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.

Police HQ Blockade Farce: the encore. Padlocked gates, burning tyres but no APC or Right Sector.

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Padlocked gates of Ivano-Frankivsk, 19 May 2014.

 

On my way to work yesterday afternoon, I passed the police HQ again on Sakharova Street. The armoured personnel carrier had not returned, the street was empty of people and traffic was moving smoothly (for this congested city). Renovations were ongoing on the neighbouring burnt-out Security Service HQ. So, at this site of ongoing protests, things seemed peaceful, as if some normality were returning to relations between police and activists belonging to Maidan Self-Defence. The previous evening, so on Sunday, returning by bus from an outlying suburb, I had seen a joint patrol by police and activists.

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Tyres by the padlocked main entrance to Ivano-Frankivsk Police HQ, 19 May 2014. The latest in my series of crap photos. This car has nothing to do with the protest. I just didn’t look when taking the picture.

 

However, on my way to work yesterday I soon felt that this peace was odd and something had to be amiss. The main gates to the police HQ were locked shut and tyres were blocking the entrance. Even during the stand-off with the armoured personnel carrier parked outside, the police HQ continued to operate and the doors were open to citizens (except when there were physical blockades of the doors, as I wrote). Tyres, including a burnt one on the spot that the APC had occupied, are a symbol of the protests in Ukraine, whether in the west, Kyiv or the east. And padlocking and chaining the doors shut from the outside also seemed unlikely on the part of police trying to protect themselves. Something was definitely amiss, yet there was not a single person in sight, whether from the Self-Defence side or from the police.

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Not a contemporary art installation.
A burnt tyre outside Ivano-Frankivsk police HQ, 19 May 2014.

 

It was clear that some form of protest had taken place, but it was not until I got home and could check the local press websites and news portals that I could figure out what had happened.  The clearest image is given by this video news report from Channel 112 provided by Ruslan Kotsaba, local civil society activist, satirist and journalist – and now also parliamentary candidate in the upcoming by-election in the city. He was there at the time when the abovementioned tyre was burning and explains that the protest is part of the long-term campaign against the nominated head of police. Kotsaba then speaks to an activist from the Maidan Self-Defence group who outlines the organisation’s position.

This young man, who cannot be considered articulate, is the coordinator of Self-Defence in Ivano-Frankivsk city. He first declares that the group are against “the inactive authorities who are failing to participate in state-formation processes”. He then adds that we “had asked, begged for a decent head [of police], one who was born in our region, someone we more or less know, who will work towards raising up our country [kraj].” He suspects the authorities are “shoving on us short-term servants who might steal from the country, destroy our country, who might carry out illegitimate elections or might falsify them”. The coordinator then stresses that Self-Defence feels previous protests have been ignored and now “we’ve had enough. Either you start to work properly and listen to the community, or you should retire. We’ll create order ourselves.” Kotsaba, the journalist, then ends by stating in his ‘back to the studio’ bit that this is “sad news but it will repeat”.

While the Self-Defence coordinator claims that his group represents “the community”, hromada, so conceived as the people of Ivano-Frankivsk, I would suggest that Kotsaba’s conclusion is closer to the general mood of the city. People are generally tired of this politicking that Self-Defence supports, provincial concerns effectively, while the east of the country is under threat. Oddly, this means having to agree with a statement from the local branch of Right Sector. The organisation denied any involvement in yesterday’s protests outside the police and security service HQ and deemed them “damaging to the Ukrainian cause”. Right Sector Ivano-Frankivsk added in its statement its suspicion that those involved were “seeking to install their people in positions of authority in the city”. The statement from the Self-Defence coordinator, after all, suggests a desire to have someone familiar, someone local, so – in all likelihood – someone well-versed in local networks and systems of nepotism, protection and mutual back-scratching. So, essentially, someone unlikely to rock the boat or bring about reforms to systems of corruption. There are, after all, strong suspicions in the city that some elements in Maidan Self-Defence are connected to possibly not-entirely-legitimate business interests, hence a somewhat selective approach to sorting things out where corruption is suspected.

