Slavyansk – Donbass – 2 Years after Ukrainian Forces Took It Back

Graham Phillips

Ukraine’s president Poroshenko is in Donbass just now, 2 years after Ukrainian forces recaptured Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, and further territory in the area. It’s, thus far, business as usual for the man now more than 2 years Ukraine’s president despite approval ratings actually lower than his predecessor at the time of the Euromaidan overthrow – around 17%.

So, we have Poroshenko decked out in camouflage, making a series of
Poroshenko SlavyanskStrangelove-esque statements, giving out medals, posing for flinty photos in forementioned fatigues, making an announcement on changing the insignia on Ukrainian military uniforms to honour Ukraine’s Insurgent Army, who fought with the Nazis in WWII.

Business as usual then, the standard greetings, congratulations on ‘liberation’, further plaudits to Ukrainians for standing up in ‘defence of freedom, democracy and territorial integrity’. Here it gets a bit tendentious, because what actually kicked off the situation in Slavyansk was Euromaidan in Kiev – a mob taking to the streets, backed on by a baying crowd pumped up by partisan media coverage, a western blind eye to any acts of violence perpetrated, and generous foreign funding. 

LuganskApril2014On April 12th, as had happened in Kiev – but the western media approved of it thereanti-Kiev activists took over administrative buildings in the city. At that time I was in Lugansk (pictured), having accepted a week’s work for RT (Russia Today). Why RT? My position in not supporting Euromaidan meant Russian media was the only door open to me, which allowed me to report things as I saw them. Now, having not worked with RT for almost 2 years, can say I neither watch nor even like the channel, but back then, they gave me the opportunity in Donbass.

So, I was there with them in Lugansk, when things started going off in Slavyansk, and I demanded to go there. Initially, to be honest, the producer at RT that day hadn’t even heard of Slavyansk, so was against it. But, I persisted, went, stayed there reporting for the next month-and-a-half until my capture on May 20th by Ukrainian forces at Mariupol, and deportation – although in the first instance, it must be said, Kiev made me deport myself telling me to ‘get on a plane tomorrow if you ever want to come back to Ukraine‘.

In my time in Slavyansk, I recall the vast majority of the population supporting the DPR, many local men joining the ‘people’s militia’ – it’s actually more natural to call them ‘opolchenie‘, the Russian word, as there’s no direct translation which captures that word. I’d love to show you videos of this, however due to the hunt for ‘separatists’ which took place after Ukraine retook the city, I had to remove most of my (hundreds of) videos. You can see one here, in which I’ve blurred the faces, a crowd of locals chanting for ‘referendum’ in the city centre, mid-April.

However, there’s no question that things got a bit messy, and there were a few who exploited the opportunity, in the chaos, to do as they will. The fallout between the ‘people’s mayor’ Vyacheslav Ponomarev and military commander, Igor Strelkov turned very ugly, and as the weeks passed it became clear to residents there would be no repeat of what had happened in Crimea a couple of months before (referendum, Russia immediately taking over).

Screenshot (46)The referendum held in Slavyansk, on May 11th 2014, saw western media sneering at a ‘farce’, focusing on a ridiculous, clearly Kiev-planted story of 100,000 pre-marked ballot papers ‘intercepted’, rather than paying attention to the mass turnout of people from the city, with queues of hundreds of metres, plenty of normal ballot papers to see.

And Ukrainian military actions had in any case begun in April, I saw the first body there on May 3rd, a man shot by Ukrainian soldiers after a dispute, was present at many locationshospitals, to confirm figures, and funerals. By the time I was deported, in later May, already up to 30 civilians had been killed as a result of Ukrainian military action. How many were killed overall, before Ukrainian forces took the city of some 115,000 back, in early July 2014? At least another 30, by any estimation – sources here, here, here, here – other than the forgiving official version, which puts the total figure killed at below 20. 

So when Poroshenko writes today, of Ukrainian forces taking the city with ‘minimal human losses‘ and ‘saving the lives of people‘, that’s clearly untrue. By the time the Ukrainians retook the city, their military campaign, against a vastly outnumbered opolchenie, had seen a place which once attracted tourists to its beaches, reduced to destitution, subsisting most of the time without water, power, extensively damaged by Ukrainian shelling.

Here’, a children’s hospital shelled – 30th May 2014 –

Orphanage – 1st June 2014 –

Smoke rising from city – 6th June 2014 –

Queue for water – 8th June –

Building goes up in flames after shelling hit – 8th June –

Wrecked apartment block – 12th June –

Many inbetween, but here 30th June, as in the days before they retook the city, Ukraine’s shelling campaign intensified –

Of course, Poroshenko today wrote about it, again, as a victory ‘against Russia’. Nonsense. There were volunteer fighters from Russia, it’s entirely possible there was some hardware which had come over the border, but most of the fighters were local men who had dug up weapons from Soviet times, hunting rifles. True opolchenie, most of the military vehicles captured Ukrainian army AFV’s and on. You can see some of both here, in this video of Victory Day, 2014 –

So, when the opolchenie retreated, and Ukrainian forces swept in in a carefully co-ordinated campaign on July 6th, which involved much filmed handing out of bread and vegetables, there was indeed a beleaguered turnout of townsfolk to meet them, some there for the handout, others genuinely happy that Ukraine had taken back control.

But did it reflect the will of most in Slavyansk? From my time there, I’d say that Strelkov Slavyanskcertainly wasn’t the case. In the beginning, a clear majority of people in the city supported the would-be breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, of which Slavyansk was a part, perhaps 80-90%. As time went on, this went down, due to the conduct of Ponomarev, and Strelkov – the latter (pictured), having decided it was a war situation, meaning war regime, meaning shooting people for looting and other such acts. But, still, support for the DPR remained high, perhaps 60-70% when Ukraine took over.

