I was in Kharkiv one more day to interview Euromaidan activists and local experts and attend a Euromaidan rally for that evening. Eventually, I even managed to wind up being interviewed on a local radio program.
I spoke with Volodymyr, one of the Euromaidan activists in Kharkiv, in the afternoon, over coffee at Ievhen’s place, and then with others who spoke at Kharkiv’s Euromaidan rally. Volodymyr was among the first Euromaidan activists in Kharkiv. He and some 15 people gathered in front of the regional administration building (that is, on Freedom Square) on the evening of November 21, when it was announced that Ukraine was not going to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union. They got together spontaneously, not even knowing that journalist Mustafa Nayyem had called on Kyivans to protest at the Maidan. It happened to be during the commemoration of the anniversary of the Ukrainian Famine (Holodomor), where people were out with candles to remember the millions of famine victims, many of them who were from the Kharkiv region. The Kharkiv Euromaidan emerged without anyone’s help. There was no political opposition left in Kharkiv, so there was no issue of whether or not to have party flags, party leaders, etc. at meetings, as had happened in Kyiv. They used their own money to produce and distribute leaflets. They gathered money in a box at their gatherings to buy a bus. Eventually, they collected all $10,000 USD for one. They used the bus to transport activists to the Maidan in Kyiv as well as deliver food from Kharkiv. A woman helped them out and also made money for herself selling food and drinks in Kyiv. Unknown assailants burned down the bus. It took a while, but they did get funds to get another one. Something like 6 cars of activists suffered a similar fate in the last month or so. The Euromaidan, like other local Euromaidans, functions completely separately from the Maidan in Kyiv. Volodymyr said that the Kharkiv Euromaidan has gathered around as many as 300 people for gatherings, though there have been many more for larger events (like after the November 30 beatings and during concerts for rock groups like “Haidamaky”). The group has plans to meet in Kharkiv for some time. They have considered gathering for the 200th anniversary of the birth of poet Taras Shevchenko in early March. The Euromaidan has not had serious problems with locals being aggressive toward them, but the problem with “titushky” has been there, as seen with the cars destroyed, activists assaulted, and various provocations that took place at the Euromaidan forum on January 11-12. The local administration has done its share of obstructing the Euromaidan here. Activists had to leave their original protest site, at Freedom Square, and go to the Shevchenko Monument. The local authorities claimed that there was some “epidemic,” so they had to close the square, and then they put up concrete barriers and a New Year’s tree. The protestors responded by making fun of the epidemic issue by putting bands across their mouths. When I asked about the students at Kharkiv, Volodymyr said that students have not been as involved as their counterparts in Kyiv. The university administration has done a lot to keep them from joining demonstrations. They even had the students take part in a counter-demonstration. Voldoymyr also noted that he knew very well of the anti-Maidan rally participants being forced to take part on January 11-12. He knew from his wife that medical personnel had to take part, or they would be fired. There were even forms made up, ready to be filled out if people didn’t show up. While pointing out all the difficulties in protesting in Kharkiv, Volodymyr suggested that the Euromaidan movement is very important for people like him who care about the rule of law and the defense of individual rights.
I then went to Freedom Square with Ievhen so that I could take part in his radio show on Nova Khvylia, Kharkiv’s only independent radio station. I had planned to meet with Oleksiy, a local sociologist, around that time, so we changed plans so that I could interview him in one of the rooms beneath the offices of Nova Khvylia. As Ievhen and I stood outside the metro station and waited for Oleksiy, we noticed two male students wearing “Maidan” vests, looking for volunteers for the Euromaidan movement. We didn’t have a lot of time to talk with them, but I managed to ask one of the students what the Euromaidan meant to him. He said in Russian that it was about standing up for your individual freedoms, about everyone having these freedoms regardless of where they were from, or who they were.
