Postcards From the Ukraine

By Diane Gee, The Wild Wild Left

Veterans of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) a fascist, ultranationalist formation, hold portrait of Stepan Bandera.
Veterans of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) a fascist, ultranationalist formation, hold portrait of Stepan Bandera.

Three interactions, two from the belly of the Ukraine, one from a recent immigrant to the US.  This is the story from their perspectives.

Irina:  “Ukraine is for Ukrainian only.  I am from there, I know how all those others ruin everything…”
I liked Irina.  Nearly every Wednesday of the year, I stop in the CVS drugstore to pick up prescriptions and sundries in Ann Arbor for my elderly friends who live nearby.  She is always sweet and funny, her Ukrainian accent sounding like home to me, having a Father for whom English was a second language to his native Polish.  His people were from the far eastern part of Poland; their dialect so close to Ukrainian that his brother bought a cottage in the exclusive Ukrainian community at Lake Dibrova in Brighton Michigan and it was years before they found out we all weren’t really Ukes.

I asked my Dad once, if Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian were the same language, listening to him slip in an out of each and English as a young child.  He smiled, and said, “No, Diny, but we came from a border town.  That border changed so many times through the years, my grandparents said they could never tell where they were.  We got all the leftover dialects of all of them,” and laughed heartily.  I asked if that was confusing.  He said, they couldn’t care less.  Their farm was their farm, and until the Nazis came, they didn’t give a shiesta. (phonetic – roughly “shit” – oddly there is nothing comparable in the Polish dictionary for it… dialects, indeed.)  Then his parents left.

Irina lamented last summer, her tiny apartment, how she missed gardening… how she hated not having a car, and having to rely on the buses.  An older single woman living on cashier wages, I had a soft spot for her, so used to bring her tomatoes and cucumbers when my garden came in.  I loved her accent.  She loved that I was Slavic. We always made small talk with a smile for one another.

Imagine my surprise when this Wednesday past I found out she really is a Nazi sympathizer. And thinks it is Russia, not the US who is the aggressor here.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
 :: Postcards From the Ukraine

I was in line behind a tall, grey haired man, still strong of build despite his well past retirement age. He was saying how the US should stay the hell out of the Ukraine, and that Russia was right.  Never one to pass a random public political discussion, I heartily agreed.  She started to say, “No, no, the US does good…” When he brought up our aggression vs Russia’s, I cited the number of forward bases we maintain to support him.  We have over a thousand not on US soil, they have 7.  He was on his way out and said, “Fuck the US,” by way of leave.  As I approached, she said, “You don’t understand.  Russia plans on taking everything over again,” going on to name countries, mostly in the West.  I said, but the new, illegal government are Nazis, they want to outlaw speaking Russian and perhaps deport anyone who is ethnically Russian.  She sneered, “Is Ukraine!  They should be only Ukrainians!  They should speak our language or get out!  The new leaders are good and right.  Ukraine for Ukrainians!”   I asked, pointedly, “If the Crimeans want to be independent and allied with Russia, why should the US interfere?  I mean, look at all the places we have invaded and made war on, and Russia hasn’t to anyone.”   She looked up defiantly, “The US only does war for GOOD!  Everywhere, they bring freedom.”

Bandera (center) with friends.
Bandera (center) with friends.

I was now staring open-jawed and aghast.  “You really don’t believe that do you?  So we should back Nazis who want to deny Jews and Russians their freedom in their own country and that is for good?”

By now, another customer had walked up, my order was paid for and bagged, so we couldn’t politely continue.  She just curled her lip and whispered with a growl, “The Nationalists are good.  Ukraine is for Ukrainian only.  I am from there, I know how all those others ruin everything.”  She spit ‘others’ with a venom that made me shudder. Her hatred of Russians, Poles, and Jews so palpable as to my picturing her slamming the door on a gas chamber.  So much for that sweet old Uke lady.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos***

Betty:  “Yes, we are fighting on the streets and on the net – some special groups “Antimaydan” and others. The new govern gave Ukraine to oligarchs. People gave their lives and giving to make them richer. Neonazis organised detachments to suppress rebellion in the Eastern and Southern provinces. But they lost the Crimea.”

