Arriving in Donetsk, 3 Years Ago Today….

3 years ago today, I was arriving in Donetsk, for ‘one week’s work’, with the channel RT, in a bit of a panic at that time, as they couldn’t get their own correspondents into Donbass, calling me in Odessa, where I lived at the time, simply saying ‘get to Donetsk as soon as you can!!‘. I duly drove all night –

After a couple of days, RT managed to get their own correspondents in, and sent me down to Lugansk to see out the remainder of my contract. Then, on 12th April, I heard early on about something happening in nearby Slavyansk, called RT. The producer who answered first said ‘Where’s that?‘ Then ‘Graham, your contract’s almost up, just stay a couple days more in Lugansk‘. I replied that I was going to Slavyansk with or without them.

And there we have it. 

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 – 

Ukraine election 2012 3

Ukraine election 2012 4

Ukraine election 2012 5

Ukraine election 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Terrorist Article Which Changed my Life

Graham Phillips

Euromaidan kicked off in 21st November 2013, and fair to say I was against it from day 1. I’d lived in Kiev, seen first hand the elements behind Euromaidan Svoboda(Svoboda, right), and none of it washed with me. President Yanukovych may have been unpopular with factions in Ukraine, but his 2010 election was described by observers as an ‘impressive display of democracy‘. As for the 2012 parliamentary election, whatever else is said about them, the observers from the European Academy for Elections Observation (most of whom where European Parliament members), stated it was “a good election, not perfect but clearly acceptable”.

Euromaidan rolled on through winter, then ramped up in January with the 1Euromaidanviolent rioting of January 19th, on Kiev’s Grushevskogo street, which I was witness to. January 22nd saw the first deaths, Mikhail Zhyzneuski, a native of Belarus, and Serhiy Nihoyan, an ethnic Armenian. Attention focused in in Nihoyan, 21, of Bereznovativka, a small village near Dnipropetrovsk, in the east of Ukraine, with mass portrayal of him as a ‘fallen hero of Maidan’ etc. I saw things rather differently, actually I saw him as a troubled, and troubling, young man, with military training, and an affiliation to terrorist groups. I wrote a blog post stating that he was a terrorist.

My blog had been running for over a year by this time, I’d published a couple of hundred posts, and it had been growing in popularity, from dozens, to hundreds, Sergey Nihoyanto sometimes thousands of hits in a day. A new post would likely attract a couple of hundred hits on its first day, if a good day. My post, given the provocative title ‘Good News – Terrorist Killed in Kiev‘, immediately lit the touchpaper. That title, not meant to be gratuitously incendiary, rather to provide a polar position to the mass-purported version of Nihoyan as some sort of a slain hero. I’d been on Maidan, seen protesters hurling missiles, and molotovs as riot police took cover behind shields. Protesters had already moved onto guns by the time of Nihoyan’s death. There can be no doubt that the police on Maidan made mistakes, but they were also mostly young men. However they had the law on their side, and an order not to allow a violent mob to overthrow the government of Ukraine.

Whatever opinion there is of the former Ukrainian president and government Yanukovych Azarov(left, Yanukovych and former Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov), as they were, and the democracy which elected them, there can be no denying that they were far more democratic than the Euromaidan which overthrew them. Even if you put the figure of those protesters on Maidan as a generous 500,000, it’s still only 1% of Ukraine’s population. And the militant contingent which brought about the president, and government’s downfall, on February 22nd, just a couple of thousand. A couple of thousand, like Sergey Nihoyan. I called him a terrorist then, I’ll call him a terrorist now.

Of course the world is very different now, my own life is very different. And that column was instrumental in the latter. A stream of hate rained down upon me, hundreds of comments and messages with every single form of abuse birthdayimaginable. Now, I have a lot of supporters across the world. Then, I was new, and many still hadn’t fully decided what to make of Maidan, I had few real supporters, perhaps one or two comments shared my sentiments.

The rest, just a tirade of vitriol. I remember sitting with my mum, having gone back to the UK, then France, for my birthday (on my birthday here), comments pinging in pouring hatred, death wishes. My mum looking over my shoulder, just saying to me ‘Graham, what have you done…‘ I was a bit shocked by the level of venom, but, believed in, stood by what I’d written. Actually, the level of hatred fired me up, made more more determined to express things exactly as I saw them.

I returned to Ukraine shortly afterwards, and things were never quite the same. I’d taken the decision to live down in Odessa, understanding there would be less Graham Odessajournalism work than in Kiev, but that compensated for by living in the amazing city of Odessa itself, learning Russian, more time to work on longer-term projects, books etc (myself pictured in Odessa here). As it was, there turned out to be next to no journalism work down in Odessa – there was just nothing of sufficient note happening there I could, as a freelancer, pitch in. So, I’d started my own business, beginning English lessons at an IT firm, Ciklum, becoming the sole teacher there, giving corporate classes.

And, if i do say so, I’d been making a pretty good living. Then, Euromaidan came along, and from the start, I didn’t support it. I actually thought my career as a journalist was over due to the divergence in my position and that of, it seemed, every other western correspondent. So, I didn’t even bother pitching articles in, but I was active in my views on Facebook, on my blog. These views started to clash with some of the students of Ciklum, many of whom had subscribed to the Euromaidan promise of a fast ticket into Europe, the associated glamour of the ‘revolution’ added by an instantly sold western, and Ukrainian press. (Myself Ciklum studentswith some Ciklum students, in happier times)

The secretary of Ciklum was a Maidan supporter, had started messing my classes around. The Euromaidan-supporting students were incensed that I, as a westerner wasn’t only not supporting the on-trend Maidan, but was an active critic of it. They had started not only boycotting my classes, but putting pressure on those other non-Maidan students to do so. Yet in all of this, I was hanging in there. I’d lost students, so streamlined my groups, and was getting through it. But, after the ‘terrorist’ article, I came back to a different office. Those previously against me now absolutely hated me, the pressure on those other students attending my lessons ramped up to where they were almost running a gauntlet to get to my classes.

I fought through the first couple of weeks of February, but it was getting tougher by the day – conspiracies going on behind my back to oust me, group emails pinging around the company looking to take me down, the collapsing hryvnia meaning it was necessary to renegotiate the rates of my lessons, but the company secretary making this entirely impossible. This was all coupled with my own losing interest in teaching, viewing it only as taking time from the journalism I wanted to be doing, having become a regular contributor for RT who found me Crimea Graham Phillipsthrough one of my blog posts, as action started to shift down in the Odessa direction. I began tweeting more, stating my intention to go to Crimea (pictured here on March 1st, Simferopol), as it rose up against Euromaidan’s unelected new power. Through this, I received a $500 offer to write an article for Politico magazine, along with an RT appearance.

I went down to Crimea, covered events there, came back to Odessa, ploughed on teaching for a few days, with some ex-students now openly rude to me. Yet, this didn’t bother me so much. I was fired up, focused. At the end of the first week, my mind abuzz with the need to cover everything that was going on, feeling something in the air, I quit my job at Ciklum, took the $500 from Politico, and set off to drive all over the east of Ukraine…

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