Friday, October 24, 2014

Ukraine Before The Election: The Battle For Ukraine’s Future

KIEV, Ukraine -- Only a few photographs of dead fighters and flowers in the centre of Kiev recall the dramatic events that unfolded on Independence Square, or the Maidan, a year ago.


The country is running out of time to overcome corruption.

The barricades and the encampment are long gone.

The city feels subdued and traumatised as it awaits the parliamentary elections on October 26th.

The energy and hope of a new beginning that sustained the revolution have been drained by a war that has claimed 3,700 lives.

Crimea is gone; large swathes of Donbas, the industrial region in the south-east, have been seized by separatists; the ceasefire is fragile. 

There has been little in the way of good news.

Ukraine has lost precious time to reform its economy, which is teetering on the verge of collapse.

The first post-revolutionary government included some of the activists from the Maidan protests and proved to be pitifully weak, lacking experience and skills.

Pavlo Sheremeta, who resigned after six months as economy minister, says the old ways were so entrenched that he had little control over his own ministry, a replica of Gosplan, the Soviet state-planning committee.

“I spent three hours every day signing some 200-300 papers. Most of it was total nonsense produced by the apparatus to justify its existence.”

The deciding factor, the political will to change the country’s post-Soviet order, has been conspicuously absent in Ukraine.

Urgent reforms have been stalled by Ukraine’s parliament, the Rada, a vestige of the old regime.

The point of the elections is to consolidate President Petro Poroshenko’s power and give him control over the legislature.

“We must create a new decentralised system of governance, otherwise no reform will be possible,” says Vladimir Groisman, a deputy prime minister and an ally of Mr Poroshenko.

If the Poroshenko Bloc, the president’s party, wins an outright majority, Mr Groisman may lead the next government.

If not, Mr Poroshenko will probably form a coalition with Arseny Yatseniuk, the current prime minister, who is running on a nationalist ticket.

As ever in Ukraine, nothing is what it seems.

The elections will not overhaul the system where deputies are the extensions of business interests and can be sold and traded.

The new parliament is likely to be dominated by old faces wearing new masks.

The odious Party of Regions is gone, but its spirit has been reconstituted in the Strong Ukraine and Opposition Bloc parties.

Oligarchs including Rinat Akhmetov, Sergei Levochkin, and Dmitry Firtash, who has faced bribery charges from American officials, are said still to influence the make-up of party lists, including Mr Yatseniuk’s People’s Front.

Ihor Kolomoisky, the most powerful oligarch and the governor of Dnepropetrovsk, stronghold of the anti-separatist resistance, has no party of his own but will control many votes.

To counter those forces, the first post-Soviet generation is pushing its way into politics.

Its people may only win about 20 seats in the new parliament, but they hope their anti-corruption message will spread.

Young Ukrainians who were educated in the West and landed successful jobs in private firms and investment banks are flocking to help build a new state.

They will face enormous obstacles.

Much of the Ukrainian economy is plagued by ingenious schemes for diverting state money into private pockets.

Some of the most outrageous ones set up by Viktor Yanukovych, the ousted president, have been closed, but many survive.

Even the lustration law, which blindly targets officials who served under Mr Yanukovych, has so far largely been used to clear space for new clans.

Sooner or later, reform comes into conflict with vested interests.

Daniil Pasko of the National Reform Council, an advisory body, says the entrenched apparatchiks “understand the system we want to change ten times better than us: they built it”.

The outcome of the battle is of existential importance to Ukraine. 

Reformers are arming themselves with new institutions, such as the Anti-Corruption Bureau, which will have law-enforcement powers.

In the meantime the old prosecutors, who often acted like raiders, have been stripped of their vast powers.

The new political class will also face huge pressure from Russia.

Ukrainian reformers’ success is Putin’s worst nightmare.

He will do anything in his power to stop the idea spreading to Russia. 

Ukraine’s corruption is an ally for the Kremlin.

Russia is also ratcheting up pressure by demanding pre-payment for future deliveries of gas from Gazprom, as well as the repayment of old debts.

Ukraine has not yet experienced the full brunt of the economic crisis, but as winter approaches gas shortages will bring the truth home.

With the economy contracting by as much as 10% this year, inflation at 14%, reserves melting away and debt repayments looming, Ukraine cannot survive without foreign aid.

This aid depends on the government’s ability to show progress on reforms, including deregulation and removing energy subsidies, however resistant the oligarchs may be.

“Everyone understands that if we don’t fix the system, the pond will simply cease to exist,” says Dmytro Shymkiv, deputy chief of Mr Poroshenko’s staff in charge of reforms.

They need to show results.

The biggest threat is not just that the money will run out, but also the patience of those who stood on the Maidan and who have been fighting the war.

Frustration is showing in the popularity of Oleh Lyashko, a pitchfork-wielding populist seen as a clown but expected to finish second nonetheless.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers still at the front are unable to vote.

With the fighting nearly over, they will soon come home to find a government they played no part in electing.

If they see no change in the way their country is run, they will take to the streets, not with wooden shields and sticks as they did a year ago, but with real weapons.

The next Maidan will look less like a carnival and more like the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917.

If nothing else, this should concentrate the minds in the Ukrainian government.

Source: The Economist

Ukraine’s Slow Descent Into Madness

KIEV, Ukraine -- Less than a year ago, Viktor Yanukovych was not yet the disgraced former president of Ukraine and ruled over his impoverished but peaceful nation from Mezhyhirya, his sprawling residence outside Kiev.


