Archives for : Maidan

Why Jews and Ukrainians Have Become Unlikely Allies

Why Jews and Ukrainians Have Become Unlikely Allies
The history of Jewish-Ukrainian relations hasn’t been a happy one. But these days, the two sides are joining forces against Vladimir Putin.



In the propaganda battle between Russia and Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin has been playing up the nationalist roots of the new government in Kiev, alleging — among other things — that it is composed of “neo-Nazis, Russophobes, and anti-Semites.” Putin’s attacks have stirred up memories of ugly events in Ukrainian history, from the violence directed at Jews during Ukrainian uprisings against Polish rule in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the pogroms of the 1800s and 1900s in cities such as Odessa, Kirovograd, and Kiev. More recently, during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine during World War II, the dreaded Ukrainian Auxiliary Police — trained by the Nazis at the SS camp of Trawniki — played an active role in the extermination of 900,000 Ukrainian Jews.
As if on cue, over the last several months, mysterious attackers have targeted Ukraine’s Jews in physical assaults in Kiev; defaced synagogues in cities such as Zaporizhia and Simferopol; and, most chillingly, distributed anti-Semitic leaflets in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk instructing the community to “register” with local authorities. (Insurgents have denied responsibility for these flyers, and some have even called it a hoax.)
Given these events, it is well worth wondering what the future holds for Jews in post-Maidan Ukraine?
Given these events, it is well worth wondering what the future holds for Jews in post-Maidan Ukraine?
It is indisputably true that the revolution in Ukraine has been partially driven by elements with questionable pasts, primarily by two organizations: the Svoboda political party and the smaller Right Sector movement. Right Sector first emerged at the beginning of the Maidan protests in Kiev as a paramilitary alliance of several far-right Ukrainian nationalist groups who played a key role in the violence between the Maidan protesters and the Yanukovych government. Right Sector’s leader, Dmitry Yarosh, venerates the controversial Stepan Bandera, who fought on the side of the Nazis from 1944 until the end of World War II. According to Yarosh, however, Bandera is a passionate but traditional nationalist, and not an anti-Semite.
The greater concern for Ukraine’s Jews is Svoboda. The leader of Svoboda, Oleh Tyahnybok, certainly has a history of making inflammatory, anti-Semitic statements. During a 2004 speech before Ukraine’s parliament, Tyahnybok stated that Ukraine is controlled by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia,” and in 2005, Tyahnybok signed an open letter to then-President Viktor Yushchenko, calling for the government to halt the “criminal activities” of “organized Jewry.” Svoboda shocked observers by winning 10 percent of the vote in the 2012 parliamentary elections in Ukraine, becoming the fourth biggest party in parliament. Svoboda party members now lead a number of ministries in the interim government of Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenuk, including the Ministry of Defense led by Ihor Tenyukh. While Svoboda has strongly denied that it is anti-Semitic, concern about the party’s ideology remains strong amongst Ukraine’s Jews.
So is the Maidan movement “more a pogrom than a revolution” as Putin has described it, and what — or whom — should Ukraine’s Jewish community fear most? Despite the substantial presence of right wing nationalists on the Maidan during the revolution, many in Ukraine’s Jewish community resent being used by Putin in his propaganda war. (In the photo above, a poster in Sevastopol portrays Crimea’s vote to secede as a choice between Russian citizenship and living in a Nazi state.) On March 5, 21 leaders of Ukraine’s Jewish community signed an open letter to Putin excoriating the Russian president for using Ukraine’s Jewish community to bash the interim government — and insisting that the real threat to Ukraine’s Jews emanated from Russia: “We know that the political opposition consists of various groups, including some that are nationalistic. But even the most marginal of them do not demonstrate anti-Semitism or other forms of xenophobia. And we certainly know that our very few nationalists are well-controlled by civil society and the new Ukrainian government — which is more than can be said for the Russian neo-Nazis, who are encouraged by your security services.”
This letter to Putin brought forth an important point: namely, that much of the real anti-Semitism directed at Ukrainian Jews is actually coming from Russia.
This letter to Putin brought forth an important point: namely, that much of the real anti-Semitism directed at Ukrainian Jews is actually coming from Russia. As David Fishman, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary and director of Project Judaica (JTS’s program in the former Soviet Union), explained: “When we look at what is going on the ground in Eastern Ukraine, we are seeing the revival of language of Russian imperial ideology from 100 years ago, which is both very nationalistic and very anti-Semitic, as well as anti-Ukrainian.” Echoing what he wrote in an earlier article, Fishman noted that there has been a shift in how the Kremlin is using Jews in Ukraine. “Having failed to convince world public opinion that the new Ukrainian regime is anti-Semitic, we have recently had news programs on Russian state television asserting that leading Ukrainian political figures such as Tymoshenko and Yatseniuk are actually Jews,” he continued. “Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and the Russian far-right inside Russia proper say that frequently, but it is the Russian government that sent such anti-Semitic extremists into Ukraine.”
In fact, Yaakov Dov Bleich, an American-born rabbi recognized as Chief Rabbi of Ukraine since 1990, says that the recent attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions have largely been staged Russian provocations designed to discredit pro-Ukrainian activists and Kiev’s interim government. Bleich is not a Pollyanna about the existence of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, and remains deeply concerned about Svoboda and Tyahnybok’s unapologetic use of anti-Semitic language — but he is much more concerned about Russia: “All of the recent attacks on synagogues and Jews have taken place in the east where the Russian extremists are operating. Meanwhile, in the West, where there are supposedly ultra-nationalist extremists, all has been quiet. The Ukrainian Jewish Community is definitely more afraid of Putin and these pro-Russian hooligans than of Ukrainian anti-Semitism.”
Bleich also noted that the threat from Russia has actually brought Jews and Ukrainians closer together, a process driven by the tribulations of the Maidan where, as Bleich pointed out, Jews stood side by side with Ukrainians. Three of the 82 protesters killed by Yanukovych’s police were Jewish, and Right Sector activists took a lead role in honoring one Jewish protester who was killed by a Berkut sniper. In what sounds almost like a made-for-TV movie, five Ukrainian Jews who had immigrated to Israel and served in the Israeli Defense Forces actually returned to Ukraine to lead a group of 40 Ukrainian fighters defending the Maidan. Jews also occupy a number of positions in the transitional Ukrainian government. Volodymyr Groysman is a deputy prime minister, while another Jewish-Ukrainian, Ihor Kolomoisky, was named governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region.
Right Sector leadership has also publicly gone out of its way to reassure Ukrainian Jews that the Jewish community has a safe and secure future in post-Maidan Ukraine.
Right Sector leadership has also publicly gone out of its way to reassure Ukrainian Jews that the Jewish community has a safe and secure future in post-Maidan Ukraine. In February, Yarosh met with Israel’s Ambassador to Ukraine Reuven Din El to and told him that the Right Sector rejects anti-Semitism and xenophobia and would not tolerate it. Subsequent to the meeting, the Israeli embassy posted a statement on its website noting that Yarosh “stressed that Right Sector will oppose all [racist] phenomena, especially anti-Semitism, with all legitimate means.” Then, on April 8, after unknown actors defaced a monument to the victims of the Holocaust in Odessa with neo-Nazi graffiti, Right Sector leaders condemned the vandalism and said that it was now a matter of honor for Right Sector to find and punish those who defaced the Jewish cemetery. Right Sector official Valery Zavgorodny also offered Odessa rabbi Avraham Wolff assistance in protecting Jewish property in the city, and the next day — in a moment that surely must have given Putin a bad bout of heartburn — the world saw photos of Wolff and Zavgorodny jointly painting over the graffiti and shaking hands at a press conference.
Putin, it now appears, has achieved the opposite of his original goal. Rather than splitting Ukraine’s Jews from their fellow citizens, Putin’s behavior has encouraged the Jewish community to condemn Russia’s cynical use of anti-Semitism as a political tool. And in the process, as Timothy Snyder wrote recently, the Jews in Ukraine have become Ukrainian Jews.