This opinion piece from the local press suggests that Self-Defence is in danger of becoming a mercenary or “commercial” group, available for hire to push through a particular sponsor’s demands. After all, the author argues, it is pretty odd that certain names that mean nothing much at all to the people of Ivano-Frankivsk are being put forward as candidates for the posts of head of the Security Service or police.

According to this report, meanwhile, there was “pushing and shoving” at yesterday’s protest, with “activists” managing to enter the building. This resulted in “a compromise”, so a meeting between “activists” and the head of the Security Service (SBU) in Ivano-Frankivsk region was organised. So, the Maidan Self-Defence have extended their protest to seek, further, the removal of the head of the Security Service, too, accusing him of having worked against Maidan activists during the winter protests of 2013/14 and continuing to harm Ukraine. There were also concerns voiced that some members of the SBU “Alpha” unit had been involved in some kind suspected of “terrorist attack” on gas pipes in the Rozhnyativ district of Ivano-Frankivsk region which caused significant damage to a pipeline running from Siberia through Ukraine to Uzhorod and on to the EU.

A Civic Council has been formed to enable facilitation of communication between the Ministry of Internal Affairs organs (police and SBU) and the population. However, the Self-Defence activists are against this council since they believe that it is unelected. However, I don’t recall any election to establish the legitimacy of these people conducting their variant of mob democracy. Those “activists” present at the meeting decided that any further action should be postponed until the conclusion of the elections, contrasting with the coordinator’s concerns, expressed in the video interview with Kotsaba, that falsification was feared. Still, as Kotsaba suggested this “sad”, I would say farcically tragic, story is likely to run and run.

Even today there were threats to make the action more radical, although the Armoured Personnel Carrier is not going to be used as “it is being prepared for war”, according to this report. There are still calls in this report for compromise although this means not selecting the nominated head of police, whose home region of Volhynia seems to be facing a more intense stand-off with police in Rivne with an infamous Right Sector activist having been killed by state agents operating with the current Kyiv government.

While the calls for compromise might sound optimistic, I’d say that if the local police can’t exert enough authority to get rid of a burnt tyre from the front of their building with no one around, or remove a padlock and tyres from their own HQ’s main entrance in an otherwise peaceful city – then there is a definite deficit of democracy and authority.

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The square outside the Regional Administration Building, aka the White House, in Ivano-Frankivsk. 19 May 2014.

Meanwhile, yesterday on the square by the Regional Administration Building the Maidan Self-Defence camp remains in place, albeit much smaller than at its height. Some workmen, meanwhile, were repairing some of the stairs and stonework around the square which had been damaged partly by protests but mostly by skateboarders who were still out in force yesterday. In the above photo you can see the monument which is now a site of contention. The two figures, musicians representing east and west Ukraine, were once united by Lenin. Now the plan is to partly recycle the monument by including a new sculpture. However, the city council cannot decide if marking Maidan or commemorating the “Heavenly Hundred” is the best way to achieve the desired effect. I suspect that it is too early to tell whether more apt is marking the overthrow of a government or the tragedy inflicted by it, celebratory or mournful is the choice.

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Poster proclaiming “Eternal Glory to the Patriots of Ukraine”. The photo shows Ihor Ivanov, a Right Sector fighter killed in Odesa. “To the eternal memory of a Hero of the Ukrainian nation.” It then cites psalm 48:21 in a call for vengeance.

As regards mourning, this poster stuck on the wall of the administration building proclaims “Eternal Glory to the Patriots of Ukraine”. The photo shows Ihor Ivanov, a Right Sector fighter killed in Odesa. “To the eternal memory of a Hero of the Ukrainian nation.” It then cites psalm 48:21 in a call for vengeance. While some  national media have been more subtle and expressed greater decorum in response to the Odesa tragedy, this poster is perhaps more typical of a response I have noted among some here which makes an ethically-questionable clear division between Ukrainian heroes killed and Others, those killed who – following this logic – must have been enemies and are deemed non-Ukrainian. The response to Odesa is something I considered elsewhere on this blog.

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The EU flag is back on both Administration Building balconies. 19 May 2014.

