Family History and History’s Ironies: Births, Deaths and Forced Migration

This post, written from England, is more personal than most that have come previously but at the same time this outline of aspects of my family history should illustrate the historical complexities that have shaped the lives of people connected to the territories that now form western Ukraine.

My time in Ukraine was bookended by the death of a close family friend at the beginning and the birth of my sister-in-law’s first baby at the very end. The birth is easier to deal with here: four hours before my wife and I caught the train to Kyiv on Thursday 5 June, my wife’s sister gave birth to her first baby, a healthy boy named Vitaliy, at the maternity unit of an Ivano-Frankivsk hospital.

And now the story of the death which lead into a family history, a story which to some who read this will be all too familiar while for others it will be, perhaps, a quite extraordinary tale.

On 22 August 2012 I flew from London Luton to Kyiv to begin life in Ukraine after getting married in Ivano-Frankivsk in July that year. On that same day, 22 August, a man who grew up in Stanisławów (Stanislav[iv]), as Ivano-Frankivsk was known until its 300th anniversary in 1962, died in Leicester at the age of 90. This man was Kazimierz “Bob” Wojtyło who lived for the last few decades of his rich life in the Leicestershire village of Queniborough, where I was raised. The day before Bob’s death, I happened to come to his house with my mother to deliver some magazines. It was clear that he was in difficulty with his health, so an ambulance was called and I witnessed as he was taken out of his home for the last time. Just before I left for Luton airport, I learned of Bob’s death. So as the life of one man who was born in Stanisławów ended in Leicester, a young man (I was 28 in August 2012) raised in Leicester moved to Ivano-Frankivsk to start a new phase in his life.

Gravestone, Queniborough Cemetery, Leicestershire

Gravestone, Queniborough Cemetery, Leicestershire

This coincidence certainly had a conscious and unconscious influence on my time in western Ukraine, with this personal event making more aware than simply from a theoretical-academic perspective (I was in the midst of writing my PhD then, too) of the ghosts of the past that shape current behaviour, attitudes and interpretations.

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Photo from ukrfoto.net of the centre of Ivano-Frankivsk with Kazimierz Wojtyło’s former home the building after the crossroads on the left. It’s now above a jeweller’s shop and links to a building of the Medical Academy. It also overlooks the Rally Square (Vichevyj Maidan) by the post office.

So how did Kazimierz Wojtyło, or Bob, end up in a rural Leicestershire village? And how did his fate connect to the fact that I was born and raised in the same place? Well, he left Stanisławów in the first years of the war during the Soviet invasion of 1939-1941 of the Polish eastern borderlands that were incorporated in 1939 into the Belarusian and Ukrainian SSRs. The details I present here are based on memories of conversations with him. After being involved in some kind of partisan group in his late teens, trying to escape towards Romania, he was deported to the depths of the USSR. With the amnesty that was granted to prisoners taken there in 1939-41, Kazimierz travelled like tens of thousands of other people towards Central Asia and the Middle East with the hope of joining the Anders Army, for those who were fit and young enough, or to find their way into British-controlled areas. Kazimierz ended up in Palestine at the end of the war and was then offered a choice of destinations by the British authorities.

While his brother chose Australia, Bob chose Britain where he worked for over a decade before moving to Australia. A well-paid spell in mining in Western Australia was cut short and he returned to the coalmines of Nottinghamshire. After a few years in that job he took on the Horse & Groom pub in Queniborough, the village where he is now buried alongside his first wife and survived by his second wife. This village pub attracted local drinkers, as well as some workers from Poland who were employed by this man, reported to be Pope John Paul II’s cousin (there’s a slight difference in the spelling of the surnames). Among these Polish workers was my mother, while among the drinkers was my father (who died in 2005).

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Dąbrowica/ Дубровица train station, on the line from Lviv to St Petersburg via Belarus, taken on the day of the summer solstice in 2008. This is the home town of my grandmother. Dąbrowica/ Дубровица is now in Volhynia, NW Ukraine, while in the interwar period it was in Poland.

