From Storming to Mourning the Security Service in Ivano-Frankivsk – Part 2: Or, From the Corridor of Shame to the Pantheon of Heroes

Police mourning their fallen colleagues, 2 June 2014, central Ivano-Frankivsk

Police mourning their fallen colleagues, 2 June 2014, central Ivano-Frankivsk

This is the second of a two-part blog post. In the first part on the funeral of National Guard soldiers, formerly of Berkut, killed fighting for Ukraine in Donetsk region, I presented the mourning that took place in the city over at least three days since 29 May. Here I look more at the political controversies, as well as the questions for memory and memorial culture, that have emerged in light of these deaths and the burial.

The six men from the region killed in the helicopter, including the three buried in the Memorial Square, were members of the Berkut special police unit until it was disbanded after Yanukovych fled the country and the new government assumed power. These men had volunteered to transfer to the new National Guard, a unit that replaced the Internal Military, and is responsible to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is also in charge of police.

Berkut officers were responsible for beating students and protesters on 1 December, which reignited the initial wave of Euromaidan protests and turned Kyiv’s Independence Square into the fortified tent city that was the heart of protests. Meanwhile, in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, after Yanukovych was deposed, in some places Berkut officers were greeted as heroes.

A Gryfon member and a member of the public

A Gryfon member and a member of the public

Troops from the Gryfon unit stand guard

Troops from the Gryfon unit stand guard

When the Police and Security Service (SBU) HQ was being stormed in Ivano-Frankivsk on 18/19 February, Berkut officers -including the six men killed near Slovyansk in the “anti-terror operation” – were present in the city. Indeed, they were inside the building. First ordinary police officers were brought out of the police wing of the building on Lepkoho Street and were greeting with shouts of “the police are with the people”, so an almost forgiving and celebratory greeting.

Later Berkut officers emerged – including the six men being mourned from Ivano-Frankivsk region – were made to walk through what is termed “a corridor of shame”, a kind of “guard of shame”, basically. The Berkut officers were released from the building, disarmed and their body armour removed, while the crowd mostly booed them. However, what is only now being appreciated is that in abandoning their posts, the then-Berkut officers betrayed their oath and abandoned their duties. Had things turned out differently in Ukraine, this act could have faced serious consequences. At this point, then, these men refused to fire on fellow Ukrainians.

After the police HQ was taken over, the crowd moved towards the Security Service wing of the building. That wing was harder to take and better protected, with “activists”, many associated with Maidan Self-Defence and Right Sector – and notably its youth wing, Tryzub Bandery – soon preparing burning tyres and the Molotov cocktails which caused significant damage to the building. It was then partly looted, while both sides – SBU workers and “activists” – burned documents, with a smaller-scale storming of the prosecutor’s office taking place, too, with documents burned there. The events at the prosecutor’s office remain to this day shrouded in mystery.

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So, Berkut officers, including the six men being mourned and the three men from the city buried in the Memorial Square alongside Roman Huryk, were in February perceived as some of the biggest enemies of the protesters on Maidan. Their unit was declared responsible for murders, hence the “corridor of shame” and, later, after the collapse of Yanukovych’s rule and the formation of new (para)military units, some members of Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence refused to fight alongside ex-Berkut and Ministry of Internal Affairs fighters in the National Guard. Some of the tensions are still evident in this Vice News dispatch, for example. However, some units are reconciled and it is reported that a someone formerly from the Maidan units was among National Guard members in the helicopter, three of whom are now buried in Ivano-Frankivsk’s Memorial Square.

The Memorial Square is a palimpsest of memorial culture – forgotten Polish-Catholic graves slowly regaining some prominence after the cemetery was turned into a park by the communist authorities and the nearby church demolished to make way for the theatre. Since Ukraine became independent, and especially in the twenty-first century, some Polish graves have been restored, with a memorial to Polish military present, among the graves of Ukrainian cultural, academic and military figures. But the rest of the dead, ordinary people, are generally forgotten as the pantheon of Ukrainian heroes from cultural figures to freedom fighters grows.

The history of the Memorial Square becomes a microcosm of the complex history of the city and its residents. And this time again it will be a site revealing the difficult, ambiguous story of recent history, of Euromaidan and its aftermath, the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Killed in action defending Ukraine from a threat to its territorial integrity, the three men enter the pantheon of heroes here in Ivano-Frankivsk.

It would seem that given Ukraine’s current situation and the tragedy that has befallen the families of the men killed in action near Slovyansk, the term “heroes” would be enough to lend some decorum to this burial in Ivano-Frankivsk. Indeed, largely this has been observed, although a public spat has emerged which has called into question not so much the amnesty granted the men when they belonged to Berkut, but the behaviour of organisations like Maidan Self-Defence and Right Sector, who like to present themselves as living heroes, embodiments of the spirit of Maidan.

Three crosses for the fallen men, 2 June 2014.

Three crosses for the fallen men, 2 June 2014.

The obvious tension that emerged with these men being buried alongside Roman Huryk, once deemed a victim of Berkut or associated snipers, was eased by the dead student’s mother who said she accepted the decision. However, her words reported in the press suggest a sense that the decision was taken over her head and she had little say, as the city council’s executive committee unanimously took the decision. Viktor Anushkevychus, the city’s mayor, spoke briefly on the matter, stressing the “symbolism” of Huryk “hero of the heavenly hundred” and “ex-Berkut heroes of Ukraine” being buried side-by-side, as it shows “that no one will be able to divide us”.

In this official statement, the totemic word “hero” is applied, seeking to heal all wounds and smooth history through what is in current conditions a sensible amnesty, casting aside partisan differences. Forgiveness had been issued to the Berkut men after walking the corridor of shame, they performed their penance, and on top of that they gave their lives for Ukraine, and only then earning their hero status.

However, close to the surface there still bubbles the ambivalence of relations between state and society, as Euromaidan and the deaths of the “Heavenly Hundred”, including that of local student Roman Huryk, have yet to be granted closure. Equally, whoever “we” are, who Anushkevychus states shall not be divided, is not clear. Is it the community of Frankivsk? Is it Ukraine – divided by Yanukovych’s government and now fighting united, with even former enemies now side-by-side? It’s not clear, especially given that Ukraine is now effectively engaged in a localised civil war. It is not proving easy to mobilise public enthusiasm, or indeed men to fight en masse, in what is proving to be a dangerously deadly fight in eastern Ukraine.

Ivano-Frankivsk's newest street, running of Hetman Mazepa Street as part of a planned city centre bypass, is now named after Roman Huryk, the local student killed on the Maidan on February 2014.

Ivano-Frankivsk’s newest street, running of Hetman Mazepa Street as part of a planned city centre bypass, is now named after Roman Huryk, the local student killed on the Maidan on February 2014.

