Pro-Ukraine Troll Blasts Ukrainian Authorities after God-Daughter is Killed

In February of 2015, Twitter user @Natalyp72 wrote an abusive message, directed, to the city of Lugansk, Donbass, which in 2014 had endured a hellish campaign of shelling by the Ukrainian military in 2014, with mass loss of life.

She wished those who had voted out of Ukraine (after the terrorist coup of Euromaidan installed a far-right government in Ukraine, in early 2014), to be, in strong terms ‘cursed‘.

Last Friday, September 15th, fire broke out at the Victoria children’s camp, in Odessa. The fire engulfed one of the three-story wooden dorms, three girls perished, burned alive.

Firefighters complained that putting out the first was made very difficult by there being no emergency water sources on the territory of the children’s facility (praised by Ukrainian president Poroshenko in May as being ‘excellent’), and the pressure from the fire hydrant was weak, the fire reservoir had insufficient water, and was blocked. Firefighters could only find water supply over a kilometre from the campus, taking over two hours to extinguish the flames. Too late for the 3 young girls, aged 8,9 and 12, with a further two children injured in the dorm, which housed 42.

Mikhail Vovka, from the Federal State Dispatch Service for Odessa region, told reporters on Saturday, that the management of the camp had terminated their contract with a fire safety monitoring company. Therefore, when the fire started, no alarm had sounded.

In 2016, a modern fire alarm was purchased, installed and put into operation in the camp, but then it was deliberately brought to a non-operational state,” Vovka said, as reported by the Odessa Life portal.

Angry crowds of relatives, and more have protested outside Odessa City Hall, demanding answers (pictured). The tragic blaze has seen an investigation opened, mass sackings of senior staff there, several officials in local government dismissed, arrests even, of camp staff. There has also been anger at Ukrainian president Poroshenko, who hasn’t even bothered to visit Odessa, and has barely spoken of the tragedy. (Perhaps the lack of possibility to blame Russia influencing his inaction).

In the blaze, Twitter user @Natalyp72 ‘s god-daughter, Nastya, 9, persished. Natalyp72 (Natalya) tweeted in fury ‘Those scumbags forgot about the children there! They were trapped, and burned alive!

Condolences to Natalya on her loss. I went to her Twitter account, only to see she’d blocked me, despite our never having interacted. She seems to have removed her tweet of abuse directed at Lugansk, from 2015, but a number of similar, often fairly extreme pro-Ukraine tweets.

Sadly for Natalya, she’s found out, that in this Ukraine of 2017, not even children in a children’s camp described as ‘exemplary’ by the president of Ukraine, are safe.

My flat in Odessa: Now for Sale

In 2012, I fell in love with the city of Odessa. In summer of 2013, I used what I’d saved in my working life, and borrowed some, to buy a flat there, a few kilometres out of the centre, in the Kotovsky area, for $55,000, in September.

I imagined a life there. But it didn’t work out that way. In November of 2013, Euromaidan began, in March of 2014, crisis, conflict, April 2014 – war, and I left for Donbass, not to return (as of this point in time).

I’ve not returned to Odessa since, being banned from Ukraine for 3 years. However, my ban from Ukraine has now expired. 

Thus, I am now entitled to sell the apartment in Odessa, with full rights, and as I am not banned from Ukraine, I shall expect FCO support in this, if necessary.

This is not a farewell to Odessa, but I’m not a rich man, and can’t just have an apartment somewhere, unsure when I’ll be able to visit. Moreso with the amount of radicals, terrorists in Ukraine, and Ukrainian media having splashed my apartment all over the news:

If I have to pay tax to fund Ukraine’s war against civilians in Donbass ‘ATO’, I’ll give that same amount to the armies in the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics to defend themselves from ‘ATO’.

I will do everything fairly, and reasonably, as always. And we go forward.

Saakashvili – Lost at Sea in Odessa

Graham Phillips

As he stood by Odessa’s port on Monday, readying to deliver a resignation speech, as governor of Odessa, which would launch a broadside against Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili looked considerably older than his 48 years. He looked a very long way indeed from the once dashing figure, electrifying the global political scene with pledges to bring Georgia into the sphere of modern Europe.

In fact, he bore more than a passing resemblance to Michael Henchard, the main character saakashvili-odessa-1in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Mayor of Casterbridge‘, worn down by successive failures, as he issues a weary ‘I am to suffer, I perceive’.

