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23 May, 2011  ▪  Oleksandr Mykhelson,  Serhiy Hrabovsky

Blind Shoot On Victory Day

The conflict between pro-Russian and Ukrainian radicals on May 9 was quite foreseeable but no less scandalous


The May 9 events in Lviv made headlines in many media outlets in Ukraine and Russia. Activists from pro-Russian organizations and parties (Rodina, Russkoye Edinstvo and others) travelled to Lviv to march and unfold a red flag on Glory Hill where Soviet servicemen are buried. In response, members of the Lviv branch of the Svoboda party attacked a group of young people carrying symbols of the totalitarian regime on Lychakivska Str. One person fighting for Soviet symbolism shot a Svoboda activist in the leg. Police representatives later identified the shooter as Sviatoslav Sopilnyk, son of Liubomyr Sopilnyk, ex-deputy chief of the Lviv traffic police. The gun (a non-lethal one, according to some sources) did not, however, help him: he ended up in hospital just like the victim of his well-aimed shot.

It has become a kind of tradition in Ukraine to justify the wrongdoings of the gilded youth by rather far-fetched stories. The shooter’s father, an experienced policeman, explained that his son accidentally pulled the trigger after he was struck on the head with a baseball bat. Photos taken at the site were deemed unnecessary to illustrate the incident.


Russiais demanding that the Ukrainian government punish its nationalists – Russia’s State Duma hastened to make a statement to this effect. The Ukrainian authorities seem to be prepared: some representatives are even suggest banning Svoboda on the legislative level. The other side claims it was a government-planned provocation. Moderate patriots are speaking in unison that Ukrainians who responded to the provocation made a mistake, while radicals point out that the red flag was eventually unfolded on Glory Hill, which means that the patriots lost. However, this outrageous and undoubtedly most unpleasant situation can be viewed from a different angle.

That civic conflicts on ethnic and ideological grounds are beneficial to the Presidential Administration is a well-known fact. They distract people from deepening socioeconomic problems, secure the government against joint protests in eastern and western regions, and, finally, enable the country’s leaders to express a “unifying” position in yet another TV interview. The interests of official Moscow are also clear: under the disguise of fighting against the “Bandera movement” it has been, in fact, consistently rocking the boat in Ukraine regardless of who wields power in the country. It should be noted that the mass media fuss over such events is typically far greater than their real significance – at least, for the time being.

Unlike Russia, Ukraine does not have organizations whose members shoot attorneys and journalists in the street and put up armed resistance against special-task units during detention operations. It is unthinkable that something like the recent fascist riot in Manezhnaya Square in Moscow could take place in Independence Square in Kyiv. Finally, unlike Russia, Ukraine does not register up to 100 racially motivated murders annually. This entire means that the informational “shots” fired by Ukrainian and foreign provocateurs are largely off the mark.

The problem lies elsewhere: the actions and, even more so, the inactivity of the central government suggest that it is still at a loss over how to get out of the dead end into which the Party of Regions drove itself while in opposition. Yanukovych’s failure to sign the scandalous red-flag law by May 9 shows that he must be aware that if he supports anti-Ukrainian trends, he can forget about a second term in office. On the other hand, refusing to do so will damage relationships with his “core electorate” and, more importantly, with the Kremlin. However, the incident in Lviv shows that being aware of the problem does not necessarily mean knowing how to solve it.


Europol identified Odessa (Ukraine), Constanţa (Romania) and Varna (Bulgaria) as the main transit gates for Latin American cocaine to Europe. It is very hard to fight this contraband due to its large volume and the protection of influential local figures.

In other news, a special mission of WWII veterans and members of the Rodina party and two pro-Russian organizations – Dozor and Russkoye Edinstvo – came to Lviv from Odessa on May 9 and after a scuffle with Svoboda party members achieved its goal of unfolding a large red flag on Glory Hill.

These two topics may seem totally unrelated at first sight. However, there is, in fact, a deep connection between them. Ihor Markov, the leader of Rodina and member of the Odessa City Council, is a very special character. He is known as Maradona in certain circles, among “authorities” like him. The Internet offers tons of interesting information about his activities in the stormy 1990s, and even in the 2000s he pulled off impressive business and political deals. He is on a roll now, taking advantage of his close ties to current Odessa Mayor Oleksiy Kostusiev. Markov also has full control of the ATV channel as his mouthpiece.

Remarkably, his permanent and crazed Ukrainophobia was complemented with contributions to the Nashe Delo anti-Semitic bulletin until the court banned it.

It would seem that Markov, the organizations he has set up (in addition to Rodina, these include Patrioty Otchizny and Russkiy Klub) and the pro-Russian Dozor and Russkoye Edinstvo mentioned above would have to address, above all, the real problems plaguing Odessa residents of Russian background, such as lack of order, corruption, crime and drug trafficking in the region. Far from it – these groups are focused on fighting “Ukrainian nationalists and fascists.”  Speeches by Markov and his associates suggest that they include everyone who speaks Ukrainian and dares doubt the imperial grandeur of Russia and the need to have “Novorossiya” annexed by Russia in this category.

This man was one of the initiators and organizers of the Lviv mission, which was carried out by his party members and their allies. This mission was aimed at unfolding a large red flag in Lviv and showing off their pro-Russian forces in Lviv and in front of the entire country.

Let me note that not all of Odessa or ethnic Russians living there hold the red flag in deep respect. For example, the Congress of Russian Communities in Odessa published a statement regarding the Verkhovna Rada decision about hanging out Soviet flags on administrative buildings. It read: “Instead of a call to commemorate people who perished in the most horriblewar in the history of humankind, we are being fed antihuman ideology wrapped in a ‘flag of victory.’ By passing this decision MPs have defiled the memory of millions upon millions of people tortured by the communists ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ the Second World War, which was a great tragedy to all European nations. On this day people need to go to church and pray for the souls of the dead.”

But offering up prayers and commemorating millions of victims and destroyed churches were out of the question for the activists who came to Lviv. What mattered the most to them was to hoist Stalin’s flag above the capital of the “Ukrainian Piedmont” and lay into the western Ukrainians they hate so much. Eyewitnesses reported hearing chants from them like “Khokhly are rotten! Victory is ours!”; “Death to Halychyna!” etc. And they needed to do it so as to give the cameramen from Russian TV channels the best possible angle. The war veterans were used as puppets – it takes a good deal of sadism to put 80-85 year old people in small buses and take all the way from Odessa to Lviv and back.

In any case, the conclusion is that influential officials from one of Europe’s “drug capitals” (members of other local councils in Odessa Region were involved along with Markov) carried out a fairly successful provocation to unsettle the political situation in Ukraine, exacerbate existing divisions among the citizens in terms of worldview and mentality, and change attitudes to Russians in western Ukraine to the worse. Meanwhile, these political figures are not in the least interested in the real problems facing Odessa and its residents of Russian origin. And even when they do take interest, all they seek is personal gain. (Internet sources offer many curious details about the business affairs of Markov and his associates.) So it turns out that dyed-in-the-wool Russophobes are members of Rodina and suchlike pro-Russian organizations rather than “Ukrainian nationalists."

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