Russian President Vladimir Putin (C),  shakes hands with Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko in Milan on Oct. 17, 2014.

Here Yanukovych entertained his cronies aboard a fake Spanish galleon, watched TV from the comfort of his wood-paneled Jacuzzi, and prayed for redemption in a jewel-encrusted private chapel.

The main house—an outsized, five-story peasant cottage—is nicknamed Honka, after the Finnish company that built it.

Today a wild-eyed revolutionary named Petro Oliynyk offers visitors an express tour from bowling alley to bedroom at $15 a head.

Wrapped in the black-and-red flag of the World War II–era Ukrainian Insurgent Army, Oliynyk coasts across Honka’s inlaid wooden floors in traditional straw shoes.

Mezhyhirya has become to Kiev what Versailles is to Paris—except Ukraine’s revolution is far from over.

A 34-year-old native of western Ukraine, Oliynyk is mad as hell.

He protested on Kiev’s Maidan for three months last winter until Yanukovych fled on Feb. 22 after a bloodbath that left more than 100 people dead.

Oliynyk, who says he has been guarding Mezhyhirya since that day, blames fellow activists for looting the residence.

Worse yet, he is convinced the new authorities granted Yanukovych safe passage to Russia and unleashed a war to cement their own grip on power.

Oliynyk isn’t alone in his anger.

Not even half a year into Petro Poroshenko’s presidency—and days before early parliamentary elections—Ukraine is still in upheaval.

As if the Russian-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine weren’t bad enough, the rest of the country is divided over how to overcome the legacy of two decades of rampant corruption.

Former Maidan protesters grumble that Poroshenko, a political insider who built a candy empire, is hardly the kind of leader they risked their lives for.

Cynics suspect the fighting in the east is only a cover for the latest round of robbing the treasury.

Even the president’s well-wishers fault him for surrounding himself with weak, pliable ministers and rarely explaining key decisions to the people, not unlike Yanukovych.

In an impatient country awash with fighters and weapons, the threat of a new revolt is very real.

Poroshenko’s backers argue that only the vote on Sunday will give him the legislative mandate the country needs for sweeping change.

To head off criticism in advance of the election, Poroshenko signed off on the formation of an anti-corruption bureau and a “lustration” law barring public servants affiliated with the old regime from office.

The president’s party—the Petro Poroshenko Bloc—is expected to win about a third of the vote and spearhead a pro-reform coalition in Parliament.

Poroshenko’s window of opportunity is limited as winter sets in and the economy continues to nosedive.

Various Maidan activists, journalists, and soldiers are running as guardians of the revolution for the Poroshenko Bloc and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front.

Yatsenyuk split with his mentor, Yulia Tymoshenko, who has been unable to reboot her political career since the fall of Yanukovych.

Among the new faces expected in Parliament are Serhiy Leshchenko and Mustafa Nayyem, two muckraking reporters who exposed the rot inside Yanukovych’s kleptocracy.

While they have been mocked for going into politics, the pair say they are following the call of civic duty.

“After the Orange Revolution, the country was naive,” says Leshchenko, recalling the wave of euphoria after Kiev’s last demonstration of people power a decade ago.

“Now society is tougher. Journalists shouldn’t just criticize but do something.”

As for the commanders of volunteer battalions who are also running for office, Leshchenko says it’s better they take their fight to the corridors of power than to the streets.

One of the first legislative changes Nayyem wants to see won’t be popular: raising the pay of parliamentary deputies.

After salaries were slashed to less than $500 a month in a fit of post-revolutionary fury, they should at least be tripled to forestall the corrupt practices of the past, Nayyem says.

In the old Parliament, slush funds were used to pay deputies $500 for staying at home, $1,000 for showing up but abstaining from a vote, and $2,000 or more for initiating an inquiry, he says.

Some deputies even used their parliamentary immunity to smuggle expensive Swiss watches into the country and sell them at a profit. 

While the elections should help Poroshenko’s ability to push his pro-Western agenda, they will also solidify the division between the regions under Kiev’s control and those now under Moscow’s.

The elections won’t take place in Crimea, which Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed in March, as well as large parts of rebel-held areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The separatists have called their own elections for Nov. 2 to lend a whiff of legitimacy to their shadowy, self-proclaimed leaders.

The cease-fire hammered out between Poroshenko and Putin in early September exists in name only, as the rebels try to wrest strategic Ukrainian holdouts, such as the Donetsk Airport, before a more lasting peace takes hold.

Civilians continue to get killed in the crossfire.

Paradoxically, the more the cease-fire line is respected by the combatants and monitored by international observers, the greater the risk it will become the de facto border of a frozen conflict.

Even if the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk republics haven’t been recognized by any foreign governments, each day their existence taunts and stymies the central government in Kiev.

“The Kremlin doesn’t want more land but unresolved problems that can’t be fixed,” says a Western ambassador in Kiev.

The “party of war”—which includes the Popular Front, Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party, and more radical groupings—sees a military solution to the conflict.

Yet Poroshenko, despite his posturing as a tough commander in chief, had little choice but to agree to the cease-fire.

In the president’s own words, up to 65 percent of Ukraine’s military equipment was destroyed over the summer and the armor in storage is as good as “tin cans.”

Furthermore, it would have been problematic to carry out elections while active combat operations were taking place.

