Privet (Hi) from freezing Kyiv for the fourth time
New protests kicked off the year 2011. The statue of Josef Stalin was blown up on New Year’s Eve in Zaporizha (western Ukraine). On January 14, a protest was held at the Presidential Administration building against recent arrests of mem-bers of nationalist groups who claimed responsibility for decapitating the bust of Josef Stalin in Zaporizha on December 28, 2010. On January 17, citizens took to the streets to prevent the government from shifting the tax burden to small and medium-sized businesses.
Yanukovich was promising a five-year tax holiday for small businesses during the 2010 presidential election campaign and one year later, he’s accusing small business owners of trying to avoid paying taxes. Furthermore, he promised to respect laws but rolled back media freedoms, banned peaceful protests and is said to have fixed the nationwide local elections.
The events of Unity Day (Den Sobornosti) on January 22 have revealed how divided Ukraine is. The Kyiv City Administration received 20 applications for holding different rallies in Kyiv on that day. Civic leaders and Yulia Tymoshenko, for example, called on citizens to gather on Kyiv’s St. Sophia Square to support demands for early parliamentary elections. Yanukovich and his allies organized an all-day concert on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) where attendees were paid 120 Hryvnas to be there. But many people for some reason were not paid the bribe, so they stormed one of the Ukraine’s Regions Party offices and demanded their money. It is really the terrible poverty that makes people to stay and hold the Ukrainian flag – they can earn 120 Hryvnas ($15) for standing seven hours on Maidan Nezalezhnosti.
I spent most of the time at Tymoshenko’s rally where speeches were delivered, where folklore music and theater were played, where newspapers and pamphlets were given away and where Tymoshenko demanded parliamentary elections to be held this year or else a peaceful revolution will topple the president and his government.
Moscow police have closed the only Ukrainian library in Russia, confident that now it can do so without objections from the Yanukovich government in Kyiv. Like the Soviet predecessor, the Russian government has never been supportive of the more than five million ethnic Ukrainians living in Russia, refusing to open any Ukrainian-language state schools even as it has complained about the closure of some of the many Russian-language schools operating in Ukraine. A small number of citizens demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs against the library closure.
On January 27, a demonstration against political repressions was held by one of the grassroots organizations, the Tryzup (Trident – a Ukraine-wide nationalist organization) in front of the Ukrainian Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Kyiv. Seven activists of the Tryzub were arrested for beheading the bust of Stalin on December 28, 2010. Later on, more members of Tryzub were detained.
The Kruty Heroes’ Remembrance Day on Jan. 29 has shown how Ukrainian the opposition groups are divided as well. First, in the morning of that day Julia Tymoshenko and her supporters laid flowers honoring all of those killed at the Askold’s Grave in Kyiv. Later, the Ukrainian People’s Party with The Tryzub (All-Ukrainian Association) did the same. Why they didn’t do it together, only they know.
Who are the Kruty heroes? It all happened 93 years ago (January 29, 1918), when students fought the Bolsheviks, defending the Ukrainian People’s Republic near the village of Kruty where all of them were killed. Throughout the years, the true story of the battle was hidden from the view by the Soviet Government. Even today, Vladimir Putin the Russian Prime Minister is not happy about the Kruty Heroes Remembrance Day.
Tymoshenko’s investigation continues and journalists and a small number of supporters always wait for her in front of the Prosecutor General’s Office no matter if it is snowing, freezing or raining.
Ukraine has a long way to go. And it will not be easy. Democracy remained elusive, the global corruption survey shows that Ukraine has the highest level of corruption among the Newly Independent States. The Russian language and culture dominates in many parts of Ukraine (many, like Prime Minister Putin do not think it is a real nation); and there is no abiding law and order.
Ukraine has been carved up and suffered the two biggest tyrants known to mankind – Hitler and Stalin – and the paradox is that an explosion which destroyed a bust of the Stalin on 31 December 2010 is classified as an act of terrorism, instead of vandalism! Millions of Ukrainians have been murdered in war and forced famines. Two decades into its existence, Ukrainian still struggle for survival and nationhood.
