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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



Fake Heritage, Slow Fast Food, a Glossy Magazine and a Book

The situation in Ukraine remains perilous – with the Russian annexation of Crimea, the uncertainty over who is ruling in Kyiv and the rise of the far-right into positions of power within local and national structures of authority. However, as this blog hopefully reflects, in contrast to what remains the focus of the general media, in everyday life a certain normality or normalisation is (re)-emerging. An everyday order that has emerged as a mixture of what went before Euromaidan, the revolution and Crimea, and something new, overshadowed by tragedy, danger and fear.

So, although the most popular posts here have been about Right Sector and far-right marches, there’s little new to report on that front. I’m  not hiding or censoring anything – simply, there was a purge of right-wing imagery from public spaces, the revived rallies were largely a failure, while protesters claiming to represent the people of the Ivano-Frankivsk region have disappeared from the police HQ and instead their leaders seem content to occupy, now legitimately with keys and suits rather than violently, offices within the regional administration.

When there were demonstrations, protests, arson attacks or torchlight processions, this blog covered it. Now there are none, the everyday prevails. Hence the perhaps, for some, flippant title and subject matter of today’s post.


For several years, a historical building – namely a brewery first opened in 1767 – in the centre of Ivano-Frankivsk close to the market on Novhorodska Street was being renovated which here, most often, equates to a complete rebuilding. This is what happened in the case of the city brewery which under communist rule and indeed in the early years of independent Ukraine still produced beer. (My father-in-law chose this company for his free shares that were issued to all Ukrainians at the time of marketisation of the economy. Not a wise choice, it turned out, although the rest of my wife’s family chose better, opting for the local energy company.)

The brewery closed down and fell into disrepair, a situation so grave that the old brewery was torn down and replaced with this replica, or simulacrum, belonging to the category of fake heritage. It is now a restaurant belonging to the local chain Royal Burger.


The plaque here states that this building is ‘a monument of architecture’, so the equivalent of being listed in Britain. It was the ‘malthouse of a brewery’ and is protected under No 1137-N. ‘It is protected by the state and any damage is punishable by law.’

It is noticeable that this plaque, unlike others in the city, makes no mention of the year of construction. It is unclear how this building can be considered a ‘monument of architecture’ and a listed building when it is a replica. And if damage is punishable by law, then whoever gave permission for this “reconstruction” and then for Royal Burger to take over the building without making any effort on the internal decoration to reference the building’s heritage should be prosecuted.


For some reason, the architects decided to attempt some fake authenticity by leaving two fried-egg-shaped patches of uncovered brick, as if the plaster had fallen off the walls of this brand new construction. Indeed, beneath these plaster cast prostheses of authenticity there is one of the few signs of any history to the building. The bared bricks reveal the names of Polish and presumably Austrian brick companies, a handful of which may have been salvaged from the original. However, such bricks are easy to come by and theme pubs around the area are full of them without making any pretence to authenticity.


If you want some genuine plaster-falling-off-the-walls experiences, then you don’t have to walk far. You could walk fifty metres around the corner to see this building.


Or you could just look out of the window of Royal Burger and see across the road another building that belongs/belonged to the brewery complex. It won’t be long at all now until this building disappears from the city’s architectural landscape. Unlikely to be replaced by the Royal-Burger-type fake heritage, I’d imagine an apartment block springing up in this prime real estate location quite soon.


The situation is quite desperate, as the back wall has partly collapsed, even if the walls appear quite smooth and may have been treated in the not-too-distant past, perhaps when the brewery was still active.



Further attempts at referencing the heritage and history of the building are evident in including the name of the owners who took over the brewery in the nineteenth century, the Sedelmajers, who took over from the founders of the city, the Potockis, who had owned the brewery. The link that provided that information also notes that the original promise in 2007 was that a condition of rebuilding was that beer would continue to be brewed on the site. That never happened, of course.

A further attempt at referencing the history of the building is in the writing forged – an apt word – into the windows. It states ‘Piwo w Stanislawowie’, which doesn’t really make any sense reading it. It means ‘Beer in Stanislawow’, with the ‘l’ appearing particularly inauthentic as it ought to be a Polish ‘ł’. If anything, it should say ‘Piwo z Stanisławowa’, Beer from Stanisławów, or better still actually refer to the name of the beer once made there, Stanisławowskie.