Saakashvili prides himself on being an educated man, speaking five languages – but it’s unknown if he’s a fan of the work of titan of English literature, Thomas Hardy. If he were, he’dve recognised his 18 month tenure as the governor of Odessa beset by the kind of foreboding background Hardy used to set the mood for tragedy to come. In October of 2015, coming on for six months of his reign, a civilian passenger boat capsized in Odessa, with the loss of at least 12 lives, the worst maritime disaster of its kind in post-Soviet Ukraine. Saakashvili rushed back from his trip to the western Ukrainian city of Lvov to be there, but there were already comments at that time that it would be better if he hadn’t bothered. 

Almost exactly a year later, in October of 2016, Odessa was lashed by extreme storms, leaving at least three dead, again, the worst of its kind in post-Soviet Ukraine. Meanwhile, Saakashvili’s own time at the helm of Odessa lurched from crisis to disaster to catastrophe, before on Monday he walked the gangplank.

saakashvili-tieThere may be not be an image quite as iconic as Saakashvili eating his tie upon realising he’d misjudged his South Ossettia military action of 2008, but his ill-fated time in Odessa leaves a legacy of embarrassments, memes, unfulfilled pledges, and the feeling that almost everything he touched there turned to failure.

His appointment on May 30th 2015, came somewhat out of the blue. Saakashvili had been an enthusiastic cheerdleader for Euromaidan, but in the aftermath of that, had actually moved to the USA, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. February of 2015 saw him called to Ukraine, initially sitting on a fairly inconsequential advisory panel for a couple of months at the start of the year, in April he turned down the chance to become First Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine, stating his unwillingness to rescind his Georgian passport to take up Ukrainian. But then May, suddenly everything had changed. The former close ally of George W. Bush jr was hurriedly rolled out a Ukrainian passport on May 29th, appointed porohenko-saakashviligovernor of Odessa.

Tbilisi native Saakashvili was the first non-Ukrainian by birth to be named to head of what is in effect a provincial government. The post was made vacant largely because previous incumbent, Igor Palytsia, was an ally of oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, with whom Poroshenko had had a very public falling out, before effecting a purge of those loyal to him.

According to Poroshenko, his old friend (from university days) Saakashvili “has proven with deeds, not words that he can not only give birth to creative ideas, but also put them into practice.” He added Georgia’s ex-president had changed his country “in the direction of transparency, effectiveness, anti-corruption, appeal for foreign investors, fair justice, protection of citizen’s rights, democracy,” something Poroshenko “would like to see very much” in Odessa.

And so it was, the man who made a venomous hatred for Russia one of his calling cards, saakashvili-putinfrequently calling Russians ‘barbarians’, and personal vendetta against Putin ‘I hate Putin’, was appointed governor of a city in which pro-Russia demonstrations would easily outnumber pro-Ukrainian, before the brutal events of May 2nd 2014, the burning of Trade Union House with mass loss of life on side of pro-Russian protesters, and subsequent campaign of repression against them.

Saakashvili’s appointment saw him posting an ‘I heart Odessa’ status on his Facebook, and indeed the US were so happy with the appointment they promptly offered to foot the bill for the salaries of Saakashvili and his team. In the city which was once considered the fourth city of the Russian empire, Saakashvili started out by making the obligatory big noises about plans to make Odessa the most powerful port in the Black Sea, and so forth.

Yet, the man known as ‘Misha”s professed love was never reciprocated by locals – he met with a decidedly choppy response from Odessites, from the start, with the mishiko-go-homeblack sea residents, famous for their laconic sense of humour, taking to hanging ties on landmarks around the city. July of 2015 saw anti-Maidan activists marching a goat through the city with placards declaring ‘Saakashvili Go Home’, and acvitists stating:’ Activists continued their protest campaign a few days later, this time launching a giant red balloon featuring his image and the phrase ‘Mishiko Go Home!’, complete with a large red necktie dangling from his mouth. Then in August of 2015, an actual statue of Saakashvili, taking the role of dog to Obama’s master, appeared on the city’s iconic Primorsky Boulevard.

saakashvili

Meanwhile, on the more serious side, reports emerged of Saakashvili, along with being wanted by his own country’s prosecutors for embezzlement, abuse of power and politically-motivated attacks, also wanted for murder in Georgia.  Things only got worse with the appointment of his team, a self-consciously ‘star-studded’ line-up looking more akin to the judging panel on a tv talent show than those capable of managing a port-and-resort city of 1 million which had derived much of its former prosperity from hundreds of thousands of yearly Russian visitors.