Now, why did my mother choose to come to Leicestershire where she first worked in the Horse & Groom, cooking and cleaning? This requires another long digression into family history, particularly that of my maternal grandmother and her relatives. My maternal grandmother was born in the early 1930s in the town of Dąbrowica (Дубровица) in the Volhynia region of what was then Poland and is now northwestern Ukraine. Her mother was of Ukrainian origin, while her father was the descendant of settlers who were awarded land and jobs in the eastern borderlands by the post-World War One Polish authorities as part of a Polonization programme. In 1939, my great grandfather – also Kazimierz – went off to fight for the Polish army and ended up in Siberia before finding his way to Scotland where he was part of the Polish air force serving alongside the RAF. He established a new family in Scotland and left behind three children who had ended up in Poland’s new postwar lands, the Recovered Territories acquired from Germany in 1945.

His wife, so my great grandmother, died on the journey from Dąbrowica/Дубровица to Germany, where she, her children and family members were taken in 1943 in a humanitarian exercise conducted by the Nazi authorities to protect Poles from ethnic violence conducted by Ukrainians in Volhynia against Poles, or – as was the case here – against people who were perceived as Polish. After marrying a Pole, my great grandmother and her family were marked out of the Ukrainian community. So in 1943, my grandmother, as a teenager, ended up in the Magdeburg region from where she moved after the war with her siblings and aunt to Poland’s new lands, settling just over the Neisse/Nysa River near Zgorzelec. In the early 1950s she the son of a family of voluntary settlers, who came to Poland’s new lands from the Tarnów area of southern Poland. My mother was born soon after and during the so-called “Carnival of Solidarity” period in early 1980s Poland, where certain travel restrictions were lifted, she managed to come to Britain initially with no intention of remaining, merely to earn enough money to buy a flat in Wrocław.

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Dąbrowica’s Roman Catholic church which is now used once a week for prayer.

However, conditions in Poland changed with the situation turning towards Martial Law at the end of 1981, so she ended up staying and marrying one of the men from the pub. So, why Leicestershire? Down the road from Dąbrowica/Дубровица in what was known as a colony or kolonia, so a new settlement founded by Polish post-WWI settlers, lived my grandmother’s first cousin. She and her family were deported in 1940 by the Soviet authorities to the depths of the USSR. Settler families were among the chief groups subject to deportation, since they were seen as agents of Polish imperialism and kulak farming.

With the amnesty, my grandmother’s cousin along with many others travelled southwards and found themselves in Central Asia before being taken by the British to what was then the British-controlled Tanganyika Territory in East Africa. Here my grandmother’s cousin married a man who came from a family in a similar situation but had lived in the Belarusian-Lithuanian borderland before he and his settler forebears were deported to the depths of the USSR. They had a daughter in East Africa, with my grandmother’s cousin’s husband even learning Swahili. He says he would have stayed in East Africa but his daughter suffered from Malaria and so they opted to move to England, ending up in a displaced persons’ camp near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire. My grandmother’s cousin’s husband’s brother, meanwhile, had opted to move to Australia, instead. Later, in the twenty first century, my grandmother’s cousin’s daughter’s son, born in Leicester, moved to Australia and ended up settling, completely by chance, in the same small village on the NSW coast where my English father’s sister and her family moved in the 1980s. Another one of those strange coincidences in family history.

Still, my grandmother’s cousin never moved from Leicestershire. My grandmother came to visit in the UK in the 1970s, visiting her cousin in Leicestershire while also having contact with her father who had settled in Scotland. My grandmother’s cousin and her family also visited Poland on several occasions in the 1970s, travelling by car to visit relatives scattered around the reshaped postwar country. This contact with the family in Leicestershire is why my mother was able to stay with them and eventually settle in the East Midlands where she remains to this day.

I was raised in a bi-lingual household, attending Polish Saturday school, acquiring a GCSE and A-Level in Polish, before studying it with German in London from 2002. I finally got around to acquiring Polish citizenship earlier this year. I visited my family in Poland basically every year of my life from the age of 9 months, then lived in Poland as an Erasmus student in 2004 before meeting the woman who would become my wife on a summer school for foreigners studying Polish held in Lublin. Only a few years after my wife, from Ivano-Frankivsk, first visited the UK did we visit Kazimierz Wojtylo, or Bob, together. While on previous visits I’d learned that he was somewhere “from the East”, he was never really given a chance to present his history as usually it was assumed on his behalf that “the young ones” won’t be interested in his story but we were simply being polite by listening.

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Дубровица Orthodox church, somewhere that my grandma used to hang out close to her home.