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This is perhaps the most egregious example of a masking of the destruction of the city’s heritage in the twenty first century, although the destruction of buildings continues apace whether deliberately, by allowing huge apartment blocks to spring up on the site of small, one-storey houses, or by allowing old buildings to fall deliberately into disrepair before being replaced more cheaply and by more profitable buildings that pay lip-service, if that, to what had been there.


Inside Royal Burger there is no attempt to even make passing reference to the building’s history. It is simply a generic fast-food joint that even in its menu effaces any indication that this building is in Ukraine or central Europe. Even McDonald’s make the effort, when moving into another foreign country, to make food which include some citation of local ingredients or classic dishes. The menu at Royal Burger is a purely generic interpretation of what was once American-style fast food. And the name and logo themselves reflects the building, as a kind of rip off of Burger King.


My wife and I got some food in the restaurant – if I frame these whims as anthropological expeditions, I get away with doing a lot more stuff like this with her and have a chance of eating unhealthy food. I opted for the signature dish, the Royal Burger, er, Royal Burger meal. It’s two meat patties – possibly a pork and beef mix, that’s what it tasted like – in a sesame seed bun with decent sauce and salad. The chips were pretty decent, to be honest. However, the burger was problematic.

Unlike Burger King, these patties were not flame grilled, more slopped in some oil and fried or heated a bit, school-dinner style. And they were of an odd size and oddly positioned, so being smaller than the bun they shifted about like hockey pucks and meant the whole burger was quickly destroyed, falling into pieces and the salad going everywhere.


The coke that accompanied the burger meal only arrived after about fifteen minutes, together with this Caesar Salad. To be fair, the salad was definitely fresh as when we ordered we were told there would be a wait while it was prepared, so perhaps defying the idea of fast food, and it was pretty alright. And both meals, the burger and the salad, were brought to our table. We won’t be going back to Royal Burger, as it’s quite pricey for what you get, and not really a nice place to be, especially with the horrors wrought upon the building.


Now, in media news, a bit of shameless self promotion. I found out today that I have been featured in a glossy magazine, Ivano-Frankivsk’s Versal which is like Vogue in terms of content and approach. For anyone who hasn’t read Ukrainian Vogue, it’s quite an upmarket magazine that includes some serious social commentary and cultural news, alongside loads of adverts. This magazine, Versal, aspires to that. A former student got in touch and asked for my views. So I wrote an email, having not eaten for forty eight hours, as it was while I was suffering from food poisoning. So were I fully functioning, I may have said something more profound on my debut in a glossy magazine. (This was not the interview with a journalist I mentioned in a previous blog – that’s still to come out).


So on the cover of this ‘fashion magazine’, aside from the adverts, the featured topics are ‘Sexual training in Ivano-Frankivsk?’ (Answer: you might have to go to Lviv for now.); The Psychosomatics of Women; and Be Trendy – Love Ukrainian products.


Inside, a feature with yours truly above an advert for a very good restaurant, Franko, which seems to be getting into austerity mode by promoting its three-course deal for 75 UAH, now less than £5 ($8) with the gradual collapse of the currency. The transliteration of my surname is technically correct but stylistically questionable, but not qualms as my words aren’t changed too much (Ukrainian journalistic practice isn’t always up to scratch on this point). I talk about my rising awareness of the seriousness of the situation in Ukraine in November 2013, trying to get students then to realise the same, while I end on an appeal for people here not to live in fear of the minor powers who have demanded bribes in the past and to rise above that. Then I make a call for people to realise the multicultural, multinational history of the city, rather than submit to the quixotic but ultimately dangerous appeal of nationalism, which writing this email in late February I sensed was on the rise. Indeed, a day later the torchlight procession took place.


