Updates (#3) I’m not in UKIP anymore…

Graham Phillips

Last year, before the 2015 UK General election, I publicly announced I’d joined
the party UKIP. I always believe in being completely open about everything.

I wanted to not only vote for UKIP, but show more support for them, send out an EU Referendumemphatic signal that I support a referendum in the United Kingdom on EU membership.

Mission accomplished. In no small part due to UKIP pressure, there will be a referendum in the UK on June 23rd on EU membership.

I’ll be covering this as a correspondent, so it’s no longer appropriate for me to be a member of a political party (even in this case, I was never an active member). I’ve not renewed my UKIP membership.

I put personal politics aside to cover this referendum objectively.

A Channel’s Correspondent to a Crowdfunded Correspondent

Graham Phillips

Sometimes the question comes up ‘how did you go from working for tv channels, to working through crowdfunding?’ So, here we go. In the past few days, I’ve got a few things off my chest, particularly in relation to the channel RT, for whom I started working as a tv correspondent, over 2 years ago, in Donbass.

Why did I, from Great Britain, go to work for Russian media? Well, Euromaidan (pictured) Euromaidansaw the shattering of all my, what turned out to be, illusions about media. When you’ve stood on a street and witnessed chaos, mess, terrorism, yet see it on BBC, CNN, depicted as a ‘revolution of dignity’ etc, masks slip pretty quickly.

There are no objective news channels at all. Every channel has an angle, agenda.

It so happened, that on Euromaidan, Crimea, and Donbass, the angle, agenda of the Russian channels was much more truthful than that of the western media. Not completely objective, no, but no media is. We live in an age where every channel or newspaper is owned, either overtly or not, by corporations, businesses, states. BBC, for example, governed by a BBC Trust comprising several members with connections to big business, including Roger Carr, chairman of defence contractor BAE systems, with lucrative arms contracts across the
world. 
 The famously ‘independent’ Guardian, owned by the Guardian Media Graham RTGroup, with its famously secret ‘externally managed investment fund’. 

RT, famously owned by the Russian state. So, what’s it like working for them, what are the terms? They offered me $300 a day to to a week’s work reporting in Donetsk back when things were kicking off there in April 2014. That may sound like a reasonable amount, but you have to stay somewhere, it was hotels back then, and, when it got to Slavyansk, my agreement with RT extending beyond a week, but not every day, it was necessary to get a fixer too. I had to take care of all of this, and getting expenses back was always a struggle, on not one occasion finding myself questioned about receipts for taxi fares for a few pounds.

Also, it’s hard work. When you are on a day’s shift, you are ‘on call’, and RT called, all the time. There would be several producers on shift at any time, and it seemed to be the thing to do to regularly call correspondents. I found this initially frustrating going up to really pretty irritating, as here –

– as I was always running about trying to film things, the phone would frequently be going off during this. But then, new to it all, perhaps I’d simply misread the role of correspondent for a channel. I wanted, in an erupting war situation as it was, with things flaring up all over the place, literally all the time, to be chasing
all the stories, filming all the action. RT mostly wanted me to be in the quiet centre of Slavyansk doing link ups to satellite camera. I didn’t see the point of this, standing in a calm street while things were flaring up all around.

Then, RT would want to send me places, having ‘hot tips’ of action somewhere. Sometimes they were hot tips, other times stone cold. They were a bit obsessed at Graham Phillips Luganskthe time with all sorts of things supposedly going on in Izyum, so kept sending me there, to no real result, but in fairness got it bang on with the Lugansk uprisings of the end of April (pictured).

Now, I’ve written about not wanting anything to do with RT, not liking working for the channel, and that’s true. But I don’t echo the sentiments of other former RT correspondents out of terms with the channel in respect of being told what to say, report etc. I had a free reign, would record and report what I saw. There would be times when RT wouldn’t use all the material I’d send them, or may select parts for edit, but in any case I’d upload all the material onto my YouTube channel, they knew I did that, there were no restrictions on that. RT did, on occasion, tell me about preferred terminology, but I honestly didn’t pay too much attention to that, and it was never an issue.

I would say this – it was hard work. When RT knew you were on a working day, they knew you were on a working day. There were times I’d get back to the hotel after being on my feet filming the whole day, shattered. Then there’d be a call ‘we
Fullscreen capture 09062016 100803.bmpneed you to do a Skype interview’. I’d do the Skype interview, be preparing to hit the hay, another call, another, and so on. Other times, called out on the street late at night for a satellite link up. But again, this isn’t a beef, being a correspondent on the ground when the ground is as active as it was in Donbass back then, is always going to be hard work, and there’s an adrenalin which powers you through.

The reason for my discord with RT is simply, when I’d do a story which got some heat, it was all ‘RT’s Graham Phillips’ and so, but when I was ever in a position of needing RT’s support, on the field, they would as a first option, throw me under the bus.

My employment with RT ended after my 2nd deportation from Ukraine, in July of 2014. Now, I fully accept they’d told me not to go to Donetsk airport during battle, but I went, got taken captive, many of my possessions, including car, stolen by Graham Phillips deportedUkrainian forces. I got released, deported into Poland, called by as it seemed everyone at RT, congratulating me on release, saying they’d fly me to Moscow etc, they went huge about it on air, booking me into a studio in Warsaw for a special feature. And after that, literally, dumped me there. There was a meeting, where it was decided I’d ‘reached the end of my useful life‘, and that was that. No Moscow, no visa support, nothing. They’d gone so big on my having had my car and money stolen, huge features about it on air, but no compensation for that. They knew I couldn’t return to the home I’d left to report for them, in Graham Phillips WarsawOdessa, now banned from Ukraine. Again, nothing. I’m pictured here in Warsaw, just, taking it all in, wondering what to do next. And more, I didn’t at all feel at the ‘end of my useful life’, felt I was just starting.

In my return to Donbass, after doing some work for RT during the World Cup 2014, I’d negotiated a higher rate of pay, $500 a day, but only got 3 days of that in the end. So, all told, taking into account the loss of my car, equipment etc, my RT career ended with my actually having perhaps broken even, if you don’t take into account the apartment I’d effectively lost. If you do, well, I’d certainly have been much better off materially just staying at home!

But I’d never been about money. The big money was always in western media. I knew guys who’d sit in Kiev, crack out columns on Donbass for Newsweek, New Statesman etc at a couple of thousand dollars a pop. Russian media simply doesn’t offer that. I’d gone with that option because it gave me the chance to report things as I saw them.

Anyway, deported by Ukraine, dumped by RT, I saw in Warsaw in early August of 2014 wondering what to do, sure neither what, nor how to do it. The idea of doing a crowdfunder to continue reportage from Donbass just didn’t occur to me at that time – crowdfunding was still fairly new. I figured just get back there, to Donbass, and take it from there. I decided on Lugansk, and needed to hurry, with Luganskthe city further under siege each day and access nigh-on impossible. I returned from Poland, rushed to the visa embassy in London, got a tourist visa for Russia, took off for Moscow, headed down to Rostov, and found someone who got me in to the city of Lugansk, at that time cut off, under relentless Ukrainian shelling, no power, water, phone signal and the one internet connection in the city provided by the other Russian channel there, Life News. There were no other western journalists, in fact hardly any journalists, and I spent the next month filming as much as possible and, without a channel, submitting my videos to agency.

Working as a video journalist is just about as precarious a profession as it gets. There, there is – as is the nature of the trade – absolutely no loyalty, it’s simply who’s got the hottest video. So to make a living, you have to be in the hottest place a lot of times and your competition is anyone with a cameraphone! So, it’s tough, but at that time in Lugansk there was (sadly) enough action to mean that my work was taken up almost every day.

