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February 09 2014

Media Overblowing Extreme Right's Role in Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests

Euromaidan protesters sing songs as they warm by the fire barrels near the barricades on Hrushevskoho Street in Kiev, Ukraine on 2 February, 2014. Copyright Demotix

Euromaidan protesters sing songs as they warm by the fire barrels near the barricades on Hrushevskoho Street in Kiev, Ukraine on 2 February, 2014. Copyright Demotix

This post is part of our Special Coverage Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests.

A group of domestic and international scholars of Ukrainian nationalism have warned that an increasing number of media reports are misrepresenting the role of Ukraine's far right within the anti-government protest movement Euromaidan. 

Ukraine has been rocked by the massive demonstrations for more than two months now, with thousands of Ukrainians from all over the country maintaining a camp in the capital Kyiv and many others joining on weeknights and weekends. The movement began as peaceful, but the short-lived passage of laws limiting the right to protest sparked violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

The movement is highly diverse, with Euromaidan protesters representing a wide range of ages, income, education and abilities

The scholars’ assessment was part of a collective statement released on change.org titled “On the role of far-right groups in Ukraine's protest movement, and a warning about the Russian imperialism-serving effects of some supposedly anti-fascist media reports from Kyiv”. To counter these misconceptions of protesters’ political affiliations, they stated:

Both the violent and non-violent resistance in Kyiv includes representatives from all political camps as well as non-ideological persons who may have problems locating themselves politically. Not only the peaceful protesters, but also those using sticks, stones and even Molotov Cocktails, in their physical confrontation with police special units and government-directed thugs, constitute a broad movement that is not centralized. Most protesters only turned violent in response to increasing police ferocity and the radicalization of Yanukovych’s regime. The demonstrators include liberals and conservatives, socialists and libertarians, nationalists and cosmopolitans, Christians, non-Christians and atheists.

Anton Shekhovtsov, a blogger and a researcher of far-right movements in Europe, published an extensive investigation into what he alleges is an organized effort to defame Ukrainian Euromaidan protests in the West. He wrote:

Every single mass political mobilisation in Ukraine has been accompanied by the attempts to compromise the popular uprisings by associating them with the extreme right. And not only uprisings or protests, but big events too. For example, a few weeks before the start of the Euro-2012 football championship, British media hysterically accused Ukrainians of racism and xenophobia, and warned that any non-White person going to see football matches in Ukraine would definitely and immediately be killed. After the championship was over, no British media outlet apologised to the Ukrainian people when it turned out that not one racist incident involving Ukraine fans had been reported during the tournament.

The current campaign to defame the Euromaidan protests is so far the strongest attack on the Ukrainian civil society and democratic politics. Similar attacks took place in the past too [ru], although their intensity never reached today's level. During the “Orange revolution“, the Ukrainian semi-authoritarian regime under President Leonid Kuchma was also trying to defile democratic presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko by associating him with the extreme right.

According to the author, the ongoing defamation campaign involves a number of individuals and groups that form a wide network aimed at promoting anti-Western, pro-Russian and pro-Eurasianist ideas in the EU, Canada and the US. He noticed that several individuals involved in the effort are regular commentators of Kremlin-sponsored Russia Today and Voice of Russia.

Shekhovtsov concluded by demonstrating how the tone of the Euromaidan defamation effort aligns with the official rhetoric of the Russian government:

The large network consisting of pro-Russian authors and institutions is a hard/extreme right breeding-ground of all kinds of conspiracy theories, Euroscepticism, racism and anti-democratic theories. Today, this is also one of the main sources of the articles, op-eds and statements that are one way or another trying to discredit the Euromaidan protests by associating them either with neo-Nazism or with the alleged US expansionism. The rhetoric of these authors fully conforms to the remarks made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who has recently slammed Western support for Euromaidan and declared: “What does incitement of increasingly violent street protests have to do with promoting democracy? Why don’t we hear condemnations of those who seize and hold government buildings, burn, torch the police, use racist and anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans?”.

The Ukrainian government has also persistently referred to protesters as “extremists” and “radicals” [ru]. However, many Internet users are skeptical about such assessments and have humored them with messages like this [ru]:

At Ukrainskyi Dim [an expo center seized by the protesters] extremists have attacked the floor – with mops. Minister of Interior is concerned. #euromaidan #євромайдан

This post is part of our Special Coverage Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests.

February 07 2014

Meet the Hard-Working Ukrainians Helping to Keep #Euromaidan Alive

Ukraine's Euromaidan protests are protected by multi-level barricades built from sacks filled with snow. Photo from zyalt.livejournal.com, used with permission

The task of changing what hundreds of thousands of citizens in Ukraine find to be a corrupt, authoritarian regime into a country where a simple, comfortable life is possible for everyone is one that has daunted Ukrainians for many years, but especially so during the years of current President Viktor Yanukovych. Those that oppose the government face persecution – any excuse for a jail sentence. Among the first and most public examples is the imprisonment of his political rival and former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko

But there is power in numbers. In just over two months, the ongoing anti-government Euromaidan protests pushing back against Yanukovych and other corrupt leaders have evolved into a full-fledged, self-financed organization – a self-organized government of its own. Ilya Varlamov, a blogger from Ukraine, describes how the movement is run in what he calls a Virtual tour of Maidan:

It has its own army, storehouses with weapons (glass bottles, sticks, stones) and food, it has its own internal press, stores, and, of course, Maidan protects its own boundaries very well. All the approaches are reliably protected from assault by high barricades.  

