Afterimage of the Maidan

30 March 2020, 01:08

A revolution is always a window of opportunity – and not just for opportunists, who know how to always take advantage of any situation. Romantics and pragmatists also can take advantage of revolutionary lift to rise to the top of the pyramid, although not all of them will be able to hang on there. Too many circumstances can mix the cards up and knock the dream out of someone’s hands.

Sooner or later, revolutionary euphoria is overtaken by attempts at a reversal, albeit not always successful. In any case, the events and the people involved in them begin to look completely different over time, colored by both the further steps and actions, as by many subjective circumstances. And so, of the large cohort of politicians whose profiles became very visible during the course of the revolution, only a few managed to ride out the tumultuous waves of Ukraine’s political seas.

The old faces

One strong surfer proved to be the Maidan Commander, Andriy Parubiy. He not only gained authority and was re-elected to the Rada, but he became Speaker and held on to that position until the 2019 election brought in a new administration. Still, he was elected to the Rada yet again, even if on the lists of a different party and now as a mere MP.

Clearly, the main beneficiary of the Revolution of Dignity was Petro Poroshenko, although he wasn’t among the leaders of the revolution and did not himself take part in discussions about how to divide up the pelt of a bear that was still running around. A number of factors played in his favor. For one thing, widespread fear over an inevitable war that Ukrainians were not prepared for, the desire to stop the collapse as quickly as possible, and so on. But if not for the power of his promise to stop the war within a matter of hours, Poroshenko might not have become president, let alone in the first round of the election on May 25. Whether Poroshenko himself believed in what he was telling voters or was bluffing doesn’t matter much today. Still, the level of distrust felt by a major part of Ukrainian society, which once again was hooked by promises of a swift peace in the east from his rival, failed to knock him out politically in 2019. The leader of a modest faction in the Rada today, Poroshenko’s influence over domestic politics nevertheless remains considerable and he continues to take the lead at least in foreign affairs. Next to the new president, Poroshenko’s touch remains virtuoso.

Yet there was one more factor that enabled Poroshenko to win the presidency in the first attempt. Who knows what might have happened had one of the other candidates, in fact the most popular of the triumvirate of political leaders on the Maidan, not withdrawn his candidacy in favor of Poroshenko: Vitaliy Klitschko, the leader of the UDAR party. Poroshenko managed to persuade the world boxing champion-turned-politician to not run for the presidency but focus instead on the mayoral race in the capital. Klitschko wasn’t thrilled with the idea but he agreed. Now, it looks like he made the right choice. At least he’s still mayor of Kyiv and it’s possible that greater things are yet to come, for him.

The same cannot be said for other leading politicians on the Maidan, such as Oleh Tiahnybok, the leader of Svoboda. His party lost 19 of its members during the shootings on the streets of Kyiv and its faction in the Rada played one of the key roles in legitimizing the achievements of the revolution. When the next round of elections took place in the fall of 2014, Svoboda found itself out of the big political game.

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Arseniy Yatseniuk, one of the three initial politicians on the revolutionary stage, fared a bit better. In the October 2014 election, he and his allies managed to bring the largest number of deputies to the Verkhovna Rada and to form the second largest faction after Poroshenko’s. This guaranteed Yatseniuk the premiership and, as unfortunately usual, a swift decline in his personal ratings. Eventually, it also affected the ratings of his party, Narodniy Front, as well. What caused this was not so much Yatseniuk’s efforts to bring to life a package of radical reforms – he called himself the kamikazepremier – as unfair competition on the part of Poroshenko and his allies. They managed to knock down the NF leader to almost zero and then pushed him out of the premiership into political limbo.

Obviously, both Yatseniuk, 45, and Tiahnybok, 51, have not given up hope of a return to the big game, but for now neither of them has many prospects. The huge attack launched against both them personally and their political entourages did its dirty deed. Narodniy Front has basically died a quiet death, and Yatseniuk has no access to the political fray right now. Svoboda’s prospects are slightly better as it has a large faction in several city councils, including Kyiv, but it still lacks sufficient support nationally to overcome the 5% threshold for gaining seats in the legislature. Even attempts to join forces with other nationalist parties have not yielded any results so far.