Read More:
The beginning of Jewish-Ukrainian reconciliation:
Russia’s propaganda war is a danger for Ukraine’s Jews
Despite what Putin says about antisemitism in the new Kiev government, Ukraine’s Jews are committed to independence….

Ukrainian Jewish leader says Russia is the threat

Ukraine conflict hits home among Russian-speaking Israelis

New Evidence: Russian Spies Backed Kiev’s Killers

The Daily Beast

The Daily Beast

New Evidence: Russian Spies Backed Kiev’s Killers
Following on a Daily Beast report, Ukrainian authorities say that Russian advisers and ex-President Yanukovych played a direct role in the slaughter of protesters on February 20.
Ukraine’s new authorities have arrested a dozen members of the country’s disbanded “Berkut” riot police. The men are suspected of participation in the February slayings of dozens of protesters in Kiev, gunned down while agitating for the ouster of then-President Viktor Yanukovych. The authorities say more arrests are to follow and they are turning their attention to other security units, including a crack Ukrainian anti-terrorist team first identified by the Daily Beast last weekend.

In a dramatic press conference by the prosecutor general and heads of the interior ministry and SBU state security, Ukraine’s new security chiefs say Yanukovych ordered the mass slayings and the snipers were under his “direct leadership”. They allege also they have uncovered evidence that Russia’s intelligence service the FSB assisted and advised Ukrainian counterparts in the bloody bid to suppress anti-government protests, leaving more than a hundred dead.

The new head of Ukraine’s SBU intelligence service Valentyn Nalivaichenko told reporters that his predecessor at SBI, Aleksandr Yakimenko oversaw the carnage in the Maidan on the orders of ex-president Yanukovych. The operation started to be put into effect on the evening of February 18 when 108 Alfa Team members tried to set up on a building overlooking Independence Square. Protesters had vacated the structure earlier because of an fire there. The Alfa members were armed with AK-47s and sniper rifles, including German Blaser hunting rifles. But the fire and smoke prevented the Alfa team from remaining in the building.