What is particularly touching is that I have been included in a feature which presents ‘conscious, passionate Ivano-Frankivskians’, three people who talk about ‘what to do to make things better in their own country’. I have been accepted as a full resident of the city, and indeed even an honorary Ukrainian! I recall that when I first posted about the torchlight procession, a response even from people who have been friends and colleagues for years was that I didn’t have the authority to write and that people could do what they want in ‘their city’. Implicitly, despite having spent over two years living here, even friends didn’t judge that the city could ever be mind, I’d always be an outsider.

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It’s also nice to feature in a magazine that it so eclectic – social commentary alongside adverts for ‘Hair Empire’ salon and a wonderfully insightful history of Hutsul, so local mountain-dwellers, jewellery and traditions.

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This evening, meanwhile, my wife and I attended the booklaunch of a collection of articles written since November 2013 by five leading male Ukrainian authors. Four – Taras Prokhasko, Ivan Tsyperdiuk, Yuriy Andrukhovych and Yuriy Vinnychuk were present today in Ivano-Frankivsk, while Serhij Zhadan was absent, possibly still recovering after being badly beaten up during what proved to be fatal protests in Kharkiv earlier this month. The book is title ‘Euromaidan: Chronicle of Perceptions/Feelings (відчуття)’.

The four authors spoke, but did not enter into discussion, then read from their book. It would possibly have been more interesting to have attended their talk held at 5pm at Hotel Stanislaviv, rather than this 6:30 pm meeting at Ye Bookshop, but I had other commitments. Here there was some attempt, I felt, particularly by Andrukhovych, to overstate his role and literary figures’ role more generally in the protests. However, he did have interesting insights into censorship practices employed until the collapse of the Yanukovych regime, with the entire block he was staying in in Kyiv having its internet quite literally cut – the cable was removed – once the authorities worked out he was blogging and translating from there.

Vinnychuk was the most humourous and irreverent of the four, while the whole book generally should give something of an impression of the changing emotions, feelings and perceptions as the protests then revolution proceeded. The local press have covered this book in more detail here.

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It is useful and insightful that the authors have chronicled their articles, their views, as this will prove a useful document in challenging the totalising narratives and histories that will inevitably emerge shortly and continue to be battled over in future, as to what the real “Euromaidan” or “revolution” was. Here, five authors with differing views and experiences, who themselves changed their minds and their feelings changed over time, create a stumbling block to that kind of totalising claim, even if the role of literary figures might come to be exaggerated somewhat, as it has done in the past (Milan Kundera, looking at you).

In an architectural aside, the ceiling and colour scheme more generally differs very little from that in Royal Burger. But the Ye Bookshop is an evidently new building with no pretence to heritage.

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And to finish off for today, two posters from the university – No to War in Ukrainian and Russian, both accompanied by calls to reject bribes. The two strands of what seems to concern Ukrainians here most right now in one place – a civil revolution and saving the country from war.

Warning Strike: Not a resounding success



At the university today, there was no evidence of the strike. Between 12:00 and 13:00 most lectures proceeded as normal, while no students or staff protested on university grounds. However, local press estimate that between several hundred and a couple of thousand people did gather outside the barricaded municipal and regional administration building (aka the White House). Around Ukraine there were various other gatherings in municipal places or by workplaces. However, it is hard to argue that the warning strike, chiefly promoted by Vitaliy Klitschko’s UDAR party and the trades unions, was a resounding success or, indeed, that it generated much social resonance at all.

Health and Safety in Practice: An Update from Room 813.


This week, I led a seminar on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the room allocated was 813, meaning we were on the highest floor of the Humanities Block.

Before examining the conditions of Winston Smith’s arrest and the threats of Room 101, I discussed with students their options for escaping room 813 in case of fire. The first suggestion was a parachute, although no one had packed one. The second, less ironic suggestion, was to use the central staircase, with the students aware that the emergency exit was shut. Asked why that staircase was shut, one student replied “because there are no fires or emergencies, the university doesn’t need to keep it open”. I had to explain that the Ukrainian name for emergency exit literally means ‘spare exit’, thus the idea is that it is used only when necessary. It seems that this student had neatly internalised doublethink, the logic of the university authorities.

