Archive for March, 2012


March 31, 2012

An elderly lady in York suffered heavy burns when the fire started in her kitchen where she was decanting petrol for her daughter’s car. The lady had just been following the advice by a Government official to stockpile some extra fuel in view of a possible tanker drivers’ strike. The Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude had said the proposed strike meant that “a bit of extra fuel in a jerry can in the garage is a sensible precaution to take”. The strike hadn’t even been announced. It looks like the Tories, by instigating panic, decided to divert attention from some recent political events which are arousing widespread discontent: the budget, or dinners at No 10 for big backers of the Tory party. There’s much of “there’s-no-need-to-be-panicky” ado in the British media – contrasted by long queues at petrol stations. Our son’s family lives in Britain. Talking via Skype yesterday, our daughter-in-law ironically remarked that to avoid panic, the government should at least have re-named their secure facility that co-ordinates action during an emergency – Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, popularly known as COBRA – into something else, like RABBIT, or SQUIRREL, for instance.


March 29, 2012

The presidents of the US and Ukraine Mr. Obama and Mr. Yanukovych met at a two-day summit on nuclear security in the capital of South Korea, Seoul. It was interesting to see readers’ comments on the meeting. The meeting lasted about 4 minutes. It looks like the presidents didn’t sit down to discuss things. One of the readers sarcastically writes that the meeting might have taken place near a men’s room – implying that during President Yanukovych’s visit to Strasbourg about a year ago Yanukovych’s bodyguards didn’t let Secretary-General of the Council of Europe Torbjørn Jagland into the men’s room because at that moment the Ukrainian president was there.

Another reader says that he has got a shorthand record of this meeting: YANUKOVYCH: “I am is a profffesor.” OBAMA: “Ok, ok…” (another implication: Yanukovich doesn’t speak English or any other foreign language besides Russian, and he is notoriously famous for spelling his scholarly rank “professor” with double “f”).

On a serious note, though: the presidents discussed the nuclear security and the U.S. President expressed gratitude for Ukraine’s cooperation in this matter. But he also drew Yanukovych’s attention to the fact that trials in Ukraine are being held selectively, the political opposition is persecuted and the opposition leaders are imprisoned. Obama’s observation about the trials and the opposition was not mentioned in the Ukrainian official report about the meeting.


March 19, 2012

On March 9 a Ukrainian girl from the southern town of Mykolayiv was invited by three men she knew to an apartment of one of them, where she was gang-raped, strangled, wrapped in a blanket, thrown in a ditch and set alight. For all that she survived. Trying to save her life, the doctors amputated her arm and both feet. Two of the rapists were sons of ex-government officials, so they were released. A third one, who was less connected, was arrested and spoke rather calmly at the police office about how the crime had been committed. The interrogation was posted on YouTube and thousands of people in the town rallied in protest against the atrocity and the sloppy investigation. President Yanukovych ordered the arrest of those two who had been initially released.

I read a lot of comments on the Internet. A comment from a reader in Britain was: “The Ukrainian President appears to have more guts than David Cameron.” It was funny for me to read this comment because the fact that the Ukrainian law-enforcing system is serving only the interests of local barons lies at the Ukrainian President’s door. Our judicial bodies will do anything to find favor in the eyes of their political superiors. There have been reported dozens of cases when “rich kids” committed heavy offences (mostly while driving) and got away with their crimes. Nowadays an atmosphere of lawlessness is reigning in the country. But how can it be otherwise if the President himself ascended his post not from a university chair but from a prison cell in which he had been doing his time for robbery? Besides, his “university professorship” was clearly bought: he can’t even spell the word “professor” without a mistake.

During his visit to Russia these days, President Yanukovych promised his counterpart Putin that the Russian language will shortly receive the status of an official language in Ukraine (at the moment the only official language is Ukrainian). If materialized, this promise will be the final stab in the heart of Ukrainian. The legal oneliness of Ukrainian as an official language is a kind of affirmative action to revive it. Without this status Ukrainian will gradually be driven out of usage by the Russian language.

There were no rallies of protest after President Yanukovych’s statement. A second murderous assault was just overlooked.


March 14, 2012

Mykola Plavyuk, age 87, the last president of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (Ukr. abbreviation: UNR) in exile, died on March 10 this year. As an independent state, the UNR was proclaimed after the Bolshevik coup in Petrograd in November, 1917 and was eventually crushed by the Russian army in 1920. The UNR government emigrated and had been functioning as a “government without territory” till Mykola Plavyuk gave the UNR powers over to then-president of the newly independent Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk in 1992. I was present at the ceremonial meeting in Kyiv when President Kravchuk accepted all the due papers from Mykola Plavyuk. My neighbor, a Ukrainian journalist and writer, mumbled in an undertone: “Isn’t it too early?”

“Too early” it wasn’t. The first reason was that the UNR-in-exile was only a symbolic state, but with Leonid Kravchuk agreeing to accept the powers of the UNR, Ukraine became a legal successor of the UNR, which had far-reaching ideological implications.  The implications were: independence of Ukraine is the basis for the development of the Ukrainian nation; modern Ukraine views its existence as a chain of historical events from the times of Kyiv Rus (IX century); the current foreign and domestic policy of the Ukrainian government is pursued in the interests of the Ukrainian people, etc.

