Maidan Chronicle – January 9-10, 2014

Makiivka (in Russian, Makeevka), Donetsk Region, Ukraine

Makiivka (in Russian, Makeevka), Donetsk Region, Ukraine

I spent the next two days in Donetsk, hoping to make more contacts with locals and figure out what they thought of the Euromaidan protest movement. 

On Thursday, January 9, I spent the whole time at home getting rest and updating my chronicle.  Dmytro and Natalia were away at work, so little Oleksiy and the cat Chapyk were my only companions.  As Oleksiy tried out my camera, taking silly photos and videos, and as Chapyk kept trying to play with me, I managed to get everything written and catch up on news on Facebook.  I also managed to make contact with an American in neighboring Makiivka (Makeevka) who managed to line up some respondents for me.  Later that afternoon, Natalia came up with the idea of me putting together a questionnaire that I could send out electronically to interested respondents and present to the respondents in Makiivka. 

After working on questionnaires and getting some rest, I went with Dmytro one last time to look for coal miners coming home from work.  We went past the same kiosk, bus stop, and bar, hoping to find people.  Alas, except for 3-4 university-aged men who went to buy cigarettes and alcohol at the kiosk, the entire neighborhood seemed deserted.  Dmytro and I were out until about 1 a.m. sitting at various street benches, talking about the Euromaidan movement, Donetsk, and life in general.  Dmytro called out to the street in desperation, hoping somebody, even the “cops” (menty), would show up for a drink and conversation, but no luck.  After 1 a.m., he made two last desperate attempts to talk to people:  he invited the woman working at the kiosk to a drink with us, and then he talked to a man and woman in their early 20s rushing across the street.  The woman in the kiosk slammed the window door on him.  The man rushing across the street with his girlfriend said, “Okay, but make it quick.”  Dmytro asked him, “Are you for Eurointegration?”  The man said, “No,” and then he quickly finished crossing the street. 

Dmytro and I were up until about 3 a.m. talking politics.  The tone of the conversation was dismal, maybe even desperate.  Dmytro stressed to me that the Euromaidan protestors simply don’t know who they are dealing with.  Yanukovych is not the “vegetable” (ovoshch’) they make him out to be.  People like him from Donetsk who have been in and out of prison, who have fought on the streets, are clever, and appeals to nonviolent resistance mean little to them.  The protest movement, he predicted, will face very difficult times.  There will be no Latin American style death squads, but traditional Soviet police methods will be used instead:  planting drugs on people, charging people with rape, accusing Internet providers of spreading pornography… the ways one can intimidate dissenters are endless. 

The next day, Friday, January 10, was much more productive, but equally sobering.  I had an interview with two young women in Makiivka, and Natalia already received answers to my questionnaire from people she knew. 

I had confused times for the interview in Makiivka, so I wound up needing to take a taxi to Makiivka.  Out of ignorance, I had assumed that Makiivka was a small town right up the road from us, but it turned out to be as vast as Donetsk, and so my ride lasted close to an hour.  Makiivka seemed quite depressing.  The roads, even the highways, were full of potholes.  Most neighborhoods looked neglected and run-down, a coal mine with its shaft towers and mountains of coal showing up here and there as reminders of what really made this city.  I was riding in an old Soviet Lada with a driver in his late 20s who was listening to a selection of European club music, our one connection with “Europe,” it seemed, in these parts. 

Eventually I met Cody, a former student of a colleague, in front of one of the many mini-malls that have emerged in post-Soviet Makiivka.  Cody has been teaching English at a high school here for about 15 months.  He led me to a nearby office in a building that seemed to be both a school and a set of businesses.  I met Olesya, a housewife aged 30, and Katya, who was slightly younger.  I conducted an interview on my digital recorder that lasted about half an hour.  Cody took part as an observer.  I went through my questionnaire that Cody had saved on his computer.   As I struggled to read the questions in the questionnaire, I discovered that being a decade away from Ukraine had taken a serious toll on my Russian.  However, both Olesya and Katya understood what I was saying, and Katya turned it the interview into a very lively dialogue, asking me what I was trying to get at with my questions, what was I  interested in finding out in this project, what was my background, and what I thought about events in Ukraine.  I was genuinely surprised by their responses to my questions.  These were two people who were familiar with the “West.”  Katya had spent a year as a high school exchange student in the United States.  She knew English very well.  Yet both she and Olesya were quite critical of the Euromaidan movement, and while they did not feel that Ukraine lacked good leadership, Katya said that Yanukovych had certain accomplishments as a leader, and that he was better than Kuchma.  (She also said that replacing Yanukovych was impossible anyway, because he was so connected to major financial interests.)  She said that one problem with closer ties with the EU rested with cultural differences.  While she knew that same-sex adoptions were accepted in the US, and that such adoptions were better than leaving children in orphanages, Ukraine, she said, was simply not ready for such assumptions about homosexuality.  “That’s taboo!” she said.  Katya saw the Euromaidan protest movement emerging because of someone wanting power in the government.  In that sense, she did not share its idealistic messages at all. 