Asking the students what fire safety equipment they expected as a minimum, the leading student in the class responded ‘water supply’. It seems that expectations have been lowered to the university’s level. Asked what good a water supply is without a hose – since there are no hoses anywhere in the Humanities Block – one student replied that she could wet her clothes. Evidently, some fire safety techniques had been imparted to the students in the course of their Occupational Health and Safety classes, which third years also take. Wetting her clothes would probably prevent some degree of burning and make burning to death slightly less painful. As far as I could learn, the third years’ lessons on Occupation Health and Safety consist of exercises in basic physics, given the teacher’s specialism. I’m not sure if one of the questions is, “how long would it take a student weighing 55kg to hit the ground if she jumped from the window on the eighth floor of a burning building?”

Asked why the university holds it staff and students in disdain, the students looked quite shocked at the thrust of the question. Asked why they don’t complain, there was further evidence that the students had internalised the logic of the system. ‘They’d tell us there’s no money, so there’s no sense in complaining’. The university’s imagined word is final. There was some consternation, however, that the university’s Inner Party in the Central Block was protected by fire extinguishers and hoses, although there was little willingness to recognise that they were being left to fend for themselves in a death trap of a building, with their tuition fees being squandered elsewhere.

If the university has managed to impart any knowledge effectively, then its version of doublethink, crimestop and logical obedience is it.

Health and Safety in Practice: The University


The university’s largest building is the Humanities Block, which is nine storeys high and about forty metres long. With some twenty-thirty lecture theatres, seminar rooms and offices on each floor, as well as cafes and libraries, it can accommodate – I would imagine – between 2,500 and 3,500 students, lecturers and other employees at any time. Most of the time, all rooms are taken meaning that the building is always full. There are two entrances from outside either side of the building, while the Humanities Block can be accessed through the Central Building as there are walkways connecting the entire main campus. The Humanities Block has only one central staircase to move up and down, and four lifts, although only two are accessible to students and are always overcrowded between classes. The building features fire escapes, including one emergency staircase, but none of the exits nor the emergency staircase function. The above photograph shows students smoking outside one exit which is locked shut in a system of double doors. The first door from inside the building is also locked, with the writing on the window stating ‘No Exit’, while on the door to the right it states ‘Emergency Exit’ and below ‘The Key is With the Caretaker’. No student or staff member could identify where the caretaker might be.


On each floor of the Humanities Block towards the end of the longer side of the corridor is a door like this one. The red writing states ‘Emergency Exit’ and the green ‘Exit’. On each floor, however, the door is locked with a key. It could be quite easy to rip the door open, were there to be a fire, although it is unlikely that such a manoeuvre would save many lives because it would lead to this exit onto the street.


The first problem, evident here, is that this car is blocking any free exit from the building, as well as access by emergency vehicles. The path to the door is also blocked by snow, so it could be difficult to open. However, the main problem is thus:Image

The fire exit is padlocked shut, and there is no indicator that the caretaker has the key. Furthermore:


the fire exit is filled with junk and rubbish, meaning that any students and staff who escaped down the marked fire exit would most probably find themselves trapped in the doorway, unable to access the exit which is locked shut.

There is no evidence of fire safety equipment on any of the eight floors. There are several cupboards on the walls of each floor marked with fire safety equipment, however they appear to be solely taps or pumps enabling firemen and firewomen to connect their hoses – if they can get into the building given the cars blocking the entrance – to a water supply.


Despite having classes on Occupational Health and Safety, it seems that students – like staff – in this block have no way of knowing what the fire safety procedure is, likewise they have no way of protecting themselves, since there are no fire extinguishers, sprinklers or alarms to set off in the entire building, as far as I could see. There is, however, a notice – but only on the fourth floor – indicating what should be done.


The notice, apart from being situated so high as to be illegible, is partly damaged and is also ten years old, coming from 2004, predating even the Orange Revolution. Meanwhile, the lift instructions are written solely in Russian – a fact that is quite probably anti-constitutional – and date from the USSR.


These instructions, apart from being rusted, do not seem to give an indication of the procedure for using the lift in a fire.