However, once he learned that my wife was from Stanisławów/Ivano-Frankivsk, his memories flowed and he felt like he’d finally found an audience who would listen and understood where he had come from, both in the geographical sense and in the historical sense. And Bob, too, was fascinated to learn what had happened to his home town and, like us, was genuinely baffled that somehow history had conspired to bring, in the last years of his life, living contact with his home town. He has kept some memoirs, so hopefully one day it will be possible to read those. My wife and I managed to make a short film for him, which I hope he could see something of, as his failing eyesight tried to take in the images of today’s Ivano-Frankivsk, including his city-centre flat, that we had put together just a few weeks before he passed away.

Meanwhile, in summer 2006, my wife and I visited Dąbrowica/Дубровица after I had earlier that year listened to my grandmother, her sister and their cousin describe the town. So we tried to see as much of the town and as many of the places that were significant for them in their childhoods. Unfortunately, my grandmother died in August 2006 while my wife was on her first visit to the UK so we never had the chance, beyond a description over the phone of what we saw in Dąbrowica/Дубровица, to show her how her home town had changed. She remembered it, of course, although the memories attached to it that remained most strong were traumatic, histories of the war and Polish-Ukrainian ethnic violence, as well as Soviet deportations of family members.

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Some gravestones of distant relatives that we stumbled upon in Дубровица/ Dubrovytsia.

Aside from shaping what I studied as an undergraduate, my family history also shaped my doctoral thesis. But it seems that my family’s story based around forced migration and deportation is a reflection of what, since 1989, and also in opposition memory under communism, has formed the dominant narrative in public memory, as well as in academic studies of population transfers. In a sense, my maternal grandfather’s story, the son of voluntary migrants, coming to former German lands seeking a better life or to make a quick fortune, was the basis of my thesis, so looking at the forgotten stories and experiences from the past that form today’s social realities, today’s communities.

What this blog post will have given readers, I don’t know. Perhaps an interesting story. Perhaps an indication of the complexities of identity constructions, even for the second and third postwar generation, of people whose family histories are connected to the contested Polish/Ukrainian/Belarusian/Lithuanian/Jewish/Soviet/German borderlands. My grandmother’s cousin, for example, just last week – now into her 90s – praised living in Britain in a manner more heartfelt than I’ve heard from anyone, praising the welfare state and NHS sincerely. But she still cries, like her husband, when the memories of wartime Poland and Siberia, or postwar East Africa, emerge. The scars aren’t healed. My mother maintains links to her Polish heritage, but she can’t ever see herself living in Poland again.

I now have dual nationality, but see myself as a Polish-English mix. Not British, because I lived in Scotland for about five years, and came to realise my Otherness there and the relative failure to construct a sense of Britishness that both I and the Scots I knew could identify with. My wife is purely Ukrainian, but has strong connections through her work and studies to Poland, and Polish is the language we speak mostly with each other. So what our kids will come to speak and, even more complexly, come to identify with is anyone’s guess.

Transnationality and cultural hybridity are trendy terms in cultural studies now, but this is a reality that ordinary people in provincial Poland, provincial Ukraine or provincial England, as well as Australian settlements, have been living out for decades.

And perhaps, to finish, another thing that perhaps this post will give readers is a reminder of life and death in the everyday, a peculiar jolt like the one I had when  I realised how my experience in Ukraine – a land now living up again to the ‘Bloodlands’ sobriquet given to it by historian Timothy Snyder and by history, as tragedies of conflict play out again in ordinary people’s lives – was bookended by a family birth and the death of man born in Stanisławów.

Back in the UK

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Chicken Kievs accompanied by pork patties with vegetables and salad on a table in England. I guess my mum wanted to help to acclimatise to life back in Britain.

On Thursday 5 June, my wife and I boarded a train in Ivano-Frankivsk, travelled to Kyiv and then flew to London on Friday. So since then, we have been out of Ukraine. The date was chosen as we were attending our friends’ wedding in Sheffield on Saturday. Family and work commitments mean my wife will return to Ukraine for part of the summer, but for me – the author of this blog as “UA-UK Lecturer” – my time in working and living in Ukraine is almost certainly over. I started living in Ivano-Frankivsk this time around in August 2012 after getting married in Ukraine earlier that summer. I worked for four semesters at the Precarpathian National University, adding to the semester I was employed at the university in 2008.