I had reached out through Facebook, looking for anyone who could translate Ukrainian into English for a friend of mine who said he had a source who might send him some sensitive information.  Through a friend of a friend, I met Betty (not her real name).  We have been corresponding for a while now.

I want to quote her directly for the most part, editing the typos only.

I have just come from Kiev. I saw how the main square of the country looks like and its people. Very much shocking.

This was right after the main fighting – she was appalled at the brutality of the Nationalists.  She explained her view of the documented divide in culture there:

You know Ukraine is roughly divided into two parts – eastern where I live and western one where people come from who took part in the rebellion. We have different mentality and outlook. We consider ourselves Russian people and very close to Russia geographically and spiritually. I respect Ukrainian traditions and culture but i was brought up on Russian literature, history and arts. And the majority of people in the east. We are different. But we live peacefully until someone introduced the scenario of dividing people and therefore the country. We faced with the nationalism – Ukraine for Ukrainians! Svoboda. Once they said that the people who were not born in Ukraine can’t be its citizens – my son and the husband were born in Russia..

This message was very obvious in the speeches of protesters on the square, even when I was last listening to them yesterday. What mood? Depressing. In a corruptive state a revolution is the tool to change one mafia for the other one. The new governors are the owners of corporations – we will be their slaves. The tension is great when nationalists tried to break into eastern provinces and establish their rules. They were resisted and fought. But it concerns only ordinary people who resist. The local authorities are frightened – they have much $$ to lose.

In fact Ukraine is multinational country but Russians account about 30 per cent of the population and nationalists want to prohibit Russian Language in all walks of life!! It’s not fair. By the way Poland is against nationalism in Ukraine. They suffered a lot during the World war II.

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Polish Monument “If I forget, let The Sky forget about me ” – engraved in stone. The monument was created on the basis of the real pictures of violence against children, killed by screwing wire to the posts to save on cartridges, by Svoboda’s hero Stepan Bandera.  The Poles hate him and the Nazis to this day.  This is why they support Putin in this dispute, and won’t recognize the new government.
This is what the people fear.  Even their opponents are now bowing to them, in fear. Fear, and perhaps raw opportunism.  Rich people only have loyalty to gold.

You can begin to see how the members of the former government began to be coopted.  If they didn’t work with the Rich now in Power, they stood to lose their position and their money.

I asked for clarification of Svoboda and the Nationalists, to verify what I have read.

“Among the Ukrainian rebels – mostly radical nationalists from Galicia – three provinces: Lviv , Ivano- Frankivsk and Ternopil south . During the Great Patriotic War [the Russian name for World War II—Eds] an entire division of Ukrainian volunteers of these places – it was called ” SS – Galicia” – fought on the side of the Third Reich.  Today the guys from the same region – also against Russia . What is happening in Ukraine now, needs to be clarified with the help of historical examples. One March morning in 1942 in a village in the north of Belarus Velevschina SS troops entered . His men talked, however, not in German [but] in Ukrainian . 201st Police Battalion commanded by the then little-known future hero of Ukraine Shukhevych. Punishers, coming immediately got down to business . ” They shot both children and adults. Some were thrown alive into the pit.”

Then added her own perspective:

“This political party won 11 percent at the last election to the parliament. Now they are supposed to win about 20 or more.  Like in Germany of 30s people here are charmed with the ideas of nationalists.”

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos1941, when the nationalists together with facists persecuted Judes in Lviv.  They did the same with the Ukrainian soldiers who safeguarded presidential administration near Maydan.
A few days later, she sent me a video from there, with the explanation:

“Ukrainian nationalists in Ukraine and Russia. They fought in Chechnya on the side of terrorists. They earned $3000 per month. Real bandits! The last shot is in Ukrainian procurator’s office where Sashko Byely is threatening the procurator with the gun. It was two weeks ago. He’s one of the leading participants of rebellion.”

It reiterated the new Government is seen widely there as criminals.

She went on to express concerns for the people’s safety, that the new government was creating their own police/military and keeping activists opposed to them, like mine workers and unions, away at gunpoint.

When Crimea changed hands, she explained that some (the rich) were sad, they wanted a NATO base there and more money.  She thought it for the best though.  Mostly, as Ukrainian citizen, she mourned the loss of a beautiful and restful vacation spot.  Travel between the two would no longer be seamless, if at all possible.