Oleksiy soon arrived, and he went with Ievhen and me to the radio station. To my surprise, Oleksiy had a business card of mine from 2007, back when he and I were at a sociology conference in Lviv. I asked Oleksiy how he would characterize Kharkivians’ attitude toward the Euromaidan. Drawing on his research of Kharkiv’s technical intelligentsia, he stressed how much such people were dependent on the state (and thus willing to comply with authorities from the Party of Regions here). Recent migrants from the village, these Kharkivians benefitted from social mobility in the Soviet period, and they also were very much affected by such traumatic events as the Ukrainian Famine and World War II. After World War II, Kharkiv became the third major city in the Soviet Union for universities and research institutes. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, such intelligentsia members suffered considerable loss of income and prestige. Thus, it is no surprise that many of them have become highly dependent on the state and thus willing to support the local authorities connected with Party of Regions. Historical memory has largely erased such tragedies as the Famine as alternatives to the Soviet narrative; only since Yushchenko’s presidency has there been much public commemoration of the famine. As for the students of Kharkiv, they tend to be far from interested in politics; they are concerned about making money, getting on with their careers. Thus the Euromaidan movement here faces a considerable uphill battle. Oleksiy sees that perhaps the best way out of this mess is for people to become less dependent on the public sector for jobs and social benefits, but that certainly is no easy task to accomplish.
After meeting with Oleksiy, I went upstairs to the radio station Nova Khvylia, where Ievhen hosted a show about the Euromaidan forum in Kharkiv. Viktoriia, one of the co-organizers spoke. There were two activists, one from Kalush in western Ukraine, the other from Odessa, who called in and shared their impressions. Then there was me. Luckily for me, over two months of incessantly following the Euromaidan protest movement had revived my Ukrainian considerably, so I didn’t have many problems speaking it on air. I mostly shared my impressions of the anti-Maidan demonstrations – how everything seemed orchestrated, how no one even paid attention to the moment of silence for victims of a recent fire in Kharkiv, how people had to stand out in the cold for hours. I tried my best to view such people with sympathy, as the speaker from Kalush at first implied that he didn’t feel welcome in Kharkiv because of such people being on the streets. I also said that there were interesting ideas shared at the section of the forum I had attended and that I was there to see one section forced to come to our meeting because of an attack on the bookstore “Ie.” Viktoriia was very enthusiastic, showing a handwritten list of some 70 people who had hosted forum guests here. She mentioned that one Russian-language online site, Oplot (sp?), had referred to the forum participants as homosexuals, a sign that the forum’s most aggressive critics had little to say about it. Viktoriia also complemented me on my Ukrainian.
Viktoriia, Ievhen, and I then went to the Euromaidan demonstration in front of Shevchenko. It was starting to freeze outside. It was dark. Yet Shevchenko was lit up, and we could hear a trumpet performing Shevchenko’s “Reve ta stohne…” and a few lines from the UPA song, “Lenta za lentoiu…” I imagine about 200 people were there that night, forming 2-3 rows in front of the monument, waving mostly Ukrainian flags (there may have been an OUN flag, but I’m not sure). It started out in primitive fashion. Dmytro Pylypets without a microphone started addressing the crowd from Shevchenko. Other local Euromaidan leaders followed. I filmed the next speech, then I switched to tape recorders and my iphone for later ones. They talked about how the forum was organized, about all the problems they had getting space for their meeting (with even foreign-owned establishments forced to say no at the last minute, giving the familiar hint, “Well, of course you know why.”). One speaker mentioned a series of foreign guests at the forum, including someone from the US State Department. I was a little surprised, because I’d thought I was the only American around, but what do you expect when an entire forum meets in conspiratorial fashion? Leaders talked about the “titushky” who threatened the Euromaidan meeting on January 12 (including one account of a “titushek” who had carried a knife to the meeting site, dropped it, with the police officer nearby picking it up and giving it to another “titushek”). Somewhere in the midst of the first speech, organizers set up a microphone so all could hear. Viktoriia happened to mention what I’d said about the anti-Maidan demonstration. Later, the organizers opened the floor to the audience. One man in his 20s voiced his outrage about the soccer fans involved in provocations against the Euromaidan, people he knew very well (even relating one indecent soccer chant in Russian dealing with the verb “sosat’”). He also mentioned a story that Ievhen had told me earlier, about Euromaidan demonstrators one night marching down a street where, block by block, the local authorities shut down the lights in advance of the column of marchers. Later one speaker asked Euromaidan activists how could they trust new people brought to power through elections (should the revolution succeed).