It is over six months now since I completed my PhD at the University of Glasgow and I have spent that time applying for various lecturing and research positions around the world. With a doctorate in something fairly obscure and interdisciplinary, so on postwar Polish social history (if you want to know, the title of my thesis is Peasants, Professors, Publishers and Censorship:  Memoirs of Rural Inhabitants of Poland’s Recovered Territories (1945-c.1970)), and with the current climate in British academia especially, where the arts and humanities are being denigrated, then finding a job or a research post is not easy. Of the ten or so posts I have applied for, there have been over one hundred applications for one post and over fifty for another. I didn’t realise there were so many unemployed or underemployed specialists in the Central and East European region.

Today, my wife and I attended a very interesting one-day symposium hosted at the University of Warwick by scholars working on Belarus and Ukraine by and large in culture and language studies. The aim was to seek to develop projects and ideas for promoting the study of these countries beyond the social sciences and within the British academic context. While Russian and even, to some extent, Polish studies are seen as successful in attracting students and  funding (Polish and Czech studies have faced struggles, though) Ukrainian and Belarusian studies have been overshadowed. And the problems discussed today were indicative of the difficulties facing young scholars in the arts and humanities, and particularly Slavonic and East European area studies: there is a lack of undergraduates coming into the field and this affects job opportunities and ultimately funding opportunities, while research funds are, anyway, harder to come by in the current environment where profits come before learning and cultural needs. Scholars working in Britain will, then, continue to face the difficult of how to represent these countries, their people and their cultures through a paradigm that is not dominated by questions of protest and opposition or by these countries being objects of Russian and Western policy.

And so, anyway, I plan to spend the summer in Britain applying for more posts and seeking to make ends meet. The question now is what to do with this blog. It seems to have built up a fairly decently-sized readership, producing some debate and dialogue. It is also something that is read more widely than anything that I have published so far in the academic sphere and, in all probability, will have a wider readership than anything I will write in future.

I am open to suggestions from readers for how to continue the blog, if at all. I have some ideas and materials collected during my time in Ivano-Frankivsk for posts that I will develop as and when possible over the coming weeks. I will keep an eye on the local news from Ivano-Frankivsk, but I don’t plan on producing news summaries. I might comment on any relevant events, although it is not really worthwhile doing so extensively without experiencing at first hand events, their consequences or responses to them.

So, your author is still here and active on this blog, but it is likely to transform over time into something different to the chronicle of the revolutionary, the political, the everyday and the culinary that it has been so far.

Thank you all for reading, from the handful of individuals who clicked on to the first posts to the hundreds who now find their way to the most recent posts. And I hope to provide more inspiration, information or infuriation in the weeks and months to come.

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.

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. 

 

“Go back to Poland”: On The Revolution of Dignity, or How a bad driver justifies his selfish parking in Frankivsk

Революція гідності

An angry driver confronts me for informing him that the Ukrainian highway code prohibits him from leaving his car on a pedestrian crossing. I was eating a sour-cherry-filled warm bun at the time and wanted to get a coffee from the place across the road with the ice cream cone.

 

Today, Ivano-Frankivsk paid tribute to three police workers from the city, formerly part of the Berkut unit, who were killed when their helicopter was shot down near to Slovyansk in Donetsk region. I will write more about the mourning later today. This episode, however, would disrupt that narrative, hence the separate post now.

I would like to stress that arseholes are encountered the world over, so this post should not be read as an “anti-Ukrainian” rant. But it should be read in the context of the past months’ events which are now sometimes referred to as the “Revolution of Dignity”, or “Революція гідності”.

So this post intends through this rather insignificant event, on the grand scale of things, to work up towards a discussion of the questions of the values and attitudes that are being discussed right now in Ukraine. It is also offers insight into something of in the microcosm of relations between society and the police, between discipline and punishment.

Having watched the funeral and the start of the procession outside Ivano-Frankivsk’s Greek Catholic Cathedral, I decided to get a small bun from Pirizhkova, a long-standing Soviet-era cafe specialising in buns, soup and wheat-based “coffee”. It could be a long march through the city, I thought, and I could do with a coffee too after a morning of editing a translation.