Russian experts, who had flown in that day to advise, also brought weapons, ammunition and explosives, said Nalivaichenko. The Alfa members involved are now in hiding in Crimea but some former commanders are still in Ukraine and are being interrogated. The Ukraine government is demanding from Moscow the identity of the Russian FSB officers who acted as advisers.

Video screenshot
Alfa Team Exclusive Video
The authorities stress that the investigation into the killings is still in its early stages and is centering on the killing of at least 53 anti-government protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, on February 20. Many of the dead were killed by long-distance sniper rounds. Those killings came the day before the Yanukovych government crumbled with some key government loyalists deserting the regime as a result of the bloodshed and the ousted president fleeing Ukraine’s capital for Russia.

In all at least 103 people were killed on the streets of Kiev in the months-long protest against Yanukovych, according to the country’s Ministry of Health, although the protesters put the number at 118. The ministry says 166 protesters remain missing and that 1,528 persons were injured in the anti-government clashes.

A spokesman for the general prosecutor said all of the arrested are being detained as suspects in “mass murder on Institutska Street,” which leads off the Maidan. It saw some of the worst violence in February and has been renamed by protesters as the Avenue of the Heavenly Hundred, in honor of those killed.

According to Ukraine’s interim Attorney General Oleh Makhnitsky those detained so far were members of a special “Black Unit” within the Berkut “trained for special operations including the killing of people.” He says, “They were overseen by the presidential administration,” adding that additional arrests are likely in the coming weeks.

The special operations unit provided cover for unarmed Berkut, acting Deputy Prosecutor General Aleksey Baganets told reporters. “Their task was, as they explained, although we don’t fully believe them, to shoot back at advancing protesters and allow the regular Berkut troops to retreat.” The commander of the Black Unit is among the arrested.
kiev killers2Feb 20. Click to launch gallery. (The Daily Beast)

The decision to announce preliminary findings of the ongoing probe came 48 hours after the Daily Beast published exclusive still photographs of armed members of the SBU’s anti-terrorist Alfa unit and other crack special forces units from the interior ministry locking and loading on the morning of February 20 in the courtyard of the Kiev headquarters of the Ukrainian intelligence service three blocks from the Maidan.

The SBU is the successor intelligence agency to the Ukrainian branch of the Soviet-era KGB and has exceptional ties with the Russian intelligence service, the FSB, says Ukraine’s new Justice Minister, Pavlo Petrenko. He claims the former head of the agency was a Russian agent. The Alfa Team trains with specialists from Russia, according to former Russian military intelligence officer Boris Volodarsky.

The photographs, part of an archive of hundreds of pictures and video footage shot on February 20 by ordinary Ukrainians and supplied exclusively to the Daily Beast also show Alfa Team members and other crack units rotating in and out of the courtyard during the shootings. Many of their faces are visible while they are preparing for action or resting during the morning without their masks.

Today the Daily Beast is adding to the photographs published Saturday night by posting video footage of the SBU courtyard on February 20 as well as some video frames taken the following morning of suspected Alfa team members loading up a van in the courtyard with ammunition boxes before driving it away. The February 21 frames were taken hours before Yanukovych fled the capital. Team members are seen switching tags on VW and Mazda vans parked in the courtyard before driving them off in what Maidan activists suspect was an operation to rid the SBU of ordnance and weaponry that could be linked to the shootings.

Maidan leaders have expressed reservations about the set-up of the investigation into the slayings, which is being overseen by the new heads of the SBU, the police and the prosecutor general’s office. They have objected to agencies possibly involved in the carnage leading the investigation, fearing the results will be flawed, worrying that even if the new leaders are determined to get to the bottom of the shootings, there are Yanukovych loyalists in the agencies able to sabotage the probe or cover up evidence.

Some activists expressed satisfaction with the explosive preliminary findings on Thursday but others are still pushing for an outside international body to probe the killings and provide oversight.
Jamie Dettmer

God help us never to allow such tragic killings of Ukrainians to ever occur again. Russian brutality must be overcome my the JUDEO-CHRISTIAN principles of life. The civilized world must seek for justice and hold Russia’s Kremlin and Putin accountable for propagating evil. Kremlin must be exorcised! To the Ukrainian Heavenly Hundred-Heroes Never Die!!!!

Read More: Russia’s FSB was involved in the mass killings in Kyiv.