This was my one chance to interview leading Euromaidan activists in Kharkiv, and Ievhen helped me interview three of them that night (first Borys Zakharov, then his father Ievhen Zakharov, and then Dmytro Pylypets). It was freezing outside, the activists were busy with the rally, and I needed to get a train ticket to Donetsk, so I made them as brief and as much to the point as possible. One by one, I interviewed them behind the Shevchenko monument, where the noise from the rally was considerably muffled. These interviews gave me a better idea of how the Euromaidan movement works in the provinces. While Volodymyr earlier that day noted the spontaneity of the movement, the Zakharovs suggested the role of institutions in supporting these events. Borys Zakharov owns the Café India where forum organizers gathered semi-secretly in the morning to coordinate activities. His father’s Helsinki human rights organization hosted the final plenary session of the forum. Both Borys and Dmytro stressed the crucial date of November 21, when the EU Association Agreement was not signed in Vilnius. They related their fears about being stuck in something like the Soviet Union again, and that the EU offered a chance for civilization, rule of law, and so on. I asked both of them, as well as Ievhen, about the supposed differences between eastern Ukraine and western Ukraine. They saw such divisions as artificial, though the influence of Russia (the “Russian world,” or “russkii mir”) is quite strong (thus making the stakes over Eurointegration and the Euromaidan movement high here in Kharkiv). I asked Ievhen Zakharov, a former Soviet dissident, about differences between the human rights movement and the Euromaidan movement. He noted considerable differences – namely the broader goals of the Euromaidan movement (going beyond the defense of constitutional rights and political prisoners), as well as the relative greater freedom in independent Ukraine. Still, there are some common features, namely a focus on human dignity. I was especially interested in speaking with Dmytro, because he had been attacked by unknown assailants on December 24, the very same day journalist Tatiana Chornovol was brutally beaten near Kyiv. Dmytro said that to this day, the police have done nothing to solve the crime committed against him. It was interesting to hear what Dmytro and Borys had to say about these difference between “East” and “West” in Ukraine. Borys is convinced that this movement has to be one adhering to non-violence if it is to gain a following across Ukraine. Dmytro noted that important role of personal contacts between people from the “East” and the “West.” Visits to Lviv, visits to Kharkiv, and so on help build bridges across regions.
Ievhen and I then went to the railroad station to get my ticket back to Donetsk. What I thought would be a routine affair turned into its own mini-drama: the station was closed because of a bomb threat. We first heard about it from a policeman blocking the metro exit to the train station. Later, we saw policemen standing in an arc in front of the station, surrounding a fire truck that at one point was driving around in circles. Police and plain-clothed cops were all along the building, keeping people out. Ievhen and I went to a nearby McDonalds to get coffee, warm up, and wait. We were probably there for about an hour. I noticed one tall guy, with dark hair, speaking in a strange accent, being led away by police. Otherwise, there was no other suspicious activity going on. Finally we were able to get to the ticket office and buy a ticket for early in the morning. The station was still closed when we left around 10 p.m.
So I was to spend one more night with Ievhen and Iya. We got a ride on the metro. Everything seemed calm, but there was a guy speaking in a foreign accent, perhaps Caucasian, who, either drunk or in a weak mental state, kept yelling to people around him that he had to pay some “800 dollar fine.” When we left the metro, Ievhen told the SBU agent at the station exit about what we’d seen.