Olesya was partly supportive of the Maidan.  She understood some of its aspirations, but she also saw it as lacking purpose and plaguing Kyiv with hygienic problems.  Her husband, both Katya and Olesya herself noted, supported the Maidan. 

I had asked them what they thought of protest slogans heard at the Maidan, and among them, the slogan, “Slava Ukraini!  Heroiam slava!” (Glory to Ukraine!  Glory to the heroes!) sounded normal.  Katya saw it as positive (praising Ukraine, praising heroes), though she did say that it wasn’t clear what “heroes” were being celebrated.  Others, like “Bandu het’!” (Gang get out!), and “Molod’ natsii za ievrointehratsii!” (Youth of the nation for Eurointegration!) lacked maturity and purpose.  They indicated that the slogan, “Slava natsi!  Smert’ voroham!” (Glory to the Nation!  Death to the enemies!), reminded them of fascism.  What struck me most about the interview was that both Olesya and Katya had deep reservations about what the Euromaidan protestors and the political opposition had to say about Ukraine’s economic problems.  Katya noted that the EU did not offer Ukraine much help with its Association Agreement and that industry in the eastern regions, dependent on Russian markets, would suffer.  Industry in the eastern regions were crucial to Ukraine’s economy, stressed Katya, while the more western regions offered very little.  Countries like Bulgaria have entered the EU, but that doesn’t mean that they have gotten rid of corruption.  Bulgaria’s regime is still corrupt.  (Interestingly, Katya did not know anything of Bulgaria’s student protest movement.  Then again, she did say she was not terribly interested in politics.)  For Katya, Ukraine was being presented with a  false choice:  closer relations with the EU or closer relations with Russia.  She said that Ukraine should look after its own interests first.  She saw Yanukovych as not doing so badly in this area, adding that recently his government was finally going to build a gas pipeline across the Black Sea that would make the country less dependent on Russia for energy resources.  Another thing that really surprised me was that both Olesya and Katya said that the divide between eastern/southern Ukraine and western/central Ukraine has been made up by politicians.  The only division might be with language (with Katya noting her family’s trip to Lviv, where she, her husband, and their small child were refused help with direction by one Lvivian when they asked for directions in Russian, noting that they were from Donetsk).  Katya seemed to express some resentment toward western Ukrainians who, in her opinion, insinuated that people in Donetsk had a much higher standard of living.  “Let them come here and work in the coal mines!” she joked. 

After the interview was over, Cody and I got lunch at a pizza parlor that was situated, strangely enough, in the middle of a block of apartments (Had it been built on the grounds of a children’s daycare center that had been privatized?).  Cody said that one thing he had heard from people he’d spoken with in Makiivka (and something that did not show up in our interview) were claims that the people out on the Maidan in Kyiv were being paid (even naming figures like 200 hryvnias, 300 hryvnias, etc).

I took a bus all the way back to downtown Donetsk, and then I returned home, where Natalia already had a set of answers to my questionnaire.  They, too, were quite revealing.  One woman, aged 35, shared her profound admiration for the Euromaidan protest movement, and she expressed deep outrage that students had been beaten brutally on November 30.  She shared the protestors’ desires to change the whole system in Ukraine.  There was another response from a woman who saw the protest movement as an irresponsible waste of young people’s time, and that the center of Kyiv had been ruined by barricades.  There were lots of reservations about what the EU could do for Ukraine’s economy.  And there was a questionnaire by a 53 year-old man, an engineer, who not only derided the protestors (saying that they were loafing and making a disgrace of a Christmas tree, while Donetskites worked hard and were celebrating the holidays with a decent tree; expressing his horror at fascist slogans being paraded around Kyiv and the filth accumulated at the protest barricades), but also the questionnaire itself (seeing it as one-sided, in favor of the protestors).  Amid all the hostile remarks, though, I liked this set of answers the most, because this man said that none of the protestors probably even read something about the Association Agreement that the EU offered.   Most likely, he was right.  The protestors did not know how to deal with the economic crisis Ukraine faces.  Also, I loved how the guy “talked back” to my survey, indicating that, while he probably did not care to understand the protestors, he was going to share his opinions with me anyway, out in the open.

After getting some rest, I took a night train to Kharkiv.  I was determined to see what would become of the First All-Ukrainian Euromaidan Forum being held there.  But admittedly, I was a little nervous as I went to the train station.  That evening, the Internet and the TV had reported violence between Berkut forces and protestors outside a Kyiv court room that sentenced 3 men to 6 years in prison for “terrorism” (planning to destroy a Lenin monument without really doing it).  Among people injured was Iuriy Lutsenko, former head of the police forces attacking protestors.  As my train paused in front of one train station that night, I looked out at the Christmas trees in front of it, decorated in red lights and silver and white tinsel, and I hoped that the violence in Kyiv that night would not turn into something much worse. 

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