Rostislav Ishchenko: There Is a Day, But There Is No Victory

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Once a year the post-coup Ukraine changes. Thousands of people take to the streets, celebrating May 9th – the Day of the Great Victory. For four consecutive years friends and colleagues from Kiev and Moscow write on this day and say that Ukraine isn’t hopeless after all; that resistance to the regime grows; and that the Nazis are afraid of carrying out their threats and can’t forbid May 9th.

The biggest optimists promise that the people will imminently take to the streets and will overthrow the hated occupational authorities.

And all these people don’t feel cognitive dissonance from the fact that from year to year, after the great May 9th unification of progressive mankind, the war in Donbass quietly continues, the SBU still vigorously arrests anti-Maidan activists, and our same Ukrainian friends and colleagues who write on May 9th in social networks “Look how numerous we are and how the junta is afraid of us!” already on May 10th start asking: “How can we oppose the armed junta without external support?”

How does May 9th differ from May 10th

I understand the people living in Ukraine. They feel the situation involuntarily, subconsciously, at the level of instincts. That’s why for them there is no logical contradiction in the fact that on May 9th they “are the authorities here”, and already on May 10th they are the political minority herded into a ghetto. I am surprised that external observers still haven’t tried to resolve this contradiction. After all, indeed, the television picture from Kiev and other Ukrainian cities on May 9th differs little from the footage from Moscow or St. Petersburg, Minsk or Gomel.

And indeed, on this day the authorities are afraid to touch those who celebrate it, and try to separate them from neo-Nazis via a police barrier.

However, no year passes without excesses. And this year too neo-Nazis beat up – and the police detained – Elena Berezhnaya, the mother of the deceased Irina Berezhnaya. And the authorities weren’t afraid of thousands of celebrating people, and these thousands didn’t defend the lone woman. And last year people were also beaten up. And the year before that too. And the authorities weren’t afraid of banning “communist symbols” (including the St. George’s Ribbon, which appeared 150 years before the Soviet authorities). And somehow the special indignation of the progressive public wasn’t considerably noticed. The millions of people who celebrate on May 9th don’t come out to overthrow the regime, the adherents of which actively and openly use nazi symbols that are formally forbidden in Ukraine without being subjected to repression as a result.

So what’s this all about? How it can it be that the authorities are afraid and not afraid at the same time?

The matter is that the thousands and millions who celebrate on May 9th are united only by the common memory of the feat of their ancestors. At the same time the way they evaluate the current situation in the country and in the world is diametrically opposite. Having looked closely at photos from the festive events, you will see that many people came with the “European” poppy. I emphasise – not just without St. George’s Ribbon, which isn’t surprising in a country where it is possible to be jailed for wearing one, but with a poppy that actively opposes the “Soviet past”. You can hear from many Ukrainians that they remember and value the feat of the grandfathers who defeated Nazism, but at the same time they are today ready to fight up in arms against “Russian fascism”, “Donbass separatism”, and to “return Crimea”.

They aren’t always delighted with the nazis of “Azov” who are walking about on the streets. Some of them don’t really like forced Ukrainisation (although others Ukrainianise themselves with pleasure, “killing their inner Russian”). But the “vatniks” and “Kolorads” who go with them in one column to the Eternal Flame are the enemy for them, and the Nazis are nevertheless socially close – they “stood on Maidan” together.

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And it so turns out that the mass unification on May 9th crumbles already on May 10th, and yesterday’s grandchildren of the winners are already ready to shoot each other again in the ongoing Ukrainian civil war.

How the authorities “privatise” the Victory

It is for this reason that the Ukrainian authorities try not to allow any considerable excesses on May 9th , so that the Maidan and anti-Maidan part of the celebrating people don’t suddenly start to rally against the nazis. It is precisely on May 9th that such unity is possible. It is the only holiday, besides New Year, that still unites most Ukrainians.

The authorities try to act without haste, gradually accustoming people to new symbols, waiting for when the veterans – which become fewer and fewer with every passing year, and in 10-15 years they won’t exist in general – will finally be consigned to the past. And during this time the generation that was born in 1985, went to school in 1992, and which completely, from the very first day, studied according to Ukrainian standards will reach 50 years of age. I.e., the biggest and most active part of society will already consist of people formed according to the Ukrainian nationalist template. So then the holiday will have to regenerate by itself. But now there is a need to grin and bear it.

It’s not only the Ukrainian authorities that grin and bear it. Their American friends also do this. But the Americans, being practical people, don’t prevent those under their patronage [Kiev – ed] from carrying out difficult and interesting experiments connected to using the holiday of Victory for political strategy purposes within the framework of an internecine fight.

For example, the hosts of the “Inter” TV channel under the control of Levochkin suddenly came forward with a very courageous, by the standards of today’s Ukraine, statements during a holiday concert. I assume that these people indeed openly stated their views because they really risked a lot. But I will never believe that the management of the TV channel – which is more than loyal in relation to Maidan, and which did everything for its victory – incidentally aired the anti-fascist statements of its hosts. Moreover, having advertised them in advance, and having made a scandal inevitable.

