Euro 2012, my Life in, and Best Work from Ukraine, Before the War

As the draw for the World Cup 2018 has just finished, throwing up a favourable draw for England, I couldn’t help but reflect on the run-up to Euro 2012 – the main reason I moved to Ukraine in the first place, sensing an exciting time to be in a country in the build-up to a major football tournament, with opportunities in journalism to be found.

In I worked at the magazine What’s On in Kiev, 2011, and 12. Their website was down for ages, but recently came back to life. And with it, not all, but 90 of my articles from that time.

Looking back over them, and not only, I can hold my hands up and say that ‘pre-war’, I perhaps did write a bit too much about the ladies. But, it was a different time, and far from just that, I’m actually proud of a lot of the work I did back then, although in the context of things now, they are rather like ‘notes from a lost country‘…

So here’s a ‘top 10’ of my work from Ukraine, pre-war: 

10. The Pain of Ukraine? 

My first article for What’s On magazine, January 2012, and it was about defending Ukraine from the attacks and prophecies of doom in the western media –

https://whatson-kiev.com/index.php?go=News&in=view&id=11540

9. Remembering River Palace

From October 2012, I had a look into the murky history, and mystery, of the former ‘floating brothel’ of Kiev, River Palace, for the Kyiv Post –

https://www.kyivpost.com/article/guide/about-kyiv/remembering-river-palace-314970.html

8. Tracking down Tymoshenko 

February of 2012, and I went looking for Tymoshenko in Kharkov, with some interesting results –

https://whatson-kiev.com/index.php?go=News&in=view&id=11662

7. That Said – 

My weekly column from What’s On, in which I tried to cover all aspects of life in Ukraine. From all of them, I pick this one to represent how it was to live in Ukraine, at that time, the spirit –

https://whatson-kiev.com/index.php?go=News&in=view&id=12064

6. Ok, it was a bit light-hearted, but you could hardly be in Ukraine pre-war, and not write about the sexual side of things. This piece, a cover-story for What’s On, was about the men who came to Ukraine expressly to pick-up women, and how that was working out for them – I liked how it came out, and felt it made a point –

https://whatson-kiev.com/index.php?go=News&in=view&id=12021

5. Odessa – from March of 2012, my first trip to Odessa, for a travel piece for What’s On – it was to be love at first sight, in Odessa, something captured here –

https://whatson-kiev.com/index.php?go=News&in=view&id=12310

4. Dnepropetrovsk – Always Parus 

I wrote this for my blog, and it was a labour of love, one of my the themes which most drew me in Ukraine, on which I wrote extensively – abandoned buildings, and the story behind them –

https://thetruthspeaker.co/2015/02/09/abandoned-dnipropetrosk-always-parus/

3. The Russian Heart of Ukraine – in which I wrote of my own experience of visiting Donetsk in summer of 2012, for What’s On magazine, and the Russian heart of that city, and not only –

https://whatson-kiev.com/index.php?go=News&in=view&id=12700

2. November 2012, for Pravda and I wrote about the post Euro-2012, post 2012 election malaise which had befallen Ukraine, and the state of the country at that time –

http://www.pravdareport.com/business/finance/26-11-2012/122926-ukraine_euro-0/

1.  In October of 2012, I wrote what I believe to be my most significant pre-war piece from Ukraine, about the case of Oksana Makar, her tragic murder, and the implications for Ukraine (a case I continued investigating, going to her hometown of Nikolaev), here for the New Statesman

https://www.newstatesman.com/world-affairs/2012/10/tragic-case-ukraines-oksana-makar-draws-close

And there we have it, some of my essays from a different time, a different world. 

Euromaidan, and We’ve Known Each Other for 4 Years Now!