(August 22nd 2014)

However, I’ve never seen myself purely as a video journalist, enjoying filming but also being an ‘on camera’ correspondent, so was looking for offers from a channel. In September 2014, the Russian channel Zvezda approached me to work
for them. Now, I knew they reported into the Russian Military of Defence, but, was assured all my work would be presented as it was, no directives etc.

So it was, I started work for Zvezda, filming my reports on YouTube, sending them to the channel. And I have to say, working for them was actually far smoother than RT – almost no calls, or Skypes. I’d just film my report, send it off, Fullscreen capture 08062016 232532.bmpand if they took it, I’d negotiated 500 Euros, an excellent rate (although I needed to pay a camerman to film my stand-ups from that), but there would sometimes be a couple of weeks and more when they wouldn’t take anything.

Did I like the Zvezda edit of my pieces? Well, I spoke English, and they dubbed it into Russian. I wasn’t always totally enamoured with how the pieces came out, but then anyone who makes material, and hands it over for edit, will feel the same. The Russian angle, agenda in the Zvezda pieces was a bit more overt, as is the nature of the channel, and ultimately that resulted in my decision to cut ties with the channel, in February of 2015.

And, after that, I found myself at an impasse of a crossroads. I’d now become known for my work in Donbass as working with Russian media, and had seen the impact that had in the west. The result was the west immediately discounting my Fullscreen capture 08062016 233115.bmpwork ‘don’t listen to Graham, he works for Russian media‘, ‘Russian propagandist etc. When you put your life on the line, and I got wounded while working in November of 2014, to deliver the truth, it’s of course far from gratifying when there’s a palpable barrier put up to that getting over to a wider audience. Of course there are a lot of people who want it that way, have made up any number of nonsense stories and claims about me in attempts to discredit my work – I’m a Russian agent, British agent, sex tourist, gay’... it goes on.

Anyway, post Zvezda, I made the call to go it alone. I had offers to work with Vice News, but couldn’t associate myself with a channel who I felt had been entirely dishonest in their coverage of Crimea, Donbass. The BBC contacted me several times, but, after their coverage of Euromaidan, Crimea, Donbass, BBC News exists to me only as a propaganda agency I want nothing to do with.

So, I got by last year on earnings from Zvezda, my YouTube channel, and sponsors. As for the latter, people see a lot of hits, my channel is near 50 million now, and equate that with serious coin. But it’s not quite like that. A thousand hits in much of Europe, the US, can bring in about $4, quite reasonable. If those are in Russia, where rates are far lower for advertising, it’s only 0.40 cents, if Ukraine 0.20 cents. So, in the early days, when the eyes of the west were on droneUkraine, and Donbass, it did generate a decent amount. But since late 2014, the audience has been mainly Russian, from Donbass, or Ukraine so, the hits may still be high, but the sum can be a few dollars.

I did my first crowdfunder, in April of 2015, to fund a drone, it seemed to capture people’s imaginations, went very well. And in September of the year I set up a Patreon account, donations on that, a little less than $200 a month, significant to my work. That, along with donations to my Paypal account, and fairly modest expenses while working in Donbass, Crimea have allowed me to get by.

Coming back to the UK a couple of weeks ago has been a shock in a lot of ways. When I last returned in 2015, Donbass did have some resonance here, but, sadly, that’s entirely gone now, it seems like a different world. Then there’s London, it Graham Phillips UKchanges so much every time that it’s not just buildings which are different, it’s entire streets. New trends, atmosphere, it’s coming back to a city which moved so quickly it didn’t miss a beat when you left, reintegrating. And realising, this is the real world – for me, my world. You can go away and be a ‘big man’ somewhere else, taking a position against your own country’s government as I have, with my work having resonated in Donbass, and Russia (though I’d like to think not just because of that, but due to the quality of reportage, my having worked very hard – over 4000 videos on my channel), but if you’re unknown in your own backyard, there’s a discord.

Of course, being known personally is not what it’s about. I’d like people to see the reportage, know the truth. It’s hard to have friends back in Donbass, suffering under a war situation ongoing because, in large part, the west has switched off allowing the predicament there to perpetuate. But of course, as a correspondent, there are a lot of things interesting to me, which I want to report on. And there’s a bonus in doing so, that if I can win a new audience through work which resonates in the west, I can hopefully take them to know the truth about Donbass.

But how to do it, when both roads are closed, for the above reasons, to Russian, and to western channels? Well, I have go it myself, via crowdfunding.

Set up a project, find people to support it, finance it, make it happen. This is my new project, UK referendum reportage – currently at 25% of the funding target –

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/uk-referendum-reportage/x/12236308#/

So how does this compare to being a channel’s correspondent? Well, there are extra stresses – having to raise finance, of course, is stressful. Despite the perception with crowdfunding that you put a project up, and that’s it, it flies, crowdfunding is actually, usually, a fight to get financing. After my first, lucky, Fullscreen capture 09062016 015443.bmpdrone project, I did a Baltics one which ended up well under target. And this latest one similarly, tough. There are no incredibly wealthy benefactors who with the click of a moneyed finger, make the whole project happen. There are normal people, pledging mostly 10 and 20 pounds. And, in the real world, to make a project even with minimal costs happen, you need a lot of that.

However, on the other side, if it happens, the result can be, simply, the ultimate correspondent’s dream. Freedom to report everything, exactly as it is, not beholden to any one or organisation. Knowing that people support you, support your work, it’s a wonderful feeling. The potential to make a unique project happen because of that.

It’s still new though, the idea of a crowdfunded correspondent. I sometimes ask myself how it came to this, because in some ways, you are alone, everything stands or falls on you. But in another way, it’s the best thing of all, no one calling Graham Phillips journalistyou, telling you what to do, where to go. I hope to build a career on the unique opportunity that crowdfunding gives. Of course, I can only do that if people support me, and people will only support me if the work deserves it. There’s no safety net, it’s live or die.

Be sure, I’ll give it my all to realise this incredible opportunity. People pledging to me now are fairly low in number, but huge in significance. To make it happen long-term, I’ll need more people to see the worth in true, independent reportage. That could even be you, reading this. If so, be sure, from my side, your pledge to me will be met with a pledge from me to turn your support into reportage which can change the world.

Advice from Graham (#1) Visiting the DPR / LPR as a Westerner

Graham Phillips

It’s a question which people ask me quite a bit. So, here are 10 things to take into account:

1. I know more, personally, about visiting from the Russian side, but have heard quite a bit about crossing from the Ukraine side. Not heard great reports from there – Ukrainian troops asking for a special ‘permit’, but being open to a 500 hrv. bribe, taking possessions away to ‘check’ them, not returning iPhones, I’ve heard it all.

DPR borderI wouldn’t recommend crossing into the DPR / LPR, as a westerner, from the Ukraine side.

2. Crossing from the Russian side, firstly, you HAVE to have a double-entry visa, so you can get back out the Russian side again. Crossing from the Russian side and then trying to cross over into Ukraine … the best you can hope for is a Zaparhozhe jail cell, and deportation.

3. The 90-day-stay thing, that’s not in place in the DPR / LPR, when you’re in, you’re in … BUT…

4. We all know the score, most of the west is against the DPR / LPR, so if you, as a westerner, just pitch up at a DPR / LPR border then be prepared not to be let in… Humanitarian DonbassAND…

5. If you bring humanitarian aid, there’s a chance you may not even get past the Russian border. There’s a limit of 50kg per person, and it’s enforced now. There was a time when cars full of pasta, tinned food and tea breezed through. For any number of reasons, those days are gone.

