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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From Storming to Mourning the Security Service in Ivano-Frankivsk: Part 1 – Troops mourned and buried in the city

Police mourn their fallen colleagues, Sunday 1 June, Ivno-Frankivsk

Police mourn their fallen colleagues, Sunday 1 June, Ivno-Frankivsk

On 29 May, a Ukrainian military helicopter carrying military and nonmilitary service personnel was shot down by fighters near Slovyansk in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. At least twelve men were killed, including one general from Lviv and six members of Ministry of Internal Affairs units, who were from the Ivano-Frankivsk region.

Three days of mourning were announced in the city, starting on 30 May, meaning all loud or celebratory cultural events were cancelled, which I wrote about here. On Sunday 1 June, a mourning service was held outside the Security Service and Police HQ in Ivano-Frankivsk for the six men, before the three of them who were from the city were buried in Ivano-Frankivsk’s Memorial Square, next to the Franko Theatre, on Monday 2 June. They were buried alongside the young student Roman Huryk, who was killed on Maidan in Kyiv in February. I wrote about his funeral here and the mourning that preceded it.

In this post, I depict the mourning and funeral in the city for the men killed in action near Slovyansk in the government’s “anti-terrorist operation”. I also outline certain ironies of fate surrounding these events, as well as the controversies that have emerged as a result. After all, the six men killed are former members of the Berkut special police unit – once a leading enemy of Euromaidan protesters. The Security Service and Police were a target for protests in the city during Euromaidan, subsequently remaining a site of demonstrations long into the spring after the collapse of Yanukovych’s rule.

For those of you who want to skip the description, then head to the second part of this post, dealing with the political and historical controversies surrounding the burial.

Tributes laid to six men from Ivano-Frankivsk and a general from Lviv killed in a helicopter shot down near Slovyansk.

Tributes laid to six men from Ivano-Frankivsk and a general from Lviv killed in a helicopter shot down near Slovyansk.

The memorial service, панахида, for the six men from the region, like the funeral for the three fighters from the city itself, was very much a public event. Around two thousand people, according to news reports, braved the downpours and attended the mourning service on Sunday, held at 1pm outside the Police and Security Service HQ on Lepkoho Street. The crowd sang dirges and mourning hymns, while a police band later played as the coffins of five men were carried to Konovaltsa Street. (The sixth body has only just been released to return from eastern Ukraine and a separate memorial service was held on 5 June before the man’s planned burial in Kolomyya region.)

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A colleague carries the coffin of a fallen comrade along Lepkoho Street on Sunday 1 June.

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The coffin is carried towards Konovaltsa Street

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A cross in memory of Volodymyr Sharaburyak, killed near Slovyansk

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Three of the men were from other parts of the region and their remains were taken to their home districts for burial. Ivano-Frankivsk police are switching to Prius cars, by the way.

This corner is the site of a memorial to Ministry of Internal Affairs workers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.Since the announcement that the helicopter with local men had been shot down, hundreds of mourners paid their respects by this monument. On Sunday, the coffins were placed in the back of van-type hearses, with the remains of two of the men from Kolomyya region transported for burial there.

Local press video coverage of Sunday’s memorial service is available, while there are plenty of photos here.

On Monday, at 11am, on a grey, overcast, chilly day, the funeral of the three men from the city began at the Greek Catholic Cathedral where several thousand had gathered to pay their respects. A few key roads around the city centre were closed, though traffic was still flowing a few dozen metres away.

Soldiers in a funeral procession, 2 June 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

Soldiers in a funeral procession, 2 June 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

The crowd was notably smaller than for Roman Huryk’s funeral, which on a mild February day at the height of the Euromaidan and Yanukovych-related violence in Ukraine filled the city’s streets and the huge square outside the regional administration building. Still, it was a sizeable crowd of several thousand who gathered by the cathedral and then joined a procession to the city’s Memorial Square at the opposite end of the central Nezhalezhnosti Street.