So with a warm, steaming bun in my hand I approached the nearby pedestrian crossing on Sichovych Striltsiv Street to go to the place with the ice cream cone outside it on the photo above. You can get really good espresso for just 3 UAH and buying coffee there probably supports the deaf-mute community of Ivano-Frankivsk, whose community centre is inside the building.

As I approached the crossing, a car was turning onto the pavement and forcing me backwards or sideways to avoid it. As many folk in Frankivsk like to do, this centrally-located parking spot right on the crossing is a convenient place to leave your motor. The more socially-conscious drivers tend to avoid parking right on a pedestrian crossing, preferring to break the Ukrainian highway code more subtly by parking within ten metres of a crossing or on any convenient sidewalk. So having no scruples about parking right on crossing improves your chances of finding somewhere to park.

As former Brit in Ukraine blogger Graham Phillips recently wrote about cultural differences now he’s back in Britain: ‘Last night I wanted to go to a pub south of the river and was just wondering which pavement to pitch up and park my car on when all the yellow lines, stern parking notices reminded me that just parking wherever you like is no longer an option.’

As I didn’t want to get bumped into by this car, I headed to the passenger side and informed the occupants calmly in my best Ukrainian that perhaps they hadn’t noticed the traffic lights they had barely just passed, but they were in fact blocking a pedestrian crossing and as such the law does not permit them to park them.

After a bit of a bizarre stand off with me in front of the VW nibbling my still-warm bun, the car slowly inching forwards, the driver got out and confronted me telling me that I should keep on walking as I wouldn’t want any trouble with him. His wife, or whoever it was, sat passively in the car. I repeated my knowledge of the Ukrainian highway code although I couldn’t finish as he recognised that something was amiss with my Ukrainian.

He found a weak point and was going to use it. “A good life is it in Poland? Why don’t you go back there, Pollack? [Polyachku]” I informed him that I’m not actually Polish even if I do have a distinctly Polish lilt and rhythm to my Ukrainian. (Readers, my citizenship status is complex, so I technically am Polish although the document I have to prove it gives me no rights yet to be a fully-recognised Pole in Poland, so for now I still feel more British, well, English in fact, as a sign of respect to Scotland, where I lived for five years.)

I replied that my nationality has little bearing on the situation, as it is the man’s parking that is the problem. I had my phone in my hand at the time and prepared to take a photo of the man and his car. The driver deemed this “a provocation” – such a familiar term in current discourse in Ukraine. “Why is some Pollack provoking me here? Go on, eat your bun. And then back to Poland.” I carried on eating my bun while the man got up close and starting shunting me with his body. I held my ground a while while he suggested I call the police. I informed him that today would be a good day to summon the police, since they were all out in town at the funeral of their colleagues, while traffic police were controlling traffic flow around the city. I asked the man, “is this the way to honour the dead, parking like this?” He replied that no Pollack is going to lecture him on patriotism. I enquired as to whether he was “a patriot, a nationalist or just a racist” – yeah, I played that card – because he thought my apparent Polishness was so significant a factor in this matter concerning his poor parking.

The suggestion that he was a racist got his goat a bit, so the shunting became more forceful, so I took a few steps back, took my photo and kept my distance. The man started to follow, threatening to “hunt me down on the Sotka”, the local nickname for the main street in the city, and will “stick your phone up your arse.” Turning to more six-form-ish taunts, I enquired as to whether he enjoyed that kind of thing before making the hand signal that suggests he is all mouth and no trousers. I carried on my way along the Sotka, at the end of  which I found some ordinary police together with traffic police and informed them of the situation.

Unsurprisingly, they weren’t exactly willing to assist as they couldn’t leave their post, or very keen to radio/phone any colleagues to see if the guy’s car was still illegally parked, but I showed them the photo and they noted the number plate. The policemen seemed to enjoy having a foreigner to talk to though about life in Frankivsk and in Ukraine.

The general reaction to this story is that this incident is really a case for Maidan Self-Defence or even Right Sector to sort out. I don’t know if those organizations would be willing to assist a “Pollack”, maybe they would. But it seems that awful parking is one area that civil society is seeking to combat in the city.

There are online campaigns, such as this one that I contributed to, but the general impact of civil society, or just good citizens, on the behaviour of ordinary people is still small, not just in terms of parking. The strongest desire, aside from improving everyday conditions is Ukraine, is to end chamstwo, boorishness, selfishness, which includes the corruption of petty officials as well as the behaviour of people on the street. Perhaps the frustrations of slow change will bring more people onto the streets.