After a period where those claiming to speak for the community attempted to claim the square outside the city’s White House and the Maidan-era tradition of rallies for their own cause, as I wrote here, the square is once again a car park for many suspiciously expensive motor cars belonging to employees at the Regional Administration and elsewhere. While the most radical point of Maidan “activist” resistance to the post-Yanukovych order in the city meant removing the EU flag from the balcony where Self-Defence and Right Sector addressed sparse audiences, that flag is now back with the red and black “Bandera” or UPA nationalist flag relegated to position at the side. However, any great enthusiasm for the EU and what it might promise is not really in evidence in the city, barring the by-election campaign by local businessman – he part-owns the Bukovel ski resort in the nearby Carpathian Mountains – Oleksandr Shevchenko. The Europe Day celebrations in the city were a huge flop, judging by these images. That is probably why this report stuck to text only despite its declaration that “people support the event solidly” in the city.

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Oleksandr Shevchenko’s by-election banners. The only ones which make extensive use of EU symbolism in the city.

A better-attended event, filling the Vichevyj Maidan (Rally Square), was the visit of Radical Party leader and presidential candidate Oleh Lyashko, recently seen questioning a “separatist” capture and filmed wearing only his underpants. Lyashko filled the square, perhaps not packing as much as Petro Poroshenko’s visit did, but then Lyashko himself was the sole attraction in this case rather than the massive show that Poroshenko put on. Lyashko’s populism was also evident in him singing the now famous anti-Putin song, Putin Hujlo (Putin’s a Cunt – sorry if you’re reading this in Russia, I think it’s illegal to use swear words there now – here’s some asterisks for you to use where necessary П**** Х****). Lyashko, however, got the tune a bit wrong. Maybe it’s a regional difference, like in church when people from different areas sing the same hymn quite differently.

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Archery practice: targets are Putin and Yanukovych. Central Ivano-Frankivsk, 17 May 2014.

More reflective of the current mood, perhaps, is this city-centre attraction, a makeshift archery game with Yanukovych and Putin as targets. Yanukovych’s portrait had far more holes in it. Perhaps he’s an easier target, rather than now more hated?

And so, that’s my update from Ivano-Frankivsk for now. A bit of political posturing and dangerous games with the police; the election campaigns go on; popular dislike towards Putin takes various forms; the EU seems less popular than it could have been; but – what goes without saying but hasn’t been said explicitly here – everyday life carries on and prices, for now, have stabilised with the dollar costing about 12 UAH for a few weeks now.

 

Armoured Personnel Carrier in Frankivsk: The Farce Continues

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

APC outside Ivano-Frankivsk police HQ, 5 May 2014

APC outside Ivano-Frankivsk police HQ, 5 May 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New sushi restaurant opens on Frankivsk's main street

New sushi restaurant opens on Frankivsk’s main street

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

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

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

Presidential campaigning in the western provinces of Ukraine; tragedy and uprising in the south and east.

In this post you’ll get: comments on Odesa, mourning, Petro Poroshenko’s presidential campaign roadshow, other candidates’ visits to Ivano-Frankivsk, and the new constellation of political posters in the city.

Presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko comes to town as things in Odesa turn tragic.

Presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko comes to town as things in Odesa turn tragic.

I have been away from Ivano-Frankivsk and Ukraine for a couple of weeks, hence the lack of updates on the blog. However, after a trip to Poland at the end of April, then the Carpathians over the May holiday, I am back in Ivano-Frankivsk. Since the last blog updates, the situation in Ukraine generally has grown more critical and indeed tragic. The horrific events in Odesa, with people burned alive – including youths, as reported here – has begun to draw attention to the seriousness of the threat of civil war. Whereas, perhaps, Luhansk or Donetsk seemed very distant from Galicia, Odesa is a city many here have visited for holidays and is reachable within 12 hours by train, rather than the 24+ needed to reach the east. Although the national media are carrying symbols of mourning – images of candles burning, or indeed real candles on news desks – the narrative being presented is largely one that isn’t willing to fully explore events in Odesa. Meanwhile, some of the reaction on social media has been less than compassionate – even hubristic – given that not all of those in the Odesa Trades Unions building were “separatists”, “pro-Russians”, “anti-Maidan” or whatever other labels are being applied. Some usually sensible people are sharing images such as this one – as well as much more tasteless memes – where ‘the patriots of Odesa’ are being mourned, so those who are termed “pro-Ukrainian” or “pro-Maidan”, with the rest of the victims implicitly condemned.

