Ukrainian Poets, Writers, Artists & The People
'The war with Russia is hybrid, but the blood that flows is real'
Gustav, Prince (Murza) of Moscow, has issued a decree setting the Ukrainian language on an equal footing with Russian in the principality of Moscow. The Institute of Genetic Linguistics of the Western Hemisphere had earlier established that the Ukrainian language facilitates the production by the brain of the enzyme of tolerance and philanthropy. Scientist believe that granting the English language official status in the principality of Moscow could result in psychological breakdown and lead to unpredictable consequences. Igor Pomerantsev, MYOPIA
While Ukraine still mourns the victims of EuroMaidan anti-government protests in Kyiv, four Moscow-based designers and web programmers launched Remember Maidan, a website that commemorates the activists killed in the clashes between police and protesters. The team members are Russians and had nothing to do with Ukrainian protests, but thought "it was important to show the real death toll."
In the last days I received multiple requests to translate my posts for foreign readers, as they have very limited information about the happenings in Ukraine. This material describes events which took place in Kyiv on January 22 and 23. Sharing and distribution is appreciated.
The most important things I must tell you are as follows.
During the less than four years of its rule, Mr. Yanukovych’s regime has brought the country and the society to the utter limit of tensions. Even worse, it has boxed itself into a no-exit situation where it must hold on to power forever—by any means necessary. Otherwise it would have to face criminal justice in its full severity. The scale of what has been stolen and usurped exceeds all imagination of what human avarice is capable.
The only answer this regime has been proposing in the face of peaceful protests, now in their third month, is violence, violence that escalates and is “hybrid” in its nature: special forces’ attacks at the Maidan are combined with individual harassment and persecution of opposition activists and ordinary participants in protest actions (surveillance, beatings, torching of cars and houses, storming of residences, searches, arrests, rubber-stamp court proceedings). The keyword here is intimidation. And since it is ineffective, and people are protesting on an increasingly massive scale, the powers-that-be make these repressive actions even harsher.
The “legal base” for them was created on January 16, when the Members of Parliament fully dependent on the President, in a crude violation of all rules of procedure and voting, indeed of the Constitution itself, in the course of just a couple of minutes (!) with a simple show of hands (!) voted in a whole series of legal changes which effectively introduce dictatorial rule and a state of emergency in the country without formally declaring them. For instance, by writing and disseminating this, I am subject to several new criminal code articles for “defamation,” “inflaming tensions,” etc.
Briefly put, if these “laws” are recognized, one should conclude: in Ukraine, everything that is not expressly permitted by the powers-that-be is forbidden. And the only thing permitted by those in power is to yield to them.
Not agreeing to these “laws,” on January 19 the Ukrainian society rose up, yet again, to defend its future.
Today in television newsreels coming from Kyiv you can see protesters in various kinds of helmets and masks on their faces, sometimes with wooden sticks in their hands. Do not believe that these are “extremists,” “provocateurs,” or “right-wing radicals.” My friends and I also now go out protesting dressed this way. In this sense my wife, my daughter, our friends, and I are also “extremists.” We have no other option: we have to protect our life and health,as well as the life and health of those near and dear to us. Special forces units shoot at us, their snipers kill our friends. The number of protesters killed just on one block in the city’s government quarter is, according to different reports, either 5 or 7. Additionally, dozens of people in Kyiv are missing.
We cannot halt the protests, for this would mean that we agree to live in a country that has been turned into a lifelong prison. The younger generation of Ukrainians, which grew up and matured in the post-Soviet years, organically rejects all forms of dictatorship. If dictatorship wins, Europe must take into account the prospect of a North Korea at its eastern border and, according to various estimates, between 5 and 10 million refugees. I do not want to frighten you.
We now have a revolution of the young. Those in power wage their war first and foremost against them. When darkness falls on Kyiv, unidentified groups of “people in civilian clothes” roam the city, hunting for the young people, especially those who wear the symbols of the Maidan or the European Union. They kidnap them, take them out into forests, where they are stripped and tortured in fiercely cold weather. For some strange reason the victims of such actions are overwhelmingly young artists—actors, painters, poets. One feels that some strange “death squadrons” have been released in the country with an assignment to wipe out all that is best in it.
