Poroshenko Arrives into London

What must be pretty much the last thing you want if you’re Theresa May? You’ve just announced a snap General Election, you’ve got literally a million things to do. And, there it is – a pre-arranged visit by Ukraine’s often inebriated, always crazy, president, Poroshenko. And you just know he’s not going to say ‘Theresa, you must be up to your neck at the moment another time?’ Petr’s got his invite, he’s coming!

What to expect? Will it be waving Russian passports around, waving bits of a bus around? Accusing Putin of killing the pharaoh (Poroshenko recently claimed Putin used the London terrorist attacks of March 22nd to murder someone on the sly in Kiev, no less).

Well, let’s see. Poroshenko arrives into London tomorrow. 

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.

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

Graham Phillips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orphanage – 1st June 2014 –

Smoke rising from city – 6th June 2014 –

Queue for water – 8th June –

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

Wrecked apartment block – 12th June –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 UK’s FCO – There to Help Immediately (if you’re the BBC)

Graham Phillips

As you may know, I was recently deported from Latvia, on March 16th/17th.

On March 19th, I raised this matter with the UK’s FCO (Supporting British nationals around the world through modern and efficient consular services.), subject line – Formal Complaint against Latvia – here are the emails –

Hello,

I was deported from Latvia on the night of March 16th, 17th, and banned for 3 years.

Graham Latvia3This is absolutely disgraceful, a complete breach of EU law –
– I had not committed, or been found guilty of any crime
– I was given no representation, nor any opportunity for representation
– The Latvian authorities were heavy-handed, and have attacked my
reputation via the media

I would like to make a complaint in the strongest terms, and pursue a claim for damages against the Latvian authorities.

Please take this up as a matter of urgency.

Graham Phillips

On March 24th, I heard back –

Dear Mr Phillips,

Thank you for your email. I am sorry to hear about the difficulties you encountered during your recent visit to Latvia. I hope this email finds you safe and well.

I can appreciate that you will have found the decision to deport you from Latvia frustrating but I should explain that the embassy is unable to intervene on your behalf in this matter. This is not out of any lack of interest or concern but because the decision on such matters lies with the Latvian government acting in its capacity as a sovereign state.

The Latvian government has established procedures for anyone who is unhappy with the decision taken to deport them. These should be set out in the information pack you will have received on your deportation. You may also find it helpful to UK FCOdiscuss your options with a lawyer who is able to advise you on local law so that you can consider taking action through legal channels including for your claim for damages. I attach to this email a list of English speaking lawyers who may be able to assist you.

You mentioned in your email that you were denied access to representation and that the Latvian authorities were heavy handed. In order for us to determine how we may be able to assist you with these complaints, it would help us greatly if you could provide us with further details. In particular:

Do you mean you were denied access to a lawyer? If so, could you please provide further details about the circumstances including when you made this request, how many times, to whom and the response you received?

Can you please explain further what you mean by “heavy-handed” and the circumstances in which the behaviour you are complaining about arose?
I look forward to receiving your reply to these questions.

Yours sincerely

Richard

Richard Koizumi
Deputy Head of Mission
British Embassy Riga

They ‘helpfully’ enclosed a list of lawyers, and as for the questions, I’ve been down this road before with the FCO, you answer the questions, it all leads to absolutely nothing.

I had a more pertinent question for them – this email to them from March 28th –

Before I answer your questions, Richard.

Judith Gough PoroshenkoCan you explain to me why, when in Ukraine last year, BBC journalists were banned from Ukraine, and the FCO immediately intervened, UK ambassador to Ukraine Judith Gough going personally to visit president Poroshenko – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34282136 – yet when I, a working journalist, but not for the BBC, get deported from Latvia – even an EU country, you tell me you can’t do anything about it?

Surely it should be one rule for all? The FCO either can get involved in the matters of a ‘sovereign state’, or it can’t. So, why did the FCO get involved in a similar matter in Ukraine, not even in the EU, but did nothing at all to help me in Latvia?

Yours, Graham

I’m still waiting to hear back from them, over a week later. That’s the UK’s FCO, they are there to help you if you get in trouble abroad*. *If you work for the BBC.

2 Years On – the 12 ‘Triumphs’ of Euromaidan

Graham Phillips

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

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

The Liberation of Debaltsevo – a Victory for the People’s Militia* (*The Rebels)

Graham Phillips

Shortly before returning to a Ukraine and trying to force out Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk – he didn’t manage that, and the ensuing fall-out from the Poroshenko Munich 2016failed no-confidence vote had even Euromaidan flag-wavers like Chris Miller admitting the country was in chaos – Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko was in Munich last week, between 12th and 14th at the 52nd Security Conference, once again attempting to convince the world there had been a ‘Russian invasion’ in Ukraine.

Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s President: “This is not a civil war in Ukraine, this is your soldiers, who occupied my country. And this is not a civil war in Syria, this is your planes bombing civil population. And this is just a demonstration, that we are living in a completely different universe with Russia!”‘

The extreme, increasingly bizarre nature of his rhetoric has seen speculation that the persistent talk of his over-fondness for alcohol, as satirised in an anti-NATO play which took place outside the Munich conference, may well be more than just speculation.

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko shows passports of Russian soldiers to demonstrate the presence of Russian troops in the Ukraine as he speaks at the 51st Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 7, 2015. The Ukraine conflict, Islamic State group jihadists and the wider "collapse of the global order" will occupy the world's security community at the annual meeting. Also on the agenda of the three-day Conference will be Iran's nuclear talks, the Syrian war and mass refugee crisis, West Africa's Ebola outbreak and cyber terrorism. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS KIENZLEPoroshenko didn’t bring the Russian passports he famously waved around at Munich last year, to supposedly back his claim then of a Russian invasion (on the basis that he had a handful of passports, reportedly of Russian nationals), but the ‘different universe’ language is ratcheted up rhetoric from last year – extract here

‘Mounds of lies and propaganda have been heaped into a wall of hatred, erected between two once friendly nations.

The border routes, once used for transporting goods and exchange of visitors and friends, are now swarming with Russian tanks, armed personnel carriers, artillery, multiple-rocket-launchers and ammunition.

How many evidences does the world still need to recognize an obvious fact – there is a foreign military equipment, mercenaries, Russian military coaches and regular troops.’

This all feeds into the ever-perpetuated Ukrainian line of a ‘Russian invasion‘ which sees their media, and the litany of ‘sub-media’ sites, blogs etc, whose purpose seems to be to publish brazen propaganda, which Ukrainian, and Fullscreen capture 20022016 160855.bmpwestern media, higher up the chain can, and do, cite. And this point invariably zones in on the supposed ‘Russian involvement‘ in the Debaltsevo operation, with various ‘pro-Ukraine’ outlets last week going so far as to say Putin himself was responsible.

Let’s address this matter definitely. There’s no question that people have come from Russia to take part in the conflict in Donbass – mostly on the side of the DPR and LPR, although also some on the Ukrainian side. There’s no question that, morally, Russia has supported the ethnic Russians of the newly-formed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

As for Russian material support, hardware coming to Donbass in time of war. That’s of course possible, yet to date there has been no concrete evidence of that, simply supposition, hearsay, speculation. There can be no question that whatever the exact nature of Russia’s involvement in Donbass, it has stopped far short of actual military intervention. It has stopped far short of what even the US has sent to the Ukrainian side – here US Humvees, and US aid for Ukraine now in the hundreds of millions of dollars

Of course you’ll have seen the pro-Ukrainian, western, media make a lot of this video of myself and 3 supposedly ‘Russian tanks‘.

There’s of course no evidence this is the case, though unquestionably they are newer tanks. Yet this is the exception, most of the tanks were Ukrainian army Soviet relics, most of the weapons 30, sometimes 50-or more, year old automatic rifles. This video here, from February 13th, 2015, by Debaltsevo –

And we can focus in on Debaltsevo in that point, of ‘Russian intervention‘. I arrived to base myself in the nearby town of Stakhanov on February 4th, 2015, and spent the next 2 weeks covering the push to Debaltsevo. There was battle going on all around Debaltsevo, of every kind – artillery, contact combat. Here, on February 6th, going to frontline positions by Sanzharivko, to the north –

Trench warfare goes on, by Sanzharivko, February 6th –

Here’, Vergulovka, just north east, on February 13th, as momentum gained, battled intensified, and the push to Debaltsevo was entering its final stages –

Here, Chornukino, on February 16th, a village right by Debaltsevo, as Ukraine forces put up one of their final, fierce, fights before retreating –

There was every sort of drama, this, February 18th, as Ukrainian POWs are taken out of a building pinned down by fire from the Ukrainian side, as house-to-house battled waged –

And here, February 19th, as the city was liberated – and be sure that that was the word the populace of Debaltsevo were using, be sure, that was what they wanted. *

*I’ll put some English-language video reportage together of the people of Debaltsevo, at the time, and one year on. 

From my extensive, comprehensive time reporting around Debaltsevo, I can categorically say this – it was a victory for the People’s Militia, for the forces of DPR and LPR (Debaltsevo is situated right on the border). Whatever else you read on the subject, Russian involvement, operation etc – it’s nonsense, lies, propaganda – have a look at some of the fighters involved, my photos of the time –

Why the Ukrainians, pro-Ukrainians need to pretend otherwise? They want more military assistance from the US, from NATO. More, it’s actually embarrassing for them that their much-vaunted army, of which Poroshenko is ever expounding the capacities, was actually defeated by a militia of mostly local miners, and that’s the truth. The rest is just propaganda, and take it from someone who was actually there.