This week, it’s nothing to celebrate of course, but some of us have now known each other for 4 years. 4 years ago I was living in Odessa, Euromaidan had kicked off, and I was watching on, in horror not only at what I saw, but that all my former colleagues – I’d worked in Kiev as a journalist for 2 years – were supporting it, all the western media were cheering for me. The reasons I took against Maidan were fairly delineated, and definite. In the time I’d lived in Kiev, I’d followed the rise of neo-Nazi party Svoboda, had been to their congress, marches, had been shocked by what was pure, patent, unconcealed fascism (photo, right, I’ve also written about it here).

And here’s a thing, at the time the western media agreed with me about this, there were articles about Svoboda in this vein. And in my time in Kiev, I’d actually written for leading western publications – the New Statesman, more, had been senior journalist at the city’s What’s On magazine for a year.

When Euromaidan got going, some of the first footage I saw from it featured Svoboda members, Oleg Tyagnibok, and other radicals, not only in the crowd, but up on the hastily-erected stages. It’s not a big stretch to think that ‘if guys from a party based on the original Nazi party are supporting this, then maybe this isn’t the right side.’ Or more aptly, the correct side, because Maidan was the right, the far-right, the misled, the deceived, the chronic Ukrainian dreamers who really did believe that if you force out an elected president and government, by violence, then it’s happily ever after…

I started tweeting the Maidan I saw, in the context I knew, early doors. And I’d add that the context was that I knew Ukraine, having been to every part, including Donbass (here, Donetsk 2012). And with an overt anti-Russian mood to Maidan from early on, it was clear that Donbass, Crimea of course, weren’t going to be a part of it.

The fact that my tweets didn’t take the narrative of the west meant my phone was silent, there was no inbox with offers to report on the ‘glorious uprising‘, ‘peaceful people’s revolution‘ etc, that the west wanted to hear about . They went with journalists who would write that copy for them, and they were many. So they were in, I was out.

I thought ‘f*ck it’, effectively, and just kept on writing articles for my blog,  sometimes several a day (grahamwphillips.com – I took that site down ages ago, it was a personaly blog hardly appropriate for covering war on, you can find it archived). The blog posts started attracting a readership, and one day I got a Facebook message from a producer, Maria, at RT, asking me to go on air for an interview. I’d never in my life have thought of working for Russian media before, nothing against them, but I’d always as a British person generally gravitated to the BBC, et al. But, you know what, if they’ll let you say what you see, what you know to be true, then go for it. So, I went for it, this video from early December 2013.

Which means some of us have known each other for 4 years already.

Ukraine and the New Saakashvili Maidan the West is Staying Silent about

When Euromaidan kicked off almost exactly 4 years ago in Ukraine’s capital of Kiev, you could hardly move for western correspondents there covering it, telling us all about the heroic protesters wishing to overthrow the awful regime of Yanukovych and his government (both, democratically elected, btw) –

What happened next? Maidan and the west got their way, Yanukovych and his government were booted out, the west’s people were installed. What happened after Poroshenko Ukrainethat? Well, going on 4 years of chaos, inflation, unemployment, in Ukraine, and war in Donbass, of course. All of which the west have been a bit shy in telling you about, given it’s their guys at the wheel….

All of this has contributed to 80% of Ukrainians now being against president Poroshenko, again, something the western press are strangely reticent to report on. Actually, there’s a long list of things the west would rather you didn’t know about their new Ukraine. Such as this, on October 14th, that open neo-Nazis now brazenly march through Kiev in their thousands –

And that shortly after that, the new Maidan kicked off in Kiev, spearheaded by former Saakashvili UkraineGeorgian president (now wanted on high-level charges there), recently of a disastrous reign as governor of Odessa, even more recently, September, simply barging over the Ukrainian border. Since that September border-barge, Saakashvili has been on a trouble-making tour of Ukraine, as he attempts to topple incumbent president Poroshenko.

