A few years ago, I was in Odessa, having just arrived from Lviv by train, and a taxi driver was quizzing me endlessly about the Western Ukraine city. “Why don’t you just go there?”, I asked in all seriousness. He replied: “I couldn’t go there, I’m a Russian speaker, they’d kill me.
What happens in Ukraine over the coming years won’t answer the question of Europe’s supposed diminution but it will certainly seal Lviv’s fate, the city is literally crumbling and in dire need of the sort of investment Prague and Krakow received in the 90′s to restore their former glory. The Lviv, and Ukraine, I have come in search of is not the nation of Yanukovich, Tymoshenko, fascists or freedom fighters (depending on your view), it’s the 99 per cent of the populace whose lives have been fundamentally altered by recent events in which they have, generally, little or no influence on.
I first visited Lviv in 2007, and I’ve been back four times since. It looks and feels like a provincial Polish or Slovakian city with, unlike most of Ukraine, little or no Russian influence. The only clue that you’ve stepped out of Catholic, EU, eastern Europe is the cyrillic letters on all signage and the preponderance of Russian-built Lada cars and Kamaz trucks.
It’s certainly true that the Polish Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski (a long-time British resident, married to a former editor at the Russia-bating Economist magazine, Anne Applebaum) has been vocally supportive of Euromaidan and that a number of Ukrainian’s who had been resident in Poland suddenly returned home to take prominent roles in the movement. But accusations of direct, financial support do seem a little fanciful for a rather poor state with its own problems of mass emigration and abundant poverty, unless of course they merely acted as a conduit for a third, more-powerful, country? This is actually plausible as I later discover in Kiev.
Also there is little doubt that Russia has whipped up the separatist feelings in the East of the country and Crimea is, obviously, gone and not coming back, no matter what NATO and the EU might threaten.
“The Nazi party, Svoboda (members of the interim government) continues its propaganda against us. A few days ago, they ruined a memorial statue in Verecke That was a sign that `you are under our control’ I think – people are afraid of them, terrified.”
Does Gabriella support the new government in Kiev? “I don’t support them, not at all. They don’t have legal authority or prestige in my view. But it’s not their fault. In a crazy situation like we have now, nobody could rule any better. But it’s not them I am worried about. Ask Zoltan what happened yesterday”
I obey her command and Zoltan, at first tentatively, pipes up: “Do you know what’s sad? We can’t count on the police anymore, they were always pretty bad but now they are completely useless. Yesterday, in front of our depot some people started to block the road using OUR concrete blocks. We called the police. They told us `sorry, we are afraid of those people, of Pravy Sektor (a far-right movement led by Dmitry Yarosh), solve the situation as you wish’ – can you believe this? Does this happen in Ireland or any normal country?”
Travel by car to Odessa
Here I made my final `ordinary Ukrainian’ enquiries. I met Yana from Nikolaev, among a group of people celebrating a birthday. She’d actually left Kiev because of the Maidan. “I was afraid there. For me and my daughter. I had a good salary but I was lucky to find something decent in my home city. It’s safer in Nikolaev, our city is very pro-Russian and I don’t think the Nazi’s in Kiev and Lvov (again the Russian variant) will try anything there.”
The next day, when I landed in Dublin, the Odessa sun had been replaced by rain and dark clouds but the gloom was far greater back in Ukraine. Behind Dublin’s dark clouds was a blue sky and minutes later, it appeared. It won’t be so simple for Ukraine to change its mood.
As I drove back to Kilkenny, I felt grateful that Ireland (my part at least) had finished its revolutions almost exactly 90 years ago and I wished that Ukraine would one day find the peace we take for granted in most of western Europe.
One last thought stuck in mind. Natasha, a Moscow based-journalist, had said to me: “Whenever Yuliya Tymoshenko is described as ‘pro-Western’, I laugh and I always get a kick out of Yanukovich being described as ‘pro-Russian’. These people, and their associates, are simply pro-themselves and pro-money.”
Natasha is spot on.
- ○ Masked men set the Hungarian conquest memorial on fire in Transcarpathia, Ukraine
○ Violence erupts in Kharkiv amid political turmoil
○ Ukrainian Neo-Nazis Declare that Power Comes Out of the Barrels of their Guns
Ex-Ukraine Leader Tymoshenko Faces Heat For Comments About Nuking Russians
Continued below the fold …
(Business Insider/AFP) – Ukraine’s former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was plunged into fresh controversy on Tuesday after Russian television broadcast a tape where she is heard urging the “wiping out” of Russians over Moscow’s seizure of Crimea.
Tymoshenko, a hugely controversial figure both in Ukraine and Russia who was released from jail last month, confirmed the voice was hers but said some of the comments had been manipulated.
“This really crosses all the boundaries,” Tymoshenko is heard to say in the leaked phone call posted on YouTube and broadcast extensively on Russian television Monday. “One has to take up arms and go wipe out these damn ‘katsaps’ together with their leader,” the voice said in Russian, without mentioning Putin by name.
The word “katsap ” is a derogatory Ukrainian term for Russians.
During the conversation, Tymoshenko is said to discuss Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking peninsula of Crimea with Ukrainian MP and former government official Nestor Shufrych.
“I am sorry that I am not able to be there and am not in charge of these processes, they wouldn’t have had a fucking chance of getting Crimea off me. I would have found a way to finish off these bastards,” the 53-year-old leader of the 2004 pro-democracy Orange revolution was heard as saying.
“I am hoping that I will use all my connections and will get the whole world to rise up so that not even scorched earth would be left of Russia.”
Discussing the fate of Ukraine’s eight million ethnic Russians with Shufrych, Tymoshenko was also heard as saying that they should be “nuked”.
- ○ Russian-Georgian conflict – Conclusions for Ukraine and Crimea – 2008
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