During Euromaidan and the subsequent Crimea crisis, for people here, the enemy was clear: Yanukovych and the Party of Regions, Putin and his “little green men”. But now, heading eastwards to fight against fellow Ukrainians, even if they are supported by Chechens, Serbs or Russians, is less of an easy option than joining what were, at least until the final days of Yanukovych’s rule, largely a relatively safe form of mass protest during Euromaidan. Today, despite the threat to Ukraine, there is very little of the popular nationalism that seemed to flourish after the deaths on Maidan and the fall of Yanukovych. Instead, an atmosphere of fear and apprehension alongside a stubborn pursuit of everyday life prevails. And there is no cathartic compensation, for the community at least  – obviously not for those who lost loved ones on Maidan – as there was when Roman Huryk was killed on Maidan, as by the time of his funeral, the rule of Yanukovych and his government was collapsing. Now, instead, the danger facing eastern Ukraine seems more real -regardless of the physical geographical distance – as local men fought and died there, leaving a trace of distant Donetsk in Frankivsk.

While some groups, particularly Maidan Self-Defence and, increasingly rarely now though, Right Sector, locally present themselves as the bearers of the legacy of Maidan, of heroism, it seems their claims lack social legitimacy. Now, as the threat grows more acute, it could become much more difficult to mobilise men to fight in eastern Ukraine, with volunteers serving in large numbers already now.

Any squabbles Maidan Self-Defence or Right Sector get engaged here in Frankivsk can seem petty when an acute threat faces Ukraine in the east and masses are dying on both sides, particularly with the Ukrainian authorities resorting to increasingly strong-arm tactics, including aerial bombing. (Ukrainian reports state 300 “terrorists” or “separatists” were killed just yesterday, 500 were injured, with two Ukrainian servicemen killed and 45 injured.) The harmony sought by burying the men as heroes, the unifying effect, has been disrupted on the local level by seemingly petty squabbles, as ghosts of past political differences emerge and the corpses of the dead are used for apparent points scoring.

Police HQ on 18/19 February 2014 after being stormed. The anti-Yanukovych graffiti was gone by the next day.

Police HQ on 18/19 February 2014 after being stormed. The anti-Yanukovych graffiti was gone by the next day.

After the deaths of the ex-Berkut officers in the helicopter near Slovyansk, a local councillor, Mykola Kuchernyuk, stated that the deaths were partly a result of this looting of the security service and the failure of Self-Defence and Right Sector to return the bullet-proof vests and so on. (A big PR stunt emerged a few days ago, stressing that Self-Defence returned some vests, but the numbers don’t add up.) Indeed, after storming the the Security Service and Police HQ in February, the “activists” of Maidan Self-Defence and Right Sector looted some equipment, largely bullet-proof vests and shields, that were intended to be sent to Maidan in Kyiv or used in Frankivsk, if things got further out of hand.

Kuchernyuk can’t understand why the Self-Defence still need these vests, since ‘there has not been a single provocation noted by police against them’. In an escalation of the war of words that his first article provoked, Kuchernyuk has even called for an “anti-terror operation” in the city… to get rid of Self-Defence. He argues that the units have failed to disband or join the National Guard or Territorial Defence, as a parliamentary degree required them to do by 18 May. In the city, he believes, Self-Defence are terrorising the population and the authorities with their methods, including the APC outside the police HQ. Kuchernyuk also rejects the organisations’ claims to speak for the people of the city – since, as he rightly recognises, the people of the city largely want peace and quiet, rather than paramilitary organisations fighting over local positions of authority.

The reemergence of the spectre of recent history and the failure to lay to rest the complexities and controversies that saw the city divided and protesting in February against the state security apparatus, which is now afforded hero status, put Right Sector and Self-Defence in a difficult situation. People in the city and the local press remembered that it was these organisations that formed the Corridor of Shame and then looted the security service, taking away vital protection equipment. Of course, lacking the benefit of hindsight, the actions in February seemed justifiable in working towards bringing down Yanukovych’s rule and his security apparatus.

So, in a sense one aspect of the response from the Maidan “activist” core is understandable: don’t blame us, we were doing what we had to at the time. And their response that some politicians and councillors today, including Kuchernyuk, are seeking to exploit the helicopter tragedy for political gain today, seems reasonable. More questionable, perhaps, is the assertion that the “corridor of shame reflected the demands of the community”, as it is never clear in the conditions of mob democracy that emerged during the sharp end of protests here which elements of the community are represented in the actions of the most active elements.

Of course, the response to the accusations against Right Sector and Self-Defence have taken on an ad personam quality, with Kuchernyuk’s past membership of the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (United) emphasised, since this Party sided with Yanukovych against Yushchenko around the time of the Orange Revolution presidential elections. This led to the councillor being labelled now “a potential Judas separatist” (see the caption accompanying the linked article’s picture). This same report, which neatly spans in its allusions to betrayal the entire cultural-historical spectrum relevant here in western Ukraine – from the crucifixion of Christ to the martyrdom of today’s Ukraine – also attempts, however, to falsify recent history.

What a building that hasn't been subject to an arson attack looks like. Apparently.

What a building that hasn’t been subject to an arson attack looks like, apparently, according to frankivsk.net.

The report claims, ‘As everyone knows, really Right Sector and Self-Defence protected the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MBC) of Ukraine buildings from marauders. And it is only thanks to Right Sector that there were no arson attacks on the MBC in Ivano-Frankivsk.’ Maybe in Ukraine there is some technical definition of arson (підпал) that I’m not aware of and the term does not in fact cover throwing burning molotov cocktails through windows of a building with people inside. But I saw the building on fire that night. And maybe there is some definition of ‘marauders’ that I don’t understand, but the aftermath of the events of 18/19 February suggests a significant level of looting and damage, with repairs subsequently estimated at $1 million.

Now, just maybe, the young men and teenagers we saw filling up molotov cocktails were not part of Right Sector. But that seems unlikely, given the commands that were being issued that evening and the fact that numerous Tryzub members – incorporated into Right Sector – were out that evening.

It seems that the controversies emerging from Euromaidan and subsequent protests have a long way to run. And, rightly, in time they should be debated, but such squabbles appear unbecoming while the dead are waiting to be buried or have just been laid to rest.

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Top: “Eternal glory to the heroes who fell for the freedom and independence of our fatherland.” Bottom: “And in the memory of generations to come your names will not be forgotten.”

Still, it is interesting to observe now are the local-level debates, confrontations and images that emerge, giving some insight into the way the memory and subsequent history of events is constructed. While battles rage in eastern Ukraine now, with civilians and combatants dying and suffering injuries, here in western Ukraine some apparently rather petty battles are taking place, battling for the future: the future right to write history and secure the strongest claims to the totemic term “hero”.

For now, though, aside from petty struggles seeking to usurp apply labels of good and bad, heroism and betrayal, the sensible approach to push forward for now a sense of amnesty and unity reveals the complex processes that await the historiography of Euromaidan and its aftermath. And these processes are evident in vernacular memory, which recognises often that circumstances change, individuals as members of organisations end up in unforeseeable situations that make them seem an enemy to some, heroes to others, then another change and perceptions are reversed.

In this way, vernacular or popular memory can seem to serve as a better archive of the ambiguity of historical events. However, over time it can submit to authoritative narratives that emerge which want a simplified history, black and white definitions of heroes or enemies, making the imagined nation or the political state, rather than ordinary people, the agents of historical and political change.

Mothers and children mourn in monumental form their fallen fathers and brothers. The Red Army war memorial, Ivano-Frankivsk, 2 June 2014.

Mothers and children mourn in monumental form their fallen fathers and brothers.
The Red Army war memorial, Ivano-Frankivsk, 2 June 2014.