6. Not just humanitarian aid, I recently got held for 3 HOURS at the Russian border for trying to bring a drone into the DPR. It was the first time I’d crossed that border point, having never crossed there before, they saw the drone, got all DPR accreditationjumpy, started taking photos, sending photos to superiors. It was 3 hours, and a fair bit of gnashing of teeth, until my tyres moved. So, a point here – if you enter by one border, try to exit by that one too, they’ll remember you, it’ll be easier.

7. If you want to be sure of getting into the DPR / LPR, as a westerner visiting, you need to get someone to come to meet you at the border, vouch for you. If you are thinking of doing any journalism there, you need to get journalistic accreditation – fairly simple to get from the administrative buildings in Donetsk, and Lugansk. If you are planning on taking videos etc in public places, you could save yourself some problems by getting it.

8. You are entering a war zone, but, don’t expect to go in to booms and plumes of smoke – that was 2014/15. However, things are still on a war footing, so remember that. It’s essential either that you speak Russian, or have someone with you who speaks Russian. The language there – Russian. There are some people who speak English, but life will be a lot easier with Russian.

9. There are no working bank machines (people sometimes tell me there are, I’ve not found them), so make sure you take enough money – roubles – for your trip. Petrol is a bit more expensive than Russia, 43 roubles for the litre to 33, but it’s freely available. Hotels work, there’s food and restaurants, a lot of things look quite normal…. HOWEVER….

10. Don’t lull yourself into thinking things are normal. Most people there will be friendly to you, they are good people, but the mood towards westerners is certainly not universally positive after a western-backed bombing campaign which has seen thousands killed there.

And be considerate of the people there, life is still hard, with little money and employment opportunities far from bountiful. A lot of people there have literally Donbass painbeen through hell, lost loved ones, homes. (Photo, Lugansk 2014)

You can go to Lugansk and not hear any shelling, or Donetsk and only hear it at night, but it’s there. Of course, if you stay in the normal places, you’ll be safe, go to the perimeters, and there’s not only possible shelling, but also landmines to factor in.

There is law and order, even traffic police, there, hospitals work, shops are open. There’s nothing like the lawlessness the west would like you to believe. But, war, LPR summerand what comes with it, destruction, poverty, destitution, hasn’t brought out the best in everyone, so if in doubt, err on the side of caution, and take extra care on the roads. All that said, most people in the DPR, LPR are warm, friendly, will be happy to have a visitor.

There’s a curfew in Donetsk and Lugansk, as I understand, 11pm in Donetsk, 10pm in Lugansk. It’s more flexible now than before, but, be sure to always have your documents on you, in any case.

And don’t think you need to be an activist, pro-DPR / LPR to go there. You can be pro-Ukraine and go there, if you want. But, respect the people there, the mood towards Ukraine is almost universally negative, the people like their republics, so… be a good guest, whatever your own views!

Ok, stick to all of the above, and, enjoy your visit!

Does ‘No’ always mean ‘No’? Dutch Referendum Aftermath

Stefan BeckStefan Beck

Stefan is a Dutch freelance journalist.

The Dutch referendum, 2 months on

In the Dutch referendum of April 7th, 61% of Dutch voters casted their votes against an association agreement between Ukraine and the EU. In theory Dutch referendumthis should lead to a rejection of the association agreement. However, things are looking dim for democracy as a repetition of the Dutch 2005 referendum, in which Dutch voters voted against a European Constitution that was eventually still implemented, seem imminent.

On April 6th Dutch voters voted against the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine. About 61% of Dutch voters voted against a controversial agreement that has sparked the Euromaidain revolution in 2013. Although the results of the referendum were not binding the weeks leading up to the referendum saw intense campaigning and all parties promised to respect the results of the referendum.

In the Dutch law conserning the referendum it is written that the government is not obligated to follow the results of the elections. However the law does state that:

“ If [the referendum] concerns the approval of a treaty, than a decision will be made as quickly as possible if a proposal of law will be submitted that will only concern the withdrawl of the law or of approval of the initiative to cancel the agreement, in case of the treaty has already come into effect”(1)

Wih other words, the Dutch government can choose to ignore or to accept the treaty on which a referendum was held. But it has to make a decision as quickly as possible. This decision should only concern accepting or rejecting the treaty on Mark Ruttewhich the referendum was held.

In a recent parliamentary debate, prime minister Rutte (pictured voting) however has stated that he will not choose to ignore the outcome of the referendum. Hence a ‘yes’ in favour of the treaty is out of the question. He however also doesn’t chooses a ‘no’, and thereby the government seems to violate the referendum law. Prime minister Rutte explained that if a ‘no’ is chosen, it will result that The Netherlands will be excluded from further talks on the Association Agreement on a European level. Hence, by not saying ‘no’ or ‘yes’ Rutte hopes, at least formally, to keep influence on the implementation of the agreement.

Furthermore prime minister Rutte has delayed a decision on the referendum. In front of parliament Rutte has explained this delay as follows:

“As soon as possible, why not the coming weeks? Because of the simple reason that the UK referendum is also taking place. And our political taxation and also the first signals we received from our European partners is that we first want to have that out of the way, that is the 23rd of june. That has to be over with before people [In Brussels – SB] openly want to talk about this.”(2)

Hence a decision has been made to postphone a decision on the referendum. The reason for postphonement is that the timing is very inconventiant from a political point of view for the upcoming Brexit referendum.

Dutch Referendum UkraineHowever, both these decisions seems to violate the referendum law. Because, again, the law states that a decision has to be made as quickly as possible, solely dealing with the acceptance or rejecting of the treaty. Whether or not the decision of the Dutch government is unlawful is up to the court to Judge.

Rutte seems to violate the law because the only way to test whether a violation has taken place is by a decision of the court and this is exactly what is being done at the moment. After a failed resolution by parliament in order to force the Dutch government to take a position on the agreement, the organisation ‘Forum for Democracy’ has sued the Dutch state for not complying with the with referendum law.(3)

Whether or not a repetition of Dutch referendum of 2005 will occur, in which voters voted down a treaty they would eventually still get but with a different name, is to be seen. For now the next part of the game will be either played in court or after the Brexit referendum.

Footnotes

1 – http://wetten.overheid.nl/BWBR0036443/2015-07-01 – Art. 12 lid 3Of Art. 15 lid 2 – Betreft het een wet tot goedkeuring van een verdrag, dan wordt zo spoedig mogelijk beslist of een voorstel van wet zal worden ingediend dat uitsluitend strekt tot intrekking van de wet of tot goedkeuring van het voornemen tot opzegging van het verdrag, indien de binding aan het verdrag reeds is aangegaan.

2 – https://debatgemist.tweedekamer.nl/debatten/uitslag-raadgevend-referendum-associatieverdrag-met-oekraïne

“As soon as possible, why not the coming weeks? Because of the simple reason that the UK referendum is also taking place. And our political taxation and also the first signals we received from our European partners is that we first want to have that out of the way, thatis the 23rd of june. That has to be over with before people openly want to talk about this. This does not mean that behind the sences nothing can take place. But the official conversations in Brussels can only lead to conclusions, and what us concerns, as quickly as possible after the 23rd of june.

Tot slot Voorzitter, zo spoedig mogelijk, waarom niet de komende weken? Om de Simpele reden er dat ook het VK referendum speelt. En onze politieke taxatie en ook de eerste signalen die we krijgen van onze Europese partners is dat we dat eerst weg willen hebben, dat is 23 juni. Dat moet eerst voorbij zijn voordat men openlijk hierover wil spreken. Dat betekend niet dat er achter de schermen niets kan gebeuren, maar het openlijke gesprek in Brussel hierover kan pas tot conclusies leiden en wat ons betreft heel snel na 23 juni.