Euro – Asian Jewish Congress | Open Address to Jews of the World

Open Address to the Jews of the World

03.02.2014, Xenophobia and anti-Semitism

Vitaliy Nakhmanovich (photo by

Vitaliy Nakhmanovich (photo by

Over the last month there had been a total of three attacks on worshippers attending a Podil synagogue in Kyiv. Two were unsuccessful, one left its victim, a yeshiva student, wounded. The modus operandi and the circumstances leave us no doubt as to who is the culprit. It is certainly not a spontaneous upsurge of aggression from “Maidan’s anti-Semites,” as there is a far closer synagogue in the very center of Kyiv. Besides, only a madman could try to plan something like this consciously in the middle of Maidan today, as this would mean throwing away any hope for help from the West with their own hands. But the other side… First of all, the act has an air of cheek and complete impunity about it. The worshippers themselves caught an “observer” who had been drawing the routes of yeshiva students to and from the synagogue; he went to the police quite calmly and was never seen or heard from again. Second, the police itself, which hasn’t found anyone – and seems to not have even started looking. It’s a familiar scene for Kyiv today: hired thugs protected by the “agents of law enforcement” burn cars, attack passersby, and disappear into the night. Their expectations are simple: either the Jews believe that they have become victims of the “Bandera followers” and call for a stop to the Maidan “outrage,” or the Jews understand that they were chosen by the government for a scare and… call for a stop even louder, afraid of things becoming worse.
We have long lived on this land. The Jewish communities of Crimea have existed for over 2000 years. Kyiv was first mentioned in a letter written in Hebrew. But our modern history in Ukrainian lands began only 500 years ago. It had been a very diverse history: great and insignificant, happy and frightening. The “Golden Age” and Hasidic Judaism; Zionism and Haskalah; pogroms and the Holocaust; Communism and the “fight against cosmopolites” – this is all part of our history here. And it always happened that we have always lived side by side with the Ukrainians but very rarely with them. This was due to their land belonging to anyone but them. Lithuania and Poland, Austria and Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia, the USSR and the Third Reich – empires and republics, monarchies and tyrannies, they had all been united in one thing: that the people of this land must remain silent and obedient. And we had followed our natural instinct of self-preservation and tried to always be on the side of the strong, on the side of the government, and that meant – never on the side of the Ukrainians. However, that also meant that whenever they attempted to finally break free of the foreign yoke, we became one of the first channels for instinctual hatred or targeted propaganda. Then we once again asked for help and protection from the current government, and the cycle repeated itself. Perhaps if at least one Ukrainian attempt to achieve independence turned out differently, we would have had a different relationship.
The last attempt, made a little over twenty years ago, has seemingly succeeded. The last empire of Europe broke into pieces, and on its remnants arose or were restored new independent states, including Ukraine. This entire time the young country sought its own way and its own place in the family of free peoples, and it has been a difficult search. The Baltic peoples were lucky: they had been accepted into the European family right away. Civil wars were imposed upon the Moldavians and the Georgians, and their countries broke apart. The Ukrainians demonstrated miracles of composure and stamina, solving ever more political crises with no blood spilled. But today the time of reckoning has come. The forces of imperial recoup outside and inside Ukraine have openly placed their stakes into the hands of the most odious politician of the pro-Soviet camp, who combines a petty criminal past, a lack of schooling, and a provincial outlook. Over less than three years of his rule he managed to become insanely rich and make a host of enemies, all while destroying Ukraine’s national economy and its hope for integrating into Europe.
Two months ago, the citizens of Ukraine, who have snatched a few breaths of the air of freedom over the last twenty years, went out to a square with one demand: to stop the country from becoming a dictatorship and to return hope for a brighter future to its people. Since then they have been standing at Kyiv’s Maidan and many other squares all over the country. It is not just Ukrainians who are making the stand, but also Russians, Armenians, Belarusians, Crimean Tatars. And the Jews are standing as well. The government threw special police forces and the internal military at them, hired thugs and frightened government employees – all those who still carry within them the Soviet-bred indifference to their own future and a fear to lose the piece of stale bread that they are fed with by the almighty bureaucrat.
Today our word means much for these people and for the entire world. We received the privilege to speak out and be heard through the blood and ashes of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, today many of us are once again trying to either seize profit for themselves from the situation or to simply wait it out. That has already happened more than once in our history. But today it is time to remember that our people received their right to immortality three and a half thousand years ago not just by promising to fulfill G-d’s commandments but to bring knowledge of Him to all peoples. Today 45 million people from a country that had been watered with our blood, too, ask only for Justice and Mercy. They ask for two things which G-d grounded this world upon. Do we truly have the right to deny them that?

Vitaliy Nakhmanovich, historian; Kyiv.