Today I met Pan Myroslav, a one man protest outside the Regional Administration Building, who in ten minutes of chatting got a lot of support from ordinary people passing by as they entered the building to sort out some matter or other. Maybe, soon, more  will join him if things don’t change? That’s what he hoped. He also didn’t seem to mind that he was talking to an apparent Pole, in fact, he said first that he could hear some English accent in my Ukrainian above all. He has a fine ear. The local press have started to cover his protest, too.

He is protesting about people remaining in office. "Away with the unworthy from their office posts". It's catchier in Ukrainian.

He is protesting about people remaining in office. “Away with the unworthy from their office posts”. It’s catchier in Ukrainian.

As I’ve said before on these pages, the revolution won’t be won until people stop parking like arseholes. And now that in some quarters the events that have been taking place since November 2013 are now being called “The Revolution of Dignity”, the battle against arsehole drivers seems to fit the guiding principle of a Revolution of Dignity (Революція гідності).

PS: Thanks all for the feedback on this post in various fora. This seems like a great model for stickers to use in Poland. ‘For parking badly now scratch it off.‘ Here is the link to the Polish movement that is taking direct, humourous action.

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.

Election weekend in Ivano-Frankivsk: An oligarch wins the presidential election. An oligarch’s mate wins the by-election

The elections in Ukraine, and Ivano-Frankivsk, are over for now. Although, if president-elect Petro Poroshenko keeps his promise, then – quite rightly, I believe – parliamentary elections should be held by the end of this year. Ivano-Frankivsk held a parliamentary by-election in parallel with the presidential election, anyway, owing to former Svoboda deputy Oleksandr Sych taking up the post of deputy prime minister.

A Ukrainian trident formed of tea-light candles for World Inner Peace Day in front of the EU flag adorning the post office by Rally Square, Ivano-Frankivsk. 26 May 2014. Pro-European Poroshenko won the next day's election.

A Ukrainian trident formed of tea-light candles for World Inner Peace Day in front of the EU flag adorning the post office by Rally Square, Ivano-Frankivsk. 24 May 2014. Pro-European Poroshenko won the next day’s election.

The latest results suggest that voting in the presidential election in Ivano-Frankivsk more or less reflects the national result, with Poroshenko polling around 53-54% and nearest-rival Yulia Tymoshenko getting just over 13%. Whether his elaborate campaign roadshow swung voters here, is questionable. The impression I get here is that Poroshenko was not really a positive first choice, but merely seen as someone who would almost certainly win, thus it was best to get the elections over and done with, rather than permit a runoff in three weeks’ time and thus a volatile period of instability.

One of very few posters around the city supporting incumbent mayor Viktor Anushkevychus in his campaign to become a deputy in the Kyiv parliament. Displayed on a city centre bakery on 24 May, so Saturday, thus contravening electoral campaign rules.

One of very few posters around the city supporting incumbent mayor Viktor Anushkevychus in his campaign to become a deputy in the Kyiv parliament.
Displayed on a city centre bakery on 24 May, so Saturday, thus contravening electoral campaign rules. It says “Time for Decisive Action”. Something Anushkevychus generally hasn’t managed in his terms in office in the city.

 

In the parliamentary by-election, meanwhile, there was a huge swing against Svoboda. It’s candidate – this time, unlike Sych, not overtly supported as a joint candidate with Yatseniuk’s Batkivshchyna/ Fatherland party – polled just over 14%, down at least 20 points on the autumn 2012 election. The winner was controversial local businessman and Ihor Kolomoyskyy associate Oleksandr Shevchenko, who I’ve written about here, with about 37% of the vote according to the latest numbers. Shevchenko was second in 2012 and appears to have benefitted from facing weak rivals: the near-invisibility of Klitschko’s Udar candidate, a strong sense of dissatisfaction with incumbent mayor Anushkevychus (who polled about 25%) and a proliferation of younger activist candidates.

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A new German-themed steak house opened in the city last week, replacing the wonderful Zinger, a Polish-Austrian themed restaurant. Voting for Oleh Tyahnybok didn’t prove, however, to be “natürlich” for the people of Ivano-Frankivsk or indeed Ukraine.