The rising young stars

Prior to the Euromaidan, people like Tetiana Chornovol, Ihor Lutsenko, Yehor Sobolev, Yevhen Nishchuk, and Mustafa Nayem were quite well known in their individual areas. But it was their involvement in the revolutionary events that brought them nationwide popularity and catalyzed their entry into big politics.

Yevhen Nishchuk, the voice of the Maidan, became minister of culture in the first Yatseniuk Cabinet almost immediately after the Revolution of Dignity. Unfortunately, he did not last long. After the snap Rada election in the fall of 2014, he was not re-appointed to his post when the new Yatseniuk Government was formed and returned to his old job at the Ivan Franko Theater in Kyiv. However, in April 2016, he was once again appointed to this ministry, but this time under PM Volodymyr Groisman and this time he stayed until the Government itself was dissolved. He tried to get a seat in the Rada in the 2019 election under the Groisman’s Ukrainian Strategy party but that failed and he once again returned to the theater.

Tetiana Chornovol, an activist and a well-known investigative journalist whose widely published articles exposed corruption under the Yanukovych regime had already generated enormous hype among Ukrainians by the first days of March 2014, was appointed government ombudsman for anti-corruption policy in the revolutionary Cabinet. In this position, she did not manage to make her mark, but in the snap election, she gained a seat through the Rada under the Narodniy Front party list, where she had been given the prestigious second place slot. Thus began her first and only term as an MP where she managed to engage in piano-voting very early on and otherwise did not distinguish herself. She did not make it into the new Rada and has returned to community activism. 

A similar story happened with her colleague, Ihor Lutsenko, also a journalist and activist. He became famous across the country when he and another activist, seismologist Yuriy Verbytskiy, were kidnapped from the Zhovtneva Hospital in Kyiv by unidentified men on January 21, 2014, in the morning. After a few days, Lutsenko was found crippled, but alive. Fifty-year-old Verbytskiy was dead. Both had been tortured. When the war started, Lutsenko joined the Azov volunteer battalion, and later became an MP from Batkivshchyna, Yulia Tymoshenko’s party. Still, like Chornovol, he only kept his seat for one convocation and then returned to activism. 

Journalist Mustafa Nayem ended up in politics with the blessing of Poroshenko himself. Poroshenko put Nayem on the party list of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc in the 2014 election but eventually appears to have regretted the decision, as Nayem did not exactly return his trust. Joining forces with a group of europtimists – it was Nayem who called young people to protest Yanukovych’s reneging on signing the EU Association Agreement in November 2013 – he effectively stood in opposition to his own faction. He, too, lasted in the Rada for a single convocation and then got himself a job with UkrOboronProm, the state-owned defense industry giant as deputy general director.

The unknowns

Other activists like Volodymyr Parasiuk, Mykhailo Havryliuk and Dmytro Bulatov were complete unknowns prior to the Maidan. The Maidan skyrocketed them to national fame and politics. Just a young guy from a village in Bukovyna, Havryliuk became world famous when a Jaguar special forces team kidnapped him, beat him up, and then threw him naked out of their trailer, smacking him in the head foe good measure and dousing the pony-tailed young man with water as he stood outdoors in the frigid winter. The officers photographed and videoed their abuse and posted it online, where an employee at the interior ministry was outraged by the video. A scandal ensued and a court case was launched. In the end, despite the victorious revolution, none of the guilty parties was brought to justice. Havryliuk’s reward was to be elected to the Rada in the fall of 2014, but he did not enjoy his new role. When the convocation ended, he left politics and is unlikely to have any plans to return.