The Jews have suffered immensely from the Biblical times through to the Holocaust and now annihilation threats from the Arab and Muslim world. The Ukrainians too have suffered in their own way from occupations, suffering the wrath of the Russian empire as slaves, khakhols, and little Russians. Experimented on by communism, fascism and nazism. Millions of Ukrainians exterminated by Stalin’s Holodomor. Denigrated for their language, religion, culture and traditions by Kremlin as inferior to Russian. Manipulated by Kremlin’s Ukrainophobic propaganda as neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic labeling Ukrainians as villains denying them the human right of dignity.
Ukraine’s existence as a free, democratic and sovereign nation is under threat by Putin’s New Russia in his quest for a Eurasian empire. Putin wants to wipe out Ukrainians from the face of this world. We ask for sympathy and empathy from all Jewish people as they look up to Israel as their free and strong country and support Ukraine’s aspiration to be free among all nations of Europe. Please support the EuroMaidan and Ukraine’s revolution of dignity against Putin and Yanukovych and the evil they represent

Love and Hatred in Kiev

Op-Ed Contributor
Love and Hatred in Kiev

January 29, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine — It has been severely cold here lately, with temperatures dipping below freezing night after night. What sustains the protesters at Independence Square in weather this bleak can only come from inside: an exceptionally hot mix of despair, hope, self-sacrifice and hatred.

Yes, hatred. Morality does not forbid hating murderers. Especially if the murderers are in power or in direct service of those in power — with batons, tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, and, starting Jan. 22, live ammunition.

That day, the news came about the first two protesters to be shot and killed by the police since the protests began in November. One of them, Serhiy Nihoyan, a 20-year-old Ukrainian of Armenian heritage, dreamed of becoming an actor. The other, Mikhail Zhiznevsky, a citizen of Belarus, was also young, just 25 years old. An ethnic Armenian and a Belarusian, giving their lives for the freedom of Ukrainians — this gives the lie to the fears, held by some in the West, that the democracy movement here is being hijacked by Ukrainian nationalists.

If anyone is promoting hatred it is the government. My friend Josef Zissels, chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, and vice president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote a few days ago that the website of Berkut, the special police force (and a final line of defense for the powers that be) had been “flooded with anti-Semitic materials that allege that the Jews are to blame for organizing at Maidan,” the central square, which has become synonymous with the protests.

Mr. Zissels wrote: “This is completely absurd, but those who are armed with batons and shields, now facing the protesters, believe this. They are brainwashed into believing that the Maidan is a Jewish project, and thus there is no need to take pity on anyone — you can beat them all.”

Beat them all. The police have beaten women and children, and even priests trying to intervene to stop the bloodshed. Berkut not only beats; it maims, tortures and kills. Its members like to pounce on individuals who have gotten separated from the crowd of protesters. Some have even posed for thecameras, their boots on the heads of victims lying on the ground. They proudly upload these photos and videos to their personal pages at social networking sites.

Article 21 of our Constitution states that “human rights and freedoms shall be inalienable and inviolable.”

The abuses by the ruling authorities, and their escalating use of violence, have threatened to make the Constitution a joke.

On Jan. 16, the government of President Viktor F. Yanukovych pushed through Parliament a package of laws severely curtailing freedom of speech and assembly. This week, the prime minister resigned, and the majority of the repressive laws were repealed, partly because of the wave of international condemnation.

It is precisely for their rights and freedoms — long and brazenly violated by the Yanukovych regime — that the Ukrainian people are now fighting. They have been given no other choice. Our national anthem says, “We will lay down our body and soul for our freedom.” On Jan. 19, the protests turned violent. But if no one resists the riot police, the thinking goes, Ukraine will be turned into one large prison in a matter of weeks.

This is why an acquaintance of mine, a translator of Kierkegaard and Ibsen, now spends her time making Molotov cocktails, and her young sons, classics majors, aged 17 and 19, throw their mother’s products in the direction of the wall of smoke on Hrushevsky Street, which runs past major government buildings.

This is why an 80-year-old Kiev grandmother brought her knitting needles to the protest headquarters and gave them to the first protester she saw with the words, “Take them, son. If you don’t kill the monster, maybe you’ll at least stop it.”

This is why even the Hare Krishnas in Kiev now carry baseball bats.

We are defending ourselves, our country, our future, Europe’s future — some with Molotov cocktails, some with knitting needles, some with paving stones, some with baseball bats, some with texts published on the Internet, some with photos documenting the atrocities.

The police have been targeting journalists as rabidly as they have targeted medics taking the wounded out of the scene of clashes. Berkut has been treating journalists with cameras and notebooks as the enemy. Several dozen journalists have been wounded, hit by stun grenades, tear gas or rubber bullets.

Recently, coordinators of the protest made an appeal across online social networks for medicine and diapers —which are excellent at absorbing blood. The people of Kiev began bringing drugs and nappies to the protest headquarters at such a scale that in just a few hours a new message went up online: “Enough medication for now! We don’t have enough storage space! But we urgently need warm clothes, bread, tea and coffee!” And again, people from all over Kiev brought everything they could to help.

The authorities can’t understand this. Recently, some unknown thugs in civilian clothes kidnapped an activist and spent the night torturing him, demanding: Who is funding the Maidan? Which Western sources? Is it the State Department, or someone else?

The regime’s mental system of coordinates cannot fit one simple fact: The Maidan funds itself, through its own love and its own hatred.

I have never loved my homeland as much as I love it now. Before, I had always been skeptical and restrained toward it. I am 53 years old, and had long put sentimentality behind me.