Police mourning on 2 June 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

Police mourning on 2 June 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

I followed the procession (following an unpleasant incident that happened to me and I wrote about here), noting that the crowd had thinned somewhat along the way. Local councillors and officials, including the mayor spoke at the funeral conducted by several priests before the coffins were buried accompanied by a gunfire salute. Members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Gryfon unit, as well as hundreds of serving police and some military were present. However, there is anger that there was no official representation from Kyiv, with one relative of a man killed reminding Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk of his promise made on Maidan, “If it’s a bullet to the head, then so be it.” There is a sense that career politicians are now in power and have forgotten about the promises made, as young men and women continue to die as Yatseniuk and others sit safely in Kyiv.

Mourners, Memorial Square, 2 June 2014

Mourners, Memorial Square, 2 June 2014

A male choir had sung the the mourning song associated with the “Heavenly Hundred” of those killed on Maidan and with their microphones left on, the pained weeping and wailing of women came across the sound system and this seemed to stun and silence those gathered more than anything. After the coffins were finally laid to rest the Ukrainian national anthem was sung and this man gave a salute forming the Ukrainian national symbol, the trident. It was quite a touching gesture, (although reading this article this morning put the salute in a different context) as he stood apart from the large part of the crowd, mourning in his own way, as earth was scattered over the graves that will reside in the Memorial Square alongside Roman Huryk.

A man gives the Trzyub/Trident salute as the national anthem sounds during the funeral of three Frankivsk men killed near Slovyansk.

A man gives the Trzyub/Trident salute as the national anthem sounds during the funeral of three Frankivsk men killed near Slovyansk.

In Part 2 on this theme, I write about the politics and controversies surrounding this burial, as well as the wisdom and qualities of an everyday, vernacular memory. 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shuster crowd, 23 May 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk.

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Shuster on telly on telly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Knyahynyn spirits factory impressive stained glass.

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Knyahynyn Spirits factory as a polling station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shevchenko's concert in no way electioneering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All cleared up again after yesterday’s farcical encore

Collapsing Currency and Restaurant Opening, plus parking, priests and Easter

In recent weeks, despite the political and now financial crisis in Ukraine, a few new restaurants and bars have opened in Ivano-Frankivsk. This blog has looked at an intriguing Soviet theme pub and a new burger bar in a fake “old” building. I have also considered the impact of tensions and conflict with Russia on shopping habits, including a boycott, with my post also covered in this excellent article by Mark Byrnes for The Atlantic.

This post looks considers a new Italian restaurant in the city, Fabbrica, which opened on Thursday, finding that it may have found a formula for avoiding the worst of the effects of the collapsing hryvnia and financial crisis. It serves Italian food but using exclusively Ukrainian ingredients (aside from the coffee and chocolate, of course), milling its own flour on the premises and thus making its own pizza dough and pasta fresh to order in the open-plan restaurant. The staff can be seen through the window milling and making the bases of the main dishes. The staff, it has to be said, are also very well informed about the dishes that are served, even if it turns out not all were available.

Fabbrica, new Italian restaurant in Ivano-Frankivsk

Fabbrica, new Italian restaurant in Ivano-Frankivsk

The restaurant belongs to the 23 Restorany group, whose aim is to open up 23 restaurants and cafes. This is their fifth endeavour, with the other four including the city’s best coffee shop, an excellent cake shop and bakery, a restaurant that focuses on waffles and also a summer pop-up cafe. Owing to its owners and their existing ventures’ popularity, Fabbrica was bound to be popular. Still, the staff made a song and dance – quite literally – out of the opening. Each night, with a trained choreographer and star of Ukraine’s Got Talent as well as Ukraine’s So you think you can Dance?, among the staff, towards the end of their shifts the staff will launch into a dance. The local press were also impressed by this gimmick, although some commentators here were less convinced.

The restaurant is, like Royal Burger, housed in a somewhat controversial new development. This building is completely new, although it began as a ‘renovation’ of an existing building several centuries old. One elderly man lived in a semi-bulldozed flat for quite a few months before finally giving way. Thankfully, this building is quite tasteful and makes no pretence to replicate the previous architecture. It sits fairly easily on a small square between the Town Hall Square and the city’s synagogue.