Before taking the metro, Ievhen noticed that I had a Euromaidan ribbon on my backpack. Some older man had noticed me near the Shevchenko monument, and he had given it to me for free. Ievhen took it off my backpack, and he told me to hide it. “I don’t want some shpana giving you any trouble!” he laughed. It put the ribbon in my coat pocket. This clearly was not like riding the metro in Kyiv, where you could see people with those ribbons in almost every metro car.
When we got home and had Old New Year’s Eve dinner with Iya, I found out why it was a good idea to hide that ribbon. When relating how her day went, Iya sighed and said, “There was a public incident.” While waiting for a tram, a woman standing near her – her age, but with a fuller figure – noticed the Euromaidan ribbon on her bag, came up to her, and declared at full voice, “It’s because of people like YOU I had to stand out there for two days in a row!” (referring of course to the anti-Maidan rally over the weekend). Iya calmly responded with, “I’m sorry that they made you stand out there. They made you do it, didn’t they?” “No, no, no!” she burst out in confusion. “So then you chose to stand out there for two days, didn’t you?” said Iya. Yet again, nervous protestations by Iya’s accuser. Iya’s attempt at having a civil, reasoned argument then ended with the woman declaring to Iya and all those assembled at the tram stop: “You should pray for the soul of Leonid (patronymic, but I can’t remember it now)! Because of him, you have warm water and electricity.” (Iya said that she had repeated what they’d said onstage during the rallies.) The small crowd of onlookers started to giggle. Then two male university students – one from the conservatory, carrying a violin with him – decided to “intervene.” “Why are you picking on that tiotia,” one of them pleaded to Iya. “You know that they’re all ubogi!” (He was referring to the anti-Maidan people being “ubogi,” the Russian word for being “deprived”). Iya said that soon there was a debate of sorts going on between the “ubogi” and the “neubogi.” Meanwhile, one of the students told the anti-Maidan protestor, “Tiotia, maybe we can help you next time? We can stand in line for you. What’s your number?” (referring to the fact that every placard was numbered and demonstrators had been assigned to each number). Finally, the two students said to Iya, “Let’s split a cab.” And so they left the “ubogi” and the “neubogi” behind.
Ievhen also had a story to tell (from that day or the day before). He was in a marshrutka (minibus) where there were these well-dressed youths, what he called “club youth,” making fun of the “duraki (fools)” standing at the anti-Maidan demonstrations. They also made general complaints about Ukraine, that they wished they could live somewhere else. It suggests that there are other young people out there, not Euromaidan supporters, most likely politically indifferent, who are also out there in Kharkiv.
After we had some wine to celebrate the arrival of the Old New Year (January 14), a traditional Orthodox holiday, I went to bed. Except for a nightmare where Berkut attacked a group of us late at night, it was a peaceful sleep.
I was sloppy describing my discussion with Oleksiy. Here is his response to the initial posting on Facebook:
I’ve read your report about our conversation and I’d like to clarify few moments.
1. My research wasn’t about technical intelligentsia only (it was about Kharkovites in general) but statistically they were quite a big group in Kharkiv in comparison to other cities (my research wasn’t statistical though).
2. I was talking about two groups that were dependant from the state – offsprings from families of former villagers and intelligentsia. Both groups have paternalist attitudes, the first one – due to “traditionalism” (unwilling to live by themselves), the second one – due to lack of adaptation skills in capitalist conditions (they want to but can’t). Both groups feel nostalgia about Soviet period because technical intelligentsia was respected group and “urban villagers” (not a strict concept in this line) has no responsibility about having job and about what to do in general.
3. By their “trauma” I meant period of 1990-s – period without a job or decent salaries (not a Famine). It frightened them a lot then and frightens them now so they are loyal to those who gives them work. World War II is the next trauma that uses for manipulation.
4. The majority of students arrived to Kharkiv is from East Ukraine’s regions that’s why they share attitudes and ideology of their parents.
He then graciously shared with me an article he has written related to the subject.