The appointment of Maria Gaidar as deputy governor, a glamorous, young Russian opposition maria-gaidar-odessafigure, was one Saakashvili likely thought would be a hit. He even stated she was ready to rescind her Russian citizenship, and apply for Ukrainian. However she fell at the first hurdle, when refusing to say that Ukraine was at war with Russia in interview, attracting the ire of Ukraine’s media, and Euromaidan supporters who had trumpeted Saakashvili’s appointment as a triumph. Ukrainian parliament member and former deputy governor of Dnepropetrovsk Borys Filatov, famous for his “we will hang the scum” line regarding Crimeans seeking independence from Ukraine, responded harshly to Gaidar’s stance

They simply don’t give a **** about our country. They are making money here. Or are fulfilling their sick ambitions. Or are training themselves ‘on cats.’ Choose the option for their motivation yourself,” Filatov posted on Facebook.

Then there was Saakashvili’s obsession with Yulia Marushevska- activist and aspiring actress best known for her part in Euromaidan promotional video ‘I am a Ukrainian‘ in Saakashvili OdessaFebruary of 2014. She spent most of her time after that appearing on chat shows speaking about that, until Saakashvili seemingly spotted her political potential, making her third in command in his team. It’s unclear what she did in her months in this job, but in any case, in October of 2015, Saakashvili promoted her to Customs Chief for Odessa, in charge of the biggest port insert.

Saakashvili’s other appointment to deputy,  Afghan war hero Vladimir Zhmak, also had no experience in civil service, something an enthusiastic Saakashvili saw as a plus, posting on his Facebook that their lack of experience was a good thing because my goal is to bring new, fresh, uncorrupted, competent people.”

Yulia Marushevska Odessa 1What happened? Gaidar’s tenure was an unmitigated disaster, alienating even those who had supported Saakashvili, with her backing out of taking Ukrainian citizenship, resigning in a hail of protest in May of 2016.  Zhmak signed off in July of 2016 with a cheerful ‘Goodbye Odessa’ message on his Facebook. Marushevska has proved incompetent spilling into inept in her role as customs chief, embroiled in endless internecine conflict, with Odessa’s port practices stuck in the past, and revenues actually decreasing by 30 percent, while in Ukraine as a whole, revenues were reported as up 21 percent. Marushevska is now reported to be considering her own position. 

What were Saakashvili’s other big ideas for reform? Fire everyone, call them all ‘useless’, employ new and untested people. Unfortunately for Saakashvili, his new people turned out to be just as, if not more ‘useless’ than their predecessors, and he failed in making any headway in his ‘war against corruption’. 

saakashvili-odessa-busInitial, PR-winning stunts, such as his taking public transport to ‘touch base with locals’, petered out. By October of 2015, locals who’d opened precious wine in honour of his appointment were beating a path to his door to berate him. And after his candidate for mayor, Alexander Borovyk, was defeated, by Gennadiy Trukhanov (who Saakashvili had frequently, publicly slated), in October of 2015, Saakashvili largely withdrew from the Odessa scene.

Meanwhile things had quickly unravelled for Saakashvili with other government figures. In December of 2015, at a government meeting, he got into a heated argument with interior minister Arsen Avakov, that ended with Avakov throwing a glass of water at Saakashvili, who retorted that Avakov was a “thief” who would go to prison. Avakov later described Saakashvili as a “bonkers populist”

Even a western media inclined to be more than benevolent to Saakashvili had long changed their tune on him, by the time of his resignation. Polish press were writing in February of 2016, that ‘His work so far has failed to bring any spectacular successes in any of the priority areas of activity.’ This article in Foreign Policy, from October 2016, painted a prophetic pictured of a man defeated. The Ukrainian press were stronger still, a Ukrainian saakashvili-odessa-2journalist writing in October of 2015 that Saakashvili was ‘dull’ and ‘stank’. 

The writing was on the line in May of this year, when Saakashvili gave an interview to Shaun Walker of the Guardian, calling Ukraine’s government a ‘bunch of mediocre people’, with ‘no vision for reform’, and openly criticising his former ally, Poroshenko. The article predictably made waves, causing Saakashvili to issue a statement that Walker, his ‘longtime friend’, had ‘clearly perverted’ their conversation. Walker, however, stuck by his article, with dictaphone recording to back it up.

Much of what Saakashvili said in his resignation, blasting the Kiev government, singling out President Petro Poroshenko, saying he had been complicit in obstructing various reforms, had clearly well fomented when he spoke with Walker in May. But the vitriol had only increased with the passing of months, as he blasted: ‘“What difference for Ukrainians does it make who will treat them like dirt: Poroshenko or Yanukovych; what difference who will steal from them?”’