Meanwhile, whatever the grand narratives of relations between western Ukraine and the Red Army, ordinary people still come to mourn their lost loved ones a sites of memory around the city, including the Red Army memorial. No longer the premier site of memory in the city, it still has significance for families affected, as the Memorial Square now becomes the central site of mourning and heroism in the city.

And, sadly, these new sites of memory, mourning and heroism emerge because of further tragedies befalling families in this region in military action that, in turn, is causing tragedies for people in eastern Ukraine and elsewhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shuster crowd, 23 May 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk.

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Shuster on telly on telly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Knyahynyn spirits factory impressive stained glass.

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Knyahynyn Spirits factory as a polling station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frankivsk Right Sector Armoured Personnel Carrier Farce Ends. State-sponsored paramilitary training camps start.

The last couple of posts here focussed on the presence of the Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence armoured personnel carrier (APC) that had been parked since just after Easter outside the Ivano-Frankivsk police headquarters, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MBC) building.  My previous post suggested that an interval had been reached in this farce with an inevitable new act to follow. Passing the police HQ on Monday, the APC was still parked outside the entrance. There was one young man stationed on the vehicle with Maidan Self-Defence badges on his camouflage gear.

Right Sector/ Maidan Self-Defence APC, Monday 12 May 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

Right Sector/ Maidan Self-Defence APC, Monday 12 May 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

That’s the APC there on Monday, hidden behind a tree. I’d just got back from Belarus that morning so perhaps my habit of being cautious in photographing government buildings developed there meant I took this poor photo.

Anyway, passing the building today – on a bus, so there’s no photo yet – I noticed that the APC had disappeared. The small parking bay outside the building was vacant and there was not a single “activist” by the building. The local press – and even the national news – so keen to cover the presence of the APC outside the building are completely silent about its current whereabouts, the reasons for its disappearance and how the removal was negotiated (if indeed there were negotiations).

There is also no word as to whether the dispute which triggered this long-running farce, with blockades by Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence beginning as early as March this year, had been resolved. It seems that the Kyiv-nominated head of police remains in position although the “activists” were vehemently opposed to the man from Volhynia.

When I first spotted this news report about a Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence military and ideological training camp, I though that perhaps the APC had been put to use there. However, the video report – a must watch, even if you don’t understand Ukrainian, to get the sense of what I’m about to write about – shows no APC. The camp also took place over the weekend, as it was mothers’ day, and the APC was in place on Monday.

The only insignia visible on vehicles in the video are those of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine (Державна служба України з надзвичайних ситуацій), formerly its own Ministry, responsible for dealing with emergency or extraordinary situations of various sorts. Now the Service is part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

While I was aware that Right Sector in the local region was organising various military and ideological training camps through the UNA-UNSO organisation and its youth branch Tryzub (Trident) named after Stefan Bandera, this report is the first I have seen that shows that the Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence paramilitary training camps are being funded and supported by the state on the national and regional level, as the video report states.

The camp involved people from this region as well as others who had travelled from Kyiv.

My initial interpretation was that this camp, taking place in the Halych district near to Ivano-Frankivsk, must be a National Guard training camp. The new National Guard are a reserve military force and they are already in action in eastern and southern Ukraine causing fatalities, as this Daily Telegraph video shows.

The Ivano-Frankivsk training camp could be preparing participants for entry into the National Guard, since Right Sector units are part of the NG. However, the video makes no mention of the National Guard. Obviously, this could be part of the mythologisation of Right Sector that some small elements of the local media are involved in. (There are other elements of the media here that are actively critical of it.) However, given the fact that a thirteen year-old boy is being trained to shoot, as the video shows, then it’s unlikely to be part of official National Guard duties. 18 is the minimum age.

It seems, then, that the State Emergency Service is funding and training paramilitaries who are not necessarily going to be included into the National Guard which might at least have some semblance of military hierarchy and order. If Ukraine is heading for civil war, then it seems numerous fighters – men, women and children – are being trained just up the road.

The farce of the APC outside the police seems relatively benign now given the tragedy that could follow soon with the involvement of those being trained up here in paramilitary camps rather than being sent into the proper army.

Frankivsk Armoured Personnel Carrier Farce enters interval

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

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APC Frankivsk 6 May 2014 outside police HQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Frankivsk’s New Soviet Theme Pub, Young Professionals and a local news update

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Last week a new bar opened in Ivano-Frankivsk on Kurbasa Street, near the Philarmonic Concert Hall, in the city centre. My wife and I visited it for the first time this afternoon. It is called ГОСТ, a reference to the Soviet-era standards agency which continues its work today in providing standards for quality and measurement across the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The name of the pub is unusual in that it references the Russian version of the name of the agency, rather than the Ukrainian ДЕСТ, while the theme of the pub is unique for this western Ukrainian city, since it is a Soviet theme bar. Not some kitsch appropriation of Soviet and communist symbols, but a kind of homage to the everyday tastes of life under communism.

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There are in the city plenty of bars and cafés which remain Soviet in style, including one of my favourites, Renata, above. Another old favourite, Bilyj Kamin’ (White Stone) no longer exists, but this great article shows that cafe, which is now a jewellers, alongside a couple of other (accidentally) retro cafes in the city.

Renata is located on the central Nezhalezhnosti Street and today tables and chairs were out for the first time this year as temperatures reached 22 degrees Celsius. Other Soviet-era legacy bars and cafes that I enjoy include Krystal and Pirizhkova. The latter specialises in savoury and sweet buns, as well as soups and chicory or wheat-based coffee with condensed milk. The recipes have remained unchanged there for decades, likewise some of the staff. Krystal like Renata offers a fuller menu, including booze, with cognac probably the most popular choice to go with soups, salads, meat patties on bread and coffee still made with Soviet-era, I think Hungarian, espresso machines. Pirzhkova attracts all sorts of people, from kids to pensioners seeking quick and hearty food, while Krystal and Renata tend to attract an older crowd, those who still remember the Soviet days.

These cafés fascinate me and probably deserve a post of their own. ГОСТ is an exceptional case, however, because it is the first stylised Soviet theme pub, designed and run by people whose childhood incorporated the final years of the Soviet Union.

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The city features plenty of other stylised theme pubs referring back to other periods in the city’s history or to imagined visions of other countries’ pubs. The original among this type of pub, opened a decade ago, Desyatka, features Austrian/Habsburg and Polish stylings. Pyatnytsa tries to look like an English pub, while Legenda, recently opened at the end of Nezhalezhnosti/ Sichovych Striltsiv mixes British and German themes. Piwnica on Sichovych Strilstiv goes for an interwar-Polish vibe, while Leprechaun – well, no need to explain that one, likewise Bavaria. While pubs in Poland already a decade ago, if not longer, such as PRL in Wrocław, adopted a faux communist-era look, ГОСТ is the first Soviet-era stylisation I have encountered in Ivano-Frankivsk.