Before I get misunderstood or accused of being “pro-Russian”, or not understanding “Ukrainian realities”, my point is this: those participating in the protests in Odesa and elsewhere are a mixture of people, ranging from professional soldiers and fighters – including Russians and other non-Ukrainians – to ordinary people on the street. Whether or not you agree with what those on the streets of Odesa, Luhansk, Slovyansk and elsewhere are fighting for, or protesting against, when a mass killing occurs, with a variety of victims, then decorum and respect are dignified responses.

The point of this blog is to record and comment on life in Ivano-Frankivsk, so it is to that which I now turn.

On the road with Poroshenko. Perhaps his own bus manufacturing company made this vehicle?

On the road with Poroshenko. Perhaps his own bus manufacturing company made this vehicle? The slogan reads “Live anew”.

When returning from Poland on Wednesday morning, 30 April, after a week or so away, the most obvious difference in the appearance of the city since the last week of April was the overwhelming number of presidential campaign  posters that had appeared (and by-election materials – Frankivsk is exceptional in that there is a by-election for parliament, too, on 25 May as the existing MP, Oleksandr Sych, is now in the Cabinet). It was noticeable that those of Petro Poroshenko, “the chocolate king”, far outnumbered anyone else’s. Indeed, the total number of his posters probably exceeds those of all other candidates combined. He is the wealthiest and currently leading candidate for election.  He visited the city on 2 May and we returned from the mountains in time to catch his show and his promise that under his rule people will “live anew”, the main slogan of his campaign.

I call it a show because the meeting – held on the city’s Vichevyj Maydan (Rally Square), by the post office and site of the first gatherings which became Euromaidan – was massively stage-managed and on a huge scale. The posters around the city announced that not only would Poroshenko be speaking, but also the rock performer Taras Chubay and another band would be performing. The event, starting at 18:00, also had two MCs, guest speakers including a poet and a playwright, as well as Yuriy Lutsenko, a politician who was released from jail about a year ago after being imprisoned on political charges. A crowd of several thousand packed the city streets in numbers not seen since Euromaidan to hear Poroshenko and catch his show.

Taras Chubay and band play some decent rock using Andrukovych's poetry.

Taras Chubay and band play some decent rock using Andrukovych’s poetry.

After a brief introduction from the MCs, Taras Chubay took over. In deference to the then ongoing events in Odesa where some deaths had already occurred, he toned down the set and sang two or three songs based on Frankivsk poet Yuriy Andrukhovych’s works. The music, however, was still heavy rock played by a slightly aged but impressively tight band. After some poetry from a local poet Dmytro Pavlychko, with his reading largely appealing to the legacy of UPA fighters, local playwright Maria Matios spoke. I have a grudge against her because her rather depressing, patriotic, pathos-laden plays dominate the repertoire of the local theatre – so much so that they might as well make it her exclusive stage. One of my main passions is theatre, so Matios’ dominance seems to stifle any significant creativity or experimentation.

Local playwright Maria Matios appeals, like her plays, to a pathos-laden sense of patriotism.

Local playwright Maria Matios appeals, like her plays, to a pathos-laden sense of patriotism.

Local Poet

Local Poet Dmytro Pavlychko

After the cultural section, Yuriy Lutsenko appeared. Whatever you think of his politics, it is undeniable that he is a compelling and effective speaker. Although a few eyebrows were raised when billionaire (albeit not multi-) Poroshenko was not counted as an oligarch and instead something of a counterpoint to the various oligarchal clans that seek to rule Ukraine. I’m not sure what the technical or legal definition of an oligarch is but even if Poroshenko is relatively less well-off than, say, Akhmetov, Firtash or Kolomoyskyy, then he’s still pretty loaded and has had his fingers in political pies since the millennium at least. He was even a co-founder of the Party of Regions. Lutsenko, though, continued to hold the crowds attention, although it became clear that even his rhetorical powers were beginning to wane as he spoke for some 25 minutes. It turns out that Poroshenko had been delayed in the town of Kalush, after also performing in Kolomyya the same day, so Lutsenko was holding the fort.

