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.


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

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.


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.

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.


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

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

Frankivsk Armoured Personnel Carrier Farce enters interval

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

2014-05-06 13.27.50

APC Frankivsk 6 May 2014 outside police HQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armoured Personnel Carrier in Frankivsk: The Farce Continues

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

APC outside Ivano-Frankivsk police HQ, 5 May 2014

APC outside Ivano-Frankivsk police HQ, 5 May 2014

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

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

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

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

2014-05-05 13.47.06 2014-05-05 13.47.44 2014-05-05 13.44.42 2014-05-05 13.47.55

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New sushi restaurant opens on Frankivsk's main street

New sushi restaurant opens on Frankivsk’s main street

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

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

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

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.

Browar Logo Browar

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.

An Uneventful Walk to Work and Back: The Everyday in Post-Revolution Ivano-Frankivsk and a purge of nationalist imagery



Today I went to work, came home, then went out to work again. I ate some soup and a pastry in a Soviet-style cafe between lessons. The day was thoroughly uneventful. Unlike Wednesday, when I walked around two miles to work through the city and encountered a blockade of the police HQ on the way there then a march by Right Sector (Правий Сектор) on the way back, nothing of note happened.

Since this blog has drawn a lot more attention recently, and sometimes from people seeking confirmation of theories of a neo-Nazi or “Banderite” takeover of Ukraine or western Ukraine, I think it’s only fair to draw attention to how most days for me, like for almost everyone in the city, pass in thoroughly unremarkable circumstances. If it weren’t for watching the news, it would be difficult to tell from walking through Ivano-Frankivsk today, and I covered a good five miles on foot today in the centre and beyond, that this was a post-revolutionary city in a country under threat of war or losing part of its territory.

At university today, I took the lift to the eighth floor. This is unusual for me, but I was travelling with a friend and colleague. As we waited on the ground floor, I noticed some light-fittings for the first time. They’re quite elegant, in a traditional Hutsul (western Ukrainian mountain folk) style of wood carving. I pointed out to my friend these lights and she responded, “You always notice these inconsequential things. Are you going to put that on Facebook too, on your blog? There’s a war coming and you talk about light fittings.” Since we hadn’t mentioned the threat of war yet that day, it seems that my approach in this blog is somewhat misunderstood by some here as indicative of an uncaring attitude to the fate of Ukraine. However, that is far from the case. It is merely my position that even in the greatest of tragedies, the everyday goes on. And so it has and will here. As I replied, “Even if war comes and Russian come, babushkas will still be selling cheese down the market.”


On Saturday, as my wife and I travelled to Kolomyja, our marshrutka (local bus) to the station was largely empty of passengers but filled with bags of homemade dairy products, including cheese being transported to the central market by people who had clearly arrived – judging from their variant of Ukrainian – from villages outside the city to trade. The group got off the bus and, having made a phone call, a pre-arranged carter arrived to take their produce to the market for them. This kind of getting by will continue, I imagine, perhaps with a less reliable bus service.


The trip to Kolomyya also made me more sensitive to the relative absence in Ivano-Frankivsk of European Union symbols in the city, with the EU flag having been sidelined from the balcony used for rallies in the city. This morning I noticed a rubbish truck taking away the bins on my way back from university, with this part of an EU-sponsored refuse collection scheme in the city. The photo below is one that proved particularly inspirational in the early days of Euromaidan for me to begin this blog and to consider the European prospects of Ukraine. The bin below still stands, next to the tent which has occupied the Vichevyj Maidan (Rally Square) by the post office since November, while the EU flag behind it also remains in place.

The central administrative services building, above, also bears the EU flag, like most administrative buildings here, while I also noticed an EU flag conjoined with the Ukrainian flag on an illegally-parked car by the theatre.


What was particularly noticeable on the Vichevyj Maidan today, a site of various noticeboards for different political parties, was that there had been a purge of nationalist posters, imagery and stickers that had plagued the site. On this shrine to the victims killed on Maidan, one solitary UNSO sticker remained, while instead ordinary people’s attempts at poetry, as well as flower and photos, prevailed.


The recruitment posters to UNSO, urging the expansion of its paramilitary force, had largely disappeared, with this poster being the only new addition to the repertoire. It urges the recruitment of 14-25 year olds to attend training camps in the Carpathian Mountains.