Privet (Hi) from Kyiv for the third time
When nothing is happening in the capital of Ukraine I roam the streets. The Kyiv Arch of Friendship symbolizing friendship between Russia and Ukraine stands near our house. The Arch is also called a rainbow or a Russian collar, depending on which political camp you belong to.
The National Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) is a huge complex commemorating WW II. Pictured here are some fragments of the sculptural composition in the memorial complex. The reliefs symbolize the Soviet (Ukrainian) people rising up against the Fascists.
I already mentioned that the authorities target opposition leaders and activists for investigation. Nearly a dozen allies of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko were arrested recently and investigations into her and allies continue at high pace. I showed my face at the Prosecutor General’s Office couple times when Tymoshenko went for her interrogation. Journalists and small number of supporters were waiting for her.
These supporters are not paid, there is no one to take down there names, and no one organizes anything there. It is more likely that only the journalists are paid for their work there – as hopefully I will be if I sell some of these images!
When Tymoshenko arrived supporters greet her and journalists interview her. Both groups wait till she leaves the Prosecutor General’s Office. And journalists interview her again and supporters continue to support her.
One of Ukrainian’s most important religious holidays, the day of the Epiphany, was celebrated on January 19. Early in the day a church service is held, then after the water is blessed the faithful take their bottles home and keep the water all year, which is believed to keep their home safe. After that the brave ones dip in the freezing water to wipe away their sins, to keep out evil spirits and purify the soul.
I didn’t want to stay for this religious holiday in Kyiv itself, so I went to the village of Zhuravka, in the Chernigivsk region, which is two hours drive from Kyiv by mashrutka (mini-bus). I arrived just in time for water to be blessed.
It is very important to bath also in holy water to wipe away sins, keep out evil spirits and purify the soul. But there is no river or lake in Zhuravka. So I went with Larisa (an inhabitant of Zhuravka) on foot to the village of Polonki, about four kilometers from Zhuravka. Larisa sang religious songs during our walk. And she prayed a lot as well. She told me the story of her life. I must say her life is not a very happy one. She was sent to Chernobyl right after the explosion to cook for the people who came to clean up after the disaster. She cannot have children, probably due to radioactive exposure. She married to man from Zhuravka, but he drinks…
After icy bath, we filled up one bottle with the blessed water and walked back to Zhuravka. I stayed over night at one babushka’s. I was fed and drank well, I was very glad to be there and that I hadn’t stayed in Kyiv; it was raining there and when I returned everything looked very grey and depressed.
Privet from Kyiv,
It takes 24 hours by bus to get to Kyiv from Prague. I was lucky — our bus was half empty and all passengers had two seats and some even had four seats as I did. This was great as it meant I could stretch my legs across the aisle and sleep all night. Well, almost all night. A passenger in front of me reclined his seat as far back as he could so I was fully pinned to my seat in rather unpleasant proximity to the man’s sniffing. I cursed the one who invented reclining seats and believe they may be the cruellest innovation ever invented for travel in comfort.
I politely asked man if he could put his seat back and he screamed back to me that he can do whatever he wants and strangely enough, only when he realized I was not Ukrainian he moved his seat back to a normal position.
I went to Ukraine by bus last year and all the passengers were polite and friendly. Something seems to have changed. The New Year’s Eve celebration on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv had an entirely different tone than the last year when people were dancing, singing and enjoying themselves. This year they stayed quietly on the square, opening their sparkling wine and sipping quietly. No one applauded when the Ukrainian president, Victor Yanukovich, gave his New Year’s speech and no one seemed excited. The spirit rose a bit when the fireworks started and occasionally someone cried out happily in response to the lights and explosion.