One more characteristic detail: in Kyiv hospitals the police force entraps the wounded protesters; they are kidnapped and (I repeat, we are talking about wounded persons) taken out for interrogation at undisclosed locations. It has become dangerous to turn to a hospital even for random passersby who were grazed by a shard of a police plastic grenade. The medics only gesture helplessly and release the patients to the so-called “law enforcement.”
To conclude: in Ukraine full-scale crimes against humanity are now being committed, and it is the present government that is responsible for them. If there are any extremists present in this situation, it is the country’s highest leadership that deserves to be labeled as such.
And now turning to your two questions which are traditionally the most difficult for me to answer: I don’t know what will happen next, just as I don’t know what you could now do for us. However, you can disseminate, to the extent your contacts and possibilities allow, this appeal. Also, empathize with us. Think about us. We shall overcome all the same, no matter how hard they rage. The Ukrainian people, without exaggeration, now defend the European values of a free and just society with their own blood. I very much hope that you will appreciate this.
translated by Vitaly Chernetsky
We are not extremists!
Open letter of the Ukrainian scholars, scientists, artists, doctors, lawyers, pedagogues, and journalists
During the past several days the protests of Ukrainians against the policies of the Ukrainian government have taken on a new quality. The peaceful demonstrations turned into a forceful confrontation between the protesters and the police. For the past six days, in the government quarter at the heart of Kyiv, on Hrushevskyi Street, genuine battles between the demonstrators and the police have been going on, with hundreds of wounded and several deaths.
The government in Ukraine is trying to frame the situation as progroms initiated by the extremist, radical rightist organizations, Ukrainian neofascists, mostly from the Western regions of Ukraine.
We are moderate people, peaceful professionals, of varied ethnic origin, from various regions of Ukraine. We do not sympathize with the right-wing radical organizations, let alone being their members. We do not think that throwing Molotov cocktails or stones can serve as adequate instruments for protecting one's values.
Despite this, we declare our solidarity with those, who have been forced to use these instruments today.
We are convinced: the overwhelming majority of the protesters does not belong to any extremist organizations. A 21 year old farmer from Dnipropetrovsk region, Serhiy Nigoyan, who was shot in Hrushevskyi Street, was not a member of such organizations, neither was a 50 year old Ph.D. (physical and mathematical sciences), Yuriy Verbytskyi, a seismologist from L'viv region, wounded in Hrushevskyi Street, kidnapped by unknown subjects, and taken to a forest, where he died.
The turn from hitherto unprecedented massive and peaceful protests to radical ways of expressing one's position was forced upon the protesters by the policies of the Ukrainian government, which demonstrates utter disregard for the interests of Ukrainian citizens, ignores their opinions and uses violence against the peaceful protesters. The last straw that broke the camel's back and provoked the battle in downtown Kyiv was the blatant attempt to usurp power by the faction of the Party of Regions in the national legislature. On January 16th, violating the established parliamentary procedure and practically without a genuine vote count, that faction adopted bills that severely violate the Constitution and the international human rights standards. The President, instead of imposing a veto, signed these laws the following day.
It was the government of Ukraine, which was quickly losing any remaining semblance of legitimacy, that radicalized people that never belonged to any extremist groups. The government left the protesters no other choice. That is why the attempts to portray the protesters as fascist-like extremists is nothing but a ruse, a manipulation and a falsification on the part of the government, designed to absolve itself of responsibility for the clashes in center city Kyiv and to form the corresponding public opinion about the anti-governmental protests, both among the Ukrainians and the citizens and politicians of other nations. All that is being done with express purpose of creating an informational background favorable to the forceful crackdown on the protests.
Simultaneously, though, we proclaim that the continuation of such forceful confrontation will lead to more violence and more casualties. To stop the escalation of violence, the government must remove the special forces of the Ministry of the Interior and soldiers of the Interior Militia, which were brought to Kyiv, must stop criminal persecutions of the protesters and strike down the shameful laws adopted on January 16th, afterward arranging for genuine, not just decorative, negotiations with the opposition, including the representatives of the civil society.
Yevhen Zakharov, Director of Kharkiv Human Rights Group, Kharkiv; Serhiy Zhadan, writer, Kharkiv; Viktor Pushkar, social psychologist, Ph.D. (psychological sciences), scientific director of IC «Maidan Monitoring», Kyiv; Oleksander Severyn, attorney at law, J.D. (legal sciences), legal consultant of IC «Maidan Monitoring», Kyiv; and others.
