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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Maidan Cleared Up, Mothers Calling for Order, the Pillar of Shame and More Minor Marches

The traces of Maidan around the city are slowly disappearing, even the spaces around the hardcore of Right Sector and Self-Defence who still remain on the square outside the Regional Administration but in more smaller and less conspicuous numbers. The tent from the Rally Square (Vichevyj Maidan) by the Post Office, the original site of an occupation and protest in the city from November, disappeared last week.

On the square outside the Regional Administration Building in the past week a makeshift memorial to the Heavenly Hundred, as those killed on Maidan in Kyiv are popularly referred to, has appeared.  It is constructed from the rudimentary wooden shields that have come to symbolise the fighters on Maidan, alongside the tyres which burned for long days and nights in the winter of 2013/2014, while also shoring up the barricades.

Heavenly Hundred Monument or the Pillar of Shame

A Makeshift Memorial to the Heavenly Hundred, Ivano-Frankivsk – or in fact a ‘Pillar of Shame’.

Looking through the local press again I have learned that this memorial, as I interpreted it, is in fact ‘a pillar of shame’, which, according to one activist interviewed, is aimed at expressing an urge for ordinary people to change their behaviour and thus change society. The idea is for people to come to this pillar and inscribe it with the names or photos of  ‘officials who have taken bribes’ or demanded other payments. It is thus intended as a symbol of the civil revolution that is expected to follow the battles conducted by those who carried such wooden shields.

Yesterday there was no indication of the intentions surrounding this installation, hence my initial reading of it as a makeshift monument.

ImageImage The Regional Administration has also finally decided to clear up it’s own sign which for a couple of months was plastered in Right Sector stickers. The sign is clearly brand new, as the stickers are a pain to get rid of (as I’ve found putting my hands to work around the city). Presumably the tax payers of the region have funded the new sign, as well as the door that was smashed up and recently replaced.

Meanwhile, Chicken Hut, the fast food chain, has finally removed its own pro-European poster, declaring that ‘Together we will be victorious’ while showing the Ukrainian trident surrounded by the EU stars. It’s back to special offers now.

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Chicken Hut's old pro-Europe poster

Chicken Hut’s old pro-Europe poster

Still, some entrepreneurs have not given up on the European symbolism. Two enterprising you women on a busy crossroads on the way out of the city towards Lviv and Kalush were attempting to sell flags, including the EU flag, the Ukrainian flag and the black and red nationalist flag, to passing vehicles. In the fifteen minutes I was waiting for a friend near there I did not see them make a successful sale. My friend says that they had been there for some two weeks, so business must have been good at some point, although I think the peak may have passed.

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Selling flags to passing motorists on vul. Halytska out of the city on Saturday 5 April 2014.

The end of February and the first weeks of March seemed like particularly worrying and tense times in Ivano-Frankivsk, as various groups, including Right Sector and its allies Patriot of Ukraine, appeared to appropriate the city space through posters, marches and occupying various administrative buildings demanding personnel changes. Since then, however, the city has been largely calm, with the attempt to revive daily rallies by Right Sector and Self-Defence unsuccessful. Instead, the atmosphere of the city has been one of getting back towards some kind of normality in the new conditions of tensions over Crimea and now southern and eastern Ukraine. Perhaps springtime has helped as more people take to the city streets and various cafes are putting their tables and chairs out on the streets again.

Yesterday, however, local press reported that there was a march by ‘Frankivsk residents’, ‘the community’ or Right Sector and Self-Defence – depending on which reports you read – on the Police HQ again, following a march four weeks ago which I witnessed. I did not witness yesterday’s events as they were not pre-reported extensively in the press, and I was lecturing anyway at the time it took place. Today, the police HQ was free of any protesters when I passed it and it has been peaceful all day. And it also seems that the candidate that Right Sector had wanted for the local head of police, which incited the occupation of the police HQ from a month ago, is not in the running. Equally, the head of the National Resistance organisation in the city is not in the running, as reported in an article which again uses the problematic notion of ‘the community’, assuming that there is some sort of consensus in the city as to who are acceptable and unacceptable candidates.