Yuriy Lutsenko impressing with his rhetorical skills and holding the fort while Poroshenko is delayed

Yuriy Lutsenko impressing with his rhetorical skills and holding the fort while Poroshenko is delayed

Eventually, just before 19:00 the main attraction appeared on stage – but in keeping with his man-of-the-people, definitely-not-an-oligarch persona, he took to the stage by walking through the huge crowd, his image relayed on the massive screens. Obviously he was flanked by significant security, just in case. On the screens, too, there appeared images of crying older women, as if the nation’s saviour had appeared. My wife and I had taken her godson, aged 10, with us – and he seemed transfixed by the celebrity status of Poroshenko, and insisted that we remain to see him. Even seeing Lutsenko in person got the ten year old quite excited. I had to go off to teach a class, but my wife’s report suggests that the message was similar to Lutsenko’s – vote Poroshenko in the first round, he’s the main candidate, get over 50% and avoid a second round of elections and get the country running properly again.

Not an oligarch, apparently; Poroshenko enters the stage through the crowd

Not an oligarch, apparently; Poroshenko enters the stage through the crowd

I’m not eligible to vote in Ukraine – but I can see the appeal of this argument. As another two weeks, into June, of campaigning and of temporary rule in Kyiv can only cause further destabilisation. Another appealing aspect of Poroshenko’s campaign is that he is the only candidate to have declared in his manifesto that he will call immediate parliamentary elections. I have been assured, having spoken here to legal experts, that the current government is in place in Ukraine legitimately, at least in terms of the law (however murky it is). However, an election could aid the cause of creating greater popular legitimacy for whoever is in power in Kyiv, with more representation for those living in areas where MPs have resigned or disappeared from parliament.

However, the above comments could all be academic as the most significant doubt in my mind is over whether the elections can be carried out successfully at all. In Ivano-Frankivsk and western Ukraine, sure, the campaigns are going ahead, candidates (at least those with any chance of getting elected here) are appearing on the main squares of cities and towns around the region. But I can’t really imagine the same happening in areas in the south and east of the country where the threat or reality of violence is actual. And, equally, if referendums are planned for those same areas for a week today, regardless of those plebiscites’ legitimacy in law or among the population, they will influence the way the Presidential election is conducted. Obviously, the way things are now is almost impossible, a damned if you do/don’t situation regarding the elections and almost anything else.

The greatest emotion that observing the election campaign in full swing in Ivano-Frankivsk while news of events in Odesa was filtering through was one of incongruity.

Other presidential candidates have also visited the city, although they came while I was away. Yulia Tymoshenko appeared on 1 May, holding a meeting in one conference centre, then appearing in the city centre, too, albeit without the song-and-dance attached to Poroshenko’s arrival. Olga Bogomolets, one of the best known medics from the Euromaidan protests, is standing in the election, too, and she spoke at the university at the end of April, while also holding a press conference in the city. There was very little, however, to announce her arrival in the university or beyond, while her posters seemed to be somewhat shoddy and subject to the elements. Bogomolets has, though, announced an alliance with Maksym Kytsyuk, a Sevastopol resident who was one of the leaders of Euromaidan in Frankivsk and a student here who was badly beaten in December by still unknown assailants. Oleh Tyahnybok, notorious leader of Svoboda, was also in town with his posters more noticeable about the city. Still to come is Anatoliy Hrytsenko, although there is no sign that any of the Party of Regions-associated candidates are planning to head this way.