With unrest brewing in his own capital, Poroshenko sought a welcome timeout.

Yet nobody is satisfied with the status quo.

Ukraine is counting on Western support more than ever, but not without a certain sense of betrayal.

“We don’t have a Churchill, only a whole range of Chamberlains,” says Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, who served as foreign minister and as ambassador to the United States.

Hryshchenko remembers all the advice he used to get from Washington when Ukraine was at peace; now his American friends can only tell him: “It’s a mess.”

What Ukraine really needs is an economic recovery program comparable to the Marshall Plan, he says.

Kiev, once an easy-going city famed for its hospitality, has become a gloomy place after almost a year of nonstop strife, from protests and street battles to revolution and war.

Many residents worry about staying warm this winter if a dispute with Russia over natural-gas prices isn’t resolved.

Others wonder whether the fighting will reach the capital.

One influential TV journalist privately says he expects Russia to launch airstrikes on the city to open a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which is cut off from sea routes during the winter.

The unpredictability of events has made perfectly reasonable people sound hysterical.

Source: Slate

Ukraine Election: Land Of Chaos And Courage

KIEV, Ukraine -- This weekend most of Ukraine will take part in a parliamentary election. There will be no voting, though, in those areas of the east controlled by pro-Russia rebels.


Despite the ceasefire agreed on 5 September, Donetsk has continued to come under shell attack.

Ahead of the ballot, I travelled from eastern Ukraine to Kiev.

Along the way I witnessed courage and chaos.

In Soviet times, Viktor was a bomb-disposal expert in the Red Army.

He defused more than 10,000 explosive devices, many of them in Afghanistan.

"Each one was a risk," Viktor tells me.

"You never knew exactly what you were dealing with."

After retiring from the army, Viktor expected a quieter life.

He got a job in the security department of the Luhansk Locomotive Plant. 

But this summer in eastern Ukraine war broke out between pro-Russia rebels and the Ukrainian army.

For weeks, Luhansk was the front line.

Artillery pounded the city, with 156 shells hitting the locomotive factory.

"I never dreamed that I'd have to do my old job again," says Viktor. 

Every time a shell landed on the factory, Viktor would inspect the scene and defuse any unexploded ordnance.

With Luhansk under heavy shelling, he offered his services in the town, too.

This is one of many stories of courage I have encountered on my journey, one of many examples of ordinary people doing extraordinary things as their world is turned upside.

Beaten but unbroken Iryna Dovgan is from Yasynuvata near Donetsk.

When pro-Russia rebels seized the town, she resolved to help the Ukrainian army.

"Together with some other women, we collected food and blankets and uniforms," she tells me.

"The soldiers didn't have any camouflage, just T-shirts. We drove two hours to reach them. When we got there, they said: 'How did you make it? You've just driven through a minefield!'"

When the rebels found out about Ms Dovgan, they went to her home.

She was handcuffed and driven to Donetsk.

"They put a gun to my head and fired just past my ear," she recalls. 

"They hit me around the head and beat me with the butt of a gun. I covered my head, I crawled along the floor. I had tears, snot and saliva running down my face. I was shouting: 'Please stop! Just kill me'." 

Instead of killing her, her captors forced her to stand on the street wrapped in a Ukrainian flag.

A sign around her neck declared that she was a "Ukrainian agent" and a child killer. People came up to her and beat her.

"One old woman with a walking stick hit me with her stick on my head and on my back."

After four days in detention Ms Dovgan was released.

Today she is running for parliament in the former rebel stronghold of Sloviansk. But why?

"The people who had hit me and humiliated me," she says.

"I couldn't let them think they had broken me, that I was hiding away, cooking soup for my husband and terrified of going on to the streets. I won't do that. I'm a strong woman."

'No words' 

Elena Alexeeva is strong, too.

She is from Donetsk but I meet her in Kiev in Independence Square.

She is standing silently at a memorial to the more than 100 victims of February's violence.

"I've travelled here from the east so that I can bow down to these people," Ms Alexeeva tells me.

"Europe is the right path for us. Unfortunately back home I can't talk about this to my neighbours because many people think otherwise." 

Since the shootings in and around Independence Square, there have been thousands more victims.

Parts of eastern Ukraine have witnessed full-scale war.

Pro-Russia rebels and the Ukrainian military accuse each other of targeting civilians.

Both sides have been accused of human rights abuses.

Evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch suggests Ukrainian government forces - and possibly the rebels - have used cluster bombs.

Despite Russia's denials, Kiev and western governments continue to accuse Moscow of fanning the flames of conflict through direct Russian military support for the rebels. 

So where is Ukraine heading? 

At the Luhansk locomotive factory, I put that question to Tanya.

She's been a crane operator here for more than 30 years.

"I think this still feels like Ukraine," Tanya says.

"We just don't quite understand how everything will end up here. We just want to live in peace. With everybody."

Down below, one of the workers, Vladimir, takes a harder line.

"I have no words to describe what Ukraine did to us here," he says.

"How many peaceful people they bombed. We're for a separate state so that we can live by ourselves. We don't want any kind of a relationship with Ukraine."

'Off the map' 

The rebels who control Luhansk have declared a people's republic.

I ask its self-proclaimed head of state, Igor Plotnitsky, whether his republic is an independent state.

"And what do you think?" he replies.

"Is this an independent state? What's your opinion as a BBC correspondent?"

A little surprised, I say that it is not for me to express an opinion. 