Deadlock in Ukraine
January 24th, 2014
On 22 January, Ukraine’s national Day of Unity and Freedom, two demonstrators were shot dead in the centre of Kiev. They were not killed with rubber bullets, like those the Berkut riot police have been using to fire on protestors, but with regular bullets. One appears to have been killed by a sniper’s rifle, the other by a pistol. On the same day Ihor Lutsenko – the son of Yuriy Lutsenko, one of the leaders of the opposition – and Yuriy Verbytsky, a well-known mountain-climber and scientist from Lviv, were abducted from hospital by a group of individuals wearing civilian clothing. Both Euromaidan activists were taken outside the city and brutally beaten. Ihor was lucky – he survived. He managed to make his way to the nearest village, where local residents took him in and called the emergency services. Yuriy Verbytsky was found dead later that evening in a nearby forest.
Meanwhile President Yanukovych recently signed decrees awarding honours to politicians, civil servants and public figures in connection with the Day of Unity and Freedom. The majority of the recipients were quietly delighted. Only Patriarch Filaret, head of the Kievan Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and a Crimean politician representing Vitaly Klitschko’s UDAR party refused to accept an award from the hands of the president while those protesting against him were being ‘awarded’ rubber bullets and live ammunition by the militia and other government forces.
The political crisis in Ukraine is approaching its denouement, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to have a happy ending. It is hard to imagine that just two months ago Ukraine was preparing to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union in Vilnius. Ukraine was completely different then. Admittedly the country was on the brink of financial collapse, but in spite of this the whole country somehow seemed to be in better spirits. Even in the East and the South – traditionally more pro-Russian regions – civil servants and local politicians, on the President’s orders, had begun to speak in more positive terms about Europe and the European future of Ukraine. But this didn’t last long. In spite of the strained relationship between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine, Putin decided that ‘allowing’ Ukraine to join Europe was out of the question. He offered Yanukovych $15 billion not only to prevent the country defaulting on its financial obligations, but also to ensure that the Yanukovych would have enough money in the budget to last until the presidential elections in 2015. The great ship Ukraine changed course again, sailing closer to Russia. After three years of promises, Putin finally lowered the price of Russian gas to Ukraine, although the new gas supply agreement includes a clause whereby Gazprom has the right to review or amend the price of gas every three months. Thanks to this agreement between Putin and Yanukovych, the future of Ukraine has been left ‘hanging’ from a gas pipe; hanging alongside it is the future of Yanukovych himself.
Two months ago, immediately following the summit in Vilnius – at which President Yanukovych failed to sign documents and even complained that the European Union hadn’t offered Ukraine $15 billion worth of financial aid – the first student protestors began to appear in the central squares of Kiev and Lviv. They came of their own accord, without political support. They began to hold rallies and call for the Ukrainian government to sign the agreement with the EU. They explained that Ukrainian students saw only two possible options for the future: life in European Ukraine, or emigrating to Europe for life. Members of the political opposition appeared only later. Not until after the early hours of 30 November, when the riot police turned up on the main square of the country and began dispersing the student protestors with astonishing brutality. Later that morning the centre of Kiev was inundated with half a million demonstrators, who were there not to campaign for the signing of the EU agreement but in protest against the authorities. Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) and the main street, Khreshchatyk, were transformed into a temporary camp for the protestors, who came from virtually every corner of Ukraine. Some came to take part in the protests for a few days, while others moved into the tents more permanently and are still there now. Several thousand people stay through the night. The camp borders are patrolled by security forces, electricity generators operate not far from the tents and numerous small stoves are in use, emitting trails of smoke. I have visited the Maidan camp, as it is known, several times at night and found the atmosphere of ‘permanent revolution’ surprisingly peaceful. The same has been true of the busier daytime rallies, which have featured appearances by politicians, rock musicians, priests and writers. For over a month a Russian travel agency in Krasnodar was promoting trips ‘to Maidan’ and bringing Russian tourists right here, to the centre of Kiev, where they had plenty of fun taking photographs of themselves in front of the tents, the barricades and the political slogans.