Tyahnybok's poster with Bohomolets' obscured and sodden by rain, with another announcing another Taras Shevchenko-related event

Tyahnybok’s poster with Bohomolets’ obscured and sodden by rain

Meanwhile, with the presidential candidates in town, the mayors of Ivano-Frankivsk and Kalush travelled together to Donetsk region in an attempt to show national unity and hear the voices of ordinary people living in this now conflicted region of Ukraine. With Anushkevychus, the local mayor out of town, another candidate for the parliamentary seat here took his opportunity to mock his rival by taking a walk down Shevchenko Street. Its revitalisation, as I noted here,  has turned into something of a farce lasting over a year, with one of the city’s most prestigious streets now largely covered in rubble. The rival candidate, also called Shevchenko, has proposed renaming the street in (dis)honour of the mayor responsible for the farce. Shevchenko’s campaign is the only one that draws on European symbolism at a time when the EU seems increasingly powerless and lacking influence over the situation in Ukraine as the old Cold War powers play out their struggle again.

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Election campaign tents in the city centre with a much reduced stage in the background following Poroshenko’s departure

 

Oleksandr Shevchenko's campaign is the only one using overtly EU symbolism

Oleksandr Shevchenko’s campaign is the only one using overtly EU symbolism

 

As well as the mushrooming of presidential campaign posters, and a few by-election campaign tents, political posters have begun to appear again around the city in larger numbers, sometimes creating strange juxtapositions. There was also evidence of attempted sabotage, with Poroshenko not enjoying the support of Right Sector, it seems. It’s a bit baffling, too, as to why they’re putting their stickers in English.

Not everyone is pleased to see Poroshenko in town

Not everyone is pleased to see Poroshenko in town

Here various posters compete for space, with Poroshenko’s poster alongside that of Hrytsenko, as well as materials supporting the far-right nationalist OUN organisation, featuring the images of Bandera and Shevchenko.

Competing posters and messages

Competing posters and messages

Here, meanwhile, a poster for a singing competition held over several days in April and May by the central fountain in the city is accompanied by a Poroshenko poster revealing the full bill for his show, as well as a poster of Putin being shot through the head with the caption “This shit will soon die”.  The small poster at the bottom right, meanwhile, guides you to a nationalist portal called Neskorena Nacia or ‘The Undefeated Nation’ which wants ‘a Ukrainian Ukraine’. It declares itself to be the ‘leading Banderite portal’ and bears the OUN logo. It is noticeable that although the leader of Right Sector is standing for president, he is not campaigning actively and has indeed declared that his election funds are better spent, he feels, on sponsoring the fight against Russia. The nationalist message here, meanwhile, is one that predated the election campaign and indeed Euromaidan and events in south and east Ukraine.

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As for those who declare themselves to be Right Sector, or at least Maidan Self-Defence activists, they seem to have ceased most of their actions in the city now. The campaign against the regional head of police continues, although as something of a symbolic stand-off now with no marches being reported recently. However, the symbolic stand off means that now there is an armoured personnel carrier outside the police HQ. When I passed it on Wednesday, however, it was “staffed” by two young men who looked like teenagers with no one on the door. Obviously, an APC in the centre of Ivano-Frankivsk doesn’t look good and suggests that while Ukraine is under threat, local nationalist activists don’t really have their priorities straight if they think this is the best use of their resources. The report linked to above, meanwhile, continues the unfortunate rhetorical trend of deeming such “activists” the representatives of Maidan, whereas most of those active on Maidan or supporting its aims are now hoping that Poroshenko, or another president, will be able to bring some stability to the country and realise not only security but also the goal of improving everyday life in Ukraine in the long run.

Maidan Self-Defence in the crowd at Poroshenko meeting

Maidan Self-Defence in the crowd at Poroshenko meeting

 

While in Frankivsk everyday life and the election campaign seems to continue almost as normal, on the surface – with the tensions over war or civil war impacting psychologically – I can help feeling that it is somewhat incongruous now that such lavish campaigns are being carried out with the threat that hangs over the country.

 

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”.

Rally fail

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.

Ivano-Frankivsk Barricades Brigades: 5 Kanal News Report

This news report from 5 Kanal shows the work of the Self-Defence Brigades which patrol the Ivano-Frankivsk barricades around the municipal and regional administration building. They stand guard as volunteers from 8pm each day and there are around 400 volunteers, all men, involved. The celebrity aspect to this is that a Ukrainian record-holding strongman is involved.
The report says that in two weeks, around 20 people have been held by the brigades, including drunks, ‘marauders’ and one armed man.
They will remain in place until presidential elections are called.