Me and my wife went along to Fabbrica last night, not to see the singing and dancing, but to get some food. We had our hearts, well bellies, set on pizza but when we ordered – and not when we got the menus – we were told that there would be no pizza for about two hours. The amount of dough required had been seriously underestimated, while it seemed to me some of the milling equipment was playing up on this second night. So, we ordered two soups, one pasta dish and a salad. The soups were brilliant, one chunky tomato and vegetable soup, and one pea soup with fresh pasta. The salad was decent – tomatoes, rocket, bread crackers and oil, but maybe lacked some cheese or olives, giving it a bit of savoury saltiness. The pasta dish – fresh wholemeal tagliatelle with Ukrainian forest mushrooms – was superb. Likewise, the juice drinks made of sea-buckthorn berry and another less maintstream Ukrainian fruit were wonderful.

Milling and Making Pizza and Pasta at Fabbrica

Milling and Making Pizza and Pasta at Fabbrica

However, the pasta dish was not my first choice – not only because there was no pizza – but because I had wanted a different dish which was not available. Likewise, we did not have dessert as the two non-ice-cream desserts were already sold out by 9 pm. Obviously, new restaurants will have teething problems, but not having enough cutlery or any small jugs to serve milk in for coffee seems like a major oversight for such experienced restaurateurs. It seems, however, that a major part of the difficulties faced in this exceptionally busy new restaurant were caused by its leading concept, namely the fact that it produces its main ingredients for its relatively small menu on site and fresh. Another problem with its open plan form, which gives the restaurant its Italian “factory” name, is that it’s extremely loud, with the music playing only audible when the milling equipment shuts down. Or when you visit the fancy toilets.

Perhaps we were just unlucky with the time we arrived, just after 8 p.m. on Friday, with no pizzas available, half the pasta dishes unavailable and the desserts running out. So our experienced contrasted greatly with this laudatory review from a local blog.

Anyway, this is enough of the restaurant review – summary, Fabbricca makes excellent food but needs to improve its logistics and service quickly – and I’ll place this restaurant, which uses almost exclusively Ukrainian products, in the socio-political context.

 

Exchange Rates 12 April 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

Exchange Rates 12 April 2014, Ivano-Frankivsk

The use of only Ukrainian ingredients for Fabbrica’s Italian food is not driven by some patriotic urge. Many outsiders of certain political persuasions reading about Ivano-Frankivsk and seeing the words “exclusively Ukrainian” will assume some kind of nationalist undertone. But there is none of that here. Using Ukrainian products where possible right now makes great economic sense having invested what looks like a huge amount in fitting out this restaurant while charging prices lower than comparable places in the city centre or even further outside. The most expensive pizza is around 40 UAH, so about $3 or £2 right now, while pasta dishes are even cheaper, about 35 UAH at most. The beer is produced in Ivano-Frankivsk, Panske, and costs 15 UAH, standard for that brand.

Today, $1 costs over 13 UAH, while a month ago it was about 10, and at Christmas it was just over 8. £1 costs 22 UAH now, whereas even a couple of weeks ago it was about 18, and before Euromaidan was about 12. (In 2008 £1 was worth 8 UAH, $1 worth 5 UAH). The currency has been destabilised by political events and the threat of war, but also by the fact that the artificial measures of the Yanukovych regime to keep the currency stable and artificially low have been exposed. The problem now is that the currency seems to be in freefall and certain goods are becoming very expensive, so almost everything that is imported or valued in dollars. Bananas are now prohibitively expensive, while fuel is also very pricey.

Fabbrica seems to have hit upon a very good idea, as its low prices should be able to be sustained for some time, as its new menu will not be immediately affected by the rising costs of importing goods, although it may feel the knock-on effects of rising fuel prices that affect farming. Equally, it may suffer from a loss of Ukrainian consumer confidence – but now that UAH are increasingly worth less and earnings will not easily fund foreign holidays or shopping trips to Poland, then it makes sense to spend locally. In restaurants and cafes so far, I’ve yet to notice a huge rise in prices, with even coffee remaining the same price throughout the crisis. In shops, though, it’s a different matter.