Actually, this man here I interviewed in a surreal Slavyansk in later July 2014, with Ukraine’s takeover having quickly morphed into organised hunts for ‘separatists’, seeing disappearances, said that while he’d not supported the DPR – in fact everyone suddenly ‘hadn’t supported the DPR, had been out of town’ – around 70% had.

This woman I interviewed at the same time, mid-July 2014, was, pretty radically, pro-Ukrainian, and there always were some like her. However, it was a minority.

So, what’s Slavyansk like now? Well, a city divided, united by something – no one’s happy. Few jobs, little money, a city entirely re-branded to enforce Ukrainianism on everyone – Ukrainian flags and banners everywhere, organised pro-Ukrainian meetings, parades, pressure to speak the Ukrainian language (in a city which spoke almost entirely Russian before). I have friends there who keep me abreast, and more, even filmed a report from there recently –

How much DPR support is there now? Well, it’s hard to be sure exactly. Round-ups and repression have had an impact. Many had to leave town, others disappeared. Others, pro-Ukrainians, have been settled there from other areas of Ukraine. Yet many remain, pro-DPR, of course unable to express this (for the above video, many pro-DPR simply refused to speak). Relentless Ukrainian On 27 April 2016, (right) UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom visits with pupils of School #13 in Slovyansk, as part of a visit to conflict-hit eastern Ukraine. He was in the country to raise awareness of the global education crisis facing children in emergencies. UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom visits School #13 in Slovyansk as part of a visit to conflict-hit eastern Ukraine to raise awareness of the global education crisis facing children in emergencies. School #13 was one of the first hit by shelling in the conflict that broke out more than 2 years ago. It is one of the 57 schools that UNICEF has helped to repair and refurbish in the region. UNICEF provided new school furniture, lego for classrooms, games and trained the school psychologist to help children cope with their experiences. Across the conflict area, approximately 580,000 children are in urgent need of aid and more than 230,000 children have been forced from their homes. Around one in five schools and kindergartens in the region have been damaged or destroyed and around 300,000 children are in immediate need of assistance to continue their education. The trip came as new findings show that nearly a quarter of the world's school-aged children - 462 million - now live in countries affected by crisis. The Education Cannot Wait Proposal, written by the Overseas Development Institute and commissioned by a range of partners including UNICEF, reveals that nearly than one in six – or 75 million – children from pre-primary to upper-secondary age (3-18) living in nations affected by crises is classed as being in desperate need of educational support. However, on average, only two per cent of global humanitarian appeals is dedicated to education. At the very first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in less than three weeks’ time, a groundbreaking new fund - Education Cannot Wait - will be launched to give access to learning to every child in need in emergencies. It aims to raispropaganda – and the Ukrainian media is so propagandistic a journalist called Anatoliy Shariy has made a career catching them out – has had its effect. Some changed sides, turned on neighbours, informed on neighbours.

There’s been limited repairing of damage caused by shelling. Occasional stage-managed operations such as the visit of Orlando Bloom (pictured above) barely paper over the cracks.

There’s an uncertainty about what comes next. When Poroshenko and the PR bandwagon rolled out today, they left a scarred city behind them, the pain of war still deeply rended in buildings and populace. The overwhelming appetite is, understandably, for there to be no war, and many who support the DPR are even willing to tolerate Ukrainian occupancy if it means no war. But, beyond the demagogic, tubthumping tweets of Poroshenko, 2 years on from the Ukrainian takeover, lies a city in a bleak state with few reasons to be cheerful.

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.

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

Fullscreen capture 17052015 124233.bmp

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 – 

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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.

Stefan Huijboom – The True Story of a pro-Ukraine Dutch Conman

Graham Phillips – This is part of a series – Who’s Who in Ukraine Propaganda #4

stefan‘Some Dutch loser, like an extra from ‘Dude Where’s My Car’, and that was how Dutch journalist Stefan Huijboom (right) was introduced to me, by my long-term colleague in Donbass, Patrick Lancaster. This was late 2014, Huijboom had been on the scene earlier in Donetsk, summer of 2014.

I gave little, if any, thought to Huijboom until November of 2014 when I was wounded, and Huijboom started actively tweeting, gloating about that.

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Understandably, I wasn’t that impressed by this. But, as Patrick said ‘if you actually knew the guy, you wouldn’t bother, he’s a fool‘.  I never did meet Huijboom, but when he took to trolling me on Twitter, I responded to the Kyiv Post journalist, who had spent a lot of time in Donbass, always taking the pro-Kiev position. Again, as Patrick explained ‘Stefan didn’t care about that, he was only looking to make a name for himself‘.

A lot of time, he didn’t actually directly attack me on Twitter, using my handle, Stefan Huijboom (2)he’d just be mentioning me behind my bank, easily findable by a search, calling me a ‘Kremlin propagandist’, ‘idiot’, and so on. I paid little attention to these, having come to the conclusion that Huijboom was actually mentally impaired in some way. There seemed no other explanation for his articles – such as here, and here – and tweets (to make no mention of his series of odd selfies, pictured), which veered from reporting news in Donbass from a brazen ‘Euromaidan, pro-Ukraine’ position to bizarre non-sequiturs.

In August of 2014, we learn that Stefan had been woken up by a barking dog.

