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Feb. 12 2010 — 9:43 am | 148 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Ukraine’s Joan of Arc is burning at the stake

It's a bit late to start calling her St. Joan of Arc

It's a bit late to start calling her St. Joan of Arc

In the media, Yulya Tymoshenko has long been called a latter-day Joan of Arc. During the Orange Revolution of 2004, it seemed like an apt comparison. She was a leader of spectacular talent and drive. But it is only now, on the fifth day of her tantrum over losing the Ukrainian elections, that her team has taken up the analogy. They’re using it, sadly, to blame somebody else for her failure. From the Associated Press:

“The reason for Tymoshenko’s defeat is Yushchenko’s political betrayal. He resembles the king who betrayed Joan of Arc and sent her to be burned at the stake, even after she had made him king. But she will not burn,” Yury Lutsenko, her acting interior minister, said during a televised press briefing an hour ago.

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, circa 2004

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, circa 2004

Yushchenko is the departing president who led the revolution alongside Tymoshenko five years ago. It’s true he could not have won without her dynamism and charm. And he has indeed betrayed her: Ahead of the final round of voting Feb. 7, he called on his supporters to vote “Against All” (an option in Ukrainian elections) rather than support Tymoshenko. Some of his deputies in the parliament are also about to join a coalition with the man who defeated her. So the minister’s comparison today, though clumsy, is not far off. He is really only wrong about one thing: Tymoshenko is already burning.

A girl stands in front of a portrait of Ukrain...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Feb. 10 2010 — 11:45 am | 129 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Rent-a-Revolution: hired yokels swarm Ukrainian capital in support of Yanukovych


"We'll storm the Bastille for a shot and a hard boiled egg"

Ukraine’s president-elect Viktor Yanukovych rallied the bumpkin hordes on Wednesday to forestall any possible counter-attack from his defeated rival, Yulya Tymoshenko, who remains in hiding. A police spokesman in the capital, Kiev, said 83 buses had arrived from the pro-Russian heartland in eastern Ukraine. They carried 4,000 of Yanukovych’s supporters, who were deployed at strategic points throughout the city with amazing efficiency — the parliament building, the presidential residence, and now most importantly, around the country’s highest courts, Yulya’s last hope of overturning the election. This is a huge, pre-emptive counter-demonstration for hire, a thing I’ve never seen or heard of.

In exchange for waving flags, chanting slogans and standing around in the cold, these people were being paid about 200 hryvnia a day, which comes to about $25. Not bad at all for folks from eastern regions like Donetsk and Lugansk, where unemployment and rampant poverty translate into a general willingness to come out in support of a mountain yeti if the beast could pay a few dollars a day. In addition, these folks are being housed in trailers and barracks on the outskirts of Kiev, which means they get a few days to hang around the capital, a rare treat.

I couldn’t believe my eyes as I pulled up to the square outside the Central Election Commission today. The crowd was spilling out into the streets. It was impassable, almost shoulder to shoulder near the stage that was erected there last week. But it wasn’t exactly a spirited demonstration. Toward the back people stood around in loose but organized columns, six people wide, about twenty-five long, with a flag-man in the front, usually bearing the name of the town or village they had come from. A few official-looking goons were handing around shots of vodka in plastic cups and hard-boiled eggs with which to chase it. The people looked tired. Many had been standing around there since Friday.

The king of the yokels himself, Yanukovych, a former electrician from the town of Yenakiieve in eastern Ukraine, meanwhile issued a video statement to the press. It was so wooden I have begun to believe the man is a Russian-designed cyborg with a diesel tank for lungs. The highlights were him calling for Yulya to resign immediately, and saying his first priority will be to improve ties with Russia. Not much of a surprise on either score.

Oh, and here’s a video I thought was funny. Yanukovych offering sunflower seeds to Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev at a rally a few years ago. Watch Putin grind his teeth at the unbridled idiocy of it all.

Feb. 9 2010 — 2:16 pm | 202 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Tymoshenko has gone into hiding


After election night Yulya disappeared

After election night Yulya disappeared

Since Sunday night, when exit polls predicted she would lose the Ukrainian presidency to a man who can’t spell, Yulya Tymoshenko has been in hiding. To be honest, I would have sooner expected her to pick up a tambourine and hop on a tour bus with Lynyrd Skynyrd. She has always loved the cameras, and no one thrives as she does on political combat and confrontation.

 But on Monday, she canceled two press conferences. A couple of hours ago, her adviser said that Tuesday’s appearance before the media had also been cancelled. And I just got word that tomorrow, Wednesday, she is skipping a meeting of her own cabinet of ministers (she is still Ukraine’s prime minister, at least for the next couple of days) in order to attend the funeral of a Soviet factory designer in the backwater of Zaporozhye – 550 kilometers from Kiev and its camera sprays and microphones. I really wish I were joking. But it’s true. An 81-year-old factory man who died on Monday.  