The purge of stickers, meanwhile, revealed something of the layers of the palimpsest beneath the more recent pro-European and nationalist posters, some of which had come to dominate the board of the liberal-conservative National Movement (Narodnyj Rukh) party. Here above the ripped EU poster and a partially torn-down UNSO recruitment sticker, there is an old Patriot of Ukraine (who admit to being ‘Social Nationalists’ with no qualms) sticker. The sticker condemns mass emigration from Ukraine as it encourages immigration of foreigners. As the sticker shows 7m white Ukrainians left the country. 7m dark foreigners or ‘aliens’ came in. And this ‘= occupation’. The slogan at the bottom says, ‘Stay in YOUR country.’ Presumably I would be one of those 7m aliens they want out?


An irony, meanwhile, of the ageing induced over time on the faded older posters is that this nationalist poster, once red and black, is now orange and black, recalling the ribbon of St George worn by pro-Russian fighters and sympathisers in eastern Ukraine. It is associated with the deeds of the Red Army and the Russian Empire. The poster states, ‘We will defend the Ukrainian language – we will save the nation and the state! We will break the spine of Ukrainophobes! Beat [as in hit] the enemies of Ukraine! Glory to the Nation! Death to the Enemies!’ This is a poster for the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), associated with UNSO.

What this uncovering of the palimpsest of posters suggests is that despite the chanting of slogans and marches becoming more commonplace since the outbreak of Euromaidan and the revolution, the tone of posters from this end of the nationalist spectrum has actually become more moderate. Perhaps thus indicating the urge towards seeking greater popular appeal.

Below the faded nationalist poster there are traces of support for European integration as well as offers of loans and flats for rent.


The Svoboda board has also become more moderate, with the baseball-bat wielding Maidan revolutionary Shevchenko replaced by a poster advertising a reading of Maidan poetry organised the Prosvita Society and the regional Women’s Community organisation. 21 March at 16:00 at Prosvita, for those interested. The pro-European nature of the original protests is evident, alongside religious imagery, as well as a curious use of graffiti-style writing stating ‘The heroes of Maidan will not be forgotten.’

The sticker at the top right was common around the centre, calling for a boycott of EpiCentr, basically the Ukrainian B&Q which was (is?) owned by two Party of Regions figures.


Here the consequences of the purge of the Svoboda board are evident, with just one UNSO recruitment poster remaining.


This recruitment poster, meanwhile, stuck on the main entrance to the central post office had survived for over a week. Beyond the yellow poster stating that ‘Administrative services [offered by the Regional Administration] have been simplified. Use the post’ – this is a post-revolution initiative – there was a recruitment poster until about 10 seconds after I took this photo. It was not stuck on very well, so I ripped it off and binned it.


On Vichevyj Maidan, opposite the post office, there is the headquarters of the local office of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists and UNSO. It has been there for years, as have the portraits of the famed nationalist leaders Konovalets, Bandera and Shukhevych.


They share a building with the National Party of Ukraine, who were keen to purge their noticeboard of their neighbours’ imagery. This party merged with the Rukh movement, which was associated with one of the leading figures of Soviet-era Ukrainian democratic opposition, Vyacheslav Chornovil. He became a leading politician in independent Ukraine until his death in a car crash in 1999, when he was expected to challenge Kuchma for the presidency. His death is considered by many to have been suspicious.


This his memorial (sorry for the poor quality) on the building that now houses the Rukh party offices in the city, which in the early days of the civil revolution in the city in November and December was the informal headquarters for those representing civil society and those prepared to spend evenings on Maidan in the city or travel to Kyiv. The current situation of the party is not really clear as it split between different factions in parliament. However, inside the building, there is a celebration of Chornovil’s life and Rukh’s mode of peaceful and civil protest.




The Rukh building is at the city-centre end of Shevchenko Street, the rest of which I covered in a different post. This end of the street, as well as being symbolic for Chornovil’s achievements, also includes the Hotel Dnister and associated ‘National House’ of culture where the declaration of uniting the West Ukrainian and People’s Republic of Ukraine was accepted on 22 January 1919 before being implemented in Kyiv.


The hotel now also marks famous Ukrainian leaders who stayed there in 1919, including Hrushevsky, Petliura and Vynnychenko.


While last week it seemed that the rise of Right Sector was getting out of hand, likewise the nationalist domination of the city space, today it seems that a more moderate atmosphere is prevailing in the city. Perhaps the relative failure of the revived rallies where Right Sector and associates appropriated authority to speak for the people and the city community led to a sense of realism in that organisation. As I walked passed the police HQ today there was just a mini road block which has actually improved the flow of traffic around that part of the city as it has made Sakharova Street effectively one way. Some joint patrols with the police have been revived, while most tellingly there is greater cooperation with the local authorities. Today a Council for the Defence of the Region was launched, involving local regional and municipal authorities, Right Sector, Self-Defence, the police, the military and the telecoms company, Ukrtelekom, indicating the need to cooperate and secure the region’s infrastructure and population.