But these days I see our women, young and old, sorting with amazing efficiency the donated medications and food supplies, I see hipster students in hockey masks and camouflage pants fearlessly going onto the frontline barricades, I see our workers and farmers providing security for the Maidan protesters, our grannies and grandpas who keep bringing more and more hot food to Independence Square, and I feel a lump in my throat.

Yuri Andrukhovych is a poet, essayist, translator and the author of the novels “Perverzion” and “The Moscoviad.” This article was translated by Vitaly Chernetsky from the Ukrainian.

The Fascist Yanukovych regime is Ukrainophobic , Anti-Semitic and Pro-Russian!

Thoughts from Kyiv – Jan 28, 2014

Thoughts from Kyiv – Jan 28, 2014

Maybe I’m imagining things, but I have the distinct impression that the mood on Maidan and Hrushevskoho St. changed significantly in the wake of today’s events in Parliament. The resignation of Prime Minister Azarov was accepted by the President today, and each minister in Ukraine’s government is now (as a result) an “acting minister”. The draconian laws passed with massive procedural irregularities on January 16 were also rescinded today by Parliament. Both of these events presumably should have been celebrated by the protesters – in fact, many are worried, twitchy, and apprehensive. Tension is particularly high near the barricades on Hrushevskoho St. where defenses are most comprehensive, but also where police lines are in plain view of the demonstrators. Standing next to a burning barrel (temperatures have dropped to about -15 C during the day) listening to conversations between helmet-clad young men, it seemed to me that a single “spark” (in whatever form) would be enough to rekindle violence.

One wonders how the good natured atmosphere of seemingly calm but determined protest that I experienced on Sunday could have transformed so quickly (by Tuesday). Demonstrators continue to cooperate, and their individual resolve certainly has not slackened, but the openness, collegiality, and implied trust in one’s fellow protestor seems to have become (temporarily – I hope) moderated. Clearly the problem is trust – or rather its absence – both in the leaders of Ukraine’s opposition parties and in the proclaimed promises of the Yanukovych regime. Everyone that I have spoken to recognizes the need for negotiations because the alternative is more violence, and more casualties. However, the ongoing negotiations between the regime and the opposition involve the opposition party leaders only (no representatives of the Maidan are present), and the implementation of negotiated concessions (of necessity in stages) requires a certain degree of trust not only of allies, but also of one’s opponents.

Few on Maidan rejoiced today after the announcement of Azarov’s resignation. Many (like me) were cautious that this might some sort of trap: before noon we pointed out that the resignation still needed to be accepted by Yanukovych; then the Presidential decree dismissing the government was published, and the Jan 16 laws were abrogated, but people are still asking “what’s the catch?” After all, Interior Ministry troops continue to be mobilized across the country; strange concrete barriers were set up overnight around key government buildings in the center of Kyiv, and then suddenly disbanded around noon; rumors abound regarding the contents of special telegrams being sent last night by the Presidential Administration to Army officers in the regions; oblast governors, who had previously remained relatively tranquil when faced with mass demonstrations in front of their administrative offices, today suddenly became more vocal in their demands for order; police attacks on AutoMaidan leaders continue with several now in jail, and Dmytro Bulatov still missing; ominously, today was the day that Ministry of the Interior Directive №1011 (originally passed 24 Oct. 2013) which legalizes the use of lethal rounds in firearms by Berkut special forces came into force. The demonstrators on Maidan have many reasons not to trust the regime, and many still believe a declaration of martial law is in the works. Furthermore, given that during the past 2 months of protests many on the Maidan have viewed the 3 opposition political party leaders as allies, rather than “team members”, they do not fully trust Klitschko, Yatseniuk and Tiahnybok. All of this (unfortunately, and according to my subjective impression) has led to a decreased level of interpersonal trust on Maidan.

The reality is that the regime changed its tune exceptionally quickly. Whereas yesterday the entire country seemed to be preparing for a declaration of martial law, suddenly today, Azarov was fired and the “dictatorial” legislation passed on 16 January was rescinded. As was the case with Yanukovych’s previous about-face with respect to EU Association, many are asking “why?” I have spent most of the day (like many others I expect) trying to figure out an answer to this question, and what follows is a theory that (I stress) is based on “educated speculation”. Please do not criticize me for providing insufficient evidence for my claims. I recognize that I am being insufficiently “scientific” in drawing conclusions – but these are revolutionary times, so I ask for some indulgence.

During a short telephone conversation this morning with a friend who is highly placed in the current government, the phrase “revolt of the oligarchs” was all that was offered as an answer to the query as to what is happening within the regime. It will come as no surprise to anyone that the ruling Party of Regions is not a monolithic political force: according to an article in the Ukrainian edition of Forbes magazine (Oct 2013), 7 identifiable groups exist within the parliamentary faction (187 MP’s), with four representing the core of the Party. Specifically:

1) The Firtash group, nominally led in Parliament by Serhiy Tihipko, but in fact (until last week) forming the base of support for Serhiy Liovochkin, Yanukovych’s Presidential Administration Head; Yuriy Boyko, Deputy PM responsible for energy, represents the interests of the gas tycoon Dmytro Firtash in relations with Russia.