"That's not true," responds Mr Plotnitsky.

"You're prevaricating! A journalist always has an opinion. You can see it from the way they cover a story."

In the neighbouring rebel republic, I am given a more direct response to my question.

"The Donetsk People's Republic is an independent and self-sufficient state which is at war with the state of Ukraine," the head of the DPR's election commission tells me.

As in Luhansk, the rebels here are shunning Ukraine's elections.

They plan to hold their own vote on 2 November.

"But what about the territorial integrity Kiev talks about?" I ask. 

"Territorial integrity of what? Which place?"

"Ukraine."

"Very soon we'll simply wipe Ukraine from the political map of the world," he promises.

'Two fronts' 

Despite the bravado, this has not been an easy birth for the Donetsk People's Republic.

There have been reports of infighting among the rebels.

Many of the shops in Donetsk are boarded up.

Most of the banks are closed and there is still fighting on the edge of the city.

A few months ago, Donetsk looked a prosperous, bustling city.

It is a shadow of that now.

After Donetsk and Luhansk, Kiev looks like a different world: busy streets, packed cafes and shopping centres.

But Ukraine's capital is feeling the pain, too.

On the wall beneath St Andrew's church is a giant poster with the portraits of hundreds of Ukrainian servicemen killed in the east and a list of 504 soldiers missing in action.

The war is having a direct impact on Ukraine's election.

Many of the parties have included military figures on their party lists, hoping to benefit from a wave of patriotism.

Among the candidates are leaders of some of the Ukrainian volunteer battalions.

Yevgen Shevchenko, from the Donbas Battalion, tells me he is standing for parliament to prevent politicians in Kiev betraying soldiers on the front line.

"We're fighting on two fronts," he says.

"One front is the rebels, the Russians, the mercenaries and local Ukrainians, zombified by propaganda. The second front, sadly, is in Kiev."

"There are a huge number of pro-Russia politicians and officials or corrupt ones in parliament and the defence ministry. When I went to the front, my friends helped me to buy a uniform, flak jacket and helmet. Nothing was provided."

He believes the government should listen to the people:

"There have been more and more cases of politicians in Ukraine being dumped into rubbish bins."

"There's a real danger that if the government's attitude to ordinary people doesn't change soon, these ordinary people will swap rubbish bins for lamp posts, from which the politicians will be hanged."

On St Sofia's Square I find the commander of the Azov Battalion, Andriy Biletsky, is addressing his soldiers before they head off to the east.

Mr Biletsky, too, is running for parliament and he is a controversial candidate.

Many of the battalion's volunteers are viewed as ultranationalists.

Among the symbols on their banners and uniforms is a sign resembling the Wolf's Hook used by the Nazis.

"We're nationalists, we've never hidden that," Mr Biletsky tells me.

"Our whole ideology is in our symbol. It's a combination of the letters I and N. It means 'idea of the nation'."

Azov is not the political mainstream in Ukraine but political upheaval and especially the war in the east have given the far-right a new prominence and confidence.

The Azov soldiers file on to a bus.

Just as it is about to drive off, two young women make far-right salutes to the volunteers on board.

Through the bus windows, I can see some of the soldiers responding in kind.

"What was that sign you were making with your arm?" I ask one of the women. 

"From the heart to the sun," she replies.

"It means 'bye'."

Source: BBC News Europe

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Special Report: Why Ukraine's Revolution Remains Unfinished

KIEV, Ukraine -- In the afternoon of February 20, after the morning’s dead had been cleared away, Volodymyr Melnychuk arrived outside Kiev’s October palace.


Radical protesters (R) clash with Interior Ministry and law enforcement members on the Day of Ukrainian Cossacks, marked by activists and supporters of the All-Ukrainian Union Svoboda (Freedom) Party and far-right activists and nationalists to honour the role of the movement in the history of Ukraine, during a rally near the parliament building in Kiev, in this October 14, 2014 file photo.

Higher up the hill stood the seats of Ukrainian government, defended by thousands of police.

Below lay Independence Square, or Maidan, covered in protesters’ camps and scarred with barricades and the detritus of battle.

In fierce clashes that morning scores of protesters and government forces had been killed.

Calm now prevailed, and Melnychuk, a handyman who helped build barricades at the protests, had arranged to meet a friend at the palace’s white portico.

A bullet hit him as he stood next to his partner of 13 years, Maria Kvyatkovska.

The shot entered Melnychuk’s left cheek and exited near the back of his neck, felling him instantly.

“He was chatting on the phone, just standing there. The sun was shining,” recalled Kvyatkovska, an accountant.

“It was calm in the Maidan. Nobody expected it.”

Melnychuk, 39, was declared dead that night.

Like many Ukrainians, Melnychuk and Kvyatkovska had first gone to the Maidan late last year because they wanted their country to forge closer ties with the European Union.

They were angry that President Viktor Yanukovich had rejected a Ukraine-EU treaty and pursued closer links with Russia instead.

When police beat protesters soon after the demonstrations started, Kvyatkovska’s views had hardened.

“It wasn’t about the EU” after the beatings, she said.

“It was anger about power.”

She realized that real change would require a complete overthrow of a corrupt system that favored a small elite and wealthy oligarchs.

Eight months on, she and millions of other Ukrainians are still waiting for their revolution.

Though Yanukovich fled in the face of the protests, and Russia seized Crimea, Ukraine’s political system remains largely unchanged.

