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.

Sunday in the Park with Taras: On Shevchenko’s 200th birthday.

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Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ukraine’s national poet, the Kobzar – the Bard, Taras Shevchenko. This whole year is being marked as Shevchenko year, with celebrations planned not only in Ukriane but also around the world among the diaspora and academic community. With the current events in Ukraine, however, the planned festivities have been somewhat overshadowed and muted. Still, Shevchenko’s place in the Ukrainian revolutionary tradition and canon is guaranteed, with this reflected in various cultural re-appropriations of his image. This article shows some very creative approaches, although the image of Shevchenko as Che Guevara features a somewhat misjudged slogan: ‘She’. Yes, it is the first sound in both men’s names, although in English I see ‘she’ – something perhaps more appropriate for yesterday’s celebration of International Women’s Day.

In Ivano-Frankivsk there was a poetry reading today on the Vichevyj Maidan (Rally Square) by the post office, while a much more widely attended event was held on the square outside the Administrative Office. Begun with the now obligatory Mass, the celebrations included music – including the playing of the bandura, the instrument of the Kobzar – various poetry readings as well as political speeches on the current situation.

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Today, however, my wife and I avoided the large-scale events organised in the city – although we will attend some Shevchenko-related events in the coming week. Instead, we took a walk along Shevchenko Street – formerly ulica Lipowa and Lindenstrasse, owing to the lime/linden trees which line this wonderful street that leads to the main park in the city, which is also named after Shevchenko. This street is home to the university where we both work and is also where my wife’s first home is. As the photo below shows, her first home – where she lived into her early twenties is falling into disrepair. It had been used as a teaching space for the pedagogical department and also as accommodation for lecturers and their families. Unlikely to be saved any time soon, the collapse of the building would free up some prime city centre real estate.

This photo also shows some of the attempts to revitalise Shevchenko Street, making it – at least for two thirds of the way – a pedestrian thoroughfare and the city’s calling card. However, renovations which were begun – bizarrely – at the start of November 2012 have hardly progressed, leaving the street in quite a mess. Here, though, some of the new paving stones and lamps are evident. The mayor had promised that the renovations would be finished in time for this 200th anniversary and if they weren’t, he said, the responsible authorities would be made to walk on their knees along the street to the park and the Shevchenko monuments located there. Our walk did not, sadly, reveal any bloodied rags and scraps of mid-range navy or black suits, so we can only assume that this threat was not fulfilled.

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Shevchenko Street, at the city centre end, starts with a relief plaque to the Bard, placed there on the 175th anniversary of his birth, as the photo above shows. It is modest, and now adorns a beauty salon, but is tasteful. Less successful, however, was the most recent monument – below – to Shevchenko, where the sculptor seems to have lost any sense of proportion giving this son of the peasantry a rather oversized head and huge hands. By all accounts, Shevchenko was a stocky chap but here he seems  to have been given the proportions of a hobbit. This statue, which was erected three years ago, is an exact replica of the Shevchenko monument in Ottawa. The sculptor is from the Ukrainian diaspora and there are plans to show a film made in the 1990s in Canada on local television in Ivano-Frankivsk.

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More successful, however, was this original sculpture in the park, also featured at the start of this post. It shows Shevchenko is his later years, rather than the above sculpture which bears the image of a young Shevchenko that also features on the 100 UAH banknote.

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Here, by this statue we witnessed a young girl with her father who was explaining to her the importance of the poet and then with great reverence she laid a flower by the memorial, signally the respect with which he is treated in the country and features much more prominently in the life of the nation than, say, Shakespeare in Britain.

The walk in the park did not pass without incident as we encountered – as is usual around here – a thoughtless and selfish driver who declared it his right to park inside Shevchenko Park.

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My wife asked him whether he really needs to park right inside the park, since many other people with prams managed to cope without driving right into the park. After some pretty foul language from him, he decided to confront me about ‘how I got so wise’. I didn’t have the time or the will to explain. It seems that while some aspects of behaviour are being transformed by the revolution, such as teachers refusing gifts, the revolution can only truly be declared victorious when drivers stop being arseholes, parking in parks or on pedestrian crossings or jumping red lights.