It might be all bad news if, like half the university, you are based in the Humanities Block – but head to the Central Building and you’ll seen an improvement in fire safety. There is a transitional zone, however, located on the bridge between buildings, where some of the largest lecture theatres are located:


Here there are instructions on what number to call in case of fire, and a suggestion of a fire extinguisher, absent from the Humanities Block. However, you will need to look for the elusive caretaker again in this transitional zone:


If you open the cupboard, you will find this notice, telling you that the fire hose is with the caretaker at the porter’s office. If you go there, however:


The caretaker is at a different porter’s office. But at least you can finally help yourself to a fire extinguisher. It is merely 150 metres back to the Humanities Block and then a brisk climb to whatever floor happens to be on fire. There are also buckets and spades which might help.

But if you carry on deeper into the Central Building, into the Physics Department, then there is an abundance of fire safety equipment – quite sensible, really, given the type of experiments taking place.



Here, in a steel box that itself seems to have been fire damaged, there is a powder fire extinguisher and a hose. There are at least four such boxes, all fully-equipped, on a corridor barely one third of the length of one of the floors in the Humanities Block. It might also help that this department is adjacent to the administrative centre of the university, thus fire safety equipment will obviously be of a superior standard. However, should the administration or the Physics department, or indeed the equally well-protected sports department, need to flee, they will find their emergency exits blocked, too, albeit blocked to a higher standard.


This ground-level fire exit is shuttered, meaning that all staff and students caught in an emergency would need to flee through one major exit door, or try to escape through the corridors and bridges into other buildings.

This photo essay reveals the insufficient fire protection for staff and students at the university. In combination, however, with the information gained from attending the lecture on Occupational Health and Safety in the Workplace, it becomes evident that there is a complete systematic failure which is indicative of a broader problem within the education system, as students are loaded with information from lecturers which bears little relevance to reality. According to today’s lecture, each institution is responsible for monitoring health and safety, and can be subject to inspections – as is typical in any sphere in today’s Ukraine – from numerous state bodies. However, these bodies seem best equipped to deal with the aftermath of a disaster rather than preventing one. Indeed, one of the main organisations responsible for workplace health and safety is the Trade Union, whose office – happily – sits on one of the well-protected corridors, rather than in the death trap Humanities Block. Beyond offering flowers on birthdays and at funerals, the Trade Union at the university seems powerless – even if in the Euromaydan protests trade unions from other spheres are proving active and supportive. Today’s lecture also outlined very clearly the causes of accidents, including “unsatisfactory workplace conditions” and “neglect” by individuals for supervising these conditions, but not only did the lecturer fail to apply this to the surrounding reality at this university, but the class was structured in such a way as to offer no opportunity to make such a point.

Further, the atmosphere of fear and intimidation the generally prevails in student-lecturer relations, particularly in areas outside the students’ core subjects, means that students are unlikely to raise any queries. At the moment, from speaking to some students, it seems that the Euromaydan protests (revolution) are framed as a worthier cause, meaning that any such everyday protests seem irrelevant. However, prior to the protests there was also little indication of a thrust towards questioning any failings by authorities within the university. The wait for a top-down revolution remains, with many students blind to the fact that Euromaydan began as a grassroots, civic rebellion against careless, neglectful authorities.

Staff, too, largely wait idly for change or deny it could ever come, regardless of abuses of their terms of employment. Contracts state that the university is obliged to provide all necessary conditions for safe and fruitful employment. Starting at a base and basic level, there is no toilet paper in any toilet I have encountered at the university.


When I raised this point at a staff meeting in another department to the one I am now employed in, I was told that “that’s what we have the part-time students’ exams for”. Humour helps, but even with revolution or an urge towards an imagined “Europe”, everyday conditions will be a long time in changing.

Health and Safety in Theory: The Lecture.

This week and next, all students in years, 1-3 and 5 attend almost exclusively lectures, rather than seminars, which is traditional for the start of term. (Fourth years are away on apprenticeships in schools.) This means that I have no teaching at university. I have instead decided to attend informally lectures given by staff not in my home department. There is a formal procedure that can be conducted to gain permission to attend other lecturers’ classes – and indeed there is a requirement within departments to conduct ‘mutual visits’, so attending colleagues’ classes and assessing them; however, since I am unlikely to be given permission to attend officially, I am visiting lectures “undercover” and conducting, effectively, participant observation. I am of course recognised by my students but not by the staff.