This weekend voters will get a chance to elect new lawmakers, but many are dismayed that the electoral system itself has not been reformed.

Half the parliamentary seats remain open only to party candidates, and parties give limited information about who their candidates are. 

Interviews with protesters, Ukrainian and European politicians, and police, many detailing their roles for the first time, show how Ukraine’s unexpected revolution has left people divided and dissatisfied.

Many Ukrainians are mindful of the Orange Revolution of 2004.

That uprising, too, targeted Yanukovich after a presidential election rigged in his favor.

His fall generated initial optimism but did not deliver lasting change.

His successors failed to tackle corruption or heal the country’s east-west divisions, and Yanukovich was elected president in 2010.

A survey conducted early last month by USAID, a U.S. government agency, found that 74 percent of Ukrainians have little or no confidence in their parliament.

Even outside Yanukovich’s former stronghold in the troubled eastern Donbass region, only 39 percent think the political system is democratic. 

Vitaly Klitschko, mayor of Kiev and leader of the anti-Yanukovich Udar party, feels the frustration.

“Right now people have a big expectation of reform ... and many of them are very unhappy because they know the faces have changed, but the system is still the same,” he told Reuters.

How could the hopes of February have turned so quickly to disillusion and anger?

The following account of the last days of the uprising shows that the seeds of today’s disappointment were there all along: in the chaotic nature of the protests, in the conflicting goals of different protesters, and in the sudden toppling of Yanukovich.

His overthrow caught the West unprepared.

EU foreign ministers had planned on a slow transition in Ukraine, with Yanukovich staying in power for almost a year.

Opposition politicians also misread the mood of the Maidan.

Coming largely from the country’s Western-leaning and Ukrainian-speaking areas, they did little to win over Yanukovich’s supporters in the Russian-speaking east.

They now hold power, but have yet to deliver the reforms for which ordinary protesters fought and died.

Without fundamental change, some protesters say, there could be another Maidan.

TURNING VIOLENT 

In late 2013, students gathered in central Kiev’s European Square to protest against Yanukovich’s rejection of closer ties to the EU.

The police moved in and beat them.

Thousands more people occupied nearby Independence Square.

The protesters all wanted change, but unanimity stopped there.

Some Ukrainians came because they wanted Kiev to forge ties with the EU; others wanted an end to the corruption endemic among Yanukovich’s cronies; still others wanted to reverse changes that had boosted the president’s powers and diminished parliament.

Protesters formed a makeshift, crowded encampment in the square.

There was no single leader.

Instead, various groups with their own commanders acted in loose alliance against the common enemy.

The protesters ranged from ordinary professionals such as Kvyatkovska to hard-bitten anti-Russian nationalists in paramilitary uniforms.

FEB 18: SHOOTING BREAKS OUT IN KIEV 

In mid-February, opposition politicians pressed Yanukovich to curb his powers.

The state security service threatened “tough measures” if street disturbances did not end.

This toxic brew boiled over on Feb. 18 when protesters confronted police near Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada.

As clashes spread, shooting broke out.

Protesters blame the police.

Taras Talmonychuk, a 32-year-old who works in digital advertising, was on the Maidan at the time, bringing supplies to people at the barricades.

“I helped carry a man who was shot but alive, and I watched as his pulse stopped. It was the first time I had seen a death.”

Talmonychuk had joined the protests because he opposed closer ties with Russia.

“I am not for the EU or for Russia. Ukraine is another thing. It’s independent,” he said.

As with others, his experience of violence against protesters made him more determined to act.

After helping to carry the shot man, Talmonychuk told his boss at work he would be away for a few days, bought a helmet and protective goggles and joined the front line.

The police saw matters differently.

Oleh, a former officer in the Berkut riot police who was on the streets of Kiev that day, said in an email interview that the police had simply tried to stop people entering the parliament building.

Protesters, he said, had attacked with stones, Molotov cocktails, sticks and metal pipes, and then begun shooting.

“Just from our unit, more than 10 officers were wounded, two badly,” he said.

“My comrade was standing right next to me, all of two meters away, and was shot – the bullet went straight through his body armor.”

That evening, a policeman died on Instytutska Street when he was hit by a firework set off by protesters, he said.

The police deployed two armored personnel carriers to push into the square.

Protesters set barricades alight and hurled paving stones and Molotov cocktails; 25 people died, including nine police, the health ministry said at the time.

Yanukovich posted a message online accusing his rivals of trying to “seize power” by means of “arson and murder.”

He agreed a truce to allow negotiations “in the interests of social peace.”

But even as the president posted his appeal, the Maidan began to receive reinforcements from sympathizers outside Kiev.

Some brought guns, according to police and one protest leader.

FEB 18-19: LVIV’S NIGHT OF WRATH 

Pro-European Ukrainians outside the capital had been protesting for months, particularly in Lviv in the west of the country where support for the EU and ties to Poland are prevalent.

One prominent figure was Andriy Porodko, who worked for an organization helping children with special needs.

Porodko organized a blockade against a Lviv Interior Ministry compound, complete with tents and kitchens.

On the night of Feb. 18 to 19 – the Night of Wrath, as it became known in Lviv – tensions erupted.

Police stations and the Interior Ministry building were set on fire.

Some police removed weapons from the stations before they were overrun, said Porodko; others were looted.

His team sent to Kiev three mini-buses loaded with armored vests, helmets and shields for the protesters.