The wheels seem to be falling off the Svoboda bandwagon, especially if it is struggling in its traditional heartland of western Ukraine and especially Ivano-Frankivsk. Oleh Tyahnybok, the party’s leader, polled around 1.16% nationally and appears to have done little better in the city. Meanwhile, the much-feared-in-Russia Dmytro Yarosh, leader of Right Sector, got less than 0.7% of the national vote, although he openly stated that he would not be campaigning actively. Still, he wasn’t short of media coverage in the election period. While Russia especially expressed strong fears of Ukrainian “fascism” and far-right extremism taking hold in Ukraine, this hasn’t materialised in terms of votes.

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Local Svoboda candidate Vasyl Popovych failed where Svoboda member and now deputy PM Oleksandr Sych won in 2012. Clearly there were some tensions between campaigns as Mykola Havryluk’s team pasted over Popovych’s face. Both campaigns broke electoral rules, still appearing on display on Saturday 24 May.

I have chronicled my observations on the far-right and nationalism in the city, too. In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Yanukovych and, in particular, the start of the occupation of Crimea, there was good reason to fear that right-wing extremism could gain a significant popular foothold in the city. Now, it seems, that hardcore of “activists” remain on the streets with their apparent faith in national revolution and holding power to account being their justification for disturbing the peace of the city, sometimes in some quite farcical ways, which nevertheless show the weaknesses of power structures in state and local authorities. These “activists” are almost exclusively now under the Maidan Self-Defence banner, with Right Sector even leaving its Tryzub/ Trident youth wing out of it now.

As for the election weekend itself in the city, it all passed without incident. On Friday evening, the popular Shuster Live talkshow rolled, partly, into town, with a live screening and cameras set up on Ivano-Frankivsk’s Vicevyj Maidan, or Rally Square. Those present could state their views on camera and interact with the studio. And quite a crowd gathered. Me speaking Polish to my wife (it’s a second language for both of us, so a fair intermediary in our everyday exchanges) attracted a bit of attention from people in the crowd, with one man proceeding to recall his experiences of travelling to Poland and much more besides.

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Shuster crowd, 23 May 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk.

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Shuster on telly on telly.

The Saturday before an election in Ukraine is supposed to be free of campaigning, with an impressive job undertaken around the city to remove campaign posters and any other materials. However, it was clear that the Poroshenko campaign was using some underhand tactics with new posters using his slogan but not mentioning his name appearing suddenly around the city. In 2012, I recall, Poroshenko’s favoured Udar party did something similar.

It was also evident that local Maidan (but not Self-Defence) activist Maksym Kytsiuk had been pasting his posters around the city on the day of “pre-electoral quiet”, as his image found itself on the outermost layer of the poster palimpsest on Saturday.

Kytsyuk local election posters cover Poroshenko posters. Both broke the rules.

Kytsyuk local election posters cover Poroshenko posters. Both broke the rules by posting and being on display on 24 May, the day before the election.

Saturday was also, apparently, World Inner Peace Day, at least in Ivano-Frankivsk, as google tells me it’s usually 21 May. Anyway, this was an occasion for a bit of new-ageism, as well as Christian calls for peace, as well as a bit of patriotism, as the opening picture in this post suggests.

On Sunday, I accompanied my wife to her designated polling station and observed the process. It is quite slow with lots of manual labour involved in registering voters who must come with their Ukrainian ID (internal passport). Then the voter’s name is checked off against one huge register, with one desk responsible for probably 500 or so voters. The voter then gets issued a ballot sheet with the top of it signed then torn off, kept by the clerk, while the voter keeps the ballot which includes a brief biography of each candidate. Then the process repeats for local elections. Luckily my wife’s address was processed at the same desk, although some addresses meant voters had to queue twice. Then, after voting behind a curtain, both ballots go into the same transparent, sealed box. Some Russian media, as well as western journalists, saw pictures from Kyiv of one voter depositing four ballots and ballot stuffing. But there they were voting for national president, city mayor, council party lists and candidate lists.

Polling station queue on Novhorodska Street, around 13:30, 25 May 2014.

Polling station queue on Novhorodska Street, around 13:30, 25 May 2014.

Around the city it was clear that some polling stations were overwhelmed by the number of voters, with the bureaucratic procedures also lending themselves to queues. Polling stations are in various buildings, ranging from the Regional Administration through the student halls where my wife voted through to a vodka factory in the Knyahynyn district, as this news report shows.