All of which has left the western press in a bit of  dilemma. Who to support – the western installed uber pro-west Poroshenko, or the darling of the west, wanting-to-be-western-installed Saakashvili, who has even gone to far as to be sleeping in the tents on the new Maidan. All of which would surely be screaming for sympathetic western media coverage. Yet, Saakashvili is going up against their man. So he’s out of luck. No fawning western coverage this time, no glorious new Maidan for him. Almost no western press coverage at all.

Saakashvili PoroshenkoThis has left Saakashvili rather pathetically pleading with the Ukrainian people to protect him against Poroshenko’s apparent wish to deport him back to Georgia. Meanwhile, Ukrainian ultra-nationalists storming and attempting to occupy a court in Kiev similarly find themselves out of luck – the west only supported that in Ukraine in 2013, guys. Now, the west supports Poroshenko, who seemingly entirely without irony, or memory, is attempting to deport the tent-dwelling Saakashvili for his attempt in an ‘illegal overthrow of government’. 

Post-Euromaidan Ukraine is certainly never boring. Not so much a car crash, as a neverending demolition derby.

Excellent News!! – No Ukraine at the World Cup 2018!

Despite the fact that I spent over 3 years in Donbass, much of it reporting on Ukrainian forces shelling civilian areas of Donbass, with mass loss of life, I still try to stay objective about Ukraine.

In 2012, when I worked at What’s On magazine in Kiev, I would write articles defending Ukraine from what was unjustified western attack. Here, for example, as in early 2012 I address the western campaign to trash Ukraine ahead of Euro 2012.

Of course, it’s a different world now, a different Ukraine. But even after covering events like this, where Ukraine had shelled civilians in Donbass –

And many, sadly, similar instances, I remind myself that these are people who claim to represent Ukraine, but are not Ukraine. Ukraine in the prism of those ‘ambassadors’ exists in a monstrified, maniacal form of its earlier self. A country of which a small minority overthrew a democratic government in early 2014, then set about attacking anyone who didn’t accept their actions. Whether that be shelling civilians of Donbass, who rejected their version of Ukraine, or doing as much mischief in Crimea as they are able to. 

But, from Crimea, where I write this, I’ve met many decent, nice Ukrainians, this year –

However, sadly, they are not the ones running the show in Ukraine at the moment. And whether they even represent the majority of Ukrainians anymore, is a moot point, with many in Ukraine having full-scale swallowed their own propaganda, that ‘everything is Russia’s fault‘, they must ‘hate Russia‘, ‘Putin is to blame‘ for all their own problems, and so on. Don’t just take my word for it, look at these Ukrainian fans, at Euro 2016 – 

They are whipped up, agitated into this baying, mob-mentality state in no small part by Ukraine’s bonkers president Poroshenko. Poroshenko came to power off the back of the Maidan coup which ultimately amounted to a few thousand ultra-national Ukrainians in Kiev, forcing then president Yanukovych to flee for his life. So he knows full well that the erstwhile latent but potentially ever-ready to rock radicals must be appeased, kept at bay.

Poroshenko does this by telling them just what they want to hear. It’s all ‘Slava Ukraina‘, a nationalist chant strongly associated with WW2 Ukrainian Nazism, endless glorifying of WW2 Ukrainian Nazi Stepan Bandera, and considerably more in this canon.

Of course, Poroshenko’s favourite refrain, and one which plays particularly well to a home crowd struggling with a country beset with problems only becoming worse, is that Russia is the root of all Ukraine’s problems. Poroshenko’s Twitter is awash with the kind of apropos of nothing abuse, vitriol directed at Russia of the kind one may more commonly associate with a one of the football fans in the above video – this just a sampling –

And of course, Poroshenko loves nothing more than combining his hatred of Russia with his love of creating a public spectacle. So, we have his brandishing a bit of a bus he claimed Russia was responsible for the destruction of, at the start of 2015 at the Davos Economic Forum, in Switzerland –

Waving Russian passports, as ‘proof of Russian involvement in war in Ukraine’, at the Munich Security Conference, also 2015 –

And the list really does go on, and on, and of course, western media loves it all, always happy to let Poroshenko turn any event into the ‘Poroshenko vs Russia’ show. Last night, before the match, Poroshenko tweeted his support for the Ukrainian team, as they faced Croatia in the final match of qualifying, Group I, for World Cup 2018. If Ukraine had won, they were in the play-offs, and in with a chance of making it to Russia.