While to those who like to read this blog as a sign of the irresistible rise of the far-right, the inclusion of Right Sector and Self-Defence in this Regional Defence Council would seem to affirm that view. However, I would argue that it is better for their representatives to be included in the functional structures of the regional administration rather than opposing them, causing trouble and seeking to disrupt the attempt to stabilise the city and secure the security of the population.

Today also saw a strong criticism from the local military of the 300 or so UNSO fighters from the region who claim to be ready to head east and to Crimea, slapping them down and telling them that they would simply become cannon fodder should they take up arms actively.

Hopefully the relative sobriety that is coming over the local administration and those seeking to usurp local power from the outside will continue. The urban space is already showing signs of this mellowing and de-radicalisation as the enemy encroaches upon Ukraine.

Local Nationalist News and Gossip Column Update: Keeping it in the Family

Yesterday the leader of Right Sector in Ivano-Frankivsk Vasyl Abramiv became a father, the same day that he was leading a march through the city centre. He’s certainly dedicated to the cause. The maternity hospital is opposite the local police and Security Service HQ, so perhaps he simply combined his duties to the nation and the family?


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Abramiv is the man to the far right of the main column of marchers, wearing jeans, a navy jacket and a black and red armband – very in, indeed de rigueur, this spring season among certain sections of Ukrainian males. 

In the smaller photo Abramiv is next to the man with the green trim on his jacket, bottom centre-right of picture.

It turns out that Abramiv’s wife Anastasia is the daughter of the national leader of Right Sector, Dmytro Yarosh, who is now a grandfather.

How nice that Right Sector, a bit like the old Yanukovych regime, likes to keep things in the family.

And the Social Nationalist Assembly, greeting their ‘sworn brother’ Yarosh, found a neat way to link the Yarosh-Abramiv’s joy to their cause: ‘Strong Family. A Great Ukraine. Glory to Ukraine.’


Right Sector march through the city, the police HQ is blockaded, plus a local news update


Today, a march by far-right social nationalists under the Pravy Sektor/ Right Sector (Правий Сектор) banner took place in Ivano-Frankivsk. Right Sector is a hastily constructed confederation of various radical and far-right Ukrainian nationalist organisations that emerged in the course of the Euromaidan protests. The clearest programme is declared by the Social Nationalist wing which was incorporated into the confederation.

Around 150 men and two women, some clearly barely in their mid-teens while most were twenty- and thirty-somethings accompanied by a few men closer to middle-age, marched along Hrushevskoho Street, along the city’s central Nezalezhnosti Street and to the headquarters of the local police. This is the building whose wing housing the Security Service was burnt out on 18/19 February, while the police side escaped largely unscathed. The members of Right Sector marched unopposed through the city centre, with some members of the march carrying baseball bats and shields. Most of the men wore branded Right Sector bandanas over their mouths and noses, leaving only their eyes visible. A handful wore full balaclavas, while the large majority were dressed in combat fatigues. Some preferred tracksuits, with adidas the brand of choice.


Those marching at around 16:00 today chanted slogans including, ‘Ukraine/ Above All’, ‘Glory to the Nation/ Death to the Enemies’, ‘Glory to Ukraine/ Glory to the Heroes’, ‘Right/ Sector’ and ‘Bandera, Shukhevych/ Heroes of Ukraine’. The last slogan was new to me and was not one that I had heard as part of the torchlight procession which took place in the city, headed by social nationalists Patriot of Ukraine. Bandera, the most heavily mythologised leader of the Ukrainian Organisation of Nationalists (OUN), is well-known. Shukhevych, meanwhile, was a follower of the Bandera faction of OUN who then collaborated with the German occupiers before becoming leader of UPA, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army before his dead at Soviet hands in 1950. They also chanted ‘ACAB’ or All Cops Are Bastards, showing that they know the first three letters of the English alphabet very well.


Here is where I encountered the march around 16:10 this afternoon, at the start of the pedestrianised section of the city’s central Nezhalezhnosti Street. The men of more military appearance headed the parade while there were some stragglers still wearing armbands over their everyday clothes at the end.