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Knyahynyn spirits factory impressive stained glass.

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Knyahynyn Spirits factory as a polling station

On Saturday we took a walk around this interesting area of Frankivsk, just off the main road to Lviv out of the city, yet possessing the air of a village. Indeed, it was one of the two founding villages that were merged into the original city of Stanislaviv once it expanded beyond its fortress limits. Some of the roads here, meanwhile, seem to resemble the conditions that might have existed when the city was founded by Polish nobles in the mid-seventeenth century. Something for the new local MP Shevchenko to get to work on, perhaps?

Crap road, and not the only one, in Ivano-Frankivsk.

Crap road, and not the only one, in Ivano-Frankivsk.

In the late afternoon I headed to the Hirka (Górka) Stadium, just behind the Polish church in the city, to watch the second leg of the first round of the regional cup. Teplovyk (Heating Plant Worker) Ivano-Frankivsk beat Enerhetyk (Energy Plant Worker) Burshtyn 9:0 to secure an 11:2 aggregate win. The first-leg result seemed like something of a miracle for Enerhetyk judging by this result, while the goalkeeper from Burshtyn pulled off quite a few stunning saves to keep things in single figures. The quality of the football wasn’t too bad from Teplovyk who are now Frankivsk’s leading team following the bankruptcy of once-top-flight Prykarpattya (formerly Spartak) when they were owned by… new local MP Shevchenko!

Hirka/ Górka Stadium, home to Teplovyk Ivano-Frankivsk, 9:0 winners over Enerhetyk Burshtyn

Hirka/ Górka Stadium, home to Teplovyk Ivano-Frankivsk, 9:0 winners over Enerhetyk Burshtyn

It seems that there is still a healthy appetite for football in the city, with a crowd of some 300 attending this match in bright sunshine (until a storm just before the end). Pensioners mingled with younger men, youths and families at this neat stadium. According to the men I spoke to at the local football association office next to the university, the regional league took a break for the elections, so this cup competition was launched to tide things over.

Teplovyk’s rivals, Enerhetyk Burshtyn -from a town with a huge power and heating plant near to Ivano-Frankivsk – are sponsored by Svoboda. It seems that the team’s luck resembles that of the Party. Heavy losses all round.

Svoboda sponsor Enerhetyk Burshtyn. Not much luck here either, 9:0 losers.

Svoboda sponsor Enerhetyk Burshtyn. Not much luck here either, 9:0 losers.

The trip to the football was intended to crown what I had planned as “British weekend” in Frankivsk, starting with an English breakfast in one café, lunch in an English-style theme pub before supper at Churchill restaurant by the market square. Unfortunately, extra teaching meant I missed breakfast while Churchill was booked out for the day. So, that plan – it’s not a patriotic gesture on my part, as I don’t consider myself British, or even English – to explore concepts of identity, foreignness and globalisation as experienced in Ivano-Frankivsk will be saved for another week. Although, I did make it to one of the many “stock” shops here, buying some shorts to cope in the heat wave. Mine was called Euroshop, though, whereas it seems Britain is associated more with second-hand clothes…

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The entrance to “The World of Second Hand” on Novhorodska Street in the city centre

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Fashion Point, with British and European second-hand clothes.

In western Ukraine, at least, election weekend passed peacefully, with everyday life carrying on. Although the consequences of the election – for everyday life, for living standards, and for the state of Ukraine – remain to be seen. And it seems that a large part of the outcome won’t be decided in western Ukraine, but in the south and east where armed struggled continues. Although, perhaps, if things quickly unravel for Poroshenko and the current government, ordinary Ukrainians might begin to again ask whether their protests in the winter of 2013/14 were for this:
An oligarch wins the presidential election. An oligarch’s mate wins the by-election.

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

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

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

Shevchenko's concert in no way electioneering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All cleared up again after yesterday’s farcical encore

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

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Padlocked gates of Ivano-Frankivsk, 19 May 2014.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

In the Now, 15 May 2014, Russia Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

PrivatBank terrorist van graffiti. Kolomoyskyy owns the bank.

PrivatBank terrorist van graffiti. Kolomoyskyy owns the bank.

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

Kolomoyskyy Zhidobanderivets

Kolomoyskyy Zhidobanderivets

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

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

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

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

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

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