One positive thing was that the weather was good – the thermometer was on zero. It seems to me that freezing weather in Ukraine is reserved for presidential elections and revolutions. The weather was great all week and on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) Ded Morozes (Grandfathers Frost), Snegurachkas (Snow Maidens), Zajchiky (Bunnies) and figures form different fairy tales encouraged passers-by to take photographs with them. They wanted Hryvnas 30 (USD 3.50). Children could ride on a Merry-go-round or in carnival trains for free. Or they could persuade their parents to pay for pony rides. Those parents who couldn’t afford any of the attractions at least bought a balloon or inflatable toy for their child for 10 Hryvnas.
On Maidan Nezalezhnosti the Christmas celebration was in full speed and in the metro underpass babushkas made the best of the holiday as well. More passers-by meant more chances to collect money for their medications. Others were also begging, such as a veteran from the Afghan-Russian war who asked me for money for alcohol. When I asked him about the war, he cried.
Not everyone was there with extended hands — some babushkas played the violin while others were singing. Some were selling Ukrainian’s art crafts and souvenirs.
There was a demonstration in front of the Pechersky district court of Kyiv on January 5th where a criminal case has been opened against former Ukrainian Interior Minister, Yuriy Lutsenko. Yanukovich promised he will fight the misuse of power and impunity among members of the State apparatus. But it seems that criminal prosecutions are aimed exclusively at members of the opposition political parties.
About one thousand demonstrators, mostly pensioners, came to “support” Lutsenko. They held banners with slogans like “Today Lutsenko tomorrow you”, “We want fair court of law”. But these demonstrators were paid. They received about 30 -50 Hryvnas and the person who finds them received 30 Hryvnas and 5 Hryvnas more for each person he brought to the demonstration. Further, the organizer was paid 100 or even more Hrivnyas. Surprised? Don’t be, it’s normal in the Ukraine.
It was very cold this day with the therometer dropping to well below 0. The trial started at eleven in the morning and finished at about two afternon. While it was finished for Lutsenko at least that day, the demonstraters had to wait until six o’clock in the evening to collect their pay. The leader of the Batkivschyna Party and former Ukrainian Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, also came to support Lutsenko. She was not outside with the babushkas, of course. And it was probably she who paid these demonstrators. Surprised again? Don’t be, this is normal in Ukraine.
Maybe the young generation can change things; maybe the young generation will be more honest. But for now, it seems they are busy with something else.
I came to Ukraine to document and witness the 2010 presidential elections. To feel the atmosphere I came a month before the elections, and as grim year was ending, voters were getting to pick their president.
My last visit to Ukraine was at the end of the year 2004 – when the Orange Revolution was in full spin, where Victor Yushchenko was vaulted to power, when national self-esteem enhanced and hope was raised. But the democratic coalition fell apart and paved the way for revolution villain Victor Yanukovich to possibly win the 2010 presidency.
I kicked the New Year with thousands of Ukrainians on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), sipping Ukrainian beer and freezing my feet and hands. The party was organized by the Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the 18 presiden-tial candidates.
People were cheerful and I think they didn’t worry for one night who will be their next president. Anyways, everybody knows there will be second round. Why to worry about the first one. There were 18 presidential candidates, 13 of them minors. A rumor says they are on the payrolls of front-runners and that their candidacies exist to steal votes from top rivals of a leading candidate.
Assessments by political analysts show that each presidential candidate will have to spend at least US $150–200mn to promote himself; this includes buying story lines in the media, visual advertising, canvassing, printing political material and, work with electoral commissions.
One wonders why Ukrainians have their presidential elections in winter. Weather is cold, it snows a lot, and streets are not clean from snow or ice. Maybe this is a tactic; maybe top guys think not many people will go to vote in this kind of weather.
Well, some people love this freezing weather; they even take a pleasure of swimming in Dnipro River.
The first round of the 2010 Presidential elections took place on January 17. I can not guarantee that I will continue in my letters. When the presidential elections will start, there will be a very little time for writing.