Once outside the Police HQ – they could have got their much quicker had they taken the most direct route, up Konovaltsa Street then onto Sakharova but obviously they needed to show they could appropriate the city centre – the Right Sector boys, men and two women initially faced the wall, as if they intended to piss up the police HQ. When the command came, however, they turned around and listened to the local leader, Vasyl Abramiv. (His surname suggests he might have quite an interesting family history.) After some chanting demanding that representatives of the police come down and speak to the crowd, Abramiv declared his indignation at the cowardice of those in the offices who ‘refuse to listen to us who speak for the Ukrainian people (narod).’ He declared that Right Sector had fought the Security Service, it had fought against the Yanukovych regime and it was prepared to fight the new government. ‘Our brothers didn’t give their blood for a government of oligarchs’ and others associated with the old regime. He demanded full ‘lustration’ of new local and national authorities, a process designed to expose anyone who cooperated with the previous regime, so that only those ‘who will fight for Ukraine and the Ukrainian soil’ will be in power. Abramiv then declared that as of tomorrow the local Right Sector will form a ‘military headquarters’ which will be armed and will divide members age-appropriately.


At one point a man not wearing any clothes identifying his allegiance – the Right Sector activists all wore red and black armbands – got into an argument with one of the Right Sector men, effectively telling them to stop being a bunch dicks. There was something of an angry confrontation with him, a bit of rutting, but no punches thrown. However, the Right Sector cameraman who was standing close to me did make sure to get a very good shot of the man who argued with them while later I overheard some Right Sector members asking if anyone knew who the guy was. After throwing a few very loud bangers, which generated some rather primitive cheers of joy and the reprimands from more senior figures, the Right Sector men and two women (whose roles were medic and photographer, so auxiliaries but also people who actually might have to do some work, rather than stand around and look aggressive while masking their faces) marched off. They went to pay their respects to Roman Huryk, hero of the ‘Heavenly Hundred’, who was a student in Ivano-Frankivsk and killed on the maidan in Kyiv. Not a single local news report has mentioned the march through the city centre* and this time there has not even been an attempt to sanitise or bowdlerise the slogans chanted. Pravy Sektor/ Right Sector is being normalised, even glorified, by the local media.


* very late today, 12 March, this report embedded a six-minute video made by Right Sector, while the whole article framed as a march by concerned citizens of Ivano-Frankivsk and activists, whereas it was exclusively Right Sector in reality.

As they marched away they revealed that by the main entrance the Ivano-Frankivsk Police HQ there were standing calmly a group of men belonging to the Maidan Self-defence (Самооброна Майдану) organisation. This is the largest non-party organisation, a kind of umbrella group coordinating between the National Resistance Headquarters (Штаб національного спротиву) which includes political leaders and the disparate organisations that form the Self-Defence. In Kyiv, Right Sector forms one unit of Self-Defence, among a number of organisations, yet in Ivano-Frankivsk they appear as competing organisations, with Right Sector and its confederates in fact much more visible on the city streets.
The Self-Defence representatives were also dressed in military fatigues but carried only ex-police shields and no weapons as far as I could establish. Other members of Maidan Self-Defence were standing among the crowd when Right Sector turned up, identifiable by rather professional-looking tags more reminiscent of academic conference identifiers than military dog-tags. Most of those in the crowd were from the Kolomyja Maidan Self-Defence and had arrived as an organised group by bus. They departed as soon Right Sector had left, marching to their bus in an orderly fashion. Their bus could have been parked better, although the police had closed off this busy street causing traffic chaos around the city, meaning that pedestrians were free to walk where they wanted.




Others belonging to Maidan Self-Defence arrived by car, with the Opel, above, with a number plate-type sign in its window screen declaring that this vehicle is part of the Self-Defence. Whatever the legal validity of this sign (perhaps as much as Del Boy Trotter’s “Tax in Post” message), in practical terms the Self-Defence do have significant freedoms in the city in the current situation. There are more volunteers patrolling the city alongside police than there are official police and other state organisations keeping peace and order in the city, according to this news report. There are 60 official police etc. while there are 70 volunteers, with forty of those from Self-Defence.

I encountered the protest outside the police HQ around 13:30 today on my way to teach a class and then chanced upon the Right Sector march on my way back. At 13:30 there were just a handful of men from Self-Defence blockading the doors, while the official state traffic police blocked traffic along the street and a few men from Right Sector were hanging around with armbands showing their allegiance. On my way back from work, I encountered the Right Sector march in the city centre and decided to follow it to the police HQ. After Right Sector left, I spoke to the Self-Defence lads remaining by the entrance to the police HQ. I introduced myself as a Briton who has been in Ukraine for nearly two years and is keenly interested in events. They put forward a tall young man who spoke very good English, although we spoke largely in Ukrainian. He told me that he had come back from working in the USA at Christmas and has been involved with Maidan Self-Defence since then. I asked him what he and his colleagues thought of Right Sector. He answered, and his comrades agreed, that ‘they just came here for the PR (піаритися)’. A great Ukrainian verb made from the English ‘PR’ literally meaning ‘to PR yourself’. A colleague of the man who had been to America said that in a month Right Sector would fall apart and they’re a bunch of posers with no idea of discipline. The tall man who had been to American said that they were sick of Right Sector promoting themselves and forgetting that Self-Defence had been there from the start. They also said that in Kyiv, at least, Right Sector was part of Self-Defence in terms of being a subordinate unit of organised divisions. In Frankivsk, however, no one has any idea about who Right Sector’s allegiance is to and what orders they are following. There is clear tension between the groups and any cooperation seems to be uneasy. The Self-Defence lads on the door of the police HQ, meanwhile, were very demonstrative in refusing to take Right Sector’s newspaper which teenage girls with RS badges were handing out to the crowd.


Now, the question is why are there even people outside the police HQ today and what do they want? Well, it all started late last night when activists, largely from Self-Defence but also Right Sector, blockaded the building to stop the new head of police in the city, nominated by Ministry of Internal Affairs officials in Kyiv, from taking his post. They are opposed to Volodomyr Smich (literally, his surname means Laughter, so plenty of potential for jokes there). There are rumours that he was involved in initiating a trial against some activists involved in the initial protests in 2013.

This report states that initially today there were some fifty men all from Self-Defence (it also has better photos than me) blocking the street, while Right Sector also turned up in the early afternoon in smallish numbers before the big march around 16:00. Speaking to the press, the Self-Defence issued a statement stating that they do not want to have in a position of authority in the police a man who refuses for now to undergo lustration, i.e. a check on his past. Shortly afterwards, the new head of the regional administration agreed to make all administration workers undergo lustration and barred any ex-Party of Regions figures from taking up posts. Then a little bit later, the new head of the regional administration found that his office had been blockaded by Self-Defence and ‘local businessmen’, according to this report. Together they made a series of demands, including cancellation of certain taxes on wealth and various aspects of certification for motor vehicles and business-related issues. There was ‘Tax Maidan‘ in November 2010 which saw the small-and-medium-sized business community protest against a new tax code, so this protest in Ivano-Frankivsk could be seen in that context.


However, the approach to getting your point across seems very much in the spirit of the post-revolutionary times where there is an evident degree of mob rule and rule by force. The problem is somewhat compounded by the local press which happily write that these activists speak, as the above-linked report wrote, ‘in the name of the city community’, becoming a local echo of Right Sector’s claims to speak ‘for the Ukrainian people’. An ex-student I encountered today outside the police HQ as she passed by from university on her way home said to me that “they don’t speak for us”, referring to Right Sector. While the issue of the police head was not something she had contemplated, she expressed great concern with the way local democracy was functioning. There is a clear contrast with the rather impressive local council meeting of 26 November 2013 when the still-functioning council took important decisions and voted in the open air, in front of a more representative group of the local community. However, now there is clearly a growing vacuum in local power structures, it seems that it is possible to seek to impose by force or by threats – the blockaders of the regional governor’s office have threatened to block major road routes in Ivano-Frankivsk region on Friday if their demands are not heard – decisions upon a weak, nascent administration.

With the lack of evident structures of law & order in the city, too, it is possible for far-right organisations to march armed and unopposed through the city, while promising a much more radical ‘national revolution’ and preparing, as Abramiv said today, for war not only against Russia but also for battle against any authority deemed unsuitable. Although there was an appeal to the mayor to stop masked, armed groups from marching through the city, there is little evidence of them being stopped. And, sadly, there is little readiness for some kind of civil resistance to such groups – except perhaps from within a Self-Defence increasingly frustrated by the behaviour of Right Sector, although they Self-Defence – as argued above – are contributing to a degree towards mob-democracy. (This report includes them forcing at gunpoint the revolution on the city’s main market.) In Warsaw in 2010, I recall an innovative approach to blocking right-wing marches through the city on independence day by using peaceful resistance methods – simply blocking streets with sit down protests where the right-wing organisations were due to march. Eventually the police were forced to take them down side streets and out of the heart of the city. Since 2010, of course, in Warsaw there have been more violent clashes on 11 November, although 2010 still remains for me an example of effective resistance. However, I don’t see – for now – much potential for mass civil resistance to the rise of the right in Ivano-Frankivsk.


However, on the civil resistance and activism front, it’s not all doom and gloom. There is a boycott of Russian products by a chain of local shops who are now refusing to stock them, with about three-quarters of those asked for a local news station’s vox-pop in favour. There was a peaceful protest outside the city architecture department complaining about illegal and inappropriate buildings, while this was accompanied yesterday by the launch of a new brand and image for the city.


The logo reminds me of four jelly babies stuck together and generally seems to have divided opinion in the city. The idea seems to have been to develop the logo on the basis of the shape of the city unique constructivist town hall, while also resembling the shapes found on Precarpathian embroidery. Perhaps the logo is not great, and some of the English slogans involving the initials IF not very well thought-out. However, there are included in the project some important and innovative ideas for improving the visual appearance of the city which is often spoilt by inappropriate development or unappealing signage.

In other news, a group of foreign students at the city’s Medical University read the poetry of Shevchenko in twelve native languages,  from Arabic and English to Sindhi and Turkmeni. And today workers got going again on finishing Shevchenko Street and promise to do so by the end of April.

After the Revolution: The everyday, getting ready for war and a sticker album.

The world’s eyes are still on Ukraine, but now focussed on Crimea. This is a huge country, so Simferopol is 1,100km away from Ivano-Frankivsk. But the threat of war is real throughout the country and the tension can be felt here, too. In practical terms, it means that a couple of people I know here have received papers calling them up as reserve officers to the army, while a qualified doctor I know has volunteered to join the medical corps. For now, these people can continue their everyday lives but could be called into service at any point. Many people in the city have also volunteered to join the military, while – as will be discussed below – paramilitary formations are also recruiting.

Beyond this, for most people, life goes on in this time of post-revolutionary attempts to stabilise everyday life while the threat of military conflict lingers. In terms of the most evident symbol of revolution in Ivano-Frankivsk, the burned out Security Service building, locals have volunteered to collaborate with the authorities to restore the building. In Kyiv, meanwhile, a team of volunteers from Kolomyja, a large town in Ivano-Frankivsk region, have restored “Lovers’ Bridge”, which was damaged by fire during the violent clashes in the capital. 

Around the city, it seems slightly livelier than it had been at the weekend and earlier in the week, when the fears of war and conflict were perhaps at their strongest. There seem to be more people in cafes and bars, while the upcoming Women’s Day holiday on 8 March has added a bit of colour (beyond blue and yellow, red and black, and grey) to the city. Despite the fears of economic difficulties in Ukraine, prices are fairly stable aside from products which are clearly imported, like fuel and bananas. There have been, however, some limits imposed by the biggest bank on credit card transactions. At one point, it was as low as 200 UAH, so about $20. This can get you about 15kg of bananas now, or 22 litres of milk, or four bottles of good Ukrainian wine in a supermarket. Businesses operating with a largely foreign client-base are sensing some degree of wariness from clients, with currency instability not aiding their situation, according to people I have spoken to. Meanwhile, students’ classes are running as usual, with no strikes or demonstrations for now.

The rest of this entry will take the form of a picture essay – linking between photos of stickers, posters and graffiti I have taken in recent days. Just to be clear for readers who expect “objectivity” – these are photos I have taken solely in the places I encounter as I walk around the city. These images are not an objective sample of the state of mind or political positions of Ivano-Frankivsk residents. They are merely a representation of what is visible on the city streets, and hopefully a fairly representative sample of what is currently visible.




This sticker is from the Spilna Sprava (Common Cause) civil society organisation. It states ‘I won’t leave Maidan until Yanukovych resigns!’ That aim has obviously been achieved and now it is not clear what Common Cause can achieve, as its leader – the rights lawyer, Oleksandr Danyliuk – reportedly fled to London fearing arrest. In January, during the Kyiv protests in January occupied for a few hours several ministry buildings. The organisation still promotes greater reform of Ukraine’s political and power structures. If it has left Maidan after achieving this goal, then its space on the streets has been filled – in Ivano-Frankivsk – most evidently by Pravy Sektor/ Right Sector.
As this article shows, in an attempt to present Right Sector as something of a civil society organisation, Right Sector emerged in the city once the original student-led protests left for Kyiv. The former student Maidan was taken over by Right Sector, thus changing the face of the local revolution. As this article concludes, the aim of the Right Sector activists is a “Ukrainian Ukraine”. Like so many representations of the Right Sector coalition of nationalist organisations, it is written as if Ukraine lacks a regular armed forces.