Still, despite their differences and threatening to break off relations, the Self-Defence and police are still cooperating, with local press reporting successes where arrests have been made during joint patrols. Here someone was caught with some marijuana, for example.

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The march through the city was both a protest against the new man assigned as regional head of the Security Service (SBU/ СБУ) as well as a reason to mark the memory of the Heavenly Hundred. This report shows that a poster was placed on the burnt out entrance of that section of the police, but there was no sign today of this memorial to those killed on Maidan , merely a trace of the graffiti that it had covered.

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The report cited above is problematic because it frames those protesting as ‘the community’, whereas at 1pm on a Wednesday, many members of the community, including students who were one of the chief initiators of protests in the city, are busy working. It also means that it is easy for anyone disposed to presenting western Ukraine as extreme-nationalist such “patriotically”-minded reports can be used against the authors’ intentions.

This report, meanwhile, ignores the aspect of honouring the Heavenly Hundred and declares the march to be intended as a call for combatting corruption. However, it also mentions a civic protest by mothers of Ivano-Frankivsk who called for order in the city. Presumably this was a call not only to the police but also against the actions of Right Sector and others. Its reference to ‘Frankivsk residents’ is less troubling, since a greater mix of the city’s population and its varying views and approaches to protest and power are accounted for.

The mothers’ protest seems more closely aligned to the civil revolution or perhaps better, transformation, that characterises the urges of those involved in the initial civil society protests from November. An organisation called Ivano-Frankivsk 2.0 has emerged which is seeking to transform the city space into a more pleasant place to live, highlighting some of the hidden and blindingly evident problems in the city which nevertheless regularly features high up in rankings of the best places to live in Ukraine.

Equally, this protest against a questionable development by the city lake is framed as a civil society protest, connected to the spirit of Euromaidan and the battle against corruption in local authorities. Indeed, some of the women who speak in the lengthy video may have also been those outside the police HQ on 9 April calling for order in the city. The problem by the lake is the fact that a smaller lake was filled in for building purposes, ostensibly for a sports centre but it seems developers want to put flats in this attractive location. Some of the women who speak further into the video appeal to “European” values, which caring for the environment are said to characterise.

Of course, aside from some attempts in blogs or by tracing other news stories around the city which do not relate to Euromaidan and its consequences, it’s hard to get a feeling of the everyday in the city which continues in the atmosphere of the tense new normality that is emerging.

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What may have an instant affect on city residents is the planned price rise for bus journeys, going up from 2 UAH to 3 UAH. A 50% increase, although it has been at 2 UAH for about three years now, so it’s unlikely that with the rise in petrol prices that transport services will be profitable. On the other hand, incomes are not rising, while other prices are – so this will be an additional squeeze. In positive transport news, after creating a mess in November by moving long-distance and international bus services out of the city, a ticket office for the regional and long-distance bus stations has opened right in the centre. And the system works fine, as I tested it today buying a ticket for a weekend trip, although if it becomes popular the tiny kiosk will prove insufficient.

At the university, lectures go on, seminars continue and some students fear imminent war, while others are more pragmatic or perhaps simply stuck in their rhythm of 30+hours a week of classes, thus unable to dedicate much energy to much else.

So while certain organisations involved with the violent, sometimes armed, side of revolution in Ukraine seem determined to appropriate control of the public space and local politics, it seems that functional mechanisms are working to resist such domination. Civil society is active in its various ways – whether through protest, clearing up rubbish or shaming corrupt individuals, – seeking a transformation of the city and Ukraine, while local authorities are resisting the pressure to install certain candidates despite the pressures of baseball bats or mobs marching through the city. And, for most people in the city, life just goes on.

Ivano-Frankivsk: A City in Mourning. Ivano-Frankivsk: Everyday life and the Revolution goes on.

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A 19 year-old student of the Precarpathian University philosophy department Roman Guryk, was killed yesterday in Kyiv during the fatal violence. Today, there were no classes at the university. A memorial service was held at the university in the morning followed by a memorial service outside the Regional Administration building. His funeral will be held on Monday, while the Student Resistance will be holding two memorials at the weekend in the Prosvita Centre.