Old Exchange Rate? Only for Ukrainian Products!

Old Exchange Rate? Only for Ukrainian Products!

The supermarket chain Furshet advertises that it is operating using the old 8 UAH/$1 exchange rate, but only for 150 top products. These products, though, seem largely concentrated on Ukrainian-made goods, including canned fish and wine, which are not significantly affected by the collapsing hrynia. In the meantime, bananas, foreign wine or salmon, are now unaffordable for someone earning in UAH.

However, if you do have some foreign currency – or want to come on holiday to Ukraine right now – it can be super cheap. Looking at our local quality wine and spirits merchant it turned out that some excellent Scottish single malt whiskeys, including Old Pulteney and Bruichladdich, are now cheaper than in the UK or even at duty free. Local, good quality vodka, is now about 30 UAH for a half a litre (£1.50), so for £10 you could quite easily kill yourself drinking. If you go to electrical stores, there are some bargains to be had, including 32 inch Samsung TVs for just over £100 or LG vacuum cleaners for £30 ($50). Here, the claim that 2013 prices remain in place is actually true. I think that unless every customer were lucky enough to come armed with a GBP denominated credit card the store would struggle to shift much stock. Sadly, I wasn’t allowed to buy a new TV but we did get an electric toothbrush for £10, which costs £17 on Amazon UK or £35 from Boots. So, basically, if you want something cheap, or a cheap holiday, come to Ukraine before prices are upped and start to reflect exchange rates.

 

In other news, Easter is coming and so various traditional events are taking place around the city, some of which are now informed by the current situation in Ukraine. As my wife and I were walking from the market after doing some shopping today, we saw a small group of people led by a priest and including a man in a wheelchair, walking through Sheptytsky Square. It turned out that they were about to complete their pilgrimage around the city and reach the fourteenth station of the cross, signalled by the poster next to the lady in the blue coat.

Jesus confronts the black land rover

The 14th Station of the Cross: Jesus confronts the black range rover

The poster featured the text that Jesus was Laid in the Tomb, the fourteenth station. It was also accompanied by the faces of the Heavenly Hundred, so those killed on the Maidan in Kyiv, showing that some see the deaths of those people as a sacrifice which should bring about the resurrection of the Ukrainian nation, or at least salvation from evil. The small group carried a Ukrainian flag, too, and a banner which proclaimed ‘Our weapon is praying for Ukraine’. What struck me about this scene was that the black Range Rover was parked, illegally, right in front of the 14th station/ shrine to the Heavenly Hundred. Its owner had evidently no concern for the content of the poster in front of him. And this behaviour confirmed my faith that the more expensive your car, the more selfish, inconsiderate and boorish your behaviour.

I’ve said it before – the pro-European revolution will be truly won once such arsehole drivers are overcome, including this one which I photographed and contributed to a local news site’s campaign.

Removing my tongue from my cheek now, I realise that there is some degree of incongruity between these everyday posts from western Ukraine and current events in eastern Ukraine, where the fate of the Ukrainian state may well be being decided. It is obviously worrying for me, my family and my friends here – particularly since we have close family living in Crimea (who did not dignify the “referendum” with their vote). But the aim of my blog is to look at what’s going on here in Frankivsk, and my perspective obviously reflects a certain position of privilege: being able to get out of the country whenever I please, knowing I won’t be here forever, and having some disposable income.

Speaking to a Shopkeeper about the Boycott of Russian Goods, Corruption and Storming the Security Service Office

Recently I attended a child’s birthday party and the conversation turned to the topic of Maidan, revolution and the future elections. Some of the guests at the birthday were local businessmen, lawyers and officials. Their identities will remain anonymous, but what we discussed grants insight into the workings, experiences and consequences of recent events in Ivano-Frankivsk and around Ukraine that cannot be gained from simply walking around the city, working at a university or consuming media, whether local, national or international.