This post concerns by experience of attending lectures in a course titled ‘Occupational Health and Safety’ (Охорона праці). This course is compulsory for fifth year students taking both the ‘specialist’ (equivalent to a PGDip) and the Master’s course. The course involves six hours of lectures and twelve hours of seminars in the second semester only, and follows on from work done in the third year. The Ukrainian university system involves significant numbers of compulsory courses – indeed students here have no choice at any point in their course choices – which are not related to their core subjects of foreign languages.

I observed this lecture in Occupational Health and Safety because it is one of the courses students typically have complained about as being irrelevant. Equally, it is a course that could offer insight into something of a tension between theory and practice in terms of health and safety in the workplace. I also observed the lecture for indication of student behaviour, as well as staff responses. 

Today’s lecture was given by a woman who, like many staff here, appeared to be well over the state retirement age but has no intention of retiring, as it is possible to collect a full salary and a full salary-related state pension. The lecture began after fifteen minutes of administration, so partially checking attendance registers, while issuing a warning that she would be patrolling the lecture theatre (with some 100+ students) and checking that students were taking notes. She never carried out this threat, although once the lecturer lost control of the room – about 35 minutes in to her lecture – she again threatened the same, while singling out one student for laughing. Her attitude to the student was quite brutal, on the one hand, stating that “it’s rare for me to remember a particular student but when I do, the student will wish it had never happened.” She then used the informal ty, so like a French tous, when a Vy, vous, is normal, to tell the female student that she would be the first to answer in seminars next week. On the other hand, the lecturer was quite witheringly humourous in her put downs, noting that this student was sitting between two lads and this would obviously make anyone smile. Apart from those two lads, there were just two other males, including myself, in the room.

The content of the lecture was delivered fairly clearly and quite slowly, to the extent that I had no problem in following and taking notes. The theme of the lecture was Accidents, Injuries and Occupational Sickness in the Field of Education. Six questions were to be covered, from a typology of accidents and work-related illnesses through how to conduct investigations into workplace accidents, correct procedure, up to the question of monitoring of workplace health and safety. Factual information was given, with it becoming clear which statements the lecturer expected students to copy down verbatim in order to be able to repeat legal and technical definitions in the course exam. There was an outline of the procedure to take if an accident should occur in a school or university, or on an educational trip. The question that arose for me from this was, why was all this information being transmitted to every single student when a more sensible approach would be to ensure each department or school had a recognised health and safety officer? Equally, the insight into the state bureaucracies that needed to be informed of an accident, and which forms needed to be submitted and when, showed that for anyone involved in an accident, or that person’s families, it will not necessarily be easy to establish who was responsible for an accident.

Another interesting insight was in the section on work-related illnesses. In education, the lecturer stated,  most likely illnesses for staff would be related to chemical issues caused by an unsuitable working environment or a negative impact on vision caused by using a computer. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to ask questions, so I did not get to inquire as to the psychosocial factors affecting psychological wellbeing, since it seems that in Britain at least, education professionals suffer significantly from stress. I imagine that in Ukraine, given that lecturers have a workload four times more intensive that their colleagues in Poland, for example, while students have at least 25% more hours than the average European student, that stress and depression must be higher here, even if it is not diagnosed officially. Psychosocial factors were mentioned, but only as causes of workplace accidents – meaning that a person under stress could neglect their duties or make a mistake, causing an accident. The workplace environment was never deemed a cause of psychological illness.

This is a rough outline of the lecture which, according to students, is effectively repeated three times, rather than any lecture giving additional insight beyond additional details into the Health and Safety process at work. In terms of behaviour, almost all students seemed to stop paying significant attention after 30 minutes, while some never engaged with the lecturer actively despite initial threats.

What was insightful for me was the outline of apparent chains of responsibility for university occupational health and safety, something that I will discuss in the following post which explores some workplace realities of health and safety.


The writing on the window and door reads: (lower left) No exit; (top right) Emergency exit; (lower right) Key is with the caretaker.

Winter Barricades in Ivano-Frankivsk

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

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

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

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

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


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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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