One of the Maidan guardsman, Volodymyr Parasiuk found fame on the morning of February 21, 2014, on the revolutionary stage. His angry statement that day is considered by many to this day to have been the turning point. Addressing the opposition politicians who had issued yet another ultimatum to Yanukovych, Parasiuk warned them that if, by the next morning, they did not formally demand that Yanukovych resign, he and his fellow guardsmen would start an armed attack. During the war, Parasiuk fought in the Dnipro-1 battalion, was captured at Ilovaisk and miraculously avoided being identified by the enemy. Eventually, he was part of a prisoner exchange and returned home. He, too, was elected to the Rada, with a huge lead over all his rivals in a by-election in his home district. He failed to be re-elected, however. The CEC rejected his application to run because his documents were supposedly improperly filled out. He tried unsuccessfully to sue. Today, Parasiuk reports that he’s developing junior football in his native Lviv Oblast and is helping his parents expand a family business.

Dmytro Bulatov had a small business prior to the Euromaidan and had had a number of management positions in the public and private sectors, but had no connection to politics. After protestors were dispersed and beaten by the Berkut on November 30, 2013, Bulatov and some friends decided to start up the Automaidan, a mobile movement involving volunteers with cars, which turned into a real nightmare for Yanukovych’s administration. Shortly after the first killings in late January, Bulatov disappeared. His friends posted a reward for any information about his whereabouts, but soon he appeared himself and announced that he had been kidnapped, tortured and then driven outside the city and tossed in the snow. After the revolution, he was appointed minister of youth and sports as part of the Maidan cohort in the Yatseniuk Cabinet. Bulatov lasted until December 2 and six months later he was drafted into the ATO. He was injured outside Shchastia in Luhansk Oblast and after being successfully treated, he returned to the army. After being demobilized, he one again joined the volunteer activist movement. In June 2018, Bulatov became deputy director of the State Reserve Agency and lasted until September 26, 2019, when he was dismissed by the newly elected Honcharuk Government.

The Anti-Maidan

For those who are convinced that the Maidan did not change anything, it’s worth just looking at what happened to those people who were its main opponents. Most of those who were then in power, carried out Yanukovych’s orders, or were simply the media face of the Anti-Maidan did not end up behind bars for their crimes. Still, their fates took a sharp turn in a different direction.

Sic years later, Ukraine’s fourth president, Viktor Yanukovych, remains in Russia where he fled after trying first to find support in Kharkiv and then shelter in Crimea. No one has been able to figure out the details of his life in the Russian Federation, but from time to time he is allowed to hold some kind of press conference at which he offers his interpretation of certain events. In Ukraine, Yanukovych has become one of the few representatives of his regime who has at least been tried in absentiaand he was sentenced to 13 years in prison for treason. At the moment, his lawyers are appealing the sentence.

The Moscow City Center, Tower on the River Bank, 47thfloor. According to The Insider, a Russian publication, this was the address of an organization called “The Ukraine Salvation Committee” back in 2017. USC was organized by a slew of political refugees from the Yanukovych era and media personalities associated with the Anti-Maidan. The USC site does not offer an address and there is no mention of Moscow City. The committee was set up almost immediately after the revolution ended and the Russian war started. The first persons of this committee were designated as: ex-premier Mykola “Nikolai” Azarov; one of the authors of the January 16, 2014 dictatorship laws Volodymyr “Vladimir” Oliynyk; leader of Rodina, once one of the biggest pro-Russian parties in Ukraine Ihor “Igor” Markov; and Yuriy Kot, a popular one-time TV personality and eventually emcee on the Anti-Maidan stage – mirroring Yevhen Nishchuk on the Maidan stage.

Like Yanukovych himself, the organization initially tried to be active and even supposedly set up a “government in exile.” Over time, however, information about it turned to a trickle. The site continues to be updated with news, with sections with labels like “Repressions,” “Political emigration,” and “Refugees.” The last two sections talk about how different individuals have settled down in the Russian Federation and the problems they face. Azarov has completely disappeared from the public eye at this point, while Oliynyk has turned into a kind of “expert on Ukraine,” for the Russian press. In 2019, he even attempted to run for the presidency in Ukraine and actually paid his UAH 2.5 million “application fee,” so clearly the group has money. Another “expert,” but for largely marginalized media outlets, is Yuriy Kot. The last anyone heard about Markov was his arrest in Italy in 2015 for questioning by Ukraine’s PGO – not to be confused with Vitaliy Markiv, the National Guardsman recently jailed in Italy. The warrant was later withdrawn and he returned to Moscow.

