Public Radio talks to journalists in Ukrainian cities where the authorities positions are strong to present glimpses of the situation in three large Ukrainian cities as seen by journalists there: police arrest 17 people in Zaporizhya; hired thugs stage a clash between themselves in Donetsk; and a national opposition leader presents people in Kiev a rather different picture from what is happening in Kharkiv. Read by Andriy Kulykov with voices from colleagues who witnessed the events.
(script by Andrew Kobalia)
See How the Other Half Live. Glimpses of events in Ukraine's East and South
These days a lot of Ukrainian television is rather focused on clashes as they of course provide a watchable picture. Meanwhile, Ukraine seems to be splitting into two, while in approximately half of the regions protestors seize government buildings and in many places effectively take over local authorities, the other half, mostly in the East and South of the country seems to be firmly behind the current authorities. My colleagues from Public Radio talked to colleagues in three regional centers in order to get to know what is happening in the regions where protests are unsuccessful. Kyrylo Lukerenko spoke to Roman Akbash, a journalist from a southern Ukrainian city Zaporizhya, where an attempt of protestors to seize local government building was dispersed by police.
“Among the seventeen protestors detained by police were some fans of local 'Metalurh' football club,” says Roman Akbash. “To my knowledge, police have detained three representatives of fan movement to this moment. I would want to stress that they were detained in a supermarket and not by the regional administration building. It’s about one kilometer from Festivalna Street, where the rally was held. Police caught them afterwards in the supermarket, detained them as they were leaving the supermarket with purchased goods. The police threw away the goods and said 'You would pick up them afterwards.' As I know they receive some help from a lawyer. They are accused of organizing mass riots. Yesterday in Zaporizhya, police were acting side by side with thugs beating people. This should not be permitted. Some obscure folks with white ribbons on their shoulders were walking around the city and beating people. This is the twenty-first century in the heart of Europe. It’s a civilized place, some laws must act.”
The thugs mentioned by Roman Akbash from Zaporizhya are organized groups of young men of athletic stature, a relatively new phenomenon in Ukrainian streets. This men are widely believed to be hired by authorities to harass political opponents from among ordinary citizens. As Denys Kazansky, a popular blogger and journalist from Donetsk, told my colleague Iryna Slavinska, those groups do not always distinguish between protestors and followers of the authorities. Denys Kazansky says that there are grounds to believe that in Donetsk the authorities use the thugs to imitate assaults at official buildings:
“Now there are attempts in the part of authorities to stage such attempts at assaults in order to frighten people here and somehow to mobilize their voters or to somehow prove the involvement of our activists into the events that they stage themselves. Yesterday there was a small clash when they drove several buses of hired thugs and there were baseball bats in those buses and our journalists photographed this. Those thugs started to hit each other in view of everybody in the very heart of the city, passers-by saw how they were running to the middle of the road and they beat up a men who came to support a rally of the ruling party, just to support the course of local authorities. So, he got beat up by the same people who were probably hired by those authorities, our local officials to stage the performance that was taken place.”
Donetsk where the clash described by Denys Kazansky happened, is a stronghold of the Party of Regions and the place where President Yanukovych started his government career in real. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, has a distinct identity but still seems to be firmly in the grip of the ruling party. Olha Musafirova, reporter for the Russian newspaper “Novaya Gazeta”, was there last Saturday watching a peaceful protest rally by the building of regional government. Most of the participants were students, she says, and there were no attempts at storming the building. However, when Olha came back to her hotel room and switched on her TV she found out that at least one leader of the opposition seemed to tell people at a rally in Kiev not quite what was happening at the rally in Kharkiv:
"So what do I hear? The leaders of the opposition are speaking. Among them – Oleh Tyahnybok who tells Kiev what is happening in other regions. He names eleven regions where protestors seized administrative buildings and names the regions where the process has begun. And he says that at this very moment protestors are blocking regional state administrations in Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv. So I am thinking now, is that just ignorance of the situation or an intended flaring-up of the situation or a usual provocation. There are just half a thousand very young and unprepared kids who did not prepare for an assault at all. And the Mayor of Kharkiv, Hennady Kernes, speaks on local television and says, and I quote close to the text: he suggests that protestors do not involve themselves in a war in Kharkiv as they won’t win it anyway. I mean the word 'war' did sound in his style.”
In Ukraine, the word “war” these days is mostly used with the adjective: “civil war”. Many people, policy experts among them, pin hopes on today’s extraordinary parliamentary session, seing it as the last chance to avoid civil war in the country. Andriy Kulykov, Public Radio, Kiev.