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The menu features plenty of good, old-fashioned solid dishes as well as a few favourites from the time. It doesn’t go in for daft names for dishes (unlike the city’s kitschy nationalist/ UPA-themed Bunker on Hrushevskoho), it’s a no-frills kind of place. The menu begins with hard spirits, cognac top of the list of course and avoids anything unlikely to have been available at the time, so it’s purely Ukrainian and CIS-sourced food and drink. The beer on tap is from the First Private Brewery, established in 2004, but with its own no-frills image and Zhyhulivskye, which is a type of beer made in the USSR. Known until Stalinism as Viennese beer, it became Zhyhulivskye with a recipe guaranteed by the ГОСТ agency. Now numerous breweries make their own version of it. This beer is part of a trend of reviving Soviet-era brands by Ukrainian producers, including chocolate bars with seagulls and matrioshkas on them, or soft drinks – like the one in the first picture. They also only sell Pepsi, and in bottles with old-school labels. If I’m not mistaken Pepsi beat Coca Cola to the Soviet market, although it was overtaken post-1991/92.

The food menu includes a few salads, nothing too fancy, pierogi, varennyky and pancakes, before ending on desserts, including the outstanding smoked dried plums with walnuts in condensed milk. Really, it is amazing, and all for 12 UAH, so about 75p or $1 right now, meaning prices are comparable to the Soviet legacy bars and cafés.

Like the revival of certain brands, I would suggest ГОСТ is an indicator of a – perhaps surprising in the current climate in Ukraine, particularly the west – certain “Ostalgie”, to use the phrase applied to East Germany and the rise of a fascination with or curiosity about communism among different generations, including the one which did not have experience as adults of it.

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ГОСТ is decorated with photos of Ivano-Frankivsk in the Soviet era, as well as various objects including an East German typewriter, a Soviet-era radio and Russian- and Ukrainian-language books from the period. The interesting thing about the photos is that they make clear how much public memory overwrites or sidelines the communist period. It’s easy to find images of interwar or pre-WWI Stanislav(iv), or even the Second World War city under German occupation, yet harder to get a sense of what the city looked like and lived like under communism.

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Whether there is a genuine sense of Ostalgie or it’s simply a nice-looking bar with very decent prices that attracts its clients is hard to tell. However, the bar is proving a hit. Last night my wife and I couldn’t get a table, so we popped in for a soft-drink, some soup and the smoked prune dessert this afternoon on the way to the market. Last night the clientele was largely folk from our generation, mid-late twenties and early-thirties.

It was the same in the place where we ended up last night, another bar/restaurant that opened this month, Kondrat on Chornovola Street, between the centre and the university. It occupies a building that has seen two bars that were central to Frankivsk’s cultural life in the past, Chimera and Marmulyada. Kondrat last night was also filled with people of our generation and, recognising a few faces in there, people who would be classed as young professionals (but not yuppies). Why this might be interesting is that Frankivsk is a student city, with three large universities in a city of some 240,000. However, in contrast to a British university city which would be overrun with students, here the students seem largely absent at weekends.

This is possibly a result of their relative lack of income and lack of time, but also of a habit of often going back to home villages and towns each weekend. Instead, the folk filling bars and cafes of a weekend, aside from the regulars in Soviet legacy bars, seem to be an emerging class of young professionals, suggesting some disposable income and thus the potential formation of a middle class in Ukraine among our generation.

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The relative liveliness in the cafes and bars of the city this weekend, while partly a result of the improvement in weather, also suggests that the city is experiencing some degree of normalisation despite the threat of war and ongoing mourning. What is almost certain is that people were not out celebrating the signing by Ukraine of part of the EU Association Agreement. Although the Yanukovych government’s refusal to sign was the final spur to mass protests against the Party of Region’s rule, yesterday’s achievements hardly seem like a success given the cost at which they have been achieved – over 100 deaths of activists and police – and the annexation of Crimea by Russia. There is also a realisation that much is to be done t0 transform life in Ukraine. ‘Social Revolution’ is what the above graffiti calls for and this idea of a civil revolution, changing everyday behaviour and experience, particularly the phenomenon of bribery, is a desire and ideal – regardless of coverage of Right Sector or pro-Yanukovych rallies, as took place today in parts of Ukraine – ordinary Ukrainians across the country can share.

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Of course, though, with the incorporation of Right Sector or Self-Defence activists into local and national institutions there could easily be greater official legitimacy attached to more nationalist interpretations of the historical past and recent events. Local MP and Deputy PM Oleksandr Sych wants  to revive the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory which, modelled on the Polish IPN, will become a political instrument for seeking to construct a singular, unitary version of the past.

The poster below for an exhibition, meanwhile, suggests a particular interpretation of Taras Shevchenko’s 200th birthday,with the national bard again stylised as a revolutionary, but this time one with a nationalist bent. The event was organised jointly by the Regional State Administration’s Office for Culture, Nationalities and Religion and the Ivano-Frankivsk Stepan Bandera Regional Museum of the Battle for Liberation. I would wager that, at least on a regional level, such collaborations will only become more common, as the state apparatus comes to sponsor a particular nationalist reading of the past and present.

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Shevchenko, the national bard, appears here in the guise favoured by Right Sector’s youths – a bandana masking the face, while he is “supported” by two Molotov cocktails. The exhibition was in honour of his 200th birthday and the ‘Heavenly Hundred’ of Maidan dead, none of whom were from Right Sector.

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Here meanwhile there is a poster for another project, this time of a more civil type, calling for a revival of the tradition for each household to have a portrait of the national bard. Below is a poster promoting the ‘social revolution’ – rather than the dangerous national revolution desired by Right Sector and its social nationalist affiliates. The small black poster states that if you give or take bribes then you have the blood of the Heavenly Hundred of your hands.

The ideological appropriation of the Maidan dead by Right Sector is worrying and, I believe, immoral. But the message of the small black poster, a form of moral blackmail perhaps, should nevertheless be more effective in assisting the social revolution in Ukraine that will change everyday life for Ukrainians, slowly, for the better.

In local news, certain media outlets continue to peddle the myth that Right Sector and others represent ‘the city community’, as these organisations continue to oppose certain appointments, particularly in the police department. It seems mass social support is not forthcoming, while the rallies which were re-launched last week and appropriated by Right Sector and Self-Defence, seem to be having little resonance. Meanwhile, Right Sector which claims to be against all forms of traditional politics and condemned the system, has now decided that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. It has announced it will become a political party. However, Right Sector and Self-Defence refuse to cooperate with the new National Guard, a military organisation created by the state which recruits reservists and volunteers. They argue that their men cannot fight alongside former police who had been on the other side of the barricades in Maidan. The local authorities have agreed to form a separate unit for them but won’t arm the RS/Self-Defence unit, which is quite wise.

Sections of the local press, however, finally seem to be developing a critical stance towards the local patriots who consider themselves to be the voice of the community, with an important regional newspaper, Galician Correspondent, criticising the ‘double-standards’ of those calling for lustration. Indeed, it turns out the chosen candidate for head of police among those claiming to represent ‘the people’ and ‘the community’ is an ex-KGB agent!

The real army, which is raising funds from civilians who dial 565 which gives them 5 UAH or 30p/50 cents, is visiting local schools to explain what to do in case of emergency and war. Since most of my students didn’t know what to do in case of fire at the university, they might also want to come and give some talks to undergraduates.