So this post will offer insight into how Maidan was funded and organised, the Security Services’ work in Ivano-Frankivsk, including responses to their HQ being set on fire (which I witnessed), as well as life after Revolution, including the boycott of Russian goods and the role of Right Sector in the city.

Most of what I write is a representation of people’s first-hand experiences, or what they heard from those who were at the heart of the action. I end on a comment on further attempts to come to terms with the recent past in the local and national press, as well as in society.

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A billboard in Dolyna, Ivano-Frankivsk region, calling for a boycott of the ‘occupiers” products.

We’ll start with the boycott of Russian goods by a few small chains of local convenience stores. One of the people I spoke to owns a few shops in the city and helped to organise the local boycott, which received significant local and national media attention. Indeed, the media attention was so great that the shopkeeper started to ignore his phone as tv crew after tv crew turned up at his stores. His female staff, meanwhile, made sure that they turned up to work with their best make up and hair styled, he said.

The idea for the boycott started as a patriotic attempt to support the Ukrainian economy. The shopkeeper stressed that in interviews he made sure that his views were not presented as an anti-Russian act, but as a pro-Ukrainian one. While the action brought positive PR, there was also a crisis when some young locals went around one shop involved in the boycott and found products still bearing Russian barcode numbers, with the film quickly going viral around Frankivsk. The initial planned response to this setback on the second or third day was to abandon the boycott, removing stickers advertising it from the shops’ windows.

However, the shopkeepers decided to continue and conducted a further clearance of Russian products, upsetting some customers as Snickers and chewing gum fell victim. As the shopkeepers and consumers have found, however, it is not easy simply to judge the provenance of a product by the barcode. The BBC has reported on an app created in Ukraine to aid identification, as some products bear a Ukrainian or another country’s code yet were manufactured in Russia.

The Greenfield Tea brand has proved particularly difficult, as both the BBC article and shopkeeper noted, as it claims to be a British company, but is merely registered at a PO box in London. The ultimate owners are Russian, but the barcode is Ukrainian, with the tea being packaged in Ukraine. Equally, a brand that appears Polish, and has a Polish barcode, Żubrówka vodka, is in fact owned by a Russian corporation now. Meanwhile, cat food is problematic because Whiskas is an international brand with profits largely not going to Russia but what enters the Ukrainian market is produced there. And customers have been complaining that their fussy cats won’t eat anything else, but the danger of a backlash or bad PR in social and traditional media mean that Whiskas stays off the shelves.

Product Boycott

 

As this poster being circulated on social networks shows, plenty of the brands do not seem Russian at all but merely global, part of the brand collections of conglomerates. For example, I bought some Oral-B toothpaste recently whose packaging was entirely in Russian, but the stated place of manufacture was Germany, whereas the barcode suggested that it was actually Belgium and Luxembourg. Equally, Nescafe and Nestle are Swiss, but their products for the Ukrainian market are produced largely in Russia. Persil, meanwhile, is a German brand but if you go to a store here, some versions of it are produced in Poland while others in Russia. Lays crisps (chips) may be produced in Russia here, but the ultimate owner is American (PepsiCo). Coming from Leicester, the home of Walkers Crisps, as I do, these are the kind of things you know. So it seems that such social media campaigns are not really accurate in terms of targeting purely Russian products.

In the age of globalisation and mega corporations, the patriotic act of a boycott proved much less simple than imagined. Only switching petrol providers can be relatively unambiguous, as brands like Lukoil and TNK are boycotted.

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A boycotted Lukoil petrol station seen from the Bandera monument in Ivano-Frankivsk.

Despite pressure from salesmen, arriving at the stores as regularly as TV crews, pleading the Ukrainian provenance of their brands or appealing for compassion, fearing losing their jobs as no one is buying their tea, the shopkeeper held out. And, he admits, since the boycott and good press, business has picked up a fair bit, offsetting some losses incurred by abandoning Russian or Russian-made goods that were already in stock.