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Levochkin is obviously dissatisfied with how power was distributed after Maidan. He, risking everything, organised the coup, and power (and financial-economic bonuses) was claimed by others. And somehow the statement of Oleg Rybachuk – who doesn’t hide his pro-American orientation – about the fact that it is precisely Levochkin who was in essence the main organiser of the victory of Maidan, somehow coincided with the anti-fascist pathos of “Inter”. This was known earlier by all, but this is the first time that it was publicly recognised at such a high level.

Levochkin is not the only politician who dreams of taking away power from Poroshenko at the next presidential elections. But he is one of the few in Ukraine who understands that power taken by force isn’t given back just like that. Here it’s impossible to succeed simply by voting. There is a need to deprive Poroshenko of his armed support.

President of the “radical minority”

Poroshenko obviously placed a stake on right-wing radicals. His security officers organise anti-Russian and anti-Donbass provocations one after the other. His diplomats are ready to sacrifice themselves in the fight against Nord Stream-2 and for the Ukrainian local orthodox church. If the conflict surrounding gas transit doesn’t go beyond the usual economic war, the case with the church is much more difficult and more dangerous. The only canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) didn’t ask about any autocephaly. The self-proclaimed Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church aren’t churches from the point of view of world Orthodoxy. They are schismatics, heretics, self-consecrated, etc, but not the church. According to canons, if autocephaly is to be asked for, then it should be from the Moscow Patriarch, and not Constantinople. Finally, Poroshenko even stated that autocephaly is granted not to the church, but to the State, having thus openly declared his claim to submitting the church to the secular authorities.

All of these are steps towards a religious war and towards a split in world Orthodoxy. If not to take the interested external forces into account, then inside the country only the most radical nationalists – who, by the way, in their majority aren’t Orthodox Christians – provide support for such actions.

By all accounts, presidential political strategists definitively lost hope for the restoration of the Poroshenko’s approval rating (although the situation isn’t so critical for him as it may seem because the biggest part of voters still haven’t decided who they will vote for). Nevertheless, Poroshenko obviously acts as the president of the radical minority. In this case it is possible to hold onto power only by placing a staking on force, and not on the law. And this is logical. Poroshenko came to power contrary to the Constitution, so why should he reckon with the Constitution when it comes to preserving his power?

But, if Poroshenko places a stake on force, and should his power be preserved, then the opponents who want to take away his power have to neutralise this force. So I think that it isn’t a coincidence that Levochkin’s channel [“Inter” – ed] made a drastically anti-fascist statement.

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There is just a need to make the radicals feel publicly isolated in order to make them less self-confident and more inclined to negotiate and make a compromise. Then, as soon as they will publicly refuse to support Poroshenko it will be possible to re-rally Maidan unity (among radicals and moderates) against the “danger of revenge”.

This can seem strange but – honouring the victorious grandfathers, understanding very well that the heavenly hundred was shot in the back by their own Maidanists, without taking delight in the politicians who came to power via Maidan, nor from the nazis who destroyed the foundations of statehood – moderate Maidan hamsters, nevertheless, are most of all afraid of an anti-Maidan triumph. It’s possible that they are simply too ashamed to recognise that they were mistaken and destroyed their own habitat in vain (in the form of the Ukrainian State), or maybe they are afraid of revenge for destroying the future of millions and ruining the lives of tens of thousands of people, but most likely they are simply not able to realise that the best thing they had in life — euphoria of the victory of Maidan — is fake; that everything they worshipped for decades is a lie; that life passed them by. Whatever it may be, on the one hand they are ready to act against Poroshenko – as Yanukovych’s reincarnations, and on the other hand, as soon as they are frightened by the threat of the revenge of anti-Maidan, they are then ready to unite again with nazi radicals against “vatniks”, “kolorads”, the “pro-Russian fifth column”, etc.

Of course, playing on these contradictions is a very delicate and difficult affair. That’s why Poroshenko, for example, prefers, without further ado, to try to suppress his enemies by force. But Yanukovych also placed a stake on force, and Levochkin outplayed him. And after all, now he [Levochkin – ed] isn’t alone.

All Ukrainian oligarchs rallied against Poroshenko. And the Americans agree to give both sides a chance. If Poroshenko’s opponents will win, they won’t be seriously helped, but if they prove their ability to stabilise the Ukrainian pro-American regime, then Washington can reopen the granaries of financial aid for Kiev. If Poroshenko wins, then it is war, first of all – civil war across the entire territory of Ukraine will become inevitable. But this won’t be America’s problem.

The only chance of a victory for common sense – the unification of the grandchildren of the winners against the grandchildren of those who were defeated in the Great Patriotic War – unfortunately doesn’t work. And with every passing year the chances that it will one day work become less and less. May 9th ends, and each party goes on a side of the barricade, and as a result radicals and oligarchs triumph.

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