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Yesterday evening outside the Regional Administration building a memorial service was held for all those killed. The city marked what was already, before yesterday’s mass killings, already an official day of mourning following deaths on Tuesday, by becoming unusually quiet. Not only was it a case of people generally avoiding socialising in cafes, but shops were largely free of music while the massive advertising screens around the city were silenced.

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Usually these screens on the Market Square, by the theatre or, this one, on Vichevyj Maydan, or Rally Square, by the post office, the site of the original Euromaidan protests in the city, blare out unbearably loud adverts for local businesses. The concept of noise pollution is not yet widespread in Ukraine.

The city is clearly in mourning and shock, with the mass deaths in Kyiv and the death of a local student adding to the feeling which disrupts the usual atmosphere of this Central European city characterised by cafe culture, by going for a stroll around the city, by sitting on benches and having a chat or playing board games. Those aspects of the city’s life are clearly muted.

But still, everyday life goes on, or struggle on, while the revolution and resistance also continues in its various innovative and potentially violent ways.

In terms of everyday life, the potential collapse of the currency or economy is taking its toll, as are feelings of panic induced by fears of martial law or a state of emergency. People have begun making massive withdrawals from cash machines and banks, with queues forming at odd times outside the State Savings Bank or branches of PrivatBank not having any cash. The cash, where possible, might be exchanged into solid foreign currencies, or it has been spent on stockpiling goods. By Thursday night, the supermarkets that remained open were clearly short of cooking oil, grain and buckwheat, milk and bread, while other reports suggest salt was in short supply. Not everyone, though, as cash to withdraw or exchange, since many state employees, including university lecturers, had not received their pay this month. Only this morning was some money paid into accounts, although this was merely one third of the amount due. Either the state is deliberately trying to control the amount of money available to stem panic buying – or the state treasury is actually running out of cash.

At the moment, there is no evidence that lecturers are willing to self-organise like the students or those who are occupying central Kyiv.

Most private businesses are running as usual, although the three stores of supermarket chain Silpo were blockaded on Tuesday and Wednesday. Likewise, the central market was shut down with stallholders stating that they were “forced to volunteer” to go on strike. The market is owned by a local Party of Regions figure, thus it was forced by local activists to shut down. I have not been able to establish the connection between Silpo and the Party of Regions. However, by today the supermarkets and the market were open again and well-stocked and doing a roaring trade. Prices, despite the weakening of the Ukrainian hryvnia, seem fairly stable – for now.

Another store that was blockaded was Epicentre, the Ukrainian B&Q. The managers of the city branch were asked to supply goods useful to protesters in Kyiv, which they duly did, even putting online an invoice which became their donation to the cause. That store will remain closed until the conclusion of the revolution, according to activists. Yesterday evening, when we entered the Student Resistance HQ, we could see young men and some women working on turning these goods into shields and basic weaponry, while they also possessed some ready-made versions. They’ve now sent a convoy of weapons, shields and fighters to Kyiv.

Yesterday, there were reports that busloads of “titushky”, or government-sponsored street fighters, were being transported to the city. This meant that all roads into the city, beginning with the bridge over the river, were blockaded and patrolled by baseball-bat wielding youths. No titushky entered the city, although the rumours that they were already in the city spread like wildfire especially among the older population less likely to have been online with up-to-date information. However, the fear of potential violence did close a language school in the city for the day, while some students were summoned home by their parents.

The situation in the city is currently fairly peaceful compared to Tuesday and Wednesday when the Security Office was being stormed, likewise the Prosecutor’s Office and the Tax Office. Despite this relative calm, it is somewhat disconcerting to see order being kept by teenagers and men in their twenties masked and with baseball bats. Representatives of Right Sector/ Pravyj Sektor and Maidan Self-Defence are cooperating with police as of tonight in patrolling the city. Lviv police today went to Kyiv for the first time and joined the protesters, offering their protection while also siding with the more moderate Maidan Self-Defence in order to support the negotiated end to the current regime. Ivano-Frankivsk police are likely to follow suit. Although in Kyiv they might encounter Right Sector activists who, at the moment, seem determined to push through a violent end to the Yanukovych regime, promising to use arms in storming government buildings tomorrow morning.

Storming the Security Service and Police HQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Barricades in Ivano-Frankivsk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Television Coverage of the protests and censorship

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