“We didn’t have weapons or arms” to send because the arms depot had burned, he said.

“But there were widespread cases of sending arms to Kiev.”

Several protesters in Kiev said the only guns they saw on the protesters’ side were air rifles.

How policemen came to be shot, they said, was unclear.

But Oleh, the Berkut officer, said he is sure the protesters had weapons.

On Feb. 19, “lots of weapons were delivered to the Maidan,” he said.

The deliveries “did not go unnoticed by the police.” 

FEB 19: LAST-DITCH DIPLOMACY 

In Europe, politicians still thought Ukraine’s woes could be settled through negotiation.

They believed their best hope was to strike a compromise with Yanukovich.

Watching events from afar was Radoslaw Sikorksi, then Poland’s foreign minister, who was with his family skiing in the Alps.

Sikorski grew up in Poland.

A graduate of Oxford University, he has a deep antipathy to communism and the autocratic rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Aghast at the violence in Kiev and at Yanukovich’s cosying up to Putin, Sikorski rang Poland’s cabinet secretary on Feb. 19 to get a green-light to visit the Ukrainian capital to help broker a truce.

He then called Brussels to get backing from the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, he said in an interview.

Ashton was non-committal.

Walking along a cross country ski trail, Sikorski rang Frank Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, who agreed to go to Kiev.

Sikorski suggested Steinmeier try to get French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on board.

Then Sikorski rang Ashton again and told her that Steinmeier and perhaps Fabius would come.

“She said, ‘Alright, go.’”

By that evening Sikorski was in Kiev, where rumors circulated about the Ukrainian authorities contemplating military force.

Like other diplomats, the Pole thought Yanukovich would do anything to stay in power.

“It gelled with our information about at least one brigade being moved from the army to the Interior Ministry, presumably with the wish to use it in what Yanukovich ... was calling an ‘anti-terrorist operation,’” said Sikorski.

The government did contemplate using the army against protesters, according to General Volodymyr Zamana, former chief of staff of Ukraine’s armed forces.

Though the Interior Ministry had deployed riot police – the Berkut – the government had also been laying plans to use the army, Zamana said in an interview.

Yanukovich did not personally give him orders to use the army, he said, but senior officials in Yanukovich’s government wanted to.

“Personally from him (Yanukovich), I didn’t get such tasks. But I think that such proposals went to Yanukovich,” he said.

Battalions from Crimea and southern Ukraine came to Kiev, Zamana said.

But he refused to countenance an army intervention and was sacked on Feb. 19.

“I lost any right to give orders,” Zamana said.

A directive allowing the use of the army was then signed, though never implemented, he said.

FEB 20: A BLOODY MORNING

In Kiev ahead of his EU colleagues, Sikorski planned to visit the Maidan early on Feb. 20 before talks with Yanukovich and opposition leaders.

But as he ate breakfast, his Ukrainian security detail said it was too dangerous to go to the square.

It was a measure of how events on the street were moving ahead of those in political circles.

Sikorski changed plans and met protest leader Andriy Parubiy at a church a few hundred meters from the Maidan.

That morning shooting started again.

The main body of protesters was to the west of a barricade that ran diagonally across one end of the square.

Government forces were concentrated in the east, towards the Presidential Palace.

“There were stun grenades, loud bangs” and the sound of shots, said Talmonychuk, the protester who had bought a helmet and goggles for protection.

Police, he alleged, tried to set a building on fire with Molotov cocktails.

The protesters put out the fire and started to push the police back. 

Something, possibly a rubber bullet, smashed into Talmonychuk’s goggles and made him pause.

He did not want his young son growing up without a father and so stayed inside the barricade.

That, he said, “was the thing that saved my life.”

Oleh, the Berkut officer, said police officers near the square’s monument came under fire at about 8 a.m.

“The officers began reporting on the radio that they were being shot at and needed help, but none of our commanders answered them,” he said.

The officers fell back, “but this only provoked those so-called ‘peaceful’ protesters – it appeared as if the police officers were retreating.”

Official investigations into the shootings have made little progress.

Three Berkut officers have been charged with killing 39 protesters.

This month, Reuters detailed major flaws with the case against the three men.

Witnesses say Yanukovich’s police were not solely to blame.

Video footage shows police officers firing weapons; some protesters believe a special sniper squad was operating on the government side.

At the same time, supporters of Yanukovich believe provocateurs intent on inflaming the situation were shooting from the protesters’ side.

Talmonychuk said that one of his friends found a used cartridge on the protesters’ side of the barricades; he said it was possible it came from someone firing at the police.

FEB 20: “PUTIN IS CALLING” 

It was against this chaotic backdrop that the EU foreign ministers gathered to negotiate with Yanukovich.

As accounts of those involved show, the ministers and the rival political leaders who eventually took over from Yanukovich set out to get the president to compromise, rather than force bigger changes. 

When German Foreign Minister Steinmeier arrived at the German embassy in Kiev that morning, he met Sikorski and Fabius, the French foreign minister, and three Ukrainian opposition leaders.

The three Ukrainians were Klitschko, head of Udar, a pro-EU and anti-corruption party that lacked experience; Arseny Yatseniuk of the pro-European and liberal-leaning Batkivshchyna, or Fatherland party, headed by Yulia Tymoshenko, who was in jail and who had lost much of her previous popularity; and Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the far-right nationalist Svoboda party.

All drew most of their support from central and west Ukraine.