2) The Akhmetov group which is represented in the Presidential Administration by Irina Akimova (as of Jan 17 she is the “President’s representative in the Cabinet of Ministers), in Parliament by Yuriy Voropayev, and in the government by Deputy PM Oleksander Vilkul, Health Minister Raisa Bohatyriova, Economics Minister Prasolov, and Sports Minister Safiulin

3) The Kliuyev group, led in Parliament by Serhiy Kliuyev, whose brother Andriy was until recently Secretary of the National Security Council, and last week replaced Liovochkin as Head of the Presidential Administration; Andriy Portnov (legal counsel of the Presidential Administration) is considered to be part of this group.

4) The Yanukovych group which represents the interests of the President directly – in Parliament, in the Executive and in Ukraine’s murky world of big business. First Deputy PM Arbuzov (now Acting Prime Minister), Justice Minister Olena Lukash, Interior Minister Zakharchenko, Defense Minister Lebedev and Revenue Minister Klymenko are all considered to be directly loyal to the Yanukovych “family”.

The three additional (less influential) groups within the PR include a) the Ivaniushchenko group – represented in the Azarov government by Agriculture Minister Prysiazhniuk and Ecology Minister Proskuriakov, b) the Russian lobby represented in Parliament by deputy Kolisnichenko (author of the Jan 16 laws), and in the executive by the notorious Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk, and c) the Luhansk group led by Parliamentary faction leader Yefremov, and represented in government by Social Services Minister Nataliya Korolevska.

Clearly the above characterization is “broad-brush”, but it seems to reflect some interesting cleavages within the Party of Regions. As we can see, prior to the current political crisis, the four main power groups seem to have found a means of balancing their interests against one another – effectively by dividing specific spheres of influence among themselves. This balance was delicate, but it held until the middle of January 2014 – although it had begun to unravel approximately 2 months before. The catalyst for the conflict seems to have been the EU Association Agreement turn-around: Firtash and Liovochkin had supported its signing whereas Kliuyev and the Russian lobby had opposed it. During the week before the Vilnius summit, Azarov sided with the latter group.

It is rumored (I have no evidence for this, except authoritative statements by “people in the know”) that Serhiy Liovochkin, Head of Yanukovych’s Presidential Administration, had in fact supported the initial Euromaidan student protests in the run-up to Vilnius. Immediately after the November 30 beatings of students on Independence Square (according to testimony by former Kyiv mayor Popov given to prosecutors, this attack had been ordered by Security Council Secretary Andriy Kliuyev), Liovochkin submitted his resignation, but it was not accepted by Yanukovych – likely because such a change would have tipped the balance between interest groups within the Party of Regions. Liovochkin’s resignation was finally accepted on January 17, and separate decrees firing the President’s press attaché Darka Chepak, and Andriy Yermolayev, the Director of the National Institute for Strategic Studies (both Liovochkin loyalists) were issued on the same day.

By pushing Liovochkin (and the pro-EU “doves”) out of the President’s inner circle, and simultaneously pushing through draconian laws through Parliament, it would seem that the Kliuyev group (considered the “hawks”) had scored a decisive victory, and that a forcible removal of protestors from the center of Kyiv was inevitable. It is for this reason that many insiders considered the initial violence on Hrushevskoho St. on Jan 19 to have been instigated deliberately – as a front that would provide an excuse for the future imposition of martial law.

However last Saturday, it would seem that Ukraine’s richest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov decided otherwise. The holding company System Capital Management (SCM) which he owns, issued a public statement condemning the use of force to resolve Ukraine’s ongoing political crisis. It offered “deepest condolences to the families and relatives of those who lost their lives” and called for “constructive negotiations” and “compromise” in the interests of the whole country. By Monday, swiftly organized negotiations between the President and the opposition had resulted in Yanukovych’s offer of the Prime Minister’s job to Arseniy Yatseniuk – an offer that has been rejected, but nevertheless was seen as a very real olive branch from the regime. Incidentally, influential journalist Serhiy Leshchenko today reported that a Swish bank had informed Akhmetov on Friday that due to the political situation in Ukraine, it would be forced to reevaluate its financing arrangements with SCM. In addition to irritants such as pickets in front of Akhmetov’s apartment in London, the warning of future difficulties accessing cheap loans may have been the final catalyst for the oligarch’s decision to press Yanukovych into real negotiations to end the violence.

What does all of this mean? Well, it shows that the Party of Regions is far from monolithic, nor is it completely pro-Russian. When negotiations begin on the formation of a new post-Azarov Cabinet of Ministers (according to the Constitution, Yanukovych has 60 days to submit a candidate for PM to Parliament for approval, but he has promised to do so within a week), we will see whether the pro-EU Firtash-Liovochkin group has been completely sidelined within the Party, or whether it reemerges with some representation in the executive. However, before this happens, the latent conflict between Akhmetov’s “doves” and Kliuyev’s “hawks” must be resolved.