But Russia is building a bridge to Crimea, that will be ready by fall.  If they can travel to Russia, that is, they can get there that way. She is happy for the Crimean people though, very happy.

By early this week, she reported from her hometown:

Governor of Donetsk region Taruta paid the cost of the fifty aircrafts to dig trench 4 m wide, 2.5 deep shaft and top two meters along the border of Donetsk with Russia, “Therefore our border will be secured enough to resist.”

I asked why the Eastern town of Donetsk, so very Russian in culture would do this.

The governor was appointed by the new government – non elective position. It was his personal together with govenment decision to dig a trench for blocking Russians tanks to interfere the city. The majority of people here support Putin although it’s threatening.

Here is a you tube of that trench:

Of course, with a little humor, she also posted Russia’s likely resolution to that problem, with a disclaimer.  Quite genius.

“They could but wouldn’t. Putin declared about ending up military actions against Ukraine. He took over Crimea as a strategic [area] for Russia’s security. He explained his doings by the historical reference – it has always been Russian land. Truth.”

It gets more serious as the week unfolded though…

Yesterday 50 NATO militaries were seen in the supermarket in Donetsk, eastern hot spot of Ukraine.

This is not the only report I have had as such, as I will show with my 3rd and final vignette.

She added:

Diane, I don’t know about this incident but the American militaries have been seen in my city – it’s a real fact.

Mostly, she is a hard working, married Mom, who has to travel from Donetsk to Kiev to work.  She thinks the people are mostly good, and misses the Ukraine that was, for all its flaws… a place where ethnic differences mattered not, in a unified Ukraine.  We agreed all governments are corrupt at most levels, and that the rich, the “oligarchs” if you will, frequently, if not always, line their pockets more at the expense of the poor.

Most of the people were happy that the EU agreement wasn’t signed, because that would only lead to MORE oligarchs stealing from them. But?  There were legitimate protests too, before the Nazis took over.  Between deals with the East and deals with the West, the people deserve more.  The West-backed takeover by the Nazis, and the ensuing paramilitary state will never do that for them, and they are well aware of it.

Picture David Duke overthrowing the US government.  The US government is corrupt, but a Nazi extremist is not the answer, and we on the left, and those not of white ethnicity would be shaking in our boots.  That is how [thinking] Ukrainians feel for the most part.  Tense, wary, afraid of their future… all while trying to go about the business of earning a wage, going to college, feeding their families, taking care of their kids and marriage.

And they have NO DOUBT that this is CIA backed.

There are pockets of resistance everywhere, at great risk to themselves.  Some are even guarding weapons caches against the new government accessing them.

Our activists are blocking the stores with arms in salt mines here in Artemovsk. They are taking risks and [for themselves and their] families.  These arms are considered to use against population and to equip the new National Army made of neo nazi. As I know.  A lot, a lot of mines here and miners are very serious people.

We spoke of why there were caches in abandoned mines, and about guns on general.

I have never taken the arm in hands. It’s prohibited here only hunters can buy it after a lot of checking. Medical check and other.  You are lucky – if we have it [could legally own guns] here they couldn’t treat us like that.

I was told, during the writing of this essay about breaking news.  So far, they have arrested close to 1000 separatists, and in the replacing of the local authorities some were former Governors.  Some Governors escaped. This is an ongoing process to purge and replace the entire Ukraine with only appointed lackeys of the neo-nazi nationalists.

Today the leader of Svoboda Tyagnibok told that they need to start lustration among all who work.  Checking if they support Russia and repress them – firing and other

As we chatted, she explained, as a teacher she could be lustrated.  Essentially, in order to work there anywhere, you have to pass a political purity test!  You can even lie and swear allegiance to the party, but they will background check you, and see if you have written or spoken against them in the past.  You would be fired at least, arrested at worst.  This is going to begin with a MASS LUSTRATION starting in 2 weeks.

For the most part, she feels there are far, far, too many of them in the Donetsk area for that to happen, but worries about friends back west.  She thinks they would not provoke Russia by mass-ejecting so many from the workforce at once in the East.  But cannot be sure of that, either.

In another humorous quip, she informed me they went door to door all over the country to raise money for their new military, and only raised enough for 1/2 of a tank… and that the majority of that money came from one Psychiatric hospital.  Even under all this stress, we laughed at the poetry of psycho neo nazi supporters.

Mostly we talk of husbands and work, her PHD defense, the weather and our kids.  She has a soft spot for animals.  She is just like me in so many ways.

Dmitri: “Yes, there is actually a war between two clans – and one group of oligarchs tries to take over business of others and they use nazi paramilitaries for this purpose. People are certainly frightened and it actually led to the secession of Crimea.”

Another friend, Dmitri Kolesnik, is a leftist in a very dangerous time for leftists. His communications with me are far more pointed and political.  His blog is here, and the English translator works quite well.

He often cites this website, the heart of the Leftist resistance in the Ukraine and a very worthy resource.

Note, his spelling of Maydan/Maidan differs from hers, in their translations to English… he is referring not to the park in Kiev where the protests took place, so much as what they are now calling the group that took over illegally there.  The Nationalists, the Nazis, Svoboda.

From the 14th:

It means that we had a kind of riot of oligarchs too – they left ruling party (after government suspended to sign free-trade agreement) and joined opposition. Almost all the media were under their control and the Maidan protests were inspired by western NGOs and media (TV) as well. As usual our billionaires try to support different parties at once. Now many oligarchs were appointed by new government as regional governors (and that also contributed to the people’s anger that inspired new – counter-rebellion against Maidan). Yesterday in the counter-rebellion in Donetsk 3 men were killed (members of Maidan). So, actually it’s oligarchic neoliberal coup where nazis were used as paramilitary forces to overthrow government. Although now they in fact went out of control…

He lives near Kiev, and as I expressed my worry about his personal safety, he replied:

I know – some comrades have already went underground or moved somewhere. It’s not good time for the lefts here

We spoke about the expulsion rhetoric, and the banning of any language but Ukrainian.

I don’t think that they can expel all of them. But the total situation is rather uncertain as far as many nazi-gangs roaming the streets and they are not under smb’s control at all. Still nobody knows here what will be the next. Ukraine can be another Syria. But nobody knows exactly…

Note, this was prior to the Lustration decree.

To the oil angle:

Yes Immanuel Wallerstein have written just about it recently – they need gas- pipeline net so that both EU and Russia will be more dependent. But they can use for this purpose only nazi-teenagers as those who are ready to die – as they think for the nation, though in reality just for big business profit. As for ‘Europe as promise land’ – it’s difficult even to explain something to people – media can raise a real hysteria – too many people in result are convinced that they will be rich in Europe and somebody just prevent it. Although joining EU was even not the agenda (EU doesn’t offer it – only free-trade agreement – like that the US has with Mexico)

I offered a local comparison, from that agreement…

Which, ultimately closed all the car plants in Detroit (the general area I am from) and poisoned whole cities in Mexico to the point no one can live there. They did that to get around pollution law here. And paid them miserable wages to get cancer.

He expounded, brilliantly.

In Ukraine it is going to be the same as in Mexico – one of the first orders of the new government (junta) was to lift the ban for transporting to Ukraine nuclear waste. And encircling russia (and seizing its military base in Crimea) – is also one of the reasons. There are some others too: to get new market for EU goods (and that would kill local industry), to get large steel-industry in Ukraine

About possible civil war and splitting…

It’s rather possible. The country was actually split – there is a big difference (cultural, language, religious) between eastern and western parts. The whole problem – attempts to impose the will of one part to another and nepotism (or crony capitalism) – when people from one part of the country hold most official positions. It leads to a split inevitably. Either the country is multicultural or it splits and then both parts will split further. In result each small part will be dependent from external forces

By the 16th I was asking about the veracity of the story about a US drone being brought down from Crimean airspace.  He confirmed claims that our military presence on the ground as well.  Both Betty and Dmitri have claimed Blackwater, UN and other Western forces have been at play all along….

Yes, it was reported about US drone brought down here too. And about blackwater mercenaries and other western militaries in Ukrainian cities too. moreover, we have military training of NATO held on Ukrainian borders and Russian troops that are being concentrated on another border.

Today, I asked about the mood and lustration.