Here, some homemade, improvised shields outside the Right Sector-dominated encampment outside the Regional Administration (White House) feature a poster advertising a rally which took place on 26 February promoting the ‘Day of Solidarity’. This was intended to promote the rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine and thus territorial integrity. This meeting was scheduled before any evident Russian move on Crimea, but did reflect something of society’s concern over what could happen next following the new parliament’s short-sighted decision to scrap the existing language law (which the interim president has not signed into law). Lviv intellectuals were some of the first to speak out against what could be perceived as discriminating Ukraine’s Russian speakers. This has become a mainstream concern now in these times of crisis, as traditionally Ukrainian-language media outlets are now happily switching between languages and making overt shows of bi-lingual national unity.



This is the Right Sector-dominated camp in the city, outside the administration building. Today it seemed surprisingly quiet, with the only person evident sitting further away and guarding a collection box. Perhaps the rain kept the activists inside. However, today also saw a civil society campaign against Right Sector, with a group of people putting in an appeal today with the city’s mayor to have him act against the group’s overt presence on the streets.

The people who came reflected citizens’ concerns about the number of people in masks and the number of people from Right Sector carrying arms around the city. As the video in the link above makes clear, the leader of Right Sector has forbidden the wearing of masks, although this seems to make little difference. Some of those appealing to the mayor were from Samoobrona (Self-Defence) which was associated with Klitschko’s Udar (Punch) party who feel let down by their former brothers in arms. The mayor answered in strong terms, stating that he was opposed to these masked figures’ attempts to usurp power. He is also concerned about the arms finding their way to organised criminal elements. As I witnessed myself, the storming of the Security Service building was both a show of power but also an attempt to gain arms.



As this board outside the Regional Administration main entrance symbolises however, Right Sector activists are finding their way into legitimate organs of power, including the city and regional administration, as well as the national government, so it might not be so simple for the mayor to keep order in the city and keep masked and armed figures off the streets.




One of the stickers on the nameplate of the Regional Administration is this one, which is currently the poster most evident around the city. It comes from the Ukranian National Self-Defence organisation, which is a far-right political party with a paramilitary section that has seen action in numerous conflicts outside Ukraine. Here, on this poster marked with stylised bullet-holes and blood, is what the organisation can offer. It includes a ‘Street revolutionary course’, generally military preparation including medical skills, mass-event organisation, peaceful and non-peaceful forms of protest, psychological preparation, ideological preparation, agitation and educational work, climbing lessons, shooting practice, training camps, history lessons and ‘Strikeball’ or Airsoft in English.



It is impossible to tell, of course, how many people will be successfully recruited by these posters, of which there are hundreds around the city right now. Of course, anyone reading them will also be confronted by the traces of ordinary everyday life which continue. Here, the Ukrainian National Self-Defence poster competes with offers for a cheap flat, new jobs, business managers, while elsewhere in the city there are plenty of offers for loans or work in Poland.



Here the Ukrainian National Self-Defence is recruiting alongside, or on top of, an ‘Address to the Nation’ from Stepan Bandera, around whom something of a nationalist cult has been built in these parts, partly in response to Communist-era efforts to particularly discredit him. This is continued by Russia today, which believes neo-Nazi, Fascist “Benderovtsi” have taken over Ukraine leading to some excellent memes onlineImage.

This plays on the mispronunciation of Bandera’s name in Russian-language propaganda, so here we have Banderas, Bond, Ostap Bender and Mr Bean. 

To me, the cult of Stepan Bandera seems quite odd, since he was not necessarily the most influential or successful nationalist leader at the time, although he was probably the most radical, causing a splintering of the Ukrainian nationalist movement during World War II. So the cult that has developed could be seen as developing in response to attempts to trash his reputation under the Soviet Union and since then.


This is a further Ukrainian National Self-Defence recruitment poster, calling for people to join the paramilitary force. I have not seen a standard military recruitment poster yet, although I imagine that might be because the rush to sign up was a natural urge in many people. Equally, the state system might not be as quick at getting posters published, what with bureaucracy to get through.

This poster calls for mobilisation following ‘the military aggression of the Russian Empire against Ukraine’. It seeks volunteers to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the state’s sovereignty. It calls above all for ‘hunters, sportsmen and “security forces” with arms’. The latter could include ex-Berkut, the special forces unit, who were disbanded around most of Ukraine. While the reference to sportsmen is ironic in that one of the great criticisms of the Yanukovych regime was that it had trained up “titushky” or sportsmen, who were sponsored to pursue boxing or martial arts, but could be called upon as a kind of paramilitary reserve when necessary. Indeed, when this Maidan began in November, Ivano-Frankivsk was due to host the national boxing championships, sponsored by the Party of Regions. It seems that such men can be hired for any cause, while there is recognition that there must be now a number of armed people around the city.