Another aspect of post-revolutionary life that has improved business for the shopkeeper is – for now – the end of what was, effectively, extortion caused by corruption at various levels in state institutions. During the Yanukovych years, after easing off in the “Orange” years, shakedowns and raids, as well as state inspections, increased significantly, reaching levels that recalled the bandit years of the 1990s. State institutions under Yanukovych got in on the act, so the fire department, for example, would call up asking for some booze or other goods with the hardly implicit threat that not obliging them would see some costly inspections take place, which inevitably would find some fault or other with fire safety. The fire department weren’t the only ones at it.

During the revolutionary days of February 2014, the fire department called again calling for a donation but this time, unusually, of tushonka,or canned meat. This unusual request aroused suspicions, while the explanation that it was for “Afghan veterans”, who were supporting the revolution in large numbers in this part of Ukraine, was dismissed. The shopkeeper eventually elicited the information that the meat was to be donated to the state’s internal military and special forces. Since turning down this request, nearly two months ago, and the change in power, the shopkeeper has not faced any further extortion. How long this lasts will depend on how successful the civil revolution demanded by ordinary Ukrainians is.

The shopkeeper knew that the tins of meat could not possibly be for the Afghan War veterans because he was clued up as to how the local Maidan activists from Frankivsk in Kyiv were funded. While I tried to indicate in November how the local occupation functioned in Frankivsk, what happened once the centre of attention shifted to Kyiv and those most active here moved to the capital, I’ve not been able to fathom. Yes, there were local donation boxes and ways of transferring money to secure accounts, while others volunteered to take activists to Kyiv by bus or other means. Equally, once in Kyiv it was possible to find support on the Maidan, getting food and shelter. But donation boxes would not cover those costs. There are theories and rumours of US/EU/CIA funding etc., but what I found out about was how local businessmen, involved in businessmen with turnover much greater than shopkeeping, were funding local activists.

The logic of it is quite clear – if you are a small or medium-sized business owner and the business climate created by the Yanukovych-era authorities was disastrous, then investing in revolution makes sense, while also satisfying an urge to do something patriotic.

Of course, it was far from clear that the Yanukovych regime would fall until he actually fled the country. So funding revolution was a dangerous act, and it turns out that the local Security Services (SBU) had compiled a case against the businessman who had helped fund sending Frankivsk residents to Kyiv to Maidan. One of the lawyers present had seen the reports and evidence some two inches thick in a file, with sixteen years in prison being the sentence demanded of this businessman. However, before he could be sentenced, the local SBU office was stormed on 18 February, once mass killings were initiated in Kyiv. (The new authorities in Kyiv have started to release their findings from their investigations today.) And then the Yanukovych regime started to unravel and collapse.

However, on the night of the storming of the SBU office, the fate of Yanukovych and his apparatus was not clear. So, the storming of the security office in Ivano-Frankivsk and the smaller raid on the Prosecutor’s office by the court, involved the destruction by protesters of numerous files and documents, as well as computers and other equipment. The fear was that if the Yanukovych regime were to survive, then the evidence gathered would implicate not only the businessmen funding activists in Kyiv but also the activists themselves who had been traced by the Security Services.

The lawyer explained that one favoured method is to trace mobile phone signals. A phone usually active in Ivano-Frankivsk which then remained in Kyiv for a few days or weeks was clearly indicative of someone being on Maidan. And many such individuals who returned to Frankivsk either in December after the initial wave of protests or later in January and February were summoned for interviews or “chats” at the SBU.

So as well as some demonstrators collecting weapons and shields from the SBU building on 18 February, part of the reason for storming the building – aside from expressing anger – was to destroy evidence which could have been used against significant numbers of the local population were there to be a clampdown on protestors and activists.

 

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The main entrance to Ivano-Frankivsk Security Service HQ burns on 18/19 February 2014.