3 – http://politiek.eenvandaag.nl/tv-items/66629/forum_voor_democratie_daagt_nederlandse_staat

Graham Phillips – Who Is He? (Who Am I?) – A Brief Biography

graham-phillips

To support my work, click here. 

I read a lot of conflicting information about myself, so would like to set a few things out. We will deal with criticisms here also.

I’m a completely independent, crowdfunded correspondent, unaffiliated to any company, or country. My YouTube channel, with over 2000 videos, over 60 million views, over 100,000 subscribers, can be found by clicking here.  This is a brief bio of myself.

I’m a British journalist, Graham William Phillips, full name, graduate of Dundee University,  (Philosophy with History) one of the first Guardian Student Brand Managers, a trainee journalist scheme in the late 1990s. At university I did some student theatre, under the name Brandon Reed. Back then, I saw my career either as journalism, or writing for the theatre. (Photo from uni days, right)

Graham Phillips universityAfter graduating, I moved to London in 2001, and with opportunities in journalism limited at that point, looked at other options to build a career. I spent most of my near 10-year career in London working at the (now defunct) Central Office of Information.  I mainly worked in the Website Rationalisation department, reviewing government websites for closure, integration.

Then, at 30, I fancied a change, a reboot, live in another country, learn a language. Loving football, wanting to experience being in a country in the run-up to a major tournament, opportunities in journalism, and simply liking Ukraine, I moved to Kiev in 2011. Over the next 2 years, I worked at What’s On magazine, did some English teaching in addition, and studied Russian.

See more about that here!

In 2013, I left Kiev (read about the reasons why, here), and returned to the UK for several months, contemplating the next move. I decided to go back to Ukraine, to live in Odessa. I was living there in November of 2013 (I’d built up my own company doing corporate English lessons, was working on a book), when Euromaidan began. Due to the time I’d lived in Kiev, and seem the radical elements behind Euromaidan, I didn’t support it. With the western media at the time almost entirely pro-Euromaidan, I took to writing blog posts telling the other side.

See my video here, about Euromaidan: 

My position, differing as it did from western media, brought me to the attention of the channel Russia Today, RT. We started doing Skype interviews, this coinciding with my starting to Graham Phillips Donetsk airportgo out and film things of my own volition, including Euromaidan, Crimea. In early April, RT offered me the chance to go for a week’s work in Donetsk.

I worked in Donbass between 2014 and 2017. At the start, I had a fairly short working relationship with RT, ending after my 2nd deportation from Ukraine.

At this point, RT made it clear to me that they considered me to be ‘finished’. However, as I told them then, it was just the start. Now, my videos frequently get more hits than RT’s videos on YouTube. RT have even used my videos several times – though this is neither with my permission, nor something I like to see. I feel that RT should stick to their words of 2014, and not touch my work. For sure, I’ll never speak to them again. Although, there is no question that I absolutely support their right to exist! And, I’m grateful for the opportunity they gave me.

After RT, from late 2014 until early 2015 I worked with the Russian channel Zvezda. Since then I’ve worked for myself, funded by my YouTube channel, and crowdfunding campaigns. I was wounded while covering frontline action near Donetsk in November of 2014.

I’ve reported extensively from the frontlines in Donbass, including MH17 site.

I spent a month, as the only western journalist there, while the city of Lugansk was under siege, and bombardment, in August 2014. 

I like doing interviews, and have filmed interviews with a lot of prominent people, from poklonskayaformer Ukrainian PM Nikola Azarov, PM of Crimea Sergey Aksenov, former Chief Prosecutor of Crimea Natalia Poklonskaya.

I’ve been called a ‘war reporter’, and in my time in Donbass, I filmed a lot of reportage, from the frontlines.

Some of my ‘street reportage’ has gained wide popularity. This, from Munich, Germany, well over a million views –

This, from Brexit time, over 200,000 – 

In my time in Donbass, I have done humanitarian aid, raising around £100,000, given to helping victims of war there. I’ve made several full-length films while in Donbass, and also reported extensively from Crimea. In March of 2016, I reported briefly from the Baltics, before being deported after a couple of days.

I live in London, love Great Britain, been a long term supporter of the England football team. My work in Donbass has seen me awarded several medals.  I speak German, and Russian, to a reasonable level.

You can read more about how I went from being a channel’s correspondent, to a crowdfunded correspondent, here.  In May and June of 2016, I reported on the UK referendum, making near 80 videos on that. The project was entirely crowdfunded.

In August 2016, I also went to Crimea to make a film about a British person on holiday in Crimea. We made the film covering the period from 2016 to early 2018! That film was completely crowdfunded, independent, and you can see it here – now with over 40,000 views on YouTube!

My recent film, telling the truth about the Georgian war!

In 2017 I reported from the UK, as well as Serbia, Luxembourg, Donbass, and Crimea.

This video from Crimea, about the difference between Artek, reality, and BBC propaganda, has been a big hit, approaching 100,000 views!

I did exclusive reports from the Crimea bridge –

In 2018, I began a project to film all over Russia in the context of the World Cup 2018. See here, my film from Moscow!

And from Volgograd!

And now, my project about the World Cup 2018! Most recent video here, from Rostov!

And more videos on my channel every day!

***Criticism***

To some, I’ve become an object of hate. I stand accused of my reportage being Fullscreen capture 06062016 011716.bmp‘pro-Russian’, ‘one-sided’, or myself of having some connection with Russia.

As for my reportage, I’ve always done everything to cover both sides, but there are logistics here, deported and then banned from Ukraine, I couldn’t ‘cross to the Ukraine side’ or interview Ukrainian soldiers, in the way I’ve done with DPR, LPR, in Donbass. When it was possible, I interviewed Ukrainian soldiers as I did people’s militia.

As for Russia, I neither have, nor have ever had, any official connection with Russia. Neither the state, nor any state organisation etc, has ever been involved with my work. Quite the opposite, RT actually instructed me not to work in Donbass, after my 2nd deportation, withdrew all visa support. The channel Zvezda may report into the Russian state, but that never impacted on my work with them in any way – I recorded my pieces, sent them to Zvezda, then put them on my own YouTube channel – always my main focus. In any case I quickly ended my association with Zvezda.

There are photos of me holding guns in Donbass. What to say? I took part, as part Graham Phillips gunof filmed reportage, in shooting drills. And I posed for a few photos. Quite often, the militia guys would want you to pose with a gun, a bit of fun in often long hours without action, and I figured ‘why not?’. Building relationships with combatants was what got me to where I always wanted to be – filming at the sharpest end of frontline action. These photos can – and are – taken out of context. I never did, or would, engage in any combat, I took my duties as a correspondent seriously, kept to within acceptable boundaries.

These photos are just a part of war. There isn’t one real correspondent in a war zone who hasn’t at one point picked up a weapon – why would you not, the nature of a journalist is to be interested in things, to want to know how things feel. The difference is, that I show you this side. And the ‘silly selfies’, that’s also a part of war, and I show you that.

I’ve seen myself described as a ‘sex tourist’, ‘sex blogger’ etc. Just, nonsense, I did keep a blog, there were some articles on the subject, but there were just as many articles on abandoned buildings in Ukraine. As for writing about prostitutes, I’ve indeed done that, some years ago. And I always believe in being completely open about everything, and the point I put myself on the line to write these articles was my conclusion, that prostitution is unacceptable. 

I had an incident early in my career where Ukrainian media claimed I triggered a tripwire, then claimed I’d been shot at, RT said a similar thing – and I was working for them at the time. It’s true I made a rookie error, didn’t capture what Graham Phillips tripwireI’d stated on film, but I never claimed whatever it was that went off at my feet was the shot. Even pro-Ukrainian media initially said there was something which sounded like a shot. I based saying that on what I’d seen, a Ukrainian soldier pick up his gun, point it at me, a crack.