Having made some effort to speak Ukrainian during his tenure, Saakashvili reverted to the Russian he knows better for his signing-off salvo –

Saakashvili’s taking on the role in Odessa was largely motivated by his desire to escalate his personal (somewhat one-sided) battle with Putin. He leaves the post, with harsher words about the man who employed him, Poroshenko. He leaves with almost all of his much-vaunted reforms, and project, having ignominiously failed. As Walker wrote ‘The sad demise of Saakashvili and his bold new vision‘. He wrote that in 2008. Time moves on, but Saakashvili’s ‘bold new visions’ always seem to end the same way.

And so it is, like Michael Henchard, after another failure, Saakashvili sets off again.

Odessa – My Nostalgia for Summer of 2013

Graham Phillips

Everyone knows Samuel Johnson’s adage about ‘when a man is tired of London Londonhe’s tired of life‘. Well, I’m guessing that’s not quite the same for Kiev, which in late 2012, with the rise of Ukrainian ultra-nationalism, I was quickly tiring of, albeit not quite ready to return to a London which I’ve always loved, but, only having embarked from in 2011, wasn’t just ready to return to yet.

However, leaving Kiev in early 2013, I did spent some time back in the UK, and in London, pondering the next move. Belgrade, Prague, Riga, all were considered as I looked to continue something which had started in 2011 for the first time, spending some time living out the UK.

But, after some long walks and lengthy deliberations, the decision came out as Odessa, a city I’d fallen in love with when visiting while working for What’s On magazine in Kiev, 2012. So it was, driving across Europe, and western Ukraine, I set off in July of 2013 –

And so it was, I arrived, and, with a long-term plan of making a life in Odessa, set about making the most of summer in Odessa – cycling along the beachfront on my bike, catacombs, hitting the beach, swimming, barbeques, vineyard tours –

And, of course, the city’s legendary nightlife too –

So, you can understand, when I look back to summer of 3 years ago, I feel real nostalgia. It was Odessa, when it was Odessa. There was a normal mayor, order, everything was good. Russians were there on holiday. Ukrainians were there. And they both got on great with each other, along with all the other nations there in that mega city by the sea, founded with Catherine the Great’s own money no less.

I guess, not to sound like the Wonder Years, that no one really knew back then, that that was the last summer of Odessa as it was. So, permit me for a bit of nostalgia as I look back to things as they were, 3 years ago in Odessa.

The Truth about Yulia Marushevska vs the Western Media Version

First in Series – Western Media vs Reality (#1)

Graham Phillips

PBS News in partnership with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, with special correspondent, Nick Schifrin recently did something rather rare. They, as a western channel, went to Donbass, Donetsk (former Ukraine), and actually did a very good report from there.

I say very good, not excellent – strange emphasis on the two teenage girls in training, a very untypical example when most teenagers in Donetsk do as teenagers do anywhere. And how about a bit of speaking to the people working there, rather than just filming them? An interview with Zakharchenko, Pushilin too, just a few soundbites even, would have added to the piece.

But still, light years from the standard western media pantomime depiction of ‘separatists’, ‘Russian forces’ and so on. But then, what happens? Just a few days later, experienced American correspondent Schifrin goes to the southern city of Odessa, where I lived, have written much about, meets, and is clearly pretty taken with port chief, 26-year-old Yulia Marushevska –

Yulia

That’s understandable, no question Marushevska is beautiful, and charming, and Shifrin is hardly the first male correspondent to go a bit gooey in her presence. So who is she? Marushevska was an aspiring actress, activist at the time of Euromaidan, when in February 2014, she apparently had the idea herself to make a professionally-produced video (with a Hollywood team on board, Ben Moses no less, producer of Good Morning Vietnam involved).

The I am a Ukrainian video went huge, Marushevska spent most of the next year on a global PR tour of talks shows, and Saakashvili Marushevskaon. With that starting to run out of steam in June 2015, the southern-Ukrainian native accepted an offer from a man no stranger to PR himself, newly appointed Odessa governor, former president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili – seriously need of a bit of distraction to silence dissenting voices – accusations of mass corruption in his own country, accusations that he was a career failure, jumping on the Ukraine bandwagon for personal gain, PR – and took up the position in Saakashvili’s team, of head of a newly created ‘Investment agency’ of Odessa government, with Saakashvili making reference to her having spent an Saakashvili Odessa(otherwise undocumented) ‘year of training at Harvard and Stanford.’