They offered little cohesion in a fractured country.

Nevertheless, Sikorski recalled, “they were quite reasonable. They wanted the old, more democratic constitution back, and they wanted an end to the killing, obviously.”

After the meeting, the EU foreign ministers discussed how to approach Yanukovich about stepping down.

Sikorski had negotiated with him before and guessed what would happen.

“He would start talking and ... it would be impossible to break in,” Sikorski said.

“So we pre-agreed that Steinmeier would quite quickly interrupt him and tell him to get real.”

At the presidential palace, guarded by ranks of helmeted police with metal shields, Yanukovich began sounding off about how bad his political opponents were and how reasonable he was, Sikorski said.

Steinmeier interrupted and said Yanukovich had to strike a deal with the opposition.

“And he didn’t question that,” said Sikorski.

“His idea was yes, there needs to be a deal and yes, we need to change the constitution. But he refused to talk about dates.”

Sikorski thought Yanukovich was playing for time and told him he had to declare a resignation date.

An aide entered the room and passed a piece of paper to Yanukovich.

“He said, ‘Putin is calling, I have to go,’” recalled Sikorski.

The president was gone about 40 minutes.

When he returned he said nothing of his call, but said:

“Alright, I will go, I’ll go before my time is up.”

That evening the EU ministers and Ukrainian opposition leaders returned to the presidential building to thrash out details with Yanukovich and his aides.

They met in a rococo paneled room, and were joined by Vladimir Lukin, a representative sent by Putin.

Food and drinks were served.

Out on the Maidan, the barricades smoldered.

Sikorski was struck by the contrast between the brutality in the square and the easy familiarity of the Ukrainian politicians as they talked with Yanukovich:

“These guys were sort of on first name terms and quite familiar with each other.”

It was a hint of how significant change in the political system was unlikely to happen quickly no matter who was in charge.

As discussions dragged on, Yanukovich appeared undefeated.

He was “living in an illusion,” said Klitschko, who sat across the table.

“I tried to explain to him about the situation in the street, in the country ... I have a feeling he did not realize what was happening.” 

FEB 21: THE DOWNFALL 

By 7 a.m. the two sides had a draft.

Yanukovich would agree to constitutional reform and an early presidential election.

But he would remain president for almost a year.

The participants left to grab a few hours sleep, agreeing to regroup for a formal signing ceremony at 11 a.m.

As the time approached, Klitschko and the other opposition leaders were absent.

The politicians had struck a deal to keep the country together – but they had misjudged the protesters in the square.

A former heavyweight boxer who won 45 of 47 pro fights, Klitschko is 6 feet 7-1/2 inches (2 meters) tall and once had the nickname Dr Ironfist.

That morning he and other opposition leaders faced a verbal onslaught from Maidan representatives in a meeting at the Kiev Hotel.

The protesters thought the draft deal was weak and unacceptable. 

Klitschko called the EU ministers.

When they arrived, Steinmeier made an emotional appeal: “You have the fate of Ukraine in your hands,” he told the protest leaders.

“Ukraine is standing at the abyss and about to tumble into chaos and civil war.”

Sikorski said the draft deal was the best they could hope for, and if it was rejected Yanukovich would clamp down even harder.

“It wasn’t an easy deal for them to accept,” he said.

“Basically, what we were proposing was that the person who had just killed 100 people was staying as their president for almost a year.” 

The Maidan representatives voted to accept the deal.

The formal signing took place in the Blue Hall of the presidential palace at 3 p.m.

Folders containing the text were set out on a table set with nameplates.

Klitschko saw that he was seated next to Yanukovich and promptly switched his nameplate with that of another man, grinning at a Reuters reporter who spotted the move.

Nevertheless, Klitschko shook hands with the president after the deal was signed.

Photographers and cameramen captured the moment.

Sikorski noted it, too, fearing the gesture would send the wrong message.

Thinking their job done, the EU ministers headed for home.

In the Maidan, however, the protesters were not finished.

When Klitschko arrived with other opposition leaders, the reception was hostile.

“Everybody said, ‘How can you shake his (Yanukovich’s) bloody hands? He killed people in the street,’” Klitschko recalled.

“If I’d punched him, everybody would have been happy – but it doesn’t help talks. At that moment, emotion ruled.”

One of those in the crowd was Talmonychuk, the protester.

He made his dissatisfaction known to Yatseniuk, the opposition leader who is now Ukraine’s prime minister.

“Yatseniuk came onto the Maidan and I stood next to him,” Talmonychuk said.

“We told him, ‘We’re watching you.’ Some people said to him, ‘Fuck you.’”

The deal was unraveling.

Later that evening Sikorski received a call from the Ukrainian foreign minister.

“He said the president’s cavalcade was shot upon and that he was leaving Kiev,” Sikorski said.

Yanukovich traveled to Kharkiv, and later on to Donetsk and then Russia.

In a television interview at the time he said his car had been shot at, but that he had not left Kiev out of fear.

Though Yanukovich, who could not be contacted for comment, never resigned, his parliamentary support crumbled.

On Feb. 22, lawmakers voted to oust him.

The suddenness of the overthrow backfired on Yanukovich’s foes.

It allowed the Kremlin and pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine’s east to play up earlier suggestions that neo-Nazi groups were behind the protests.

Exploiting a supposed threat to Russian-speakers in the east, Putin moved over the ensuing weeks to take control of Crimea, where people voted in a referendum to support the change.