However, August 22, 1992 was probably the last finest hour for Mykola Plavyuk. I saw him and heard him speak several times after that memorable meeting. He always produced a most favorable impression as a person – well-mannered, knowledgeable, very intelligent. For all those qualities, he didn’t “belong.” He was a man of the past, the past which was irrevocably gone. Or maybe he belonged to the future? Ironically, no one knew how far ahead that future was.

In January 2010, on behalf of his party, Mykola Plavyuk stated that they would support neither Yulia Tymoshenko, nor Viktor Yanukovych in the runoff election because of the allegedly anti-Ukrainian orientation of both candidates. With the Ukrainian nationalists abstaining from the elections, the result was in favor of Yanukovych. The final result, as seen now, after two years have elapsed, is that the present-day undemocratic and corrupted Ukraine is a pariah in the eyes of the civilized world and its very existence as a state is threatened.

I don’t feel I have a right to criticize Mykola Plavyuk. He and his generation may have done for Ukraine more than any of us. I just think …that a politician may lose a sense of times changing, thus losing everything they have gained. They step down too late.


March 7, 2012

International Women’s Day is differently celebrated in different countries. In some of them the celebration is done in the form of a protest. In others women simply draw public attention to their problems. In Ukraine this day is a cross between Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day being actually devoid of any ideological or political load.

The Ukrainian government has greeted women on ‘their day’, which causes raised eyebrows, to say the least. I can understand the Ukrainian men who use the chance given to them by the German socialist Klara Zetkin when they tell those of the opposite sex, who are their dear, own and close, how much they love them (see the snapshots of Kyiv streets today). But I cannot understand the top officials who send their warm greetings to women, when there is not a single woman in the government, when the President of the country keeps his spouse under factual house-arrest never letting her appear in his presence, when women’s pension will be considerably reduced in the future should they decide on a maternity leave now , when the Ukrainian No 1 woman- politician is serving her 7-year sentence in jail where she got in for no reason at all.


March 5, 2012

The article that follows was written by Claire Bigg and it has been taken from Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty. The fraud tactics are identical both in Russia and Ukraine, so that’s what later this year may be expected during the Ukrainian parliamentary elections. I may only add that elections aren’t limited to one day only: they begin long before the voters go to the polling stations and include the creation of equal opportunities for oppositional and governmental parties, transparency about the current status of the ruling party and of oppositional leaders, fulfilment of pre-election promises given to the public before the latest elections, etc


Ballot Stuffing And Vote-Count Fraud

This is the most traditional example of electoral fraud, which consists of “stuffing” multiple ballots into the ballot box. This can be done by individual voters or by polling station officials who “pad” the ballot box either before or after the vote.

Russian polling station officials also have a long history of fudging the numbers on election protocols after election monitors leave the station at the end of the day. Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the vote count in the March 4 election was faulty in almost one-third of polling stations observed.

“Carousels” And Absentee Votes

In so-called “carousel” voting, people cast multiple ballots at different polling stations. Fleets of buses packed with suspected “carousel” voters were seen in Moscow on March 4. Activists from the pro-Kremlin group Nashi, among others, appeared to have been bused en masse from different cities to Moscow polling stations. The busing was so intense (the scale of “carousel” voting was “absolutely unprecedented,” according to Russian anticorruption blogger and opposition activist Aleksei Navalny) that the head of the Moscow Election Committee felt obliged to issue a clarification saying the Nashi activists were merely giving voters rides to polling stations.

This year, the “carousel” used a new technology — people used absentee certificates to obtain ballots at polling stations while hanging on to their absentee documents, enabling them to vote again at other locations. It is virtually impossible for monitors to prove such voters cast ballots several times.

The Central Electoral Commission ran out of absentee certificates (there were more than 2 million) before voting even began.

Fake Monitors

Another innovation tested out on March 4: Fake election observers were deployed at polling stations, preventing real volunteer monitors from observing the voting (polling stations have quotas for observers). Such frauds were reported in large numbers in St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod.

“Additional Lists,” Or Corporate Voting

Under electoral law, people employed in companies that operate around the clock can cast their ballots at polling stations closest to their workplace. On March 4, such companies — who were required to submit “additional lists” of prospective voters several days before the election — ended up massively busing their employees to polling stations. This tactic enables employers to put electoral pressure on their staff and, in some instances, “carousel” them to several polling stations.

Some opposition monitors claim that 20 percent of ballots — or almost 14 million voter — were cast by voters on “additional lists” in this election.

Interestingly, a number of companies and institutions, including universities and hotels, declared March 4 a working day in order to enroll their staff on “additional lists.”

Vote Theft

A relatively new scheme that appears to have been used heavily in this election. Voters turn up at a polling station to find out that someone else has already voted for them. In one instance reported by the Russian media, a victim of such fraud in Moscow received a threatening call on her mobile phone minutes after alerting polling station officials of the irregularity.