Orange Revolution leader Yulia Tymoshenko (R) ...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Her next public appearance, advisers say, will probably be on Thursday, “but we can’t promise anything for certain.” All the while, her lieutenants are claiming that the election was a fraud. Poor Yulya must really be in a panic. Her options are pretty much nil. Almost half the country voted for her because she is the lesser of two nitwits, but no one will follow her into the streets. On the Maidan today, the central square in Kiev where Yulya led the Orange Revolution protests in 2004, a security guard named Stas told me, “It would be another humiliation if she tries to challenge this election with protests… She’ll be standing on the square by herself.” What an image.

 Her other option is to challenge the vote in the courts, but both local and international observers have deemed the election fair. She won’t get very far. And she can’t hide forever, although exile might be an option as well.  

Viktor Yanukovych, her adversary is meanwhile doing his victory dance for the cameras. For about a week before the elections, advisers had kept him muzzled so he wouldn’t let slip one of his idiot gaffes. (These usually derive from the fact that he can’t speak Ukrainian very well. It’s the national language, but he prefers Russian.) On Tuesday he went on CNN.

Feb. 7 2010 — 10:07 am | 100 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Murder claim in Ukraine elections…oh, and disappearing ink

Alex Turchinov, Yulya's campaign chief, claims his staffer was murdered

Alex Turchinov, Yulya's campaign chief, claims his staffer was murdered

Ballot-stuffing? Fine. Mudslinging? Sure. Everyone expected that. But a claim of murder at the polling station seems a bit much even for Ukraine’s ass-backward elections.

The accusation came from Yulya Tymoshenko’s campaign chief, who called an urgent press conference today to announce that one of his staff members had been bludgeoned to death during the early hours of Sunday morning.  The poor staffer, he said, had been standing guard over a safe that held the ballots in a remote village in western Ukraine. Hired goons from the camp of Yulya’s rival, Viktor Yanukovych, then stormed the polling station, bashed in his head and stole the ballots. I was at the briefing when he announced this, and nearly fell off my chair.

The claim, of course, turned out to be a lie. Local police quickly explained that the man had died of a heart attack. He was indeed a staff member for Yulya’s campaign, but his death had nothing to do with the elections. One of Yanukovych’s men later explained at his own press briefing that the poor bastard keeled over while lifting a heavy container of coal on Sunday morning. He sent his condolences to the family.

I send my condolences to Yulya’s campaign. I mean, how desperate do you have to be? How unwilling to concede defeat?  Even if by some miracle she wins tonight, which she won’t, but even if she does, she’ll have to deal with this little incident through some other cover up, some other clumsy lie, which is all she seems to know. UKRAINE/

On TV just know, Channel 5 ran a story about pens with disappearing ink, which had been found at 17 Ukrainian polling stations. This is democracy in the Eastern bloc.



Feb. 7 2010 — 3:04 am | 93 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

The Goons Shall Inherit Ukraine

Yanuk's muscle outside the Central Election Commission

Do these guys look like political activists to you?

Weeks before Ukraine’s presidential elections, hundreds of goons hired by Viktor Yanukovych set up a tent camp surrounding the Central Election Commission. It still stands there today, election day, a grim vigil and a sign of who will inherit Ukraine. These men will swell the ranks of the security services once Yanukovych takes power.

I walked around this camp on Friday and felt like I’d landed in a prison yard. These guys looked like former boxers, huge and disfigured, marching back and forth along the square in blue raincoats stenciled “Yanukovych – Our President”. On the hands of the older ones I noticed the tattoos of former convicts in the Soviet prison system. Yanukovych himself served  1 year and 7 months in a Soviet prison for robbery. He also faced charges for rape.

The interior minister said over the weekend that Yanukovych had bused 2,000 former police and security guards into Kiev to take part in his “vigils.” Aside from the election commission, the goons were posted at the parliament building and the presidential residence — I saw them there myself standing around the same blue tents. The minister said they were being paid $50 a day, a generous wage in Ukraine. And once Yanukovych takes office, I’m sure he’ll find a place for all of these men in his security apparatus. Ukraine will again become a police state.

Tent camp surrounding the Central Election Commission

Tent camp surrounding the Central Election Commission

What is most shocking to me is how easily the Ukrainian government has allowed these vigils to go on. Yanukovych does not currently hold a government post. He is an opposition figure. Why the fuck are his men surrounding the Central Election Commission on the day of the election?!

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    Дермократия (dermocratia) is Russian for shitocracy. It comes up a lot in the ex Soviet Union, where I've been working as a reporter for the past few years. It refers to the western idea of government being applied here like really thick make-up or too small shoes, and I'd like to figure out whether this system can ever make sense in this region, or even fit. I'll start out in Ukraine, whose democratic experiment is right on the brink. Then on to Moscow's putinocracy, and hopefully some other places like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, where it's just a bloody horror show. I'll look out for what's replacing Communism a generation after it fell, and what that could mean for the future of things.

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