And in the Donbass region of Ukraine, separatists declared autonomy. 

OCTOBER: “MAIDAN STOOD FOR MANY THINGS” 

Under pressure from lobby groups representing Maidan protesters, a law of “lustration” – the screening of officials to root out corruption and purge the system of closet Yanukovich sympathizers - has now come into force.

The new president, Poroshenko, has promised reforms aimed at strengthening law enforcement and decentralizing power.

Whether he can deliver remains to be seen.

In an interview, Klitschko acknowledged that many popular demands remained unaddressed.

Reform of politics and police were important, he said, but his priority as Kiev mayor was security.

“If we have instability in ... the capital of Ukraine, we have instability in the whole country.”

Andriy Porodko, the Lviv protester, complains that bribery continues to thrive.

The revolution, he said, “changed the face of the authorities, but not the system itself.”

Talmonychuk, the protester in the Maidan, says power and money are still too concentrated in Kiev.

“Maidan stood for many things, but it won only one: it got rid of Yanukovich,” he said.

“All the rest are still open.”

General Zamana, the former chief of staff, says he is disappointed the new leaders have not pursued reconciliation with troops and police; they should not have been painted as criminals when they were following orders, he said.

Oleh, the Berkut officer, denounces the new government for letting Russia seize Crimea and fan war in the east.

Kvyatkovska hopes the Maidan will lead to a better future, but mourns her loss.

Late one afternoon in August, she stood where her partner, the handyman Melnychuk, had been shot.

The spot was marked by a small shrine with flowers and a photograph.

“I don’t understand why they shot a man who was just talking on the telephone,” she said.

Source: Google News

Ukraine Rebels Dream Of New Russia

DONETSK, Russia -- Fighting is still going on in eastern Ukraine, despite a ceasefire deal signed on 5 September, and many pro-Russian rebels have no desire to see it come to an end.


Pro-Russian rebels have taken over broad swathes of Donetsk and Luhansk.

As voters in most of Ukraine prepare to go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new parliament, the rebels in the east are planning their own vote a week later.

For many of the pro-Russian rebels, both local and Russian volunteers, their political vision for the region is the creation of "Novorossia", a kind of new, improved Russia.

"We are fighting for the liberation of all Russian lands and we are ready to march all the way to the Danube," says Alexander Matyushin, a rebel field commander.

"We must restore the historic injustice which befell the Russian people in the 20th Century. We need to take land which is ours by right and bring it back into the fold of Holy Russia."

Matyushin's fighters - just over 100 of them - are stationed in his native Makiivka, a suburb of Donetsk, which is the largest city under rebel control in eastern Ukraine.

The great irony of this conflict is that 10 years ago Matyushin was on the other side of the political divide which now splits this country in two.

He used to work with a far-right Ukrainian nationalist, Dmytro Korchynsky.

"We had the idea of a Christian Orthodox revolution back then," explains Matyushin.

"Our ambition was to create an Orthodox al-Qaeda."

Despite their once-similar vision, the two men have followed very different paths: Korchynsky is on the run while Matyushin commands a military unit and believes he is within touching distance of realising his ambition to the create his dream of a New Russia.

He proudly shows off his battalion insignia: a skull and cross-bones with the motto, "The more foes, the greater the honour".

"Freedom is valued only when it is paid for by blood," he says with a steely note in his voice.

"We have to sacrifice the lives of countless heroes before we can fully realise our destiny."

There are no easy ideological lines to draw in this conflict.

Take Yaroslav Reshetniak, a musician who lives in Russia.

He says he has "Ukrainian roots" and has been friends with Ukrainian nationalists in the past, but not any more.

He believes Ukrainians, like himself, naturally belong to the Russian world.

His songs, a Russian nationalist call to arms, are widely shared online and serve as a powerful recruiting tool to attract fighters from all over Russia.

Does it make him happy to see a "New Russia" born out of war, death and destruction?

"I feel sorry for everybody, even for Ukrainian soldiers," he replies. 

"But there is no other way. I hope we will march on Kiev, and each region of Ukraine will have its own referendum to decide if they want to be part of Russia, part of Ukraine or to create an independent state."

"If western Ukrainians do want to be part of Ukraine, I would let them. The will of the people is, for me, above all else."

Although many of the rebel fighters in the east quietly admit to being tired of war, their mantra is "we are fighting now so that there are no more wars in the future".

The rebels say they have 18,000 volunteer fighters, mostly from Russia, and that more are keen on joining.

Several far-right organisations are involved in the online recruitment process.

One of them is the Eurasian Movement, a far-right political group with an international reach, founded by ultra-nationalist philosopher Alexander Dugin.

Close to the Ukrainian border, in the Russian city of Rostov, one of Dugin's Eurasian activists, Mikhail Uchitel, is working with Russian volunteer fighters who have been signed up online in preparation for their journey into Ukraine.

Although the recruitment process is taking place in Russia, Uchitel is adamant that the rebels do not answer to Moscow.

"The Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics are political entities about to conduct elections," he says.

"Soon we will talk not about a rebel force but a proper army, the army of Novorossia."

For field commander Alexander Matyushin, the current ceasefire in eastern Ukraine is no more than a strategic pause.

In the winter months, he says there will only be local clashes, but the rebel offensive will resume in spring.

"You cannot subjugate people who have experienced real freedom. Eventually, I am sure, victory will be ours."

Source: BBC News Europe