However, I hadn’t captured it on camera, I got absolutely caned for it, and it was the last time I reported something I hadn’t captured on camera. It was a rookie error, and a hard lesson, which formed the basis of my career since – facts as filmed, nothing sensationalised. As for RT, they caved under pressure, threw me under the bus. That’s just RT, as far as I’m concerned – an absolutely disloyal channel. When the going’s good, your best friend, as soon as the going gets tough –  under the bus you go.

Max Seddon of Buzzfeed wrote a much-read article about me. Some of it was correct, some patently incorrect. It was basically a standard hit-piece – my profile was rising at the time, my position was inconvenient for the western media, and it was written to bring me down. While some of what Max wrote was correct, other parts were entirely fabricated. 

I’m certainly no stranger to criticism in any case, and I accept it that it comes with the path I’ve chosen.

Some may not approve of parts of my work in Donbassinterviewing POWs for example, gets attention. But I always did so reasonably, politely. And more, after my treatment in the two times I was in captivity by Ukrainian forces, including threatening with being killed, kept with a bag on my head for hours, interrogated, I did indeed feel an element of ‘why not’, when it came to my own Graham Phillips gayinterviewing of POWs – albeit I did so, as mentioned above, with decency.

Ukrainian media has accused me of being a Russian agent, an MI5/6 agent, both as untrue as the other. Gay (based on a Morecambe and Wise student theatre tribute photo) – nonsense, not that I’m homophobic. I get accused of being ‘anti-Ukrainian’ – it’s just not true, I was the correspondent writing articles in 2012 defending Ukraine before the Euros. But, I won’t defend the indefensible, and where are all these correspondents who wrote about how dreadful Ukraine was pre-Euro 2012, in any case?

As for being a UKIP member – indeed I joined them before the General Election of 2015, wanting to send out a message that the United Kingdom needed a referendum on EU membership. That referendum’s been, and I was for Brexit. I’ve not been a member of UKIP for a long time, was never an active one, and haven’t been for a long time, but without their pressure the country wouldn’t have got to the referendum which was clearly needed.

I was criticised for my reportage on Correctiv, and for running from the police, called by Correctiv.  I absolutely defend this style of reportage, it’s a bit confrontational (however there was no ‘trespass’ of any kind here), but there are graham-phillips-correctivmany different forms, styles of journalism, and many different approaches which can be used to illuminate a situation – the point of any journalism. About running from the police – a key imperative of any journalist is to keep the footage you’ve filmed. With German laws as they are, no question the police would have erased my footage, at the very least, and the real possibility of nonsense ‘trespass’ charges against myself. In that situation, I’d always go for a clean pair of heals, and a full set of files.

Then, there was heavy criticism of my interview of Ukrainian POW Vladimir Zhemchuhov, at a prisoner exchange in September, including the Ukrainian consul officially complaining to the UK about me. What to say? I took quite a robust approach with him, but, stayed within ethical limits, as in all my reportage, stand by it, would do it again.

In 2017, the BBC did a hit piece on me, my answer to them here – https://thetruthspeaker.co/2017/07/24/bbc-hit-piece-my-response-to-it/

In May 2018, the BBC followed up their 2017 attack by referring to me variously as pro-Kremlin.


Despite my repeated requests to them, they have yet to provide any evidence to support that claim. It’s the BBC…

I think that about covers it for now!

Euro 2012, Svoboda, Bandera, The Rise of Fascism in Ukraine, When I quit Kiev

Graham Phillips

Euro2012It seems a bit hard to believe now, for any number of reasons, but 4 years ago, I was living in Kiev, Ukraine, eagerly awaiting Euro 2012. I had all my tickets booked up, had been photographing the Euro 2012 countdown sign as the days ticked down –Euro2012 1Euro2012 2

And more, I was working at a magazine called What’s On, having written many Ukrainearticles, in the face of an onslaught of criticism of Ukraine, defending the country (pictured), and its readiness to host the tournament. I’d love to show you a link to these articles, but the website for What’s On has been removed, now taken up by another company even. I rather think it was removed because the owner, and publisher, went on to become fervent fans of Euromaidan, avid ‘pro-Ukrainers’. Interesting, because I remember them at the time laying into Ukraine, saying, writing how Euro 2012 was set to be a disaster.

Fast forward to 2016, and I’ve now not been in Ukraine for over 2 years, having been banned for 3 years in 2014, the Ukraine government not liking the fact that my work differed from the designated Kiev line. Needless to say, I got no support in the western press at this time, but as Ukraine couldn’t eventually resist turning on western, generally pro-Kiev journalists just because they’d been to Donbass, it’s now reaching the western world, with the New York Times declaring last week – Ukraine Declares War on Journalism.

Back to Euro 2012, that tournament saw my first trip to Donetsk, and I was struck Euro2012 Donetskat how different it was to Kiev. Remember the crowd in the stadium chanting ‘Russia, Russia‘, even though Russia weren’t even playing. Remember the England fans who’d been given print-outs with Ukrainian phrases by the FA, being interrupted before they’d even finished ‘hello’ with ‘we speak Russian here’. But I also remember the residents of Donetsk sporting Ukrainian colours in the pub watching as the nation took on Sweden, triumphing thanks to swansonging Andrei Shevchenko’s two headed goals. Recall Donchans (the name for residents of Donetsk) telling me ‘we are Russian people, but we like Ukraine’. I wrote an article at the time, that Donetsk was a Russian city, but one which got on well with Ukraine. Some videos here btw.

Euro2012 Donetsk4Euro2012 Donetsk2Euro2012 Donetsk3Euro 2012 Donetsk5

And what happened? In 2013, Euromaidan broke out, in 2014 war broke out after Euromaidan installed an unelected, undemocratic government with a virulent anti-Russian agenda, powered by the far-right. Activists responded by taking administrative buildings in Donbass. Ukraine responded not by attempting to negotiate, but by sending the army in, real war broke out at Donetsk airport on May 26th 2014, and Ukrainian shelling has killed countless thousands in Donbass since then.

The whole identity of Ukraine has changed – from a country most associated with, well, perhaps beautiful women (at least the football fans there did), Nadia Savchenko and Andriy Parubiyfriendliness, Everything is Illuminated quirkiness … to one the world would connect with seemingly never-ending violent conflict, political turmoil, far-right radicals, and a country which has chosen to define itself through the prism of extremist figures, the freed, clearly unhinged Nadia Savchenko (since release in a prisoner exchange after conviction for the murder of journalists, mostly walking around barefoot, shouting), a man, Andriy Parubiy, who founded Ukraine’s neo-Nazi party tours the world as an ambassador for the country, and, going through the dark pages of their history to find and hero-worship (officially too, Ukraine’s president Poroshenko has made repeated mention of him, praised him, unveiled statues of him, along with attempts to rewrite history by redefining Ukraine’s WWII Nazi collaborators), WWII collaborator Stepan Bandera. That has a significance for me, in many ways, as his supporters were there on my first trip to Ukraine, in 2009, and he played a key role in my decision to leave Kiev…

At the very start of the year, 2016, on 1st January, mass marches took place across Ukraine to mark the birthday of Ukrainian WWII Nazi collaborator, Stepan Bandera. Here, Kiev –

These demonstrations grow by the year, both in number, and in location – witness the large march in Odessa, yet when I lived there 2 and a bit years ago there was nothing at all to mark the leader of Ukraine’s infamous OUN –

So where have all these Bandera fans come from? I even remember people in the west of Ukraine, the nationalist heartland, being ambivalent about the man who has come to the fore since Euromaidan put him there, making him a centrifugal Bandera 15symbol of that violent coup (pictured on Maidan, right), and a Ukraine since then, which has chosen to whitewash Bandera’s well-documented Nazi collaboration, and focus on his Ukrainian nationalism, desire for a Ukrainian state. That this led to his leading brutal, bloodthirsty pogroms in Lviv during WWII is another element of this figure that Ukrainians are willing to overlook in order to embrace a ‘nationalist hero’.