Prior to the Azarov resignation this morning, the conflict had clearly not been resolved: some branches of Ukraine’s government were still preparing for martial law (e.g. setting up barricades, organizing a massive “Anti-Maidan” gathering in the park near Parliament) while others were working towards a peaceful solution. Some of the anxiety on Maidan may well be a reflection of a feeling in Kyiv that the conflict within Ukraine’s political elite is (perhaps) more dangerous to human lives than street fighting and protest.

There are two unknown elements within this elite power game that could dramatically affect the direction in which events evolve in the near future. Firstly, which side will the Yanukovych group within the Party of Regions choose to ally with? Yanukovych is clearly still in control, and he is surrounded by a loyal inner circle (including Acting Prime Minister Arbuzov), but the financial and political resources that his loyalist group controls are insufficient to maintain power without cooperating with others. So, will he choose the “hawks” and Russia, or Akhmetov’s “doves” and Europe? Both groups are composed of individuals from Donetsk with whom Yanukovych has long-standing ties, so the President’s decision will not be based on regional preferences – a fact that may make it even more difficult for him.

Secondly, in a post-Azarov world, how will Ukraine’s political-economic elites build a new balance of power? In other words, if an internal compromise cannot be found, and the President makes his choice (be it for Kliuyev or for Akhmetov), what does the losing side do? Could the current crisis gradually turn into a Godfather-style “hit the mattresses!” gang-war between former Party of Regions “business” partners? Recent Ukrainian history (and specifically Donetsk during the 1990’s) has seen precedents of this kind of open warfare between business groups. Indeed, such a gang war could actually be in Mr. Putin’s interests: with Ukraine descending into anarchy during the coming weeks he could move in as a legitimate peacemaker immediately after the Sochi Olympics. Then, Russian military intervention in Ukraine would not be masked under the questionably legitimate pretext of “helping brother Slavs” in border regions, but rather as a humanitarian mission aimed at ending uncontrolled street violence.

What worries me in all of this (and I suspect it worries many of the demonstrators freezing in Kyiv’s city center) is that resolution of the current crisis through either a war or a deal between the oligarchs leaves little space for the Maidan as an independent political actor. In order for the events of the past 10 weeks in Ukraine to truly transform into a revolution (i.e. systemic change in Ukraine’s society – including both its political and economic spheres), rather than a coup d’etat (i.e. a rotation of elites), the protestors must make themselves heard. The Maidan cannot remain a social force (however massive) that relies on having its political interests represented by the opposition party leaders. The Maidan must become an independent political force that is able to counter/ally with (as distasteful as this may sound) at least one of Ukraine’s oligarchic groups in addition to allying with the opposition.

One option might be to ally with oligarchs that are not represented in the Party of Regions (e.g. Viktor Pinchuk or Ihor Kolomoyskiy). Since the start of protests, they have largely remained politically neutral. The extent of their activism has been to allow journalists working for their media outlets to report on the situation in Kyiv without having the TV channel owner’s editorial preferences imposed upon them. However, given their political passivity under Yanukovych during the past 4 years, I believe that they are unlikely to become overt allies of Maidan during the coming end-game (except for Poroshenko who has already clearly demonstrated his political preferences and ambitions – other smaller oligarchs like Zhyvago or Bakhmatiuk may yet follow his lead).

So we are left with the distasteful prospect of cooperating with a group within the Party of Regions. Furthermore, if further violence and casualties are to be avoided, the Maidan may yet be forced to accept a Yanukovych presidency (although with reduced powers – the return of the 2004 Constitution seems to basically be a done deal) likely lasting until at least the end of 2014. In such a scenario, will the protestors remain on the Maidan? Will they remain united? For how long?

As I was leaving Independence Square today, the last thing I noticed was a large sign with the following questions:

1) Where are those who beat students on the night of Nov 30?

2) Where are those who beat journalists and wrecked property?

3) Where are those who kidnapped and killed Yuriy Verbitsky?

4) Where are those who killed Serhiy Nigoyan and others?

5) Where are those who have harassed and attacked Kyiv residents?

6) Where are those who destroy the property of AutoMaidan activists?

7) Where are those who enjoy abusing and then being photographed with nude Ukrainians?

Finding these people – these are the basic demands of the Maidan – not who is going to be responsible for what ministerial portfolio…

If we are to find the answers to the above questions, and if we are to duly prosecute those responsible, “we” on the world’s Maidans may have to make some difficult compromises; possibly allying ourselves with some distasteful people. The alternative (unfortunately) is to remain a social movement that delegates its political agency to the leaders of Ukraine’s opposition parties. To many, that prospect is even more distasteful…

God help us!

Mychailo Wynnyckyj PhD

Kyiv-Mohyla Academy