This less fancy poster, meanwhile, is an announcement of the formation of a student self-defence organisation. Given the proliferation of groups, some with similar names, it is not clear whether this Self-Defence is connected to any of the other self-defence organisations. And if it is, whether it is closer to the Udar-linked Self-defence or the Ukrainian National Self-Defence. In the past, students opposition leaders in the city were seen flanked by guards sporting the neo-Nazi Wolfsangel symbol.



Although far/extreme right organisations prevail over the city’s informal visual communicative spaces and in terms of the resources committed to promoting themselves, as well as in organisations that are visible around the city, it’s not all like that. Aside from remembering that almost everyone in the city has little affiliation with such organisations, civil society continues to work to improve the city while most people try their best to get by.

Svoboda, meanwhile, which despite its origins at the Social National Party of Ukraine, now appears a relatively moderate right-wing force compared to others that are emerging. Tyahnybok’s party has produced a rather nice calendar which features Ukraine’s national poet Taras Shevchenko, who was born 200 years ago, with this anniversary subject to many special events this year.


Looking unusually like Lech Wałęsa probably would have done had he been involved in the current protests, sporting the orange helmet associated with those active on the Maidan and a baseball bat, the quote from Shevchenko’s poetry says, ‘Ukraine will rise and blow away the fogs of subordination, then the world will know truth.’




Another change inspired by the revolution that affects everyday lives above all else is the social willingness now to resist corruption and bribery, rather than accept it as part of “the system”. Here the top poster (the bottom one is the location of a first aid point for the Maidan) states: ‘Dear Citizens! If in kindergartens, schools, universities or state offices someone demands or seeks to induce a BRIBE phone immediately on … (the HQ of Ivano-Frankivsk self-defence). ENOUGH feeding state workers with our own cash.’ 

I’ve yet to see this system put into action, but I’d be interested to know how it works. I should inform the students of the numbers, although I’m worried that the self-defence might send round to bribe-takers a few lads with baseball bats or worse.


Not all of civil society is seeming to work hard for the revolution. While in Kyiv the Trade Union building was a hotbed of revolutionary fervour, providing one of the main bases until it was burned down, in Ivano-Frankivsk there has been no sign of active trade union support for the revolution. Indeed, judging by the main Trade Union building, which doubles as a travel agency, there is no sign of revolution. You can read a month-old newspaper pasted to the notice board or find out about the Futsal tournament that the union newspaper sponsored.




At the university, the main entrance door featured these stickers from Right Sector which no one thought to rip down. The top one calls for ‘Justice on the land of our forefathers. Long live the national revolution.’ The national revolution being the term for the kind of extremist revolution called for in the programme of Ukrainian social nationalists, covered in a previous post. The lower sticker, on another major entrance gate to the university, states ‘Be a fighter, be victorious’.





The sticker below is in a busy passageway in the university and calls for people to join the Patriot of Ukraine organisation, which was responsible for a torchlight parade through the city on Friday last week.


In Shevchenko Park near the university, however, there is an antifa sticker on an information board about cycling routes covering the city’s historical attractions.


Here Youth Against Fascism defaced some Svoboda graffiti, which seems to be a regular event around the city. Another piece, that I’ve not photographed yet, states ‘Svoboda prydurkiv’, or ‘Freedom/Liberty for morons’.



Whoever youth against fascism are, they’ve not managed to work on all the Svoboda graffiti yet.


Here, meanwhile, someone thinks the Lviv Antifa are ‘arseholes’.



Here, a space which has been competed over, next to a children’s play area by the Potocki Palace walls, sees neo-Nazi graffiti and a link to the old Social Nationalist Assembly website crossed out. Others campaign for freedom for political prisoners, while to the left of the tree others have used graffiti to declare their love or wish happy birthday.




These are just a set of photos I have taken in the past ten days or so around the city. They’re not an objective representation of the views of the people of Ivano-Frankivsk. However, they do show which groups are represented most evidently on the streets right now, while the graffiti challenges symbolise that there is some organised anti-fasict work in the city somewhere. However, most important is that the people of Ivano-Frankivsk are still able to approach their democratically-elected mayor and ask for protection from him. And they still believe him and state institutions capable of doing so. Let’s hope it gets the masked, armed men off the streets and out of people’s minds. And if anyone is really looking for somewhere to put their fighting skills, then the regular Ukrainian might be the place to do it. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

And, a final note. As the spontaneous rally in support of Russian speakers in Ukraine shows, it could be that out of these times of crises will come an image of Ukraine not built on stereotypes of division of east and west, but a sense greater unity and understanding. And this can be achieved without ‘national revolution’.