Who those active in setting fire to the security service HQ were, is not clear, and I doubt there will be an investigation. But on that night, alongside ordinary people, Right Sector and Self-Defence were evident, although by then, the leading locals activists from those organisations were in Kyiv as the situation in the capital was becoming fatal. Since the collapse of the Yanukovych regime, Right Sector especially became more visible in the city, although for the past three weeks, they have not been significantly evident – in terms of marches, rallies or propaganda materials – in the city centre.

At the moment, no one is really sure who Right Sector are (beyond those who generalise about right-wing, neo-Nazis and so forth). Well, the reality on the ground is that regardless of the ideas that Right Sector and affiliate groups claim to promote, no one really knows who they are.  Here is Mustafa Nayyem’s view, in English. Nayyem, a Ukrainian activists and journalist of Afghan origins – not a veteran but a former migrant – was one of the first to initiate civil protests in November when the decision to abandon the EU Association Agreement was announced. He sees Right Sector, like many in Ukraine, as a murky group with connections to funding by oligarchs and even the Yanukovych regime itself, so an organisation which may have swallowed up the smaller nationalist organisations that now come under the RS umbrella.

In Ivano-Frankivsk, after a period when the local media seemed to en masse (and some of my students too) buy the idea of Right Sector as Ukrainian patriots, the backlash is now starting, with one local journalist producing (in Ukrainian) an astute critique of the ‘parasitism’ that characterises the organisation nationally and on the local level while dismissing the myths it has built up around itself. Indeed, 75% of its members in the city are under 18 and simply from the Tryzub youth organisation, which was subsumed under the RS umbrella. It provides those youths once seen around the city, marching around with baseball bats, but hardly suited to genuine (para)military action.

However, it is clear what young lads with a few weapons are good for. Locally, according to the people I spoke to recently, Right Sector is becoming associated with, or always was associated with, protection rackets and dodgy businesses. Hence the rather selective approach taken by Self-Defence and RS to meting out justice on businesses perceived as being corrupt. The local market was targeted, for example, for its Party of Regions associations, yet other businesses that could be suspected of similar remain safe.

Of course, as the article by Roman Kapiy on the local Right Sector argues, those who were under its banner in Kyiv, along with Self-Defence and others, radicalised the revolution and pushed forward the collapse of the Yanukovych regime. However, it is worrying now how such groups attempted – on the local level – to fill in the power vacuum, repeating the methods of violence and raids that were associated with the Yanukovych era. However, it seems – at least locally – that this is coming under control again, while the state authorities in Kyiv are beginning to establish what happened in Kyiv in February and are setting about establishing what is going on now.

As Nayyem has argued, supporting Euromaidan doesn’t make you a Right Sector supporter. However, it does make you responsible for challenging them – whoever they are and whatever their ideas are – to make sure that the initial hopes of a civil revolution, and a shift towards “Europe” – as imagined as a civil, open society with improved quality of life and incomes – becomes possible.

That’s why I encouraged my students to head out to Maidan in November already. And that’s why, in my own little ways, I’ve been trying to critique and challenge the authoritarian and extremist nationalism that prevailed in the vacuum after the collapse of Yanukovych’s regime.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sounds of the post-revolutionary city

For the first time, really, since the tragic events in Kyiv and the apparent Russian occupation of Crimea, this weekend – encompassing Women’s Day and the 200th anniversary of Taras Shevchenko’s birth – there have been signs that the city is returning to some kind of normality. Albeit a normality over which the frightening shadow of war lurks.
These drummers are, as far as I have observed, the first sounds in the post-revolutionary city that do not resound with mourning or the pathos of the dirge-like readings of Shevchenko’s poetry. This approach to his works prevails, regardless of the content of his verse and regardless of the conditions in which his poetry is performed. While perhaps understandable in these times of tension and tragedy, I have only ever heard such an approach to his works while in Ukraine.

Looking at the hues on this video meanwhile, it seems that the evening sky of Ivano-Frankivsk together with the street lighting on the city’s main street, Independence Street, has managed to form the Ukrainian flag.