In media news, you can catch the latest local news and debate on an online tv station, IF-TV from 6pm each day. It broadcasts live on the massive jumbotrons around the city at that time, too, and probably has more viewers there than online. Last night, there were more presenters than viewers most of the time. However, it has to be said that the level of local news sources online, in newspapers and on tv here is very impressive. Whereas my home city, larger than Frankivsk, has just one newspaper and tv news bulletins are limited to a couple of bulletins a day on BBC or ITV, here there are at least three newspapers, three full-time tv stations and over half a dozen internet news portals covering the city and region. I was interviewed by one outlet earlier this week and when asked what was most exceptional about Ivano-Frankivsk, I mentioned the media landscape, which surprised the intelligent and insightful young journalist I was talking to. The expected answer tends to concern food or drink, which brings this post full circle.

A Trip to Kolomyya: 60 km away and a very different atmosphere

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On Saturday this weekend, my wife – who is a Ukrainian – and I travelled to the town of Kolomyya/ Kolomyja/ Kolomyia/ Kolomea/ Коломия. (With the regular changes to official transliteration methods, it’s not clear what the correct form should be in English). The town is around 60 km from Ivano-Frankivsk and is home to some great tourist attractions and also my wife’s grandmother, which was our reason for travelling.

Among the attractions is the Easter Egg (Pysanka) Museum (above), which has a huge collection of traditional Ukrainian painted Easter eggs, as well as examples from around the world. There is also the astounding Museum of Hutsul Folk Art, behind the Easter Egg Museum, and a short way off the main street, the town’s History Museum, offering a very insightful history of the town. Kolomyya has around 65,000 residents, making it the third biggest town in the Ivano-Frankivsk region after the capital and Kalush. Kolomyya, apart from having museums arguably superior to Ivano-Frankivsk, is a useful transport hub for getting you into some more obscure corners of the Carpathian Mountains or it makes a neat stop off along the way to Chernivtsi. Anyway, the tourist guide bit of this post is done.

Now I will focus on giving a sense of the atmosphere in the town and what can be judged from observing the urban space about attitudes to the recent events, including the Revolution.

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This is outside the town’s History Museum. The plaque to nationalist leader Roman Shukhevych, complete with UPA emblem and the ‘Glory to Ukraine/ Glory to the Heroes’ slogan, is admittedly larger than the museum’s own name plate, but this kind of imagery is – after months in Ivano-Frankivsk – unusually rare in Kolomyya.

Saturday felt like an ordinary day, no different from any other visit to Kolomyya. We arrived by bus from Ivano-Frankivsk, a typically overcrowded bus which was designed for maybe 40 people at most, including standees, but managed to carry 60 or more at one point. It was market day in town, with the main market heaving while the central street, Chornovola, was full of people trading cheese, fruit, flowers and other things. The cafes seemed fairly full as we passed them.

What was most striking the difference to Ivano-Frankivsk’s urban space which, as far as informal notices and such like around the city, is dominated by nationalist imagery, including the adverts for joining paramilitary organisations like UNSO or the stickers placed over municipal institutions supporting Right Sector (Правий Сектор), not to mention marches by that grouping and even more extremist associates.

In Kolomyya, we covered the entire town centre and some suburbs by foot and noticed very little nationalist imagery, slogans, stickers or colours. Instead, the EU flag and the original objectives of the early civil revolution of November and December 2013 seemed more evident. The Easter Egg museum, like the nearby Pysanka Hotel, flew the flag alongside the Ukrainian one.

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The Town Hall, which also doubles as the centre of the town’s revolutionary resistance committee, does not feature a single red-and-black flag. Instead, the flags of Ukraine, the EU and the Ukrainian Navy fly side by side, below the town’s crest.

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On the balcony by the flags there remains a plaque to Polish-Lithuanian revolutionary and freedom fighter (who is also an American hero), Tadeusz Kosciuszko. He was a leader in the 1794 Uprising which sought to defend Poland’s 3 May 1791 constitution and Poland’s sovereignty against encroaching Prussian, Austrian and Russian empires. Given the circumstances facing Ukraine, it seems apt that a trace of Kosciuszko remains in the town.

Generally, though, the extent to which the past of other communities once significant in western Ukraine is remembered is a contentious issue and best left for another time. No doubt any deepening of Ukraine’s relations with Europe will lead to the questions of the Polish and Jewish past in the region being examined more closely. (Back to tour guide mode: Kolomyya is also an important site for Jewish history, with one of the town’s synagogues remaining.)

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Below the Kosciuszko plaque, there is another, this time commemorating Ivan Franko, the man in whose honour Stanislaviv was renamed Ivano-Frankivsk in 1962. Kolomyya probably has a better claim to being named after him, since he was imprisoned here in 1880, as the plaque notes, while he also spent a fair amount of time having his syphilis treated. (I’d have got a photo of the clinic, but it’s a bit out of the centre, on the way to the train station.) It seems apt that two democratic revolutionaries are honoured on this one building which is now the headquarters of the national resistance committee.

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Here the symbolism is dominated by the colours of the Ukrainian national flag, with the local crest (the eagle) prevalent alongside the Ukrainian trident within the circle of the EU starts. I can’t recall seeing this imagery in Ivano-Frankivsk for a long time, apart from on the beanie hat of a small boy who was travelling on the same bus to Kolomyya in the morning. While the entrance to Ivano-Frankivsk’s administration building is covered in Right Sector stickers and paramilitary recruitment posters, Kolomyya’s is free of any such imagery. Even the small poster remembering the first Maidan dead is restrained and sombre, avoiding any nationalist symbolism.

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 Indeed, even local shops – and not just this one – are proud to fly the EU flag, with this banner saying ‘Ukraine is Europe. Your contribution is important.’ This remains an echo of what seems to be, in the urban of space of Ivano-Frankivsk, largely forgotten, namely Euromaidan – the civil movement towards a European Ukraine.

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The only red-and-black nationalist UPA flag we saw flying in the city was outside this shop, Euro Second Hand. So even this shop has some connection to the European ideal, this time reflected in cheap clothes – seconds, second hand or sales items – imported to Ukraine and sold at affordable prices.

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The only Right Sector sticker we could locate in the town was – not unsurprisingly – on the memorial to the Maidan dead constructed on the city’s Rally Square opposite the town hall tower. While Right Sector had left a tasteful wreath, their representatives also decided that it would be worth putting at the top of the this memorial the group’s familiar sticker of a balaclava-wearing man.

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Seeing as no one from Right Sector was killed on Maidan, I interpret this as further evidence of the organisation attempting to appropriate the Maidan dead for its own cause of national revolution.

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Nearby there was also some kind of rock monument, perhaps symbolic of a Ukrainian grave-mound (могила) constructed in villages and towns to mark those killed in war, uprising and revolution. It is not clear what the pile of rocks in the town centre is supposed to signify, but someone had the idea of graffiting it with the slogan ‘Glory to UPA, the Heroes of OUN.’

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Next to this graffitied pile of rocks there was one of the town’s memorials to Taras Shevchenko whose 200th anniversary was celebrated a week ago. In fact, it’s more of a memorial to a memorial – one which was destroyed in 1914 by invading Russian troops. Still, no one a hundred years on has thought to turn this monument into a symbol of anti-Russian sentiment. I’m not so sure it could survive in Ivano-Frankivsk without a few stickers or red-and-black flags.