Fullscreen capture 12042016 161851.bmpIn November of 2014, we get updates from Stefan’s Kiev apartment, and the heating situation there (these just two, of many such tweets) –

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As for Donetsk, when he was there, and there was action, Stefan chose not to film that, rather record it on Soundcloud – from February 2015

Fullscreen capture 12042016 152854.bmpPerhaps we should be grateful for even a Soundcloud, as usually Stefan’s reports of explosions (no mention from his part, that this is Ukraine forces shelling the city of Donetsk, of course) were unaccompanied by any supporting evidence whatsoever (despite this, still forwarded on by news sources, albeit pro-Kiev ones) –

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What is Stefan doing as all these ‘explosions’ are hitting then? Seemingly, either getting his laptop fixed, or having some chocolate cake –

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March of 2015, and it was more laptop problems for Stefan –Fullscreen capture 12042016 192050.bmpWhen he gets out of his apartment, what does he see? Well, from February 12th, 2015, as war action intensified around Debaltsevo, with Donetsk itself still under shelling, Stefan broke the story of a ‘dog eating garbage’ –

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This, coupled with an inability to understand even the most basic things. In 2015, Stefan actually thought the ’06’ on this poster denoted ‘2006’, rather than June of the previous year, tweeting on a photo of the poster (which would be near 10 years old, by his estimations) –

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But what his his problem? Just not that bright? Or even alcohol-related? This, from May of 2015 –

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And off the ‘sauce’, onto sources, Stefan here, in March 2015, passes on what a ‘shopowner’ told him, in Donetsk –

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Here, it’s just ‘locals’ –

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How reliable Stefan’s local sources are though, is perhaps open to question, even by himself –

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Journalist Max Clarke, who knew Huijboom from their time together in Donetsk (pictured here with Huijboom, Patrick Lancaster, and another), Stefan Huijboom Patrick Max2014, tells me ‘There was always something just not right about Stefan. He never expressed any pro-Kiev sentiments in conversation, but his articles and tweets always came out relentlessly pro-Kiev. Then there was the money – he’d borrow money, and just not pay it back. 

There was a time we both had a conversation, in a cafe, about how we literally had no money. Next, Stefan ordered a giant ice-cream sundae. He knew full well that I’d have to pay for it, but that it would be almost the last money I had. Mutual friends were there, and laughed at that, said ‘he’s a child’. 

We’d tease Stefan at times, he couldn’t take it, would storm off in a tantrum. He stole money from me, from other friends, from the hostel he stayed at in Donetsk (the Red Cat), owned by a local family’

Despite all of this, Huijboom actually developed a decent career in the pro-Fullscreen capture 12042016 182355.bmpKiev media, becoming a prolific contributor to the Kyiv Post (Bio there –Stefan Huijboom is a Dutch journalist working for Algemeen Dagblad, The Post Online, and several Dutch radio shows. He has studied and lived two and a half years in the United States, and now he works as a journalist in post-Soviet countries. He regularly contributes to the Kyiv Post. He can be reached at stefanhuijboom@gmail.com) with headlines like ‘Donetsk university students getting ready to receive ‘worthless’ diplomas‘ ,’Arbitrary arrests in Russian-held Donetsk as city descends into anarchy‘ / ‘​In Russian-occupied Donetsk, debate heated over use of child soldiers in war against Ukraine‘ .

Not surprisingly, this kind of coverage led to Huijboom becoming an unpopular, if still minor figure in Donbass. Despite having been attacking me online for over Fullscreen capture 12042016 182638.bmp6 months, he wrote to me in July of 2015 about this –

Hi Graham,

I’ve been informed that the self-proclaimed authorities in Donetsk are no longer allowing me to work as a journalist in the Russian-separatist held territories. Tensions are growing out there as the self-proclaimed Ministry of Information requires (as also noted on the press accreditation) journalist to be “politically correct”.

Fullscreen capture 12042016 190313.bmpFor almost a year I’ve traveled regularly to Donetsk to write stories for Dutch news, KyivPost, and do radio talks. Some – like you – have accused me of producing pro-Kiev propaganda or that I might work for the Ukrainian government. Everything that concerns critical reporting is according to a lot of pro-Russian sympathisers “pro-Ukrainian propaganda”. You have said this a lot on social media, and have accused many other critical journalists of “pro-Ukraine propaganda”.

We might not share the same views as is okay in democratic countries, but in Donetsk it could have resulted in my arrest, or even worse. And I’m not the only one: you have brought a lot of other journalists in severe danger in a lawless region by only accusing them of being a “spy” or “pro-Ukraine”, as they were simply doing their job. I’d like to ask you: why? Why are you making false accusations against journalists whereas you yourself consider yourself a journalist …

I left Donetsk already for safety concerns, but I want to ask you a question. It would be appreciated if you could answer truthfully and not start a Twitter feud.

Are you aware of my “persona non grata” status now in Donetsk? I.e. what actions would they take would I go back there? I could always work there, and all of a sudden, after an article about censorship I wrote they are “looking for me” (quoted by my source). If you are aware of this, do you have anything to do with it, and do you know the exact reason why?

I wish you good luck and stay safe out there,

Stefan

Hi Graham,

Could you reply to this e-mail please?

Cheers, Stefan

Those emails, from July 29th, and 30th, when I didn’t immediately reply. I replied on the 31st –

Tell you what Stefan – why don’t you pay your debt to the Red Cat Hostel, pay your debt to Patrick, apologise to all the people of Donbass you’ve waged a PR war against, insulted, smeared, encouraged military action against, apologise for gloating when I was wounded by shrapnel, then I’ll answer you, you repellent little fucker. Graham

After that, he blocked me on Twitter, recently unblocking it would appear, and we’ve had little in the months since, though I do see he’s still been attacking me ‘behind my back‘, on Twitter, and when I was deported from Latvia, Huijboom tried to get me extradited to Ukraine –

Fullscreen capture 12042016 184355.bmp

StefanHujThen, today, on the group for expats in Kiev, I read the following post

Friends!! MUST REPOST!!