It’s deeply disturbing that it’s come to this, long ago came to this, Ukraine so nationalised that radical nationalistic credentials outweigh any litany of atrocities. And Bandera himself is a symbol, and symptomatic, of a wider, socially accepted spread of radicalism, and the Fullscreen capture 05012016 173649.bmpfar-right, in Ukraine, with the small northern city of Konotop earlier in the year electing an openly neo-Nazi mayor, who drives around with car number plates referencing Hiter.

I never actually thought it would come to this, but I well remember the rise of fascism, and the far-right in Ukraine. I watched it myself, living continuously in Kiev as I did between 2011 and the start of 2013. I was out of Kiev for a couple of days, after an overall successful Euro 2012 there ended, and trouble immediately flared up, with Ukrainian neo-Nazi party Svoboda staging a violent protest to the new law giving the Russian language legal status in Ukraine

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I’d been aware of Svoboda since October 2009, and my first visit to Ukraine, to watch an England football match, as they staged a, then, fairly peaceful demonstration in Kiev, with the Communist Party at the other end of the street –

Svoboda

At that time, Svoboda were still a minor party, having taken a mere 0.76% of vote in the 2007 election. But the wave which would see them take over 10% in the 2012 elections was building in 2009, with a massive swing to them having seen the party which began life as the Social National party, and took much of its founding principles and ideology from Nazism, win the local election in western Ternopil, in March 2009.

The party had stirred up support by tapping into anti-Russian sentiment always there, but mostly latent in Ukraine’s west. Seizing on then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych as a Russian vassal, the party went back to Ukraine’s past, venerating figures not only such as Bandera, Roman Shukhevych, Oleksa Hirnyk (see below) positioning Svoboda partythemselves as ‘defenders’ of Ukrainianism, against eternal ‘oppressors’, ‘aggressors’, Russia and all connected with Russia. It was an effective method, one which would then be ferociously concentrated when an opportunity arose, such as 2012’s Russian language law flare-up.

This came immediately after a Euro 2012 which had appeared to unite the country, with its eternal east-west divide, into the putting on of a successful tournament, and the mood pre that mostly one of positivity, inclusivity. But, after Euro 2012 would come Svoboda’s opportunity to divide, attempt to conquer. There was a nationwide lull in the aftermath of Euro 2012. I remember it myself, all the preparation, build-up, that magical month, now over.

And it was unclear what next for Ukraine. Euro 2012 logos still everywhere, but that now in the past with Ukraine’s prospects for the future looking rather gloomy – debt, devaluation, unemployment. I wrote an article for Pravda in November 2012, entitled ‘Ukraine’s Post-Euro Blues‘.

That came after Ukraine’s October 2012 election, which had taken Svoboda to over 10% of the vote, as they channelled nationwide discontent, presenting their ultra-national, extremist politics as the answer to a depressed country.

Ukraine election 2012 2After that October election, which returned the (generally pro-Russian) Party of Regions with over 30%, some attempt to stir up protests about the legitimacy of the result, uniting opposition parties UDAR, Batkivschina and Svoboda – something which would happen once again in the next year at Euromaidan.

In reality, those October, early November protests were fairly half-hearted. Svoboda were happy to have got into parliament, their fairly small numbers, around 40 of 450, didn’t marginalise them in any way, as they set off a daily chain of discord, disputes, and fights in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada.

I was along in 2012 to document the October post-election protests in Kiev, some even referred to them as the new Orange Revolution, but without any real momentum, they never really got off the ground – 

Ukraine election 2012 3

Ukraine election 2012 4

Ukraine election 2012 5

Ukraine election 2012

Just a couple of months later, Svoboda were already entrenched in Ukraine’s parliament, causing daily chaos, buoyed up, as the confident party filled a downtown Kiev auditorium for their 26th Congress, on December 8th. The event was presided over by Svoboda leader, then 44-year-old Oleg Tyagnibok, who with his fiery brand of nationalist, Svoboda2extreme right-wing politics The Kyiv Post had reported in 2008 him as being “seen by many as Ukraine’s Joerg Haider”. Some have gone even further, with Oleg Voloshyn, then Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman, alluding to similarities between Tyagnibok and Hitler.

Svoboda8Tyahnybok’s own ultra-national views stretch back generations, his great-grandfather the brother of Lonhyn Tsehelsky, a politician in the West Ukrainian People’s Republic, a short-lived entity which existed between 1918 and 1919, in land now both Western Ukraine and Poland. Tyagnibok has spoken many times about the injustices he believes were inflicted on the Ukrainians by the Polish, during this time and others, and further even claimed to remember Russian KGB raids carried out on his home, and a grandfather sent to Siberia for refusing to convert to the Russian Orthodox religion, often speaking of how these formative experiences shaped his political ideology.

After school, Tyagnibok enrolled at the Lviv Medical Institute, doing a spell of national service in the army before graduating (he is a qualified urogenital Tyagnibok youngsurgeon) in 1993. As a 22-year-old in 1991, Tyagnibok had joined the newly-formed Svoboda (along with Andriy Parubiy), or Social-National Party of Ukraine as it was then known, going on to serve as a member of the Lviv Regional Council from 1994 until 1998. In ’98, the fast-rising politician was elected to the Ukrainian parliament, becoming a member of right-wing People’s Movement of Ukraine, which joined Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine Bloc as the Orange Revolution gained momentum. Expelled by Yushchenko in July of 2004 for anti-Semitic comments made in a speech to activists, a period in the political wilderness followed, with Tyagnibok standing for the post of Mayor of Kiev in 2008, only to receive 1.37% of the vote. Tyagnibok was also a candidate in Ukraine’s 2010 presidential election, but polling 1.43%, once more fared poorly.

In 2012, though, Tyagnibok was back on the big stage, with October’s recent electoral success having seen them break out of their traditional western Ukraine supporter base, becoming the second most popular party in the capital Kiev, Viktor Yushchenkobehind then imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchnya (Fatherland). Svoboda’s success comes in a Ukrainian politics which has always dealt a brutal hand to those the country longer favours – footballing hero Andriy Shevchenko’s Ukraina Vpered (Ukraine Forward) party limped to 1.58% of the vote, while former president Viktor Yushchenko’s (pictured) Nasha Ukraina (Our Ukraine) ended with 1.11%, perhaps comparable to the latter day, post-Euromaidan collapse in popularity of a man described in some circles as the ‘new Yushchenko’, Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Oleksa HirnykTyagnibok had long sought to align himself with ultra-nationalist Ukrainian figures, in 2012 pictured laying a floral tribute at Oleksa Hirnyk’s (pictured) grave. Hirnyk, a hard-line Ukrainian dissident who, on the 21st January 1978 – 60th anniversary of the proclamation of Ukrainian independence – immolated himself at the grave of Ukraine’s national poet Taras Shevchenko to protest against what he viewed as the Russification of Ukraine. Hirnyk, typical of the radical figure Svoboda seek to align themselves with.

Language was a Svoboda strapline policy; as for their other policies there is some uncertainty. The party originally mandated for the legalisation of firearms in Ukraine, while declaring ‘Ukrainophobia’ would be a crime, with abortions a Fullscreen capture 02062016 232639.bmpcriminal offence and Ukrainian citizenship tightly confined. Also proposed was nuclear armament, indication of ethnic origin in passports (as was Soviet practice), dismissal of state employees active in the ‘Soviet apparatus’ before 1991, and calling for Russia to apologise for its ‘communist crimes’.