This peaceful revolutionary time is now over. The fact that it lasted as long as it did is down to the psychological disposition of the Ukrainian president, who trusts no one, is afraid of everything and never mixes with his own people if he can possibly help it. On the same night the Berkut forces were beating up students, President Yanukovych boarded a plane and left for an official visit to China. The Minister of Internal Affairs had evidently promised him that the protests would be over by the time he got back. He was never in a position to keep this promise because the number of protestors grew so significantly, and furthermore protests had also begun taking place in other towns and cities across Ukraine. So instead of rushing home, the President of Ukraine decided to visit President Putin in Sochi. Without calling in on Kiev, which was already under siege by protestors, he planned to set off straight from Sochi on an official visit to Malta. However, the Maltese government decided that they weren’t prepared to host the president of a country in a state of civil unrest. With no choice but to reluctantly return home, Yanukovych found himself under obligation to commit to a round-table discussion with the opposition.
Instead, he held a round-table discussion with three former presidents of Ukraine. Four Ukrainian presidents discussing things around a table led to nothing but general ridicule. Then there was another round-table discussion with so-called representatives of the student protestors, during which some cheerful students brought in from the east of the country expressed gratitude to Yanukovych for their wonderful lives and promised that they would always support him in whatever he did. President Yanukovych spent the following two months ignoring the protests. Meanwhile the leaders of the opposition, represented in parliament by three different political parties, tried to come to an agreement among themselves as to which of them would be the main opposition representative. As expected, this problem was resolved a few days ago, albeit temporarily, with former professional boxer Vitali Klitschko taking on the role of official spokesperson. The first meeting between Klitschko and Yanukovych took place in a forest outside Kiev, where the Ukrainian president lives behind a high fence and several lines of armed security personnel. Yanukovych promised to organise negotiations, but this never happened. Tired of waiting two months for the protests to yield results, a hardcore minority of protestors took it upon themselves to throw rocks at members of the militia, who had used lorries and buses to cut off access to the street leading to parliament and the cabinet of ministers.
In response the Ukrainian parliament, or rather a part of the ruling Party of Regions faction, used the illegitimate method of simply raising their hands to pass new laws, which effectively revoked freedom of speech and made all protestors criminals. The President swiftly signed these newly ‘voted’ laws, thereby dividing the country into those who support him and those who are guilty of a crime by not supporting him. Those who speak out against the authorities are branded ‘criminals’, and for them there is no way back: retraction is not an option. According to the new law the three opposition leaders, who met with the President on 22 January, are also criminals. It’s entirely possible that after the forced dispersal of the Maidan camp, which could take place at any moment, not only could the protestors end up in prison but so could opposition parliamentary deputies and the leaders of their parties. Particularly given that one of the laws signed by the president on 16 January is designed to simplify the removal of parliamentary immunity, so that in just ten minutes a previously ‘untouchable’ parliamentary deputy could become an ordinary citizen under arrest.
If this should come to pass over the coming days, then it will lead to a partisan war in Western Ukraine against the representatives of the government and the ruling party. This may well lead to the disintegration of the state of Ukraine itself, with the Russian Federation waiting in the wings to make the country’s eastern and southern regions its ‘protectorates’.
Andrey Kurkov, Ukrainian writer and novelist was born in St Petersburg in 1961. Having graduated from the Kiev Foreign Languages Institute, he worked for some time as a journalist, did his military service as a prison warder in Odessa, then became a film cameraman, writer of screenplays and author of critically acclaimed and popular novels, including the cult bestseller Death and the Penguin. His latest novel, The Gardener from Ochakov was published by Harvill Secker last year.
Amanda Love Darragh studied French and Russian at Manchester University, then spent the following decade working in Moscow and at BBC Worldwide. She currently lives by the sea in Devon with her husband, three children and three cats. Amanda won the 2009 Rossica Translation Prize for her translation of Iramifications by Maria Galina (Glas) and has translated two novels by Andrei Kurkov for Harvill Secker, as well as a number of other novels and short stories by contemporary Russian authors.
Translated from the Russian by Amanda Love Darragh
Note: 2004 I met Aharon Appelfeld in Vienna and we have been talking about Czernowitz. 2006 I met Igor Pomerantsev (with him together we started in 2008 the project "Zeitzug"), 2010 I have been for the first time in Czernowitz, attending the Poetry Festival "Meridian Czernowitz". 2011 together with Ukrainian poet Iryna Vikyrchak a collection of poems, bilingual (German, Ukrainian) has been published. In October, November 2013 I have been for five weeks again in Czernowitz, invited by Meridian Czernowitz "Poets in Residence". I met writers, artists, students, journalists. Being an European, born in Austria, living in Prague, I could not help but be drawn to the critical situation in Ukraine. Thank you for your attention to read those notes, letters from Ukraine. Milena Findeis