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At some point on Saturday, possibly while we were at grandma’s house, a march through the city did take place, as the local press reported. There was one red and black flag, although the main message of the protest was anti-war and calling for Crimea to remain with Ukraine. It is also clear that young people, possibly students and college pupils, were largely involved, again suggesting something closer to the spirit of the early days of Euromaidan.

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They gathered, admittedly in very small numbers, by the main Shevchenko monument in the town, although there was no trace of their presence when we passed the monument.

In Ivano-Frankivsk yesterday there was also a student-led anti-war protest calling for national unity. The weather was pretty foul, while students also tend to go home on weekends here, so that probably limited the numbers present. None, unlike in those in Kolomyya, bore any EU symbols, though. Today in Ivano-Frankivsk, meanwhile, there was another rally although the pictures show that this too, like the one on Friday, was hardly well attended.

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On a wall near the Kolomyya’s History Museum there was also evidence of a more radical strand to the earlier stages of revolution, this slogan calling for ‘Death to Yanukovych’. There’s also a faded happy birthday message to someone on the same way.

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This plaque, meanwhile, shows Kolomyya’s willingness to cater to visiting tourists, although sometimes, despite the best intentions, mistakes can emerge. After all, English is a real pain in the arse to spell. 

What the visit to Kolomyya suggests is that the situation in Ivano-Frankivsk, with the domination of the urban space by nationalist imagery and marches, could be something of an aberration, a local specificity, rather than something that prevails across the entire region. This is significant, since those who appropriate the balcony at Friday’s rally, claimed to speak for the people of the entire region, as well as the city. Indeed, their main gripe was with the regional administration. It seems that if support for Right Sector in Ivano-Frankivsk is marginal, and their apparent domination of the city space is an effect of their ‘successful PR’, as one representative of Self-Defence told me on Wednesday, then broader support across the region is even more of an illusion.

For now, the regional administration is holding out against the attempts to usurp power although it seems unlikely that Right Sector will shift away from its attempts to impose its will by force.

Still, the trip to Kolomyya was a refreshing change from the atmosphere in Ivano-Frankivsk and revived a sense of the initial purpose of the protests in Ukraine. Just as focussing on Kyiv gave a false impression of the situation in Ukraine generally, it seems that focussing on a regional capital gives a misleading image of the situation in the surrounding area.

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Yesterday Kolomyya also saw the funeral of the world’s oldest woman, Kateryna Kozak, who died at the age of 117 (in the 118th year of her life according to this funeral announcement). She lived through Austro-Hungary, the West Ukrainian Republic, the Second Polish Republic, Soviet Rule, German rule in the General Gouvernement, the USSR then Independent Ukraine. Her life, like that of my wife’s grandmother, is a reminder of how much historical change, how many empires, this part of the world has seen. Let’s hope that another geopolitical change isn’t on the way with events in Crimea.

Rally Season Starts Again: “Activists” speak for “the community” and “the people”. The community and the people largely ignored them.

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For the first time in over a week, a political rally was held in Ivano-Frankivsk. In the tradition of the Maidan era, it was held at 6pm outside the Regional Administration Building, aka the White House. The rally was termed an ‘extraordinary rally’, in the sense of an EGM, but those who spoke from the balcony above the entrance to the city council it was deemed to be the first of a new series of daily rallies (on Sundays they will be held at 14:00). The plan is to hold them every day until either Easter, the election or, ‘until the revolution is complete’. The rally had been announced in the local press yesterday and was promoted today, but the attendance was poor. One local news source estimates it was around 100 people. I would say it was around 150 at most by the end, including those in military fatigues who are always present. There were almost more certainly more folk marching on Wednesday through the city than there were on the square. It seems easier to convince a few baseball-bat wielding teenagers to have a bit of a march on the police HQ than to get them to participate in what posed as a democratic rally under the eyes of “the people”, “the community”.

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The rally started a few minutes after six, and the first orator began his speech calling for peace and calm in the city, before being halted and the female MC realised that the national anthem had not been sung. So the crowd launched into it and the speech began again.

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When the rally finally started a few minutes after 6 p.m. the number of people present on the square was certainly not more than a hundred, even if the presence of a coach with Lviv plates (beginning BC) suggests that there was an effort to bring activists to the square for the meeting. During the course of the brief rally, lasting no more than 40 minutes, numbers increased. On the above photo, local Right Sector leader Vasyl Abramiv, and son-in-law of the national leader Dmytro Yarosh, can be seen surveying the square, evidently concerned by the sparse crowd. Abramiv became a father on Wednesday, and Yarosh a grandfather, evoking much mirth among locals commenting on the news story, outlining the evident nepotism in this apparently revolutionary organisation.

The decorations in this space have changed during the course of the Maidan, Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary periods. As the photo of Abramiv shows, he is standing in front of a new banner stating ‘God, Human, Ukraine’. This has never been seen on the balcony before, while the Virgin Mary above him is something that appeared in 2014. It was notable that this extraordinary rally was not attended by any religious figure, whereas during the late-Maidan and revolutionary phase, the rallies always began with at least a blessing from priests while in the most troubled times there could be a full-scale Mass issued from the balcony.

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In a further change of decoration, initially both balconies featured the EU flag which – lest we forget – was the initial symbol of the protests in 2013, the ideal which the then-government failed to deliver that brought some people in this city and around Ukraine onto the streets to initiate what became Euromaidan. Now, the EU flag has been removed from the left-hand-side balcony which has become the one used for these rallies and speeches. It remains on the right-hand balcony. On the balcony for speeches, the red-and-black flag of the Ukrainian nationalist movement has replaced the EU flag, something that is symbolic of the change in the tone and direction of the next-stage revolution proposed by those with access to the balcony. It’s more about a national and moral revolution now, holding to account those who are still or now in power, but effectively calling for the removal of anyone associated in any way with the previous regime and, naturally, replacing them with people approved by those with access or – according to those who spoke to day – those who fought for access to the balcony.

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Those who spoke today were two members of the local council with favourable attitudes to two other speakers, the local leader of Right Sector and a representative of the Self-Defence. A fifth speaker appeared briefly, I’ll mention him later. According to Right Sector’s Abramiv and the second speaker from the local council, the mayor himself had sought to prevent today’s rally, literally pulling the plug on it around 5pm. Before that, over a day of negotiations and demands were required to gain access to the square and balcony today.The video  I made of the speech shows Abramiv in action, as well as those gathered largely ignoring his speech about what people died for, his attempts to speak for the dead and dismiss the legitimacy of the new authorities, framing instead those on Maidan as the only legitimate force following something declared a conspiracy against the real revolutionaries who fought to bring down the old government. And now those ghosts of the old regimes are seeking to stifle the full revolution and are again ‘divvying out posts’ between the old guard who, apparently, refuse to undergo lustration and reveal the corrupt skeletons in their cupboards. The local press is framing this a ‘division in the ranks of the HQ of National Resistance‘. So, the party-political side of the revolution is dividing away from what is deemed the Maidan side, those on the ground.

