbid participation.

Today, I had three seminars to teach, none of which went ahead as the students were participating in the protests. A worrying phenomenon, however, is that numerous students have interpreted the fact that either a lecturer or the dean has permitted their participation in the protests not as permission to make a decision for themselves but as an order to attend. Indeed, my own emails to students have been interpreted as stating “we must go”, whereas the message has always been, “think about whether and why you want to attend”. I have always been available to teach classes where students have been absent, but there has never been a group so far that has split, with part protesting and part staying for lectures. A group mentality prevails (not solidarity), regardless of the individual will (or lack of consciousness) of particular students. Some students did make individual choices, namely to disappear from both the university and protests, instead taking the day off. The significance of such actions cannot yet be established.

Today’s midday protest meanwhile took the form of an extraordinary meeting of the city council, held in the open air on the main square hosting the camp/protest in the city. I think this has to be the most popularly-supported local council meeting held. 67/114 councillors were present, meaning the meeting had full powers and authority. Just 1/13 Party of Regions councillor attended, drawing aggressive/pantomime boos from the crowd. The crowd today was the largest of any protest in the city, with the crowd also invited to vote on motions. Unsurprisingly, all were passed unanimously. It was a mightily impressive sight, this council meeting, as democracy was directly put into action in front of the people, rather than behind the suspect, closed doors typically associated with political dealings here. 

The university authorities, however, remain behind closed doors and refuse to speak openly on the situation, with the usual means of top-down communication disrupted by autonomous actions by deans. The university here does not have a centralised email system, meaning that any communications are passed through arcane levels of hierarchy, with rumour often replacing the actual message as these Chinese whispers wind their way through bureaucracy. Or the message gets lost as it is generally noted from oral communication by each level of the hierarchy, rather than fixed in a document.

It seems, however, that a critical mass of students has been reached who no longer fear sanctions for being absent from classes. The square is thus fuller with each meeting as the old men in flat caps are replaced by young men and women with painted faces and a carnival atmosphere. Whether this atmosphere will remain once the Vilnius Summit is over is another question and only time will tell if the students, and Ukrainian society, have the will, the warmth and means for another occupation of urban spaces – and particularly central Kyiv – lasting weeks and eventually forcing an election. For now, the typical pessimism of students – who felt that they could not even get the university to turn the heating on in a near-freezing early October by means of protest – has subsided, giving way to a carnivalesque optimism. Even if Ukraine, as a state, fails to sign the Association Agreement this week – or at all – hopefully these protests will shape the students’ – and thus this country’s young generation’s – attitudes, showing them that meek passivity, relying on decisions taken by others or orders from above can give way to what here is imagined as a more “European” mode of action.

The Orange Revolution seems to be an inspiration, rather than an example of failed revolution. Rather than the current protests being the farcical repetition of the tragic dashing of hopes with the Orange Revolution, the events of 2004/05 are seen more as a dress rehearsal for the push for a European Ukraine.