Some of the more extreme policies, including firearm legislation and a ban on abortions, had been watered down by the populist October 2012 election manifesto, which made keynote points (which would become straplines of Euromaidan) of Yanukovych’s impeachment and the removal of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet from Crimea. Ethnic origin in passports remained, and Tyagnibok still wants to re-establish Ukraine as a nuclear power, believing this would stop the “Russian virtual war on Ukraine”. Criminalisation of ‘Ukrainophobia’, restrictive citizenship, policy against ‘Soviet apparatus’ and a call for Russian apology remained.

Svoboda9At the 2012 Svoboda Congress, I recall Tyagnibok presiding over proceedings, regularly smiling at the remarks of his colleagues, while occasionally raising the tempo and interjecting bouts of finger-jabbing rhetoric. Welcoming party activists up for special acknowledgement, their delight at meeting the leader was palpable. Tyahnybok too seemed to be enjoying the opportunity, bestowing firm handshakes on his most committed members.

Yet, the dark side to Svoboda was never far. In the corridor of Kiev Cinema House, the venue of the Congress which saw Tyagnibok re-elected party Svoboda1chairman as a formality (a position he has held since 2004), vendors could be seen selling Nazi symbols. The swastika badges being sold were small, yet clearly displayed by the concessions, as both Svoboda grassroots and elected members browsed the stalls. How deep the Svoboda Nazi connection ran caused some debate at the time, with the party boasting a record of 48% of its voters holding a certificate of higher education, setting the tone for the middle-classes of Ukraine lending their support to ultra-national Ukrainian causes.

International human rights movement World Without Nazism at the time expressed its anxiety at the rise of Svoboda. A statement on the group’s website read: “As a result of the parliamentary elections to Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, which were held on October 28, 2012, for the first time in the whole of post-Soviet history, a neo-Nazi party, Svoboda, got into parliament. This party adheres to pure xenophobia, first of all anti-Russian and anti-Semitic moods.”

Member of Svoboda’s Lviv City Council of the time Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn (pictured) maintained, a blog (quietely shelved as Svoboda’s popularity rose) called nachtigal88, the nachtigall a reference Yuriy Mykhalchyshynto the Nazi battalion formed in Ukraine, with the 88 seeming to represent a binary version of “Heil Hitler”. On the blog, Mykhalchyshyn translated a long text of Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels (described as ‘a pioneer in the field of public relations, the greatest theoretician and practitioner of agitation and propaganda work in the twentieth century’), entitled Little ABC of National Socialists. In doing so, Mykhalchyshyn would appear to be drawing parallels with the situation in Germany in the 1930s, according to Goebbels, and the current Ukrainian climate. Goebbels’ text, which espouses virulent anti-Semitism and single-nation society sentiment, resonates with Mykhalchyshyn’s much-reported statement: “We are against diversity. Ukraine is for Ukrainians.”

Another extreme member of Tyagnibok’s inner circle was, and is Iryna Farion, whom he greeted warmly to the stage at the Congress that day, for her to deliver a speech which placed great emphasis on Svoboda’s fighting ‘evil’ and the Irina Farion‘snakes’ currently occupying parliament. Farion was then a contentious figure, having caused controversy with remarks that seemed extreme at the time in Ukraine, but pale in comparison to what she’s later said – that, speaking Russian should be a criminal offence, appearing at a kindergarten and instructing the children not to use the Russian ‘friendly version’ of names (Maria becomes Masha etc). Lviv native Farion, a Svoboda member since 2005, has gone on to make statements which make what was said back at that time look moderate in comparison, calling for pro-Russian activists in Kharkov to be shot, in April of 2014, stating that all Russians should have been Irina Farion1driven from Ukraine back in 1654, then after the Odessa massacre of May 2nd 2014, in which pro-Ukrainian activists burned alive pro-Russia activists, she wrote on her Facebook page “Bravo, Odessa. (…) Let the demons burn in hell.”

However there have been those who’ve stated that Farion’s ultra-nationalist position may not be entirely genuine, with consistent reports that she was a member of the Communist Party. She remains a senior Svoboda member, despite no longer being an elected representative, and has been a vocal campaigner for escalation of the war in Donbass, imploring other nations to aid Ukraine’s bloody military campaign in what she has frequently referred to as the ‘Third World War’. 

Svoboda’s Andriy Illienko (pictured), then 25, was at that time the youngest deputy in the Verkhovna Rada, having often written and spoken of the need for a “social and national revolution in Ukraine”, the “dismantling of the liberal regime Andriy Illienko Ukraineof antinational occupation”. Illienko would seem to have got his wish with Euromaidan. The aftermath of that violent overthrow, their involvement in which saw Svoboda give themselves carte blanche to go round destroying monuments (for some reason, focusing on Lenin, the man who had actually created the modern-day Ukraine) and here, in March of 2014, beating, Illienko and Igor Miroshnichenko – of whom more below – forcing director of Ukraine’s First National TV channel Alexander Panteleymonov to resign, because his channel had shown the ceremony of Crimea’s incorporation into the Russian Federation –

Illienko, another Svoboda exponent of an ‘ethnically pure’ Ukrainian nation, and stridently anti-immigration. 2016 of course, saw Ukraine chose Crimean Tatar Jamala to represent them in Eurovision, who won with a politically-charged song Gaitanawhich in any case breached Eurovision rules. Ukraine held her up as a symbol of the country, yet in 2012, Svoboda were strong critics of mixed-race Gaitana (pictured) representing the country, with then senior member Yuriy Syrotiuk stating the singer “is not an organic representative of Ukrainian culture.” Syrotiuk was also involved in an altercation at the gay rights march in Kiev, on the same day as Svoboda’s Congress in 2012, which saw five Svoboda members take active steps to break up proceedings, apparently assaulting peaceful attendees. In the official press release, Svoboda depicted their five arrested members as heroes, going so far as to link homosexuality with anti-Ukrainianism, and describing the march participants variously as ‘deviants’ and ‘perverts’. Syrotiuk has subsequently, among other things, been arrested and jailed after taking part in clashes outside Ukraine’s parliament in August of 2015

Then there was senior Svoboda member Igor Miroshnichenko, who in December of 2012 called actress Mila Kunis a ‘dirty jewess‘, has gone on to any number of
Igor Miroshnichenkoultra-national actions including the above beating up of a tv chief, the toppling of any number of Lenin statues (despite many Svoboda members fighting in Donbass, Miroshnichenko never has, but has shown up at the destruction of statues in military fatigues), calling for a Ukrainian footballer to be deported when he refused to implicitly support Ukraine’s military in a football match, and more.

He was at the 2012 Congress (before going off to beat up the homosexual marchers), along with future Ukrainian deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych, a long-term vocal opponent of abortion, believing rape to be largely the woman’s fault. Extreme nationalist, Ukrainian former adminal Igor Tenyukh, dismissed by president Yanukovych in 2010, was at the Congress, he went on to be an active supporter of the Euromaidan revolution, then a short-lived defence minister of Ukraine even.
Oleksandr Sych
Igor Tenyukh

As for Tyagnibok himself, back in 2005 he co-signed a letter to then President Yushchenko calling for a parliamentary investigation into the “criminal activities of organized Oleg TyagnibokJewry in Ukraine,” this after his 2004 remarks which saw Tyagnibok dismissed from the Our Ukraine Bloc; those referred to the “Moscow-Jewish mafia” he contended were running Ukraine.