One individual who might be sponsoring the USC is another political emigrant and Yanukovych’s bag man, Serhiy “Sergei” Kurchenko. According to the press, the office at the Moscow City Center belongs to him and Kurchenko is currently busy running his businesses under Russian cover in occupied Donbas.

Another individual at the Moscow presentation of the USC was Oleh “Oleg” Tsariov, but his name is no longer on the organization’s personnel lists. Tsariov was one of most infamous spokesmen for the Party of the Regions during the Euromaidan. Nor was there a spot for Vadym “Vadim” Kolesnichenko in Russian politics, another infamous PR spokesman. After fleeing to Crimea, he tried several times to find a political spot for himself there, but was unable to do any better than joining the management of the Crimean Football Association.

For obvious reasons, the path to Russia brought most of the opponents of the Maidan together, regardless of their position prior to 2014. Among others, this included members of the Interior Ministry’s Berkut forces who were involved in almost all the police actions against the protesters on the Maidan. For instance, as of mid-2017, officially it was known that at least 15 members of the “black squad,” which was suspected of killing protestors on vul. Instytutska on February 20, 2014, had become citizens of Russia, while another three had been granted political asylum. Russia was given five more Berkut officers who were awaiting trial in Kyiv as part of the prisoner exchange on December 31, 2019. The most notorious was Serhiy “Sergei” Kusiuk, ex deputy commander of the Kyiv Berkut. Kusiuk had gained notoriety during the protests on the Maidan and in 2017 became even more notorious when he was photographed wearing the uniform of a local OMON squad in Russia that was breaking up a protest in Moscow.

Other leaders of Yanukovych’s enforcement agencies were far less visible publicly: top cop Vitaliy Zakharchenko, SBU Director Oleksandr “Aleksandr” Yakymenko and Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka. All of them also fled to Russia but have returned to private life. Yevhen “Yevgheni” Zhylin, leader of OPLOT, the enforcement wing of the Anti-Maidan, also ended up in Russia. According to reports in the Russian press, he was shot to death at the Vyetyerok Café outside Moscow in 2016, but so far this information has not been confirmed.

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The fates of the Anti-Maidaners who decided not to cut ties with Ukraine so radically after all went variously. Yanukovych’s chief-of-staff until January 17, 2014, Serhiy Lyovochkin, had no problems getting elected to the Rada twice in a row. Today he’s in the OP-ZZ faction and is on the VR national security, defense and intelligence committee. One of the two heads of the Kyiv Municipal State Administration back then, Oleksandr Popov, is suspected of being responsible for the first violent breaking up of the Maidan on November 30, 2013. Although he is still being sued in court, this didn’t prevent Popov from running as the MP for Kyiv District #212 in 2019. He came third, with nearly 10% of the vote. Mykhailo Chechetov, suspected of organizing the vote on the infamous laws of January 2016, fell to his death from a 17thfloor window in 2015. Notorious Anti-Maidaner Ignat “Topaz” Kromskiy spent a few years in prison and was released in 2018 under the Savchenko law, which says that pre-trial detention should count as part of the prison term in final sentencing.

Two high-profile former Yanukovych officials – ex-Justice Minister Olena Lukash and ex deputy Chief-of-Staff Andriy Portnov – have reinvented themselves as “Maidan experts” on television channels owned by the odious Viktor Medvedchuk, whose daughter is the godchild of Vladimir Putin. Both insist that the Euromaidan was an coup, as Russia has always insisted. Portnov returned to Ukraine not that long ago and is already causing trouble, while Lukash never really left, although the criminal cases against her were never actually closed all these years.

And so we have it: some heroes have gone home and some villains are nosing their way into power again.

Translated by Lidia Wolanskyj

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Malko Roman

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