Webcam Scams

In a bid to quell the wave of protests sparked by the fraud-marred parliamentary elections in December, Vladimir Putin had web cameras installed in more than 90,000 polling stations to ensure transparency. But the stunt failed to impress monitors as most of the cameras offered only fuzzy images of the ballot boxes.

In the city of Magadan, Internet users even claimed they were receiving “live” footage of sunlit polling stations although night had already fallen in the city.

Written by Claire Bigg



March 4, 2012

Had I taken this picture at a closer distance, one could see the words “FC Dynamo Kyiv.” on the scarf hanging from the elderly man’s shoulders. A minute before I took the picture, the seat next to the man had been made vacant and he made a step in that direction to sit down. But then he noticed a woman standing at the opposite door, looked at her over the frame of his glasses, stopped short and, with a polite smile, pointed to the seat with his open hand. There were not so many people in the metro car and they watched the woman walking a few steps across the aisle to the seat offered. Her walk was queen-like, there was a shadow of a smile on her face, and the big plastic bag in her hands was no burden at all. I’m happy to have captured this moment: the gentlemen of a football fan standing and the Ukrainian lady with the plastic bag sitting next to him. Let all feminists of the world get furious at the way the woman was “humiliated”, but I would insist that at that time there was nothing more beautiful in the metro than the feel of “chivalric” times.

After a few stations I managed to catch the title of the book the man was reading. It was a volume of the 200-volume Library of World Literature published in the USSR in the 1970s. Just now, when I began writing about the book, my first impulse was to start with “Incidentally, the man was reading…” But then I thought that was no incident at all.

Finally: until the episode in the metro I hadn’t been a particular supporter of FC Dynamo Kyiv. Until that moment…


March 3, 2012

I dreamed I organized a revolution against the present-day regime in Ukraine. The people came from the whole of the country to the central square in Kyiv. They were wearing orange hats. Those who didn’t have orange hats, put orange scarves round their necks. However, my political opponents brought lots of buckwheat to Maidan (the name of the central square) and started handing it out to the orange revolutionaries for free.  As the buckwheat was being dispensed, the revolutionaries’ orange color started being transformed into blue, and soon the square was blue all over. Understanding that my attempt had failed, I plunged into the metro, took the Blue Line to Vernadsky Library and began writing a dissertation there. The supplement to the dissertation was a glossary of cross-cultural terms. Here are definitions of some key words:

Orange: the color symbolizing the 2004-protest against the authoritarian rule of the pro-Soviet “old guard”;

Blue: the color of the counter-revolution, which, as a rule, is pro-Soviet, pro-Russian, pro-oligarch.

Maidan: the name of the central square in Kyiv which every other decade serves as the Ukrainian Parliament, Cabinet of Ministers, Supreme Court and Constitutional Court – all in one;

Buckwheat: political currency, usually served to voters before elections at no cost. A kilo of buckwheat to a thankful voter gives the buckwheat-giver the right to rob the country for another five years. You may find it different in encyclopedias, but in Ukraine the color of buckwheat seeds is blue. Those who insist it’s brown, are political daltonians.


March 1, 2012

The city of Zaporizhzhya in Central Ukraine is filled with election billboards of the Russian presidential candidate Vladimir Putin. Earlier Zaporizhzhya hit the headlines with the erection of the monument to Joseph Stalin. The advertisement on billboards is far from being cheap either, but the undersigned (and little-known) “Slavonic Guard” seems to be not particularly poor. Only they know where the money comes from – the rest may only guess.

The motto on the billboard “Stability in Russia Means Stability in Ukraine” exploits the key word of Putin’s election campaign “stability.” However, it looks like Putin’s “stability” and stability in Ukraine exclude each other. On the one hand Putin’s presidential campaign on the territory of Ukraine is a sign of the  Ukrainian government’s servile mentality. Next could be their helping to re-elect the Byelorussian dictator Lukashenka or a bunch of khans from Central Asia, or Fidel Castro from Cuba… On the other hand, the election of Putin for Russian presidency means the election of the person who, addressing George Bush at a NATO meeting in Bucharest in 2008, said “”You don’t understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state. What is Ukraine? Part of its territories is Eastern Europe, but the greater part is a gift from us.” Putin sympathetically quoted diaries of Anton Denikin, a bitter enemy of independent Ukraine  and a commander of the White Army which fought the Bolsheviks after the revolution in 1917: “”He (Denikin) has a discussion there about Big Russia and Little Russia — Ukraine…He says that no one should be allowed to interfere in relations between us; they have always been the business of Russia itself.” The name “Little Russia” is a chauvinist-speak, which only a hardcore anti-Ukrainian can use. Putin considers the country firmly within the Russian sphere of interests.

A couple of years ago, while answering a question asked by one of Ukrainian sycophants, whether he really thought that ‘if we were divided, then we wouldn’t have won the war’ , Putin said “No.” “We would have won either way… That’s because we’re a country of winners,” he said in a lecturing tone. I just imagine how diehard proponents of closer ties  with Russia (usually, communists and war veterans) might have felt after the words of their idol.

As for political advertisement on the territory of a foreign country, I suggest that billboards with the text “YES” TO UKRAINE’S NATO MEMBERSHIP be put up all over Moscow. A kind of balanced response, so to speak…

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