Please be warned that the man in the pictures below, Stefan Huijboom, is a con-artist and a thief. I have known him for 2 years and am sad to say that the person I thought was my friend robbed me.
I allowed him to stay in my home for 7 days (Jan 26-Feb 3) this year while he looked for an apartment here in Kiev. During his stay 5,000UAH and $300 in cash went missing from my apartment. He was the only person I had over that week. I asked him to move out immediately and haven’t seen him since. I thought I was rid of a snake.

Stefan Huijboom2Yesterday I was notified by Bank of America that this guy is forging checks under my name. Stefan ran out of the stolen cash, I guess. He decided to stoop to the lowest low. $85,995.00 in forged checks claiming consultation from him?? For what?!? Let me consult you, Stefan Huijboom: Fraud results in imprisonment in federal prison.

This clown does this after having served 5 days in Lebanese jail January 2016 for credit card theft amounting in 800€. The victims in Lebanon are now in contact with me and can back up this story. I also have his prison release papers, although in Arabic, which he left at my house along with his suitcase. Had his previous victim created a post like this one for all of Stefan Huijboom’s friends to see I would have not been in this predicament.

Stefan Huijboom1You can’t deny facts, Stefan. Your handwriting, signatures, bank account information, and official bank stamps are proof for all to see…
He may even try to create a story that I am setting him up…as he told me before about other people and I believed him. I have no reason to set him up. I valued our friendship, I took him into my home and introduced him to all of my family.
You stole money from my child after having played dolls with her every night. SHAME ON YOU.

The banks, police, the Netherlands consulate, and your friends and family are notified. Good luck to you… It’s unfortunate you choose this kind of lifestyle for yourself.

Stefan Huijboom3I encourage anyone who has had a similar situation happen with Stefan Huijboom to come forward and share.

PLEASE SHARE THIS POST EVEN IF YOU DONT KNOW THIS GUY PERSONALLY. He travels all over the world and comes in contact with many unsuspecting people. I would hate for anything like this to happen to anyone else.

And following allegations were added below –

Tom Daams I knew him well, we travelled for a while together. I broke all communication with him roughly 1,5 years ago. He borrowed money from friends and never paid them back. He ‘lost’ camera equipment from friends and never cared Stefan Huijboom conabout it. He hired a friend of mine as a fixer and never paid him the amount they agreed on for his services. Last time I spoke with him he actually told me a couple of years back he robbed money his dad’s creditcard and got in a lot of trouble for that. Everything Yanka writes is completely believable in my opinion. Be aware of this man and share this with many friends, freelancers and fixers!
Last thing I heard from was that he is writing articles on a freelance base for the Dutch newspaper ‘Algemeen Dagblad’, AD in short. But this was around a year ago.
Be very wary of this person.

Eefje Dekker Unfortunately this guy has been stealing money since he was very Stefan Huijboom4young. He was in prison for 18 months in the Netherlands because of a huge fraud case. He still owes me 300 euro too from when he tried to ‘work’ as a journalist in the Middle East. Be warned, this guy is seriously ill.

And there we have it, the man who provided so much pro-Kiev news coverage from 2014 to date, not so much a journalist, as a career con artist, a thief, a liar. How has Huijboom himself responded to this? Initially he was ‘travelling’, then he issued a rather odd denial, and has been quiet for the past 9 hours.

Fullscreen capture 12042016 173828.bmp Fullscreen capture 12042016 173835.bmp

His guilt of this seems certain, there’s evidence of forged cheques even. And it’s clearly been going on for a long time. Now to the question, did the Kyiv Post, and other western media, turn a blind-eye to this just because he could be counted on to come out with pro-Kiev bylines?

Mikael Skillt – Facts, Fiction and Frauds

Editor – Graham Phillips – I’ve written extensively about Mikael Skillt – you can read about him here, here and here. I was recently sent this article about Mikael Skillt, from a reliable source, name withheld for confidentiality reasons.

I’ve touched up grammar slightly on this article, added a few links. My comment on this article is that it’s clearly written with an agenda – as any article is – and this being to debunk the ‘legends / myths / misinformation’ around Mikael Skillt. It raises some interesting, challening points, and while Skillt was not consulted in this, he of course has his right to reply via his social media, comments here. 

Mike Skillt is the perfect redemption story in the post-coup Ukraine. A charismatic, articulate and Russophobic poster boy in a failed state desperately looking for hope and heroes to cling to. He has been featured in a multitude of Mikael Skilltpro-Kiev media, he has been embraced by the “credible” Newsweek, and on a daily basis he tweets about his achievements in the broken-down Ukrainian society.

Mike Skillt is everything the corrupt Ukrainian leaders – and their Western puppet-masters – could ever dream of. He is also a fraud.

There was always something different about Mike. He talked about murder and war crimes as if being in an action movie. But most soldiers who have seen war – its horrors and suffering – tend to be mostly silent and resigned. Mike also Mikael Skillt 1appeared to be somewhat out of control in his narcissistic and self-aggrandizing stories. His stories were not just dehumanizing the heroes of DPR/LPR, but himself too. Mike was a super-soldier, a Special Forces operator, elite and with an almost super human dimension to his self-proclaimed perfection. But, again, as time passed, and the stories grew into Herculean myths, things started to feel more and more wrong.