While standing up to the regime as an individual seldom makes a difference, Ukrainians now know that standing up as a group does. kraplya.com, a project that has grown out of the Euromaidan movement, takes a look at that very aspect of the protests (kraplya means “drop” in Ukrainian).The project's official website makes it clear: “Alone, we are just drops; together, we are an ocean.”

The people who gather on the streets to protest each day are the drops from all over Ukraine that have made this ocean, now visible to the world, possible. Some have been living in the streets by choice for more than two months. Some come to join them after work or other daily errands. Artist Oleksandr Komyakhov has drawn portraits of some of them.

Sister of mercy

Drawing of woman carrying bags full of medicine to Maidan. Drawing by Oleksandr Komyakhov, used with permission.

In her hands she carries bags full of medicine. The woman represents the many people who have brought the movement much-needed medical supplies. The Berkut special riot police often break ribs, bones and leave other injuries, while activists living in the frozen streets, and some of them for months now, at times need treatment.

The Euromaidan SOS Facebook page publishes hourly updates on the needs of Euromaidan protesters. The medicine brought to the protests is sorted by hundreds of volunteers every day. The Maidaners organized their own hospital and equipped it well enough to function and serve at a regional level, crowdfunding even defibrillators and other surgical equipment. They have a real need for such equipment as activists are being kidnapped from official hospitals by police forces, so protesters have decided it’s best not to show up there.

Wealthy terrorist

Not long ago, now former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov made a statement referring to the protesters at Euromaidan as “terrorists”.

Man bringing tires and fuel to the frontline. Drawing by Oleksandr Komyakhov, used with permission

In a story told by Andriy Priymachenko, the man on the right is is the sarcastically dubbed “wealthy terrorist”. He brings tires in his expensive car to the boys at the “frontline” between the protesters and the Berkut militia:

January 22. Around 23:00.

A white off-road Lexus is parking in the middle of the European square. The driver, a 50 year-old man, goes to the back of the car and searches for boys going to the frontline in the crowd.

- Guys, give me a hand!

A group of boys in masks immediately run up to him. All have helmets on their heads. The Lexuses [sic] owner takes his expensive leather gloves off, opens the trunk, and unloads tires. The boys ask no extra questions, take the tires and start carrying them in the direction of the frontline. Finally the driver takes a dark-green canister with fuel out of the trunk.

- This goes also there. Well, you’ll figure it out.

Berkut snipers have killed several protesters so far. A smoke curtain created by burning tires, put up by Euromaidan protesters, seems to have put an end to that. Thousands of tires, brought by thousands of cars, driven by thousands of people.

Other items that Maidan is constantly in need of come in the same way: clothes, food, firewood, computers, blankets, sleeping bags, helmets, gas masks, protective gear, even books for the library that has now been organised for the protester's needs.

firewood

Women bringing firewood via Metro. Photo by Lesya Petrunyak, used with permission

Recently, police cut off access for large trucks carrying firewood to Maidan, but the little drops that are the protesters bring them to the main protest site on the subway.

Auntie Valya

One of Euromaidan's participants, Auntie Valya. Drawing by Oleksandr Komyakhov, used with permission

Speaking of such “terrorists”, they seem to come in all ages – and police forces don't seem to discriminate. Twitter user bruce springnote tweeted the apparent mishandling of this elderly Euromaidan protester:

When Daryna Shevchenko saw the evening news, she wrote on Facebook:

This is my neighbor auntie Valya. Yesterday she was shot with a rubber bullet in her leg, but she came again. And today, when the berkuters were “killing a 86-year-old grandfather”, filming their “amusement” and heehawing, she fell to her knees and asked them to stop or at least to kill her instead of him. They did that, but, thanks to God, did not kill her. Beat her ribs with sticks and heehawed again and were very interested “So it’s not enough for you, bitch!??” “

The Gammy

gammy

One of Euromaidan's participants, the Gammy. Drawing by Oleksandr Komyakhov, used with permission

Maidan's drops come in all sizes, varieties, and physical abilities.

Some protesters with disabilities have abandoned their crutches and taken sticks in their hands, while people in wheelchairs are busy clearing snow. People with other disabilities, such as blind people serving sandwiches, have also been of help to the movement.

The Ant

ant

One of Euromaidan's participants, “The Ant”. Drawing by Oleksandr Komyakhov, used with permission

Snow is a valuable resource. It is shoveled into sacks, carried by many hands over to the barricades, where the sacks are stacked like enormous bricks, then poured over with water, making a frozen wall that is almost impossible to pass.

Moscow deputy bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal and Maidan correspondent James Marson tweeted his observation:

Water cements the stacks and makes a solid wall up to 4-5 meters in height. Thus, Maidan is circled by a defensive wall like a medieval city and well protected. The wall prevent attacks from the Berkut forces who are constantly expected to come armed with water cannons, tear gas, clubs, and shields.

Artist Oleksandr Komyakhov is regularly updating his collection of portraits of drops that make up Euromaidan. His full gallery of Euromaidan participants can be viewed on his Facebook page.

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