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After recent behaviour on the part of Right Sector and the Self-Defence, who are attempting to impose mob democracy on the city, it is no surprise that the local authorities are attempting to disassociate themselves with the groups occupying their offices and attempting to have the choice of local police head reversed and their man put in the post. Of course, there are concerns over decisions being taken again in Kyiv and the issue of the police head is perhaps one of the few arguments in favour of ever repeating the Tories’ miserable experiment with police commissioners in the UK. However, I would say that attempting to stabilise authority in these turbulent times is more sensible for now, and more beneficial for Ukraine, than using force and threats to reverse decisions taken in Kyiv. Still, those who gained access to the balcony claim to speak in the name of ‘the community’ and ‘the people’, yet the meagre number of people present suggests that there is little popular legitimacy for these orators and paramilitaries. And, according to a local news report I saw on Ukraine’s channel 24 this morning, the majority of local police are in favour of the head of police nominated by Kyiv and are prepared to come onto the streets to show their support. This has put an end to the joint patrols that were taking place between police and Self-Defence activists.

My problem with these orators and the organisations they represent is that they claim to speak for ‘the people’, ‘the Ukrainian people’ and ‘the community’. How they argue for the legitimacy of these claims is that they represent the Maidan and the true purpose of the revolution which the people had wanted. As the shift in flags suggests, they believe that the people wanted a national revolution whereas the initial civil protests were for Europe, for an end to corruption and rule by force, and being able afterwards to build a good quality of life. Those who speak for the community seem to have forgotten than and have now appropriated the symbol of popular protests, the city’s Maidan, for their particular objectives of national revolution, while framing themselves as the sole groups able to combat corruption and boorishness. (Looking above, no one seemed to want to stop cars driving on this pedestrianised space!)

And they have appropriated not only the space but also the victims of the previous regime killed in Kyiv.

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Roman Huryk, the local student killed in February in Kyiv, has become – rightly – another permanent symbol on the square outside the the regional administration of the cruelt and illigitimacy of the Yanukovych regime. However, those speaking from the balcony claim to speak in the name of their fallen ‘sworn brothers’ (побратимці). Not a single member of Right Sector was killed in Kyiv. Most victims were simply ordinary people on the front line who gave their lives. Whether they did so in the name of the national revolution, cannot be established, but those on the balcony are sure. And so they appropriate the victims to their cause, generating good PR along the way from a largely uncritical local press.

However, today Blitz.if.ua offered some subtle critiques of the behaviour of Right Sector, noting how when the father of Roman Huryk today spoke from the balcony – or tried to speak but was overcome with emotion – the Right Sector activists were more interested in handing out their latest newsletter. Such is their respect for the victim, for the hero appropriate for their cause.

Huryk’s father was the last to speak, apart from the female MC dressed in military fatigues who took over from him and filled his potent, telling silence and emotion with her own narrative.  Condemning the current authorities for ‘forgetting’ what the significance of the heroes is, for overlooking the moral significance of the original struggle, it seems these figures on the balconies have done exactly the same.

Huryk’s father managed to say, though, that ‘people here are starting to forget what those who died, including my son, were fighting for.’ His words seemed aimed not simply at the community, but at those who had brought him onto the balcony, seeking to appropriate his loss and grief for their national revolution.

If they really cared for his son and for this grieving father, why present him last, after all the calls for lustration and the politicking (which they condemn in others) by representatives of Right Sector and their council allies?

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In other local news, away from the White House, the world’s oldest woman died today in the town of Kolomyya at the age of 117. Kolomyya, some 70km from Ivano-Frankivsk, like this city, in Kateryna Kruk’s lifetime passed from Austro-Hungarian rule to the West Ukrainian Republic to interwar Poland and then the USSR in 1939. In 1941 the Nazi German General Gouvernement came then the Soviets again in 1944, remaining in the USSR until 1991. Then it became a regional centre in independent Ukraine. She was a unique witness to Ukrainian history, seeking the uncertainties and imperial conflicts that have affected for centuries this part of the world. How sad that her death should come during another time of threats to Ukraine.

Local students were involved yesterday in an art project where they expressed their opposition to war. The pictures will be on display in the city centre before being transferred to their various art colleges.

In pop-cultural news, the Prosvita building, which served as the centre of student resistance in the city, will be used tomorrow for casting for Ukrainian X-Factor.

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It seems those who speak from the balcony now, organising these extraordinary rallies in the name of the people and the community, have forgotten about the ordinary people who initiated Euromaidan in the city and around Ukraine. Ordinary and active students who came onto the streets who then occupied Prosvita. And ordinary people who may well be watching X-Factor at home, hoping for a better life, a European future, escaping from the fear of war. While those speaking from the balcony spoke today, condemning local authorities for politicking while the country is under threat, it seems that Right Sector and others are more concerned with doing exactly the same, seeking local power and authority, rather than preparing for the front.

They’re still convinced of an ‘internal occupation’ of Ukraine when a real enemy is already at the gates of 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.’

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Honouring the Dead: With a Torchlight Procession. And an update on the revolutionary everyday.

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Photo from http://firtka.if.ua/?action=show&id=48465, which outlines the route of the procession through the city centre and suggests the number of participants was ‘close to a hundred’. This longer video suggests the number of participants, and torches, was significantly higher. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUAwnKqa4U0

Yesterday evening (28 Feb 2014), around 6:50 p.m., I was walking through the city centre along Sichovych Striltsiv Street and became aware that I could hear a crowd shouting or chanting. I thought that perhaps a rally was being held, this being a now-traditional time for gathering, on the original site of Euromaidan protests in the city – on Vichevyj Maidan, by the post office. However, when I reached a corner and could get a view of that square, I could see that a torchlight procession was taking place. Having eaten nothing but dry crackers since Tuesday owing to food poisoning, I thought – briefly – that my mind was playing tricks. Although I couldn’t track the procession yesterday, I understood correctly that it would head to the Memorial Square, where an Ivano-Frankivsk student, Roman Huryk, who was killed on Maidan in Kyiv, is buried. (See my previous post on that.)

Ukrainian funeral and mourning traditions are regionally and ethnographically diverse, and some do involve lighting torches, although not in mass numbers and then marching through a city with them while chanting slogans (more on those below). The associations of this march with a tradition in Nazi Germany are clear not only to me, but also to numerous people who have commented in social media on this march. The comments on the post about it on Typical Frankivsk’s VK page is insightful, as are the comments under the Firtka article.

Ukrainian funeral and mourning traditions include long-term, public mourning, including wakes held 40 days after a death, as well as marking a death again on the ninth day afterwards, which was the purpose of this torchlight procession. It is clear that the population of Ivano-Frankivsk would want to mark the death of local-student Roman Huryk and others from the region, Ukraine and beyond killed on Maidan, although public opinion – as far as it can be gauged from these comments – suggests that including a torchlight procession was not the wisest option.

More pragmatic responses to the torchlight procession in the city suggest that candles would have been a better option and there was no need for someone to consciously prepare dozens, perhaps hundreds, of torches for parading through the city. Other pragmatic or strategic responses suggest that this was not the right time to hold such a procession (implying that it might be ok in future – after all, Svoboda have in the past few years been holding torchlight processions around the country in honour of dead Ukrainian heroes). The main concern in such responses is the current context of Crimea where a military confrontation is brewing as the peninsula is held by Russian or Russian-backed forces.