And this, would have been all Poroshenko’s christmases (which he wants tomove the date of, by the way – the existing January 7th date ‘too Russian’), coming at once. The opportunities and possibilities presented by Ukrainian qualification for the World Cup 2018, would have been simply mind-blowing. Boycott? Ok, that’s one. Or what about go to Russia, and take every opportunity with the eyes of the world on Russia, to create scandal, drag politics into sport, cause scenes, conflict, agitation, provocation, make the football a sideshow to the Poroshenko show, with him using the World Cup as a platform to boost his bid for the 2019 Ukrainian presidential elections. Pause for a moment, just imagine the opportunity afforded by a World Cup to do what one will, at one’s will, in the full knowledge a sympathetic global media will be cheering you on….

But, it wasn’t to be. 2 decent, but defendable goals by Andrej Kramarić, and Ukraine won’t play any part of 2018’s World Cup, apart from the inevitable trolling and attempts to capitalise on the attention, now reflected, anyway. But, that will meet with limited success. Sore losers. Ghosts at the feast. They had a winnable match against a Croatia side on a slump, with a new coach, in their own backyard, and they turned a performance so limp as to suggest some of the players themselves didn’t much fancy being a part of the Poroshenko spectacle of Ukraine at the 2018 World Cup.

Ukraine blew it. For all the good Ukrainians who support their national team, it’s bad news. For all the other Ukrainians who couldn’t wait to go to Russia, and delight in causing as many problems as they can with the ‘get out of jail card’ of knowing what an image a Russian police officer arresting a Ukrainian would present, no matter what they’d done, it’s worse news. For Poroshenko, it’s a major blow, suddenly the world stage Russia 2018 presents has no place for him to go and, figuratively of course, piss all over it.

For fans of football, it’s truly excellent news. It means we can look forward to a World Cup 2018 of sport, of high-octane clashes between the world’s best players, at some of the world’s best stadiums, devoid of all the drama that would have cast black clouds over proceedings. There will be other issues, and scandals, of course there will. But, none to hold a candle to what Ukraine was going to unleash.

It’s a reminder that in sport, there is an innate fairness. Invariably, the best team wins. Ukraine’s footballers were taken apart on their own turf last night. The trojan horse that Ukraine’s footballers would have brought to Russia 2018 didn’t get over the last hurdle. A victory for Croatia in Kiev, a victory for football fans all over the world. A rare instance where Ukraine must actually admit their own failings have nothing to do with a Russia on which they will look on in 2018, but with few looking back at them.

On a purely footballing level, as a football fan, from me – it’s a like!! 

Donbass, Referendums, and a Truly Horrible Situation

A few words about the complications of filming in Donbass, early 2014. I made hundreds, really hundreds of videos from there, which were seen all over the world, on the news, and more, of people saying they didn’t want Ukraine, wanted a referendum, wanted the Donetsk, Lugansk People’s Republic, and more.

Had a referendum, voted for the DPR, LPR. No one in the west listened, actually they supported Ukraine against them.
Then, in July of 2014, Ukrainian forces took a lot of these towns and cities – Mariupol, Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, and set about a campaign of ‘cleansing’ of separatists. People were beaten, people disappeared.
I removed all the videos I’d made which may have put people still there in a position of danger. But, my videos had already been put everywhere, I wrote to people asking them to remove them. And of course, not only my videos – there were many, many videos made at this time, and most still online.

A video which one month tells the world the truth, the next month can put their life in danger. A really horrible situation.

Here, Slavyansk, April 2014: