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On the cover
¹7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope

28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidan’s three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the country’s stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.


Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard – and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.


Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.



I dropped in on the Stalingrad chaps the other day at the local veteran centre and found them in fine fettle. Indeed, for a group of eighty five year old gents surviving on kopeks and dignity alone they were positively exuberant. “We’re getting ready to do battle again,” one of them trumpeted. “UPA want to march through Kyiv next weekend. We’ll see about that,” he added before launching into a string of exquisite denunciations. He was, of course, referring to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which fought a guerrilla campaign against both Soviet and Nazi forces during WWII and were thus vilified for half a century by the Soviet propaganda machine as terrorists. This week they’ll be in the capital again marching in numbers, and violent clashes are expected (see page 22). Many Red Army veterans and former Soviet citizens in general reserve a special hatred for these UPA fighters, and their annual gathering in Kyiv has become a flash point between the ultra nationalists who view Moscow as the eternal enemy and the Soviet sympathisers who see the 1991 collapse as a surrender to provincial banditry and xenophobia. Neither side is ever going to convince the other or gain the sympathies of the majority of the Ukrainian people, but still the battle rages. There is no sign of this animosity subsiding as the number of veterans decreases, either. On the contrary, each side attracts new generations of participants to carry the banners forward. Unfortunately there is no quick fix to this conundrum, as President Yuschenko found last year when his fumbling attempts to hold a joint Victory Day rally provoked near universal scorn. So this last battle of WWII looks set to rumble on, along the way epitomizing the polarisation of opinion in today’s Ukraine. Perhaps the only useful lesson to draw from all this is the fact that it demonstrates the need for a new, inclusive national identity more clearly than anything else.

Peter Dickinson, Editor

Have you heard the joke about the Ukrainian Black Sea Fleet having two ships and three admirals? Or the one about three Ukrainians producing two Hetmen and one traitor? So it should come as no surprise that we now appear to have one country and two heads of state. I am referring, of course, to the current flow of contradictory messages that are emanating from the helm of the good ship Ukraine courtesy of the country’s two Viktors, who share a first name but apparently little else. One minute we’re on course for NATO membership and then all of a sudden we’re not, but actually we are, and so forth. The two of them have taken to publicly airing their differences over issues as diverse as benefits for new mothers and foreign policy direction, creating the impression that the country is listing dangerously while they squabble about who should be in overall control. Clearly this state of affairs cannot go on forever, and you’ve got to wonder how soon it will be before the decisive moment is reached. When that happens it would be a brave man who would predict that the Euro-optimists will come out on top, but at least we’ll all know where we are at. Ukraine may well be the ‘neither here nor there’ borderland to beat all borderlands, but having two would-be heads of state contradicting each other publicly is too ridiculous for words, however richly ironic it may be.

Cheers, Peter Dickinson, Editor

Remont’ is one of the very few Russian words that for some reason all foreigners seem to know, and so it is with great pleasure that I present to you this week’s fully remonted issue of What’s On! We’ve been covering life in the Ukrainian capital for seven years now and seen huge improvements all over town along the way, so it is only right that we should freshen the magazine up and try to keep pace with what is fast becoming one of Europe’s boom towns. While we hope readers enjoy the new-look What’s On the biggest remont of the week is undoubtedly over in Lviv, where huge efforts have been made to spruce up the city in time for its 750th birthday celebrations this weekend. I’m assured that the results are stunning, which is great news for Ukraine’s tourist industry, as a well remonted Lviv has the potential to rival the likes of Krakow and Budapest as a Mittle Europa weekend break destination. Tourism aside, anyone in Kyiv who has never been to Lviv will no doubt associate it primarily with nationalist extremism, which is silly really, for while there is reason to view the place as the heartland of Ukrainian patriotic sentiment there is so much more to Lviv than all those ‘Banderivtsi’ jibes suggest. Such negative stereotypes about one region or another are all too common in patchwork Ukraine and I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard Kyivites tell horror stories about the dangers of speaking Russian on the streets of Lviv. Having lived there for a year in the 1990s I can confirm that this is simply not true, and it is a crying shame that so many non-Halichians remain quick to point to such perceived prejudices rather than taking pride in what is a sensationally beautiful and incurably romantic Ukrainian city.

Here’s to you, Lviv!
Peter Dickinson, Editor

A survey published this month of Eastern Europe's richest people confirms what the world has long since taken for granted - namely that amid the relative poverty of the post-Soviet era here in Ukraine a small number of individuals have amassed mind-boggling amounts of personal wealth (see What's Up? on page 6 for more). Local kingmakers remain comfortably ahead of their neighbours in the more economically developed former Socialist Bloc, EU membership not withstanding. Of the one hundred featured in the list, over sixty come from the former USSR, with Ukraine accounting for a grand total of fifteen entries, second only to Russia in the regional fat cat stakes. Statistically speaking that is a gross over-representation, whether we're talking about GDP, standard of living, population size or any other indicator you care to mention. The end result is the oligarchy we all know and love, but instead of buying parliamentary majorities it would be nice to see some of these billion dollar boys putting a little back into the country that made them so insanely wealthy. Such philanthropy is commonplace among the mega-rich of the West, but has yet to fully catch on here. Last week we saw the opening of Vitkor Pinchuk's contemporary art centre here in Kyiv, and although that may not be much use to the average Brovary housewife trying to get by on a few hundred hryvnia, it is at least a sign that the importance of good PR is finally being recognised, so there is hope. After all, if these fellows wish to be taken seriously as the country's self-anointed 'National Bourgeoisie' they will need to spread a little of that wealth among the other 99.99% of the country.
Peter Dickinson,

There is much debate in Western Europe these days about the integration of minorities into society, with the massive waves of ethnic immigration of the past thirty years having led to the emergence of divided and segregated communities and, at its most extreme, homegrown suicide bombers and regular outbreaks of racial violence. The general consensus seems to be that everyone must be integrated for any modern society to function healthily, and few reasonable people would argue with that verdict. And yet have you ever seen a less integrated group of people than the average expat community? From their lack of language skills to their limited social circle and general disinterest in local realities the average expat displays all the characteristics of the terminally unintegrated. In the West such people would be held up as examples of why society is failing, but here this kind of behaviour is considered quite normal. In fairness this is not a Kyiv disease - it is mirrored all over the developing world, where many expats have a tendency to gather in their cloistered little world rather than engage in the wider community, resulting in a somewhat diluted experience akin to 'Ukraine Lite'.
The great irony here is that the vast majority of Western expats in Kyiv hail from exactly the kind of middle classes that have been parroting the benefits of cultural enrichment for decades, but nevertheless many still choose to live in relative isolation. This is not to say that all Kyiv expats are guilty of living in their own little bubbles, but I can't help wondering why anyone would want to come to a country as special as Ukraine and then shut themselves off from it. Even if you're here for a limited period or fixed contract surely that time would be more fruitfully spent as part of a wider community rather than regarding it all as some sort of exile.

Peter Dickinson,

As expected, last week's twentieth anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster proved occasion for endless rehashed exclusion zone survivor stories and other tales of atomic-related misery throughout the international press. In fact there were probably more column inches dedicated to Chornobyl in this past seven days than the whole of Ukraine will be given for the rest of the year in total. This lop-sided media attention has not been mirrored locally, where coverage has been informative but more subdued largely because in the big scale of things Ukrainians have seen a lot worse than exploding atomic energy stations. This disparity in media attention reflects the general ignorance towards the history of this part of the world, and while it is all well and good to see Ukrainian news making it into the international media spotlight, there is no escaping the fact that the upcoming WWII Victory Day celebrations and autumn's Holodomor genocide commemorative events will between them garner a mere fraction of the western media attention that Chornobyl brings with it every year. These two historical tragedies cost the lives of something in the region of twenty million Ukrainians and while such figures are naturally beyond our human comprehension, they nevertheless dwarf any of the many estimates as to the damage to society caused by Chornobyl. Why does Ukraine's appalling record of twentieth century suffering remain so unknown while its status as home of Chornobyl is known to all the world over? Perhaps it is because Chornobyl threatened us all, theoretically at least. If the Slavs want to starve each other to death then that is their business, it would seem, but if their nuclear power plants start blowing up then that is everybody's concern. Likewise with WWII we remain ignorant of Ukraine's terrible wartime experiences, largely because the moral issues involved are in many ways too complex to be bothered with. In future years a good indicator of the extent to which Ukraine has really emerged from the shadows will be to compare the amount of media attention paid to WWII, the Holodomor and Chornobyl. When the three attract similar column inches, real progress will have been made.

Peter Dickinson, Editor

Over these past seven years I've been lucky enough to cover some of the most exciting events in Ukrainian history, including everything from rigged elections and revolutions to the ups and downs of the Ukrainian football team. Throughout it all I have often been struck by the startling number of characteristics that Post-Soviet Ukraine shares with the ill-fated Weimar Republic of inter-war Germany. First and foremost there's the proliferation of the devil may care, short-term attitudes that instruct so much of Kyiv life, helping to infuse the society scene with a highly hedonistic quality and encourage the growth of an exciting experimental arts and musical scene. Then there's the plethora of political parties seemingly coming and going, with members flitting from one to the other seemingly at will. We also have a wealthy and influential Jewish community and gutter level anti-Semitism. And then there's hyper inflation and the widely held belief that the country is corrupt and in need of a strong leader. I'd even swap you a Moroz for a von Papen, but that might be getting a little too carried away. After all, however depressing it may be to see the disgraced big man, Viktor Yanukovich, bounding back into power with his cronies, this is not 1933 and the parrallels are not so exact. Unfortunately one side effect of this latest political disappointment could be a significant boost for nationalist extremism. Far right groups have been bubbling under the surface for years in Post-Soviet Ukraine - viewed as fringe fanatics by the powers that be, much as they were in Weimar, and this current climate of perceived national betrayal is fertile ground indeed. As I look at those Swastika-style nationalist flags still flying on Maidan I can't help wondering just what sort of Ukraine these protesters are ready to fight for. It is certainly not the kind of country millions envisaged when they took to the streets in 2004, and with all eyes on the return of the old guard it is worth noting that there are plenty of other evils which could also pose a threat to Ukraine’s fledgling party politics.

Peter Dickinson, Editor

I was planning to write a rather upbeat editorial this week to mark the anniversary of 9/11. After all, as the five year mark since those world-shattering terror attacks approaches Ukraine has yet to become engulfed in all the terrorism and ethnic division surrounding the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ that has effectively dominated international relations since the twin towers fell. This is no small feat, considering that the country has one of the largest Muslim minorities in Europe (approx. 4% of the overall population) and in the Crimean Tatars a potential flashpoint if ever there was one. So it looked like being a time to reflect on the relatively easy-going attitudes within Ukrainian society towards religious and ethnic minorities and salute the general lack of xenophobia in this patchwork nation. Then I read the Sunday newspapers, and learned that Ukrainian mafia bosses and former government officials have sold missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to Iran (see What’s Up on page 4 for details). So in other words, while Ukrainian society as a whole has come through five years of global turmoil with much to its credit, the twin evils of organised crime and corruption have potentially thrust Ukraine into the very eye of the storm. No wonder the country has such a hard time trying to portray itself in a positive light to the outside world. Similar stories about the sale of suitcase nukes and high grade uranium were almost weekly occurrences throughout the Kuchma years, and the only saving grace in this instance is that the Iranian deal does indeed date back to the old regime, but nevertheless it should prove embarrassing to a country that just over a year ago was looking forward to fast track EU membership talks. At the end of the day we should all probably be thankful that Ukraine was bullied into giving up her not inconsiderable nuclear arsenal back in 1994, or God alone knows what the results would have been for world peace.

Peter Dickinson, Editor

It was the headline we'd all been waiting to read for the last eighteen months - 'Ukrainians hail ex-Prime Minister's prison sentence as victory over corruption'. Unfortunately, the story that followed did not relate to the arrest and third incarceration of Donbas overlord Viktor Yanukovich. As it turns out the former prime minister in question on this occasion was actually ‘Panama’ Pavlo Lazarenko, the disgraced PM and corruption king of the mid 1990s who was convicted last week in the US of money-laundering and extortion (see What's Up? on page 4 for details). The lesson here seems to be clear enough - if you're going to  cheat the Ukrainian people, keep it within the former Soviet space and make damned sure you don't expose yourself to justice systems that actually function. This serves as yet another sad indictment of Ukraine’s judiciary, but it is to be welcomed nonetheless. After all, while the sight of an American judge handing out prison time to a corrupt Ukrainian politician for what are essentially crimes against Ukraine may leave you wondering whether to laugh or cry, at least Ukrainians will finally have the pleasure of seeing justice served on one of the many high profile figures to profit from state-scale criminality. There is little to suggest that this foreign conviction will in any way serve to moderate the behaviour of local powerbrokers, however. Indeed, in the current climate they could easily be forgiven for thinking that they have never had it so good, and you’d be hard pushed to argue otherwise. So while Panama Pavlo prepares his appeal and gets his prison fatigues ready, his erstwhile colleagues will continue to lord it over their fiefdoms, and we are left to reflect on the fact that at least one 'bandit' has finally gone to prison, regardless of President Yushchenko's inability to enforce his famous Orange Revolution slogan. 

Peter Dickinson,  Editor

Years ago when the government wanted to distract the population’s attention from the mass protests sparked by the Gongadze slaying they organised street parties to be held in tandem with the demonstrations, thus providing observers with the high farce of Kuchma effigies being set alight right beside happy weekenders slurping on ice cream and soda. Other ruses included setting violent ‘anarchist’ groups and other government hired goon squads on the small tent city which lined Khreschatyk in a bid to create as much chaos as possible. It was a surreal time all right, but at least we could show our disgust by offering support for the protesters, many of whom went on to form the nucleus of the Orange Revolution’s Maidan tent city three years later. The spectacular victory of people power on that particular occasion should have taught the authorities a lesson, and unsurprisingly it did – namely that the only way to neutralise the whole people power phenomenon is by paying stooges to form rival crowds supporting your side, thus canceling out the impact that large groups of righteous demonstrators could otherwise have made. We’ve seen it a hundred times since the dawn of the Orange Era, and today Kyiv is awash with professional protesters getting their 30hrv a day for standing around with the flags and banners of whichever party is paying (see page 10 for details). Honest protesters, of which there remain many, tend to get lost in the middle of it all. The real tragedy here is that all the cynics who dismissed the crowds on Maidan during the Orange Revolution as paid off impostors will no doubt now consider themselves fully vindicated, and that is a huge kick in the teeth indeed for the thousands who suffered freezing nights and risked their lives back then on the strength of their convictions alone.

Peter Dickinson, Editor

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Ukraine Truth
Rights We Didn’t Know We Had

Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Univer­sal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they don’t understand the meaning of these words.

Kyiv Culture

Pulling Strings
Located on Hrushevskoho Street – the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades – children’s favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. What’s On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.


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