Looking closer into Mike Skillt’s past and present – using public records and public testimonials by other pro-Nazi soldiers in the Azov battalion – a totally different picture will materialize.

THE SWEDISH SNIPER THAT NEVER WAS

Public records show that The Swedish Sniper served 227 days of mandatory military service at the infantry regiment I21. His service period was among the shortest – read: exclusively for people deemed unfit by the pre-service tests by the Swedish state – and Mike’s role in the army was as motorcycle delivery boy. I21 has never had any sniper training, not one even remotely “elite” unit, or any
other way for Mike to become a sniper.

Mike’s service grade was X65 and that is one of the lowest a Swedish soldier can virtually get. For example this abysmal service grade would have made it impossible for Mike to, as he claims, “been offered to go on peacekeeping Mikael Skillt Azovmissions abroad”. His service record would per se disqualify him.

After a longer sojourn of unemployment, low-end jobs, state benefit programs and failed business attempts Mike went for the Swedish National Guard. However, verified by a number of Swedes, this has only the name in common with other many countries National Guards. It is basically “a bunch of drunk middle-aged men and naïve teens playing war games a few times a year”, according to our sources.

There is indeed a “sniper” education at the Swedish National Guard. But that is a voluntary weekend class. Whether or not Mike has actually gotten that training is not established in our investigation, but we will give him the benefit of the doubt. What is established, beyond any doubt, is that such courses can never – by any standard – be considered a real sniper education. The only path to becoming a sniper in any of Sweden’s armed forced is to serve in a rangers unit. Mike has never been close to any such service.

Mike Skillt did, during his time in the National Guard, compete as an amateur in the guardsmen’s different “sport shooting” competitions with various results. That being said, these competitions were mostly with the army’s standard assault rifle AK-4.

A “WAR HERO” DISCLOSED AND DISOWNED

Mikael Skillt AzovIn what appears as an attempt to escape his Swedish reality – debts, being dumped by a woman, and made a pariah by many of his old Nazi friends over financial disputes (all claims verified) – the Kiev after the anti-democratic coup became Mike’s destination. Almost instantly Mike started to search for the limelight, create stories and actively seek media’s attention.

Early April 2014, on the way to Kharkiv (with the neo-nazi Right Sector in order to overthrow the city’s democratically elected officials), Mike was arrested by the police. At his first of many Ukrainian – and international – media appearances he claimed to have “broken knees, broken ribs and a severe back injury” after hours of torture by the police. Let’s just say these serious and self-stated injuries were of the “Timoshenko” school of bullshit. Because a few days later he yet again appeared in media perfectly untouched.

Mikael SkilltDuring his time with the Azov battalion in the pro-Russian eastern Ukraine Mike did see combat. But a number of military professionals – snipers, special forces and regular infantry – are highly sceptical about the stories he loves to tell media. Many were just laughing tired and pointed out that he is overweight and most certainly physical unable to have executed the missions he claims.

Mike has frequently mentioned a kill shot at 1400 meters. That would put him in the – albeit ambiguous – Top 15 of longest kill shots ever. But the experts we have consulted highly doubt this after looking at what rifles Mike has posed with on his pictures. “Such a shot would be ballistically impossible”, one said. Mike himself, in an interview with the Dutch “The Post Online”, mentions using a Remington 700 for his 1400 meters kill shot. We have not been able to Google and find one verified account of a shot longer than approximately 1000 meters, plus minus 10 %, with that rifle (nevertheless bullets and charge).

In his large number of interviews the number of confirmed kills has also varied drastically. In the Dutch interview mentioned above he claims to have killed 20 people, in the Italian Corriere della Sera the number is up to “at least 150”… and for unknown reason the number of people he has killed tend to oscillate Mikael Skillt 1drastically from interview to interview. The snipers we have talked to find this behavior unexplainable, ridiculous and insulting. Not one believes Mike Skillt to be genuine.

This was exactly where our look into Mike’s Ukrainian journey would end. But then it came to our attention that his former friends and Nazis in Azov had disclosed and disowned him. The following information is verified and 100 % establish to be written by Carolus Lofroos (a Swedish-Finnish soldier in Azov with background in a rangers unit in Finland) and another soldier who served with Mike Skillt in Azov (even Mike himself verifies that in their public argument). It will leave you speechless and not only Mikael Skillt 2disgrace Mike, but Western media in general and their lazy “journalism”.

For years and years Mike wrote a large number of daily posts on the Swedish – and arguably pro-fascist – forum Flashback. In a thread aimed for veterans of the Ukrainian [sic!] war his stories amplified to absurdity. He was a special forced operator, he was in direct contact with military and political leaders, he had access to a plethora of classified information… and gradually he started to trash-talk the international soldiers in Azov more and more (at this point Mr. Skillt was relocated as instructor/administrator in Kiev).

Then one day all that changed. Almost immediately after this public disclosure and disgrace Mike stopped writing on the forum he written on for many years. Because his former brothers in arms wrote the truth about Mike.

“Because of the impossibility of ending Mike’s bullshitting, even after warnings, the group [Azov’s international soldiers in the unit by the front] will issue a full disclosure. We feel bad for doing this, but can’t see any other way to stop him [referring to his bullshit claims].”

“Mike hates the international group because he is not allowed back to any combat unit in Azov in general, and especially not the international group”

“During his time as leader, the group barely ever got any combat tasks. Later it became clear that Mike never wanted to be assigned any combat missions” […] “The only mission Mike gave us was a make-believe such, when he shot at his own Mikael Skillt 3civilian car, in order to claim for a journalist spetsnaz had attacked him.”