In 2011, at Tyagnibok’s behest, Svoboda instigated the change in name of a street formerly known as Peace Street, in the village of Razliv near Lviv, to Nachtigall Street, honouring the Ukrainian group implicated in the mass massacre of Jews during World War Two. That action moved Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikola Azarov to say: “I was shocked. It’s hard to imagine such things taking place in our country… It’s a shame for our country.” And in October of 2012, German historian Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe, who has described Stepan Bandera as a “fascist, anti-Semitic and radical nationalist”, was forced to cancel his Bandera lectures around Ukraine after receiving threats from Svoboda members.

The Svoboda Congress of 2012 was a deeply unsettling experience, and I left with a profound sense of unease. The country had seemed to drift for some time after Euro 2012, searching for something to look to. In the absence of that, far-right, ultra-nationalist politics had taken root, fomented. I’d felt myself losing my feeling for Kiev in the final months of 2012 as it changed from the city I’d chosen to live, my first time living in a foreign country, in 2011. 2013 began, literally began, on January 1st, with a chaotic Svoboda-driven march, attended by senior Svoboda figures, of pumped up radicals through Kiev to mark Stepan Bandera’s birthday sending a chill coursing through me as I watched a large crowd, the largest yet in Kiev, emboldened, signalling their intent for a future Ukraine determined by their far-right wing agenda.            BanderaBandera1Bandera7Bandera8Bandera9Bandera11Bandera12Bandera16Bandera14

It was an ominous sign, and there seemed to be something in the air in Kiev. It was something I wanted no part of, packing bags and heading back to England in February. There, I worked on a book project, about the murder of a British man, Barry Pring, in Ukraine. And deliberated about the next move. I wanted to go Whats On Odessaabroad to work again, it felt too soon to call a halt to that and come back to living in the UK, but wasn’t sure where, taking long walks, weighing up where next with options from Belgrade to Riga, the east having long been interesting for me.

I wasn’t sure if I’d lost my feeling for Kiev, where I’d happily lived for 2 years, or Ukraine entirely. Ultimately, it came down to the love of Odessa. I’d visited there in 2012 for the first time, while working for magazine What’s On, and had adored the city from first sight.

So it was, I settled on Odessa, and headed there in what was a wonderful summer of 2013, with events even seeming to have calmed down somewhat in Kiev, the notable event arguably the Bloodhound Gang’s variously urinating, posterior wiping, with Ukrainian, and Russian, flags. But, as it turned out, Svoboda, and the various other radical elements empowered by the climate which had made Svoboda’s success possible, waiting for the opportunity which presented itself Poroshenkowhen president Viktor Yanukovych rejected the signing of an association agreement with the EU.

Svoboda, and other far-right elements, notably the Pravy Sektor, went on to play defining roles in a Euromaidan which quickly turned ugly, not to mention confused – Tymoshenko released from prison only to be roundly rejected as president, an ‘anti-oligarch’ revolution which would a couple of months later install one of Ukraine’s richest men, Petro Poroshenko (pictured), as president, a revolution for ‘EU values’ which did away with not only a president, but an entire elected government, further empowering an element like Svoboda to run amok in Ukraine – a wave of destruction, beatings, raids all the result of Euromaidan

Well, Svoboda played a key role in Euromaidan, then a key role, with five of their members in the coup Euromaidan government. Constant infighting saw that government fall into disaster, and Svoboda in some disgrace, with their members performing particularly poorly, blamed for frequent disruptiveness (the common sight of Svobada members involved in a parliamentary fracas, April 2014, Svoboda Ukraine Parliamentpictured).

Tyagnibok himself took just over 1% in the May presidential elections, then Svoboda’s popularity at the ballot box took a hit at the Ukrainian parliamentary elections of October 2014, with the party by now universally known as neo-Nazi, and the country’s electorate seeming to want to make it easier for a media preternaturally sympathetic to Ukraine since Euromaidan, under pressure to cover the prominence of Svoboda, that Ukraine was not home to neo-Nazism. Their vote plunged to under 5%, meaning the media could make great play of ‘support for neo-Nazism in Ukraine being under 5%‘, conveniently ignoring the fact that 7.5% had voted for the even more extreme, yet less widely known or associated with neo-Nazism, Radical Party, or that both majority parties – Petro Poroshenko Bloc, and People’s Front – had incorporated Svoboda policies to appease a post-Euromaidan electorate demanding ultra-nationalism.

Yet, the climate created by post-Euromaidan Ukraine gave radicalism precedence over parliamentary representation. Svoboda’s website has regularly trumpeted Svoboda blockadetheir involvement in, leading of, various radical acts across the country, from March 1st of this year – Activists of “Svoboda” from Konotop block russian trucks on the road segment “Kyiv – Moscow” near Baturyn , the party also played a key role in forcing out prosecutor Shokin, and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk.

Any solidarity of the time of Euromaidan now just a memory, Svobada’s aggressive strategy of constantly slamming other parties saw them clamber over Oleg Tyagnibokopponents to make sweeping gains in October 2015’s local elections –  obtaining some 10 percent of the vote in Kiev, taking second place in the western city of Lviv, placing over 1800 representatives around the country. Now, post Yatsenyuk, with the marginalising of his People’s Front party, folding of Klitchko’s UDAR party into President Poroshenko’s Bloc, release of Nadia Savchenko representing a formerly moribund now once again buoyant Batkivshina, but one with a leadership crisis brewing as Savchenko squares up with Tymoshenko, Svoboda represent a sort of stability in the ongoing, seemingly neverending Ukrainian political turmoil.

But the disparate ideologies which form this new Ukraine, never mesh, always result in mess. The purported ultra-nationalism of Poroshenko’s muddied by his Saakashvilimass importing, to so far it must be said rather catastrophic results, of foreigners into positions of power in Ukraine – Georgian (he’s actually wanted as a criminal in his native country) Mikheil Saakashvili (pictured) as mayor of Odessa, Russian Maria Gaidar his assistant (ending in disaster when she backtracked on her initial statements that she’d take Ukrainian citizenship, she was dismissed while pregnant), US-born Natalie Jaresko as finance minister, Lithuania’s Aivaras Abromavicius economy minister and Aleksandre Kvitashvili – from Georgia – health minister (all granted Ukrainian citizenship so they could take up post).

Svoboda’s position on this? The same as it ever was, that ‘bringing in foreigners is not the answer’. Unlike the other parties, shape-shifting around them, Svoboda at Dmitry Yaroshleast never change, never apologise for their racist, xenophobic policies. This has brought them to a position where they’ve become a constant, an accepted pillar even, in Ukrainian politics. While the Pravy Sektor war in Donbass, and with each other (former leader Dmitry Yarosh pictured here), attention seekers such as Savchenko and Oleg Lyashko seek incessant publicity, and Poroshenko tries to appear as moderate as possible to the wider world while playing the ultra-national card for the home crowd, Svoboda are what they are.

When a far-right, neo-Nazi party represent the most stable thing in the political landscape … that’s Ukraine as it is now. 4 years on from Euro 2012, it’s a different world, and country radically changed, forever changed by radicals. As I watch Ukraine 2012Euro 2016, for sure thoughts will occasionally drift back to Euro 2012 (pictured), when Ukraine was a lovely, warm, friendly country. But the stream of thought doesn’t need to continue for long, before remembering why I left Kiev. Little did I know at the time though, the rise of the far-right wouldn’t stop there, it fanned, spread, destroyed the Ukraine it purported to revere above all else.

And what next, where will I be writing in 4 years time? What Ukraine will be then? Let’s see, but the ‘genie’ of extremism came out the bottle in Ukraine, and the bottle was smashed. And those ‘pro-Ukrainians’ who think the country can be returned to say it’s happy period of 2012, but under the current regime? As blind to reality as they’ve chosen to be blind to the rise of the far-right in Ukraine to the extent it came to define Ukraine. In 2016 Ukraine, far-right is the new centre.