An interesting outcome of the confrontation with this man was that a young woman carrying a 1980 copy of Shevchenko’s work Kobzar apart from suggesting that ‘he’s not worth it’, also thought I was Polish. (Knowing Polish, I tend to speak Ukrainian with a Polish accent). She thanked me first as a Pole for all the help my apparent nation had offered Ukraine, then I pointed out that I am British. She then thanked me for all the help Britain had offered Ukraine. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that in all likelihood Britain won’t do too much to help and seems more interested in the billions of Russian oligarchs.

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This post will now take the form of walk along Shevchenko Street to Shevchenko Park. Here is a view of the start of the renovated section at the corner with Horodynskoho Street. It is clearly very much a work in progress, although there is a clear impression of the intention to create a wonderful thoroughfare. It took a campaign by ordinary residents of the city last year to save the linden trees which gave this street its original name, with council and developers claiming the trees were variously a danger to lives or property, or that they could be replaced. The campaign was successful involving a series of protests and petitions, and it’s clear that the trees have now been given special protection.

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This set of pictures shows a building a little further up Shevchenko Street adorned with gargoyles or chimeras, as they are known here. This building housed the first Ukrainian language secondary school in the city. It also bears plaques to three Ukrainian men. The first is to Stepan Lenkavsky, an activist in the Ukrainian interwar nationalist and independence movement, who became leader of the Organisation of Ukrainian Revolutionary Nationalists in exile in Munich in the 1950s and 1960s, hence the OUN symbolism on the plaque and also graffitied onto the wall beneath it. He was most famous for authoring the Ten Commandments of the Ukrainian Nationalist, with his plaque here bearing the first: ‘You will secure a Ukrainian state or die fighting for it.’

The second plaque here is to Oleksa Hirnyk, another pupil of the school. In 1978 he burned himself to death close to Taras Shevchenko’s tomb on the 60th anniversary of the declaration of an independent Ukraine. He is an official, state-recognised Hero of Ukraine, although for a long time his fate was silenced, while Shevchenko’s poetry provided the inspiration for his resistance to Ukraine’s Russification under Soviet rule.

The third plaque features Mykhailo Dyachenko, another graduate of the school, and a nationalist activist who was the chief poet of UPA who died in 1952 fighting NKVD forces in Ivano-Frankivsk – then Stanislav – region.

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Further along the street, as well as some wonderful examples of nineteenth and twentieth century urban architecture, you find the point where the renovations of Shevchenko Street have come to an end – namely just outside what is nominally the main entrance to the university. The paving stones are ready and waiting to be laid, while the workers have a portakabin available, but there doesn’t seem to be an urgency – despite the ideal weather for the job – to lay them. Not even to reach a few metres further so that it would be possible to enter the university without traipsing through mud. Thankfully the massive trenches that had tainted the street for months have been filled in. The state of the street has meant a significant increase in graffiti in this area, and none of it really that creative or humorous.

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Further up the street, you get a sense of the eclectic variety of architecture on this street which reflects all eras of the city’s history. The street existed as a thoroughfare to hunting grounds in the seventeenth century when it was founded, then it became a more exclusive area of the city, hence some of the lovely townhouses. However, it also houses the university which – beyond any nice buildings it acquired – can’t be said to have contributed greatly to the city’s architectural heritage in any positive way. The building behind the green fence is the death trap where I am expected to conduct my classes, the Humanities Block, which featured in this post about health and safety at work and fire safety. Opposite the university are some communist-era blocks of flats, while a nineteenth century Austrian-era building features most probably a remnant of the Soviet-era service sector, shoe repair. The red sign suggests membership of an updated form of cooperative, while the plastic windows and doors are clearly a twenty-first-century imposition on the building.

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Further up the street there is evidence of great care being taken to renovate Austrian- and Polish-era buildings, even with their fine and intricate details, as the pink building shows. The row of buildings, meanwhile, shows a series of architecture from interwar modernism blending into Austrian-era bourgeois architecture. The building furthest to the right houses some of the finest rooms owned by the university, with this building knows as the Building of Academics. Here doctoral dissertations are defended and dignitaries hosted. Further down is the house where one of Ukraine’s leading contemporary writers, Yuriy Andrukhovych, lives.

Behind the red car is a more recent architectural addition which has taken a form common in the city, namely “renovating” an existing building while in fact substantially altering it and effectively putting something new in its place. This is also evident in the form of the house behind the high fence where a local oligarch, or probably a “minigarch” lives. Next door to this minigarch’s house is a nineteenth-century building which has fallen into disrepair with no chance of it being rescued.

IMG_1996Still, some of the grand buildings by the park remain untouched and in great condition. Some in the past housed high-ranking local Party officials, although the one featured here is now home to a monastery. Nearby is a kindergarten.

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Also in Shevchenko Park is the Rukh (Movement) Central Municipal Stadium which is still home to the largest local football team, Precarpathia Ivano-Frankivsk. The results board outside, however, still refers to the relative glory days of 2010/11 when the team was in the second-flight of Ukrainian football. Since then, following bankruptcy, the club has declined and despite talk of takeovers, it looks like it will be a long time before the city sees a decent standard of football again. The stadium could probably do with significant investment, since the stand in the third picture is apparently much too steeply built to enable fans to see the whole of pitch without obstruction. The most popularly attended events at the stadium now are rock concerts, with Okean Elzy having performed in spring and Skryabin in autumn.

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The mix-and-match form of the stadium gives it a certain accidentally modernist charm, while the traces of the efforts to extend its use are evident. Probably in the 1990s and early 2000s there was an internet and gaming club here called Kiberia. It is not quite clear, though, what this entrance gate was supposed to achieve, despite a vague resemblance to a 2D parthenon.

So, this was a walk along Shevchenko Street – one of the most historically and architecturally significant in the city – and into the park, which is a trace of the initial reason for locating a city here in the 17th century. In 1662, the Polish nobles, the Potockis, thought this would have made a great hunting ground.

This is by no means an exhaustive history of the street, merely a set of observations from a Sunday walk on the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great Ukrainian bard Taras Shevchenko. Still, this brief overview shows this street to be something of a palimpsest, reflecting better than any other in its architecture and history the 200 years that have passed since Shevchenko’s birth and indeed the entire history of the city.

Health and Safety in Practice: The University

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The university’s largest building is the Humanities Block, which is nine storeys high and about forty metres long. With some twenty-thirty lecture theatres, seminar rooms and offices on each floor, as well as cafes and libraries, it can accommodate – I would imagine – between 2,500 and 3,500 students, lecturers and other employees at any time. Most of the time, all rooms are taken meaning that the building is always full. There are two entrances from outside either side of the building, while the Humanities Block can be accessed through the Central Building as there are walkways connecting the entire main campus. The Humanities Block has only one central staircase to move up and down, and four lifts, although only two are accessible to students and are always overcrowded between classes. The building features fire escapes, including one emergency staircase, but none of the exits nor the emergency staircase function. The above photograph shows students smoking outside one exit which is locked shut in a system of double doors. The first door from inside the building is also locked, with the writing on the window stating ‘No Exit’, while on the door to the right it states ‘Emergency Exit’ and below ‘The Key is With the Caretaker’. No student or staff member could identify where the caretaker might be.

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On each floor of the Humanities Block towards the end of the longer side of the corridor is a door like this one. The red writing states ‘Emergency Exit’ and the green ‘Exit’. On each floor, however, the door is locked with a key. It could be quite easy to rip the door open, were there to be a fire, although it is unlikely that such a manoeuvre would save many lives because it would lead to this exit onto the street.

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The first problem, evident here, is that this car is blocking any free exit from the building, as well as access by emergency vehicles. The path to the door is also blocked by snow, so it could be difficult to open. However, the main problem is thus:Image

The fire exit is padlocked shut, and there is no indicator that the caretaker has the key. Furthermore:

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the fire exit is filled with junk and rubbish, meaning that any students and staff who escaped down the marked fire exit would most probably find themselves trapped in the doorway, unable to access the exit which is locked shut.

There is no evidence of fire safety equipment on any of the eight floors. There are several cupboards on the walls of each floor marked with fire safety equipment, however they appear to be solely taps or pumps enabling firemen and firewomen to connect their hoses – if they can get into the building given the cars blocking the entrance – to a water supply.

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Despite having classes on Occupational Health and Safety, it seems that students – like staff – in this block have no way of knowing what the fire safety procedure is, likewise they have no way of protecting themselves, since there are no fire extinguishers, sprinklers or alarms to set off in the entire building, as far as I could see. There is, however, a notice – but only on the fourth floor – indicating what should be done.

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The notice, apart from being situated so high as to be illegible, is partly damaged and is also ten years old, coming from 2004, predating even the Orange Revolution. Meanwhile, the lift instructions are written solely in Russian – a fact that is quite probably anti-constitutional – and date from the USSR.

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These instructions, apart from being rusted, do not seem to give an indication of the procedure for using the lift in a fire.

It might be all bad news if, like half the university, you are based in the Humanities Block – but head to the Central Building and you’ll seen an improvement in fire safety. There is a transitional zone, however, located on the bridge between buildings, where some of the largest lecture theatres are located:

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Here there are instructions on what number to call in case of fire, and a suggestion of a fire extinguisher, absent from the Humanities Block. However, you will need to look for the elusive caretaker again in this transitional zone:

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If you open the cupboard, you will find this notice, telling you that the fire hose is with the caretaker at the porter’s office. If you go there, however:

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The caretaker is at a different porter’s office. But at least you can finally help yourself to a fire extinguisher. It is merely 150 metres back to the Humanities Block and then a brisk climb to whatever floor happens to be on fire. There are also buckets and spades which might help.

But if you carry on deeper into the Central Building, into the Physics Department, then there is an abundance of fire safety equipment – quite sensible, really, given the type of experiments taking place.

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Here, in a steel box that itself seems to have been fire damaged, there is a powder fire extinguisher and a hose. There are at least four such boxes, all fully-equipped, on a corridor barely one third of the length of one of the floors in the Humanities Block. It might also help that this department is adjacent to the administrative centre of the university, thus fire safety equipment will obviously be of a superior standard. However, should the administration or the Physics department, or indeed the equally well-protected sports department, need to flee, they will find their emergency exits blocked, too, albeit blocked to a higher standard.

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This ground-level fire exit is shuttered, meaning that all staff and students caught in an emergency would need to flee through one major exit door, or try to escape through the corridors and bridges into other buildings.

This photo essay reveals the insufficient fire protection for staff and students at the university. In combination, however, with the information gained from attending the lecture on Occupational Health and Safety in the Workplace, it becomes evident that there is a complete systematic failure which is indicative of a broader problem within the education system, as students are loaded with information from lecturers which bears little relevance to reality. According to today’s lecture, each institution is responsible for monitoring health and safety, and can be subject to inspections – as is typical in any sphere in today’s Ukraine – from numerous state bodies. However, these bodies seem best equipped to deal with the aftermath of a disaster rather than preventing one. Indeed, one of the main organisations responsible for workplace health and safety is the Trade Union, whose office – happily – sits on one of the well-protected corridors, rather than in the death trap Humanities Block. Beyond offering flowers on birthdays and at funerals, the Trade Union at the university seems powerless – even if in the Euromaydan protests trade unions from other spheres are proving active and supportive. Today’s lecture also outlined very clearly the causes of accidents, including “unsatisfactory workplace conditions” and “neglect” by individuals for supervising these conditions, but not only did the lecturer fail to apply this to the surrounding reality at this university, but the class was structured in such a way as to offer no opportunity to make such a point.

Further, the atmosphere of fear and intimidation the generally prevails in student-lecturer relations, particularly in areas outside the students’ core subjects, means that students are unlikely to raise any queries. At the moment, from speaking to some students, it seems that the Euromaydan protests (revolution) are framed as a worthier cause, meaning that any such everyday protests seem irrelevant. However, prior to the protests there was also little indication of a thrust towards questioning any failings by authorities within the university. The wait for a top-down revolution remains, with many students blind to the fact that Euromaydan began as a grassroots, civic rebellion against careless, neglectful authorities.

Staff, too, largely wait idly for change or deny it could ever come, regardless of abuses of their terms of employment. Contracts state that the university is obliged to provide all necessary conditions for safe and fruitful employment. Starting at a base and basic level, there is no toilet paper in any toilet I have encountered at the university.

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When I raised this point at a staff meeting in another department to the one I am now employed in, I was told that “that’s what we have the part-time students’ exams for”. Humour helps, but even with revolution or an urge towards an imagined “Europe”, everyday conditions will be a long time in changing.

Health and Safety in Theory: The Lecture.

This week and next, all students in years, 1-3 and 5 attend almost exclusively lectures, rather than seminars, which is traditional for the start of term. (Fourth years are away on apprenticeships in schools.) This means that I have no teaching at university. I have instead decided to attend informally lectures given by staff not in my home department. There is a formal procedure that can be conducted to gain permission to attend other lecturers’ classes – and indeed there is a requirement within departments to conduct ‘mutual visits’, so attending colleagues’ classes and assessing them; however, since I am unlikely to be given permission to attend officially, I am visiting lectures “undercover” and conducting, effectively, participant observation. I am of course recognised by my students but not by the staff.

This post concerns by experience of attending lectures in a course titled ‘Occupational Health and Safety’ (Охорона праці). This course is compulsory for fifth year students taking both the ‘specialist’ (equivalent to a PGDip) and the Master’s course. The course involves six hours of lectures and twelve hours of seminars in the second semester only, and follows on from work done in the third year. The Ukrainian university system involves significant numbers of compulsory courses – indeed students here have no choice at any point in their course choices – which are not related to their core subjects of foreign languages.

I observed this lecture in Occupational Health and Safety because it is one of the courses students typically have complained about as being irrelevant. Equally, it is a course that could offer insight into something of a tension between theory and practice in terms of health and safety in the workplace. I also observed the lecture for indication of student behaviour, as well as staff responses. 

Today’s lecture was given by a woman who, like many staff here, appeared to be well over the state retirement age but has no intention of retiring, as it is possible to collect a full salary and a full salary-related state pension. The lecture began after fifteen minutes of administration, so partially checking attendance registers, while issuing a warning that she would be patrolling the lecture theatre (with some 100+ students) and checking that students were taking notes. She never carried out this threat, although once the lecturer lost control of the room – about 35 minutes in to her lecture – she again threatened the same, while singling out one student for laughing. Her attitude to the student was quite brutal, on the one hand, stating that “it’s rare for me to remember a particular student but when I do, the student will wish it had never happened.” She then used the informal ty, so like a French tous, when a Vy, vous, is normal, to tell the female student that she would be the first to answer in seminars next week. On the other hand, the lecturer was quite witheringly humourous in her put downs, noting that this student was sitting between two lads and this would obviously make anyone smile. Apart from those two lads, there were just two other males, including myself, in the room.

The content of the lecture was delivered fairly clearly and quite slowly, to the extent that I had no problem in following and taking notes. The theme of the lecture was Accidents, Injuries and Occupational Sickness in the Field of Education. Six questions were to be covered, from a typology of accidents and work-related illnesses through how to conduct investigations into workplace accidents, correct procedure, up to the question of monitoring of workplace health and safety. Factual information was given, with it becoming clear which statements the lecturer expected students to copy down verbatim in order to be able to repeat legal and technical definitions in the course exam. There was an outline of the procedure to take if an accident should occur in a school or university, or on an educational trip. The question that arose for me from this was, why was all this information being transmitted to every single student when a more sensible approach would be to ensure each department or school had a recognised health and safety officer? Equally, the insight into the state bureaucracies that needed to be informed of an accident, and which forms needed to be submitted and when, showed that for anyone involved in an accident, or that person’s families, it will not necessarily be easy to establish who was responsible for an accident.

Another interesting insight was in the section on work-related illnesses. In education, the lecturer stated,  most likely illnesses for staff would be related to chemical issues caused by an unsuitable working environment or a negative impact on vision caused by using a computer. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to ask questions, so I did not get to inquire as to the psychosocial factors affecting psychological wellbeing, since it seems that in Britain at least, education professionals suffer significantly from stress. I imagine that in Ukraine, given that lecturers have a workload four times more intensive that their colleagues in Poland, for example, while students have at least 25% more hours than the average European student, that stress and depression must be higher here, even if it is not diagnosed officially. Psychosocial factors were mentioned, but only as causes of workplace accidents – meaning that a person under stress could neglect their duties or make a mistake, causing an accident. The workplace environment was never deemed a cause of psychological illness.

This is a rough outline of the lecture which, according to students, is effectively repeated three times, rather than any lecture giving additional insight beyond additional details into the Health and Safety process at work. In terms of behaviour, almost all students seemed to stop paying significant attention after 30 minutes, while some never engaged with the lecturer actively despite initial threats.

What was insightful for me was the outline of apparent chains of responsibility for university occupational health and safety, something that I will discuss in the following post which explores some workplace realities of health and safety.

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The writing on the window and door reads: (lower left) No exit; (top right) Emergency exit; (lower right) Key is with the caretaker.