“Mike has not been part of liberating [sic!] neither Marinka nor Mariupol, says their group commander. He was always hiding in the background.”

“Retreating from Shyronkie, a guy close to losing his life swears to have seen Mike, in panic and alone, drive by in a car and leaving him and 3 more soldiers behind.”

“On leave in Kiev, Mike did not want to go back to Urzuf and found one reason after another” […] “After 3 weeks I went back by myself to Urzuf. The reason Mike wanted me to remain [in Kiev] was that he was broke and wanted to ‘borrow’ money.”

All quotes above are written by the alias “Henlos”. His real identity is not established, but throughout the conversation Mike himself proves to know this person and verifies him to be a legit soldier in Azov.

“He is way too horny on appearing important.”

“Skillt had lied massively what I could do down there [refers to the front] while waiting for him [who insisted on staying in Kiev].” […] “When Skilled arrived he held passionate speeches about how the international company would be structured. It should be an elite force within Azov yada-yada. But the truth is that Skillt is not a military commander.”

Mikael Skillt 4“His competence is on par with what to expect from a simple soldier and national guardsman. Skillt claimed to be a sniper and employed by the army. I am sure someone can obtain public records about that.”

“We underwent training structured by him sometimes, mostly garbage. If they were physically demanding Skillt usually took a car or just stayed at base sleeping.”

“What happened is that he took videos of shooting exercises and, I discovered later, posted on Twitter claiming it to be pictures of actual combat.”

“And Mike, what happened to the Facebook charity money you held? Our guys should get new fucking clothes? You claimed to have made approximately $1,200, but nothing ever arrived to our group. But I remember big restaurant bills you were generous with in Kiev.”

“[when we] helped pushing the enemy back from Mariupol and keeping them back, you were in Kiev and posted posing pictures, claiming to be behind enemy lines, on Twitter, pretending to be at war.” […] “During this time your claimed kill number increased from 20-30 to around 100. Without any participation in battle.”

All quotes above are from Carolus Loofros , verified and legit. More information about him here, in Swedish.

A MILLION TWEETS, A MILLION LIES

When realizing the depth of Mike’s lies and fraudulent claims we took a closer look at other claims of his. Given his obsession with Twitter and forums it was very easy – factually using public records – to find a complicated pattern of self-aggrandizing lies and misrepresentations.

Mikael Skillt 5We also discovered a track-record of violence and mental abuse (even towards women). HOWEVER since this information is impossible to verify, and may hurt relatives and innocent people, we have chosen to not disclose it.

There are however many highly questionable statements of superiority. Mike loves talking about himself and nurse his own myths:

  • Mike often claims to have lost large incomes, close to $80,000 annually, in Sweden. He also often states he was some sort of construction project manager working with billion dollar companies. Neither of this can be proven by public records. On the contrary, he has never had any income not substantially under the average Swedish income level. He has debts formally established by Sweden’s state debt collection agency and even to an enforced collection level stated by court (expropriation of wages, enforced seizure of possessions). His former nazi friends tell unanimously him to have taken welfare checks, undergone unemployment programs, and having worked as a mover (carrying sofas and tables for a small moving and transportation company).
  • For well over a year Mike has claimed to speak Russian. But only in writing. Never once on video or in live conversations.
  • Mike has also been very vocal about his excellent English and times abroad. Any native English speaker will find this laughable. His constant – for years! – inability to differ between “your”/”you’re” and “then”/”than” says enough. He Mikael Skillt 6may have a decent language and some idioms, but at the end of the day he is a Swede lacking linguistic fundamentals. If you have lived and worked in English, than [pun intended!] will never happen. Not even for a Swede!
  • When it comes to the “abroad” years and the “bank accounts in many countries” we cannot establish this by any public records. All we can see is that he lived most of his life in a small northern town, on very low incomes, and no true sign of times abroad can be found. He has not – and remember this is a guy who obsessive-compulsory post pictures of cats/food/shoes/himself like an insecure and anxiety-ridden teenage girl – posted any proof of these times abroad himself either.

NARCISSISTIC SOCIOPATHY AS A CAREER

During Mike’s Gatsby-esque journey to “fame” we also noted a few significant abnormalities in his behavior:

  • A constant need to be grandiose and important
  • Mikael Skillt 7(False) Stories about success, fame, connections with the elite of the society
  • Claims of always being superior: intelligence, language, alpha male, violence and physical abilities and so forth
  • Anger and rage when being confronted, or even in harmless discussions, and often a surrender to insults about opponents being “ugly” or “mentally challenged”
  • A willingness to hurt others, often strangers, in order to feel powerful and important

Fullscreen capture 03042016 171520.bmpIt did not feel quite normal, so we let a practising psychiatrist take a look at his twitter. A real diagnosis can obviously not be made, but – and we quote – “the person in question is expressing the classic signs of narcissistic sociopathy” and “the behavior appears engraved and established, possibly pathologically, by obsessive interaction in social media”.

Mike has basically made a career out of a possible mental condition. Lies, empathy-bereft behaviour and selfishness have taken him to a career in Ukraine. By his own words he is now aiming to become a politician and “fight against corruption”.

INCARNATION OF THE UKRAINIAN FAILURE

But this is not just the story about Mike. It is the story about Ukraine after the coup, because – ultimately – it was the failed state, its rabid anti-Russian media, lazy journalists in expensive hotel bars, and a spiritually destroyed society that
let Mike become this fraudulent hero.

In the modern Ukraine – corrupted, selfish and belied – the existence of characters like Mike is not just natural, but necessary to exist, due to the society’s many mortal wounds. Ukraine is attracting charlatans, con men, fraud merchants, and selfish decadence. All these people prey on Ukraine and their Mikael Skillt 8“fortune” is made of the million innocent Ukrainians’ suffering.

Mike Skillt is the incarnation of the Ukrainian failure.

A CHALLENGE TO NEWSWEEK AND OTHER “SERIOUS” MEDIA

Finally, we would like to issue a challenge to Newsweek, the Daily Signal, Kyiv Post, Radio Free Europe, and all other propaganda media whom have glorified Mike Skillt:

Prove us wrong! Prove us wrong or make formal apologies for published misinformation!

We have copies of public records. We know about his real military service in Sweden. We have the tax reports, we have the debt history, and we have credible statements from impartial sources. Because we did our research and we checked the facts critically… something you never did!

The Donbass Truth Committee

Ukrainians get their say on EU-Ukraine agreement in Dutch Referendum

By Stefan Beck, a full-time teacher, involved in the ‘No’ campaign for Dutch referendum based in the Netherlands

While war was raging in his country president Poroshenko signed an agreement to closely ally Ukraine with Europe (note – November 2015). Despite the Poroshenko Ukraine Netherlands Agreementsensitivity of this agreement between Ukraine and the EU, there was little opportunity for Ukrainians for voice their opinions. Now there might be a last chance to stop the Agreement and Poroshenko’s plans to integrate Ukraine into the EU, namely by a referendum being held in the Netherlands this April. This referendum might not only let the Dutch be able to voice their opinions on the agreement but also the Ukrainians.

The events the agreement set in motion are already numerous. Back in 2013, Yanukovychpresident Yanukovich’s refusal to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement resulted into the Maidan protests. These protests in turn were eventually able to overthrow the government of Yanukovich. Shortly after the civil war in Donbass erupted. Eventually Ukraine’s new president Poroshenko would sign the association agreement in June 2014 while the Ukrainians were fighting each other, amongst others on whether or not to closer relate to Europe.

The agreement mainly focuses on trade but also has strong consequences for other fields. For example article 322 states that any dispute relating to the interpretation and application of obligations contained in the agreement about
trade barriers, services, establishment e-commerce and public procurement should be settled in the court of justice of the EU. Hence the effective control of the Ukrainian economy is placed into the hands of the EU, not of the Ukrainians.

Poroshenko Ukraine tradeBut even if this agreement was only judged by its impact on Ukraine’s economy based on a change in trade relations with the EU the results prove to be very severe. By signing the agreement Ukraine pledges to a free-trade zone with the EU and to produce goods in accordance with EU regulations. Russia felt like it had no other choice than to cancel its own free-trade agreement with Ukraine and has announced further measures. This deterioration of trade relations with the Russian federation will have dramatic consequences for Russian-oriented industries, especially in the east of the country.

Although originally no referendum on the Association Agreement was planned, the people of the Netherlands forced the Dutch government to organize a referendum on the 6th of April. Polls are now indicating a minor lead for the people voting against the agreement. However the campaign is still in full swing and the supporters of the agreement are slowly gaining ground.

One of the arguments used by the supporters of the association agreement is that all Ukrainians look towards Europe for support. There is little to no mention of the fact that the pro-EU Association Agreement led to the Maidan protests and partially to the war in Donbass. Supporters of the agreement are silent about any Ukrainians that feel more related towards Russia. The obvious is kept hidden: Ukraine propaganda BBCUkraine seems to be deeply divided on whether or not to engage in closer relations with the EU. (Photo, from BBC article of October 2015, given as typical example of how Ukraine is portrayed in western media)

All in all the Ukrainian voice in the debate prior to the referendum seems to be dominated by supporters of an EU-oriented Ukraine. A primary reason for this bias is a lack of more neutrally- or Russia-oriented contacts with the Dutch press. This results into a very one-sided coverage on what Ukrainians think about the European Union and its Association Agreement with Ukraine.

This means that the people in Ukraine oriented against a closer relation with the EU have a final chance to let their opinions be heard. This can be done by contacting the ‘No’-campaign on referendumoekraine@gmail.com, or by using hashtags like #referendumoekraine on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. This way the Ukrainians can influence the referendum by making clear what the Association Agreement means for them. Giving them an opportunity to influence the implementation of the agreement in a way they never had before.

For more information about the agreement, see:
http://www.globalresearch.ca/how-the-eu-association-agreement-makes-existing-ukraine-russia-trade-links-impossible/5447286

2 Years On – the 12 ‘Triumphs’ of Euromaidan

Graham Phillips

Two years on from the ‘end‘ of Maidan, here are some of its ‘triumphs’. This column written in the style of my ‘Euromaidan 12 Myths and Mantras’ of late 2013, which brought me to the attention of RT. 