Doing nothing of note in this position, apart from dutifully turning up at Saakashvili’s various press conferences and public appearances (as left), Marushevska was nonetheless, in October of 2015, given the gig of head of Odessa customs, Odessa port itself one of the biggest, and most infamously corrupt, ports in Europe. Here, a rather inebriated looking president Poroshenko, unveils a rather embarrassed looking Marushevska, calling her ‘beautiful’ as he does so –

That relationship seems to have suffered somewhat since, with Marushevska recently reduced to making televised appeals asking for Poroshenko’s assistance, complaining about problems in implementing reforms.

Reform is something certainly mentioned in the PBS article on Marushevska, which begins ‘Yulia Marushevska has never been a customs officer before. Nor has she been a politician. But today, at 26, she is a member of Odessa’s regional government with perhaps its most difficult job: cleaning a notoriously corrupt customs house.’

The article, which could hardly have been kinder if Marushevska’s own mother had written it, goes on –

“Open Customs Area” will replace an old, dark building with offices in the basement. The building’s architecture is its message: customs officials who used to work in back offices will now have desks out in the open; workers susceptible to corruption will be replaced by computers; procedures will be simplified to prevent graft. The United States is helping fund the project.

It’s customs as a service, not as a barrier, for business,” she says. “It is a symbolic place and a symbolic project for whole Ukraine.”

Yulia Marushevska OdessaThe article goes in in this vein, giving Yulia an open platform, without any dissent from her winsome voice. For any insinuation that things might not actually be going all that well, the chief Ukrainian customs officer is cited to blame, going so far as to send someone to ‘spy and to control‘ on her. And in the event of her ultimate failure, just to couch things, we have ‘so long as the old elites are still in power, it’s not clear’.

Reuters, while generally favourable, were rather more objective about her back in their May of 2016 article, calling her on the, frankly ridiculous, unsourced, statement, that previously people ‘paid $5 million to get her job (getting that back through graft)’. They also Yulia Marushevska activistbrought up criticisms of Marushevska that she’s simply out of her depth, and more, trying to straddle the (surely incompatible) stools of doing a serious job requiring enormous amounts of administrative work, with the role of being a glamorous activist, pin-up symbol of Maidan…

But, none of that in the PBS article. None of the fact that Marushevska has reportedly been issued with 3 warnings, for incompetence. That in the first quarter of 2016, revenues from Odessa customs decreased by 30 percent, while in Ukraine as a whole, revenues were reported as up 21 percent, that the head of Ukraine’s Fiscal Service, Roman Nasirov, regards Marushevska’s reforms as having actually made things worse.

Yulia Marushevska Odessa 1More, for all her talk of reform, Odessa’s port under Marushevska still adheres to an antiquated system of customs only being open from 9am to 9pm, rather than the, by now standard, round the clock. More, businessmen have complained it’s simply not possible to get a meeting with Marushevska. Irate clients complain of tariffs increasing, but service actually deteriorating, with frequent delays preventing goods from getting through.

One recent incident involved the deputy director of company ‘Your Logistics’, representing 300 clients of Odessa’s ports, making the 500km trip for a pre-arranged meeting with Marushevska. He was kept waiting for 6 hours, and when Marushevska eventually failed to show entirely, made the trip back to Kiev, empty-handed, furious.

Instances like this have given rise to talk that, with no photographers around, Marushevska simply isn’t interested in putting in the actual, off camera, hard work the job demands. Social media – both Russian and Ukrainian – buzzes with talk that the girl of whom so many glamorous photos abound, either isn’t capable, or simply isn’t interested in what is a decidedly non-glamorous position, sitting in long meetings thrashing Yulia1out negotiations requiring volumes of paperwork. She’s in the gig only because she looks good, and is ever ready to talk up her under-fire boss Saakashvili.

And, despite the new, open-plan customs processing centre which Marushevska takes all journalists too for interview, reports are that corruption, and smuggling are actually increasing on her watch – the port of Chornomosk, next to Odessa, also under Marushevska’s control, is cited as a hotbed of cigarette contraband, bound for Turkey.

The PBS piece on Marushevska rounds off with her – “It’s war of past and future,” she says in the Open Customs Area. “A war against corruption, war against this old way of thinking, war against Soviet heritage, and war for a modern Ukraine.”

It’s a great soundbite, but speculation is mounting that all Marushevska is actually good for is a rousing soundbite, and a pretty face. However, it’s because of the latter, that in western media, you hardly ever hear of the former. For PBS, it’s a shame they managed to fight, largely overcome, the wall of Ukrainian, western propaganda in Donbass, only for their reportage, lured by the siren of Marushevska, to crash against the rocks in Odessa.

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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Ukraine election 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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