Yes, there is actually a war between two clans – and one group of oligarchs tries to take over business of others and they use nazi paramilitaries for this purpose. People are certainly frightened and it actually led to the secession of Crimea. Especially, when nazi-paramilitaries behave like that (yesterday in city of Lvov)

This is the now viral video:

Their “Freedom of Speech Minister” made the actual attack.

Svoboda MPs stormed the offices of Ukraine’s state television, NTU, after NTU broadcast the Russian parliament signing a treaty with Crimea. They broke into the office of NTU President Aleksandr Panteleymonov and forced him to sign a resignation letter.

“Write your resignation! Sit down! I told you, sit down!” they shout. When Panteleymonov refuses, they drag him through the room, punch him in the face and threaten: “Here is a paper, pen, write the resignation now quickly, you animal… You Russian piece of shit. Write your resignation now. You bloody Muscovite, do it.”

When Panteleymonov replies, “I am not a Muscovite, I am a Ukrainian,” they hit him again and yell: “You are Ukrainian? You are a piece of shit, not a Ukrainian. You fucking dirtbag. You are a traitor.”

The Svoboda party is employing the worst type of McCarthyism, at the point end of gun barrels on their citizens.  Having agreed to another election, when as noted above, they previously got only 11% and most generous projections last week only said 20% tops? They are trying to beat, fire, and bully the election, as Dmitri explains.

Yes, they want to have guarantees of own victory in next elections banning the participation of the ex-ruling party, of communists. It also assumes the changing of officials and (especially) in army and police – the appointing only those who are loyal to new government… loyal to new government.  The authors of the bill about lustration – are MPs from the far-right ‘Svoboda’ party too.Yes, actually the next elections will be most likely fraud. moreover, new government adopts new election law according to which the elections will be legitimate even if in most constituencies it failed. Thus, in principle even election in one village can determine the results if in all other they will be acknowledged as ‘irrelevant’

He explains, this is now a battle of the right, the left is not even in the equation anymore.

Yes, but the issue not only in them – there are other far-right parties. actually there will be contest among right and far-right parties.There are not only Svoboda, but current ruling party ‘Fatherland’ has many extreme rights (including Andriy Parubiy – the head of the Euromaidan paramilitaries)

Yes, there will be no communists (they had about 7-8%), no ex-ruling party of Regions – it had about 40%. And many others will be excluded too

Essentially, from the ground, they now have no hope of going back to normalcy. No hope of pre-coup sanity.  There will be a forced, repressive government, friendly to the West, but Nazi in ideology. He reminded me, that the former government was never left, either…

Actually it was not left government – (communists were included in ruling coalition as minor partners) – it was a corrupt government representing the interests of mostly of one clan of oligarchs. But now we have not only another clan of oligarchs in power but in coalition with hard-line nazis. As people say here – we had a corrupted policeman and we have another corrupted policeman but who is a nazi in addition.I compared earlier our protesters in euromaidan with the extreme right wing of Tea-party movement

Dmitri is just like me.  He is a political activist and writer, with a deep understanding of what is happening on every level.  We are both small minorities in our homelands, and both committed to empowering the actual people against the Oligarchies.

So there you have my Postcards thus far, offered not as a dissertation on the geo-political chessboard of events within the Ukraine, but as snippets of what people on the ground are thinking.

The first, a nazi sympathizer.

The second, a working housewife who was pretty apolitical prior to the coup.

The third, a left leaning journalist and editor.

All, just living their lives, doing their jobs, going home to eat and sleep.  They, like us, have so little control over what the Oligarchs do, or how they use and divide us like pawns and cannon fodder, to see which Oligarch will be the last man standing when the dust settles.

But their thoughts should be considered.  The words should be heard.

I have promised to give them voice, now and in the future.

I will leave you with one last video, and while it won’t embed, if you watched none of the others, this is the one you should see!

Sometimes, you have no choice but to become political.…


DIANE GEE is a writer and political / social justice activist residing in Michigan, and a special correspondent for The Greanville Post and Cyrano’s Journal Today. She maintains a personal blog, The Wild Wild Left, and probably the most intelligent left discussion [anglophone] group on Facebook, Links for the Wildly Left.  A single mother now, after recently losing her spouse to cancer, she struggles bravely to keep her ship sailing against huge odds. Her essays are republished widely across the web.

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