  1. Ukraine immediately lost Crimea. Crimea was having none of the radical Euromaidan coup government installed in Kiev after former President Yanukovych fled on February 22nd, a protest rose, a referendum was held – Crimea was gone for good, and it’s never looked back.
  2. war in DonbassA brutal war broke out in Donbass, which has claimed casualties estimated by some sources as over 50,000, causing massive amounts of destruction, and misery in its wake. (My photo from Lugansk, August 2014, right)
  3. Unemployment is up, way up, from 7.25% in 2013 to 11.47% in 2015. Prior to that, it had been falling year on year.  Economic growth at 0.2% in 2012, 0% in 2013, sunk to -6.8% for 2014, with 2015 set for another fall.
  4. Actually, all the figures in Ukraine have got worse. GDP, from $4195 in 2013 to $3016 in 2014, public debt as a % of GDP from 39.9% in 2013 to 70.3% in 2014. Investment, at 5% in 2012 plunged to -8.4% in 2013 and dived to -23% in 2014. The list goes on, and on.
  5. UAHIt’s down, and going down, the International Business Times report ‘Ukraine’s gross domestic product was expected to fall by 12 percent by the end of this year, further than the 7.5 percent predicted in April’ – meanwhile industrial output is down over 20%, consumption down 20%, retail is down 25%. The Ukrainian hryvnia is, across the board, worth about a third what it was before Euromaidan. Real wages are down 34%.
  6. There is something going upinflation, over 40%, meanwhile gas has skyrocketed 453%, with Ukraine on the perpetual brink of gas crisis, unable to pay its bills and, due to the ‘everything that Russia does must be bad‘ ethos of Euromaidan, finding it hard to accept olive branches, such as Russia’s recent offer of a restructuring of its $3 billion debt.
    Ukraine Russia gasUkraine’s gas negotiations have been defined by ungracious bickering from the Ukrainian side, disinformation about how much it’s used, needs, and reference to having made payments which the Russian side then state they haven’t received.
  7. Olez BuzinaThe weapons which flooded Maidan spilled into the rest of the country, with murder in Ukraine now a far common occurrence than it was – the gunning down of journalist Oles Buzina in Kiev, in April, the recent assassination attempt on the chief Ukrainian MH17 investigator in Kiev. RT report –
    Reports of military explosives used in crimes committed far from the rebel-controlled east come virtually on a weekly basis in Ukraine. On July 30, a hand grenade was tossed into the yard of a house in Cherkassy in the center of the country…. On July 2, an Odessa restaurant was seriously damaged by a powerful IED, which also shattered windows in a nearby café and apartments.Ukraine is never calm. There’s regular explosions and chaos in Kharkov, Odessa, riots in Kiev.
  8. Ukraine exists in perpetual chaos – yesterday, activists storming, smashing up Fullscreen capture 21022016 213752.bmpbanks in Kiev (right), last week terrorist group Pravy Sektor took over the borders of the country, imposing a trade blockade, before that activists blowing up power supply to Crimea. Video, from Alfa Bank in Kiev, 20th February, here –
    There never seems any real aim in the destruction, just destroy first, don’t even bother picking the pieces up, because there’s still something more to destroy.
    Maidan installed a new government not by democracy, but by violence. Violent activists became more powerful than government. And that’s been the legacy of Maidan since – violent activists can do what they want, and no one in power can stop them, because they know if they did, they’d be turned on next.
  9. The politics is a mess, and corruption is even worse. President Poroshenko’s approval ratings are lower than Yanukovich’s at the time of Euromaidan, 17% down from 47% , Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s rating around 1%, but even so, Poroshenko yatscouldn’t force him out last week, moving journalist Chris Miller, known for near fanatical support of Euromaidan, to write a grim assessment of Ukraine two years on in his article on MashableUkraine’s post-revolution government is falling apart‘ the tone set by –
    With Ukraine embroiled in perhaps its worst-ever political crisis…
    US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoff Pyatt
    , whose support for Euromaidan stopped just short of his mounting the barricades to scream ‘Slava Ukraine’ tweets incessantly, seemingly despairingly about the apparently losing battle against corruption – (pictured here with Victoria Nuland, on Maidan in late 2013) –Geoff Pyatt MaidanFeb 11 Important for Ukrainian government to restore trust, continue on reform path, tackle corruption.
    Feb 15 –  deserves a clean judiciary. Will require top-to-bottom rule of law reform to address pervasive corruption + cronyism.
    Feb 17 – This Washington Post editorial gets it just right on the issues of corruption and deoligarchization in Ukraine
    Feb 20 – The most fitting memorial to the Heavenly 100 is a Ukraine rid of corruption, cronyism, & kleptocracy. @GeoffPyatt
    This, not even starting on his retweets on the theme. Meanwhile Kiev mayor, former boxer Vitali Klitschko, was recently accused by FEMEN of running a protection racket for local brothels.
    And of all industries, the funeral parlour business is in the grip of such corruption it moved this, pro-Ukrainian, journalist to write this heartfelt piece about what happened when his father died in Ukraine.
    Ukraine funeral parlour
  10. Ukraine can’t hold proper elections any more. There’s farce, almost 50 candidates with names from Star Wars, with one – Emperor Palpatine – actually winning a seat in October’s elections, then there’s the fact that of the 130 political blocs and parties that competed in the elections, just a dozen actively campaigned in two or more regions, showing local oligarchs in full control.Turnout was an anaemic 45%, down a third on the 60% of presidential elections the year before.
    Ukraine Local elections Mariupol If an election doesn’t look like it’s going to go the Kiev government’s way, as was recently the case in Mariupol (above, October 2015), the Kiev government, or local ‘activists’ will just cancel it.
  11. The Ukrainian government does things to hurt Russia which end up hurting its own citizens even more. The 2015 banning of flights between Ukraine and Ukraine Russia flights bannedRussia forced Ukrainian travellers to pay $200 rather than $50 to travel there – 70% of passengers on Ukraine to Russia flights had been Ukrainian citizens, with some 5 million Ukrainians working in Russia. Meanwhile, while Russia can do without Ukrainian airports, Ukrainian carriers had previously used Russian airports for connecting global flights.
  12. People are fleeing the country – to escape poverty, to get out of mobilisation into the military –  ‘Poland, last year, received 2,318 asylum applications from Ukraine, compared to 46 in 2013. It also issued 830,553 short-term visas for Ukrainian border traders and migrant workers, compared to 720,125 the year before.’
    And that’s Euromaidan Ukraine, 2 years on.