Responses worrying that this is the wrong time are concerned for the perception of western Ukraine, which is framed in Russian media stereotypically as a region of fascists, Nazis and “banderites” (Bandera/ UPA/ OUN supporters) and nationalists. Thus, there is a fear that such processions can simply provide evidence for such stereotypes which, it is believed, also prevail in more pro-Russian parts of eastern Ukraine. A typical response to this appears to be that Ukrainians in their own country shouldn’t need to be concerned about what Russians or anti-Ukrainians think, as they are free to mark their dead heroes as they see fit. I’ve yet to read or hear a denial that this is not a National Socialist inspired form of marking the dead or making a statement. Either there is among some of those approving of this torchlight procession ignorance of the associations of this form of march, or there is no sense of shame attached to it.

What is clear, however, is that what could have been a march to honour the memory of Roman Huryk and others killed on Maidan, has not received any extensive media coverage. Firtka focused on the torchlight procession aspect, while no other local media, usually quick in updating their sites with local news and commemorative actions, have even mentioned the march. It seems that there is ambivalence towards this form, with coverage of the protest not possible without drawing attention to the torchlight procession. Editors are clearly showing restraint, perhaps fearful that this march could be used to validate the stereotype of western Ukraine.

It is clear, however, even from the video on YouTube of the procession that not everyone was carrying a torch, thus not everyone was necessarily aligned to whichever organisation thought they were a necessary accessory. This was supposed to be a general, civic march in honour of the memory of the dead. In the video, you can see priests leading the procession, followed by a marching band, then a crowd with numerous torches, but not held by all. (The role of the priests here becomes an interesting comment on this article from the Polish press, featuring the archbishop of Ivano-Frankivsk, proclaiming the Church’s important, key role in the Maidan. It should be borne in mind that this was the city of Andrey Sheptytsky.) In the video you can hear the following slogans:

Honour and Glory to the heroes of Stanislav.

Glory to Ukraine/ Glory to the Heroes.

Glory to the Nation/ Death to the Enemies.

Ukraine/ Above All.

Heroes Never Die.

At the end of the video, the Lord’s Prayer is chanted.

The first slogan has been fairly common place in the city, reflecting upon the memory of local heroes, using one variant of the pre-1962 name of the city. The second slogan is the most prevalent not only in the city but now in the Maidan movement, regardless of affiliations. It is used in parliament, it has become a commonplace greeting on the stages at rallies around the country, while it has also been chanted at a Georgia-Russia rugby match and at a CSKA-Spartak ice hockey match in Moscow in support of Ukraine. The third slogan, Glory to the Nation/ Death to the Enemies marks something of an escalation in the arms race of nationalist markers. As Glory to Ukraine/ Glory to the Heroes becomes commonplace, this is – I believe – is now the marker of the ideological nationalist. This also applies to Ukraine Above All, which also seems to have fairly obvious connotations. ‘Heroes Never Die’ has been chanted at funerals by crowds around the country.

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An Italian/Mexican pizza restaurant in Ivano-Frankivsk bearing the slogan, ‘Glory to Ukraine/ Glory to the Heroes’.

Why has there been an arms race in slogans or nationalist identification, and what suggests the normalisation of the nationalist greeting Glory to Ukraine/ Glory to the Heroes (Слава УкраїніГероям СлаваFrankivsk (Bunker), require you to respond on the door to gain entry. However, it has been possible to mumble something vague or just one person in your party to reply in order to access the places. With the events of Euromaidan, however, the greeting has become commonplace, entering workplaces, greetings between friends, as well as becoming ubiquitous at rallies.

It is understandable why in light of the mass killings and tragic situation in Ukraine why this has happened. Equally, it is clear why nationalist symbolism has become widespread in the course of the revolution. However, there is also a sense that the Glory to Heroes slogan/greeting is also used unthinkingly, becoming visible when an affront is committed against this new everyday ritual. Such affront can be caused by a foreigner refusing to respond as “required”. Indeed, in one workplace I was asked – before the mass killings took place – what I do when greeted with the slogan. I suggested that the response ‘Heroyam slava’ sounds quite like ‘heroine’s lover’, which was an attempt to deflect the conversation. (Before the revolution I also had a tactic of deliberately mixing up non-typical Ukrainian greetings – so to ‘Slava Ukraini’ I would respond ‘Voistino voskres”, which means ‘He truly resurrected’, which is part of the Easter greeting tradition.)

Now, at a time when such play is inappropriate, I generally give a nod, a handshake, or a vague mumble, although there is evidently an affront felt particularly in the company of strangers. What is hard to communicate is that my intent is not an affront to those who have newly joined the pantheon of Ukrainian heroes, the ‘Heavenly Hundred’ (Небесна Сотнія), or even to the Ukrainian nation. It is simply an attempt to remain aware – even at times of heightened emotion – a sense of the historical significance that this slogan carries, what and who it has represented in the past, including values and actions that I cannot accept (both for family reasons and out of a an ethical position). The same stands for torchlight processions. More people, though, seem to be aware of what they are associated with than the everyday slogan.

What is noticeable is that in the very first days of what became Euromaidan, organisers and activists in the civic protests were suggesting alternatives to the then popular chant ‘Whose not jumping is a Moskal” (a Muscovite). And it had an effect.  However, that was in the days of the initial civic protests, which generally seemed to have been an upsurge of popular frustration and desire, as well as an indication of an unexpectedly vibrant although still fragmented and developing civil society in Ukraine. Nationalist symbols and organisations were evident, but not dominant, and seemed to largely indicate a kind of mobilising populist patriotic nationalism. Since the protests turned violent and fatal in Kyiv, nationalist-leaning organisations have become more prevalent and this is evident now in the city in terms of who and what is visible on the city streets as the face of protests and Euromaidan.

While defenders of the torchlight procession have suggested that people are free to mourn the dead and express their feelings as they wish, and that such a protest does not break any laws, this fails to explore the question of who has power over the city’s streets. Currently, as the various roadblocks and the Self-Defence/ Pravy Sektor-police patrols of the city’s streets suggest, it is the organisations who have fought and are prepared to fight who are given authority and become the public face of the post/pre-post-revolutionary city, as well as legitimacy for the future. This is not to say that the entire city has turned nationalist. Far from it. The everyday revolution continues.

Market-stall holders on the central market, previously in the hands of a Party of Regions figure, are now renting their stalls from the city which took control of the market. The stall-holders staged a protest and won out. Locals involved in a dispute with a garage cooperative also won their battle. This is all part of a general realisation that the biggest difference to everyday lives will be made by taking action against corruption which previously was largely treated as a necessary evil. Passports are now being issued according to regulations, rather than with extra payments required, while there is a widespread call for avoiding giving bribes in any situation. Even Women’s Day, 8 March, has been targeted – with parents asked not to give teachers presents, as is usual, and instead donate the value of any intended gifts to support those injured and the families of those killed on Maidan.

My fear, however, is that those organisations – Pravy Sektor, the Church and whoever else – who claim to have done the most for Maidan, measured in the number of deaths suffered or the level of spiritual inspiration purported to have been instilled in the people, will – as is already becoming evident – demand greater representation in the new structures of power. They will do so in the name of the people, claiming to represent them and speak for them, and thus claiming the right to seek policies in accordance with the organisations’ views. Speaking in the name of a singularly imagined people or nation, this will likely forget the disparate, diverse nature of Ukrainians (and others) who first came onto the squares of Ukraine in November.