Books on Ukraine
Update No: 364 -
The Ukrainians had a trauma a quarter of a
century ago, the disaster at the Chernobyl
nuclear plant in 1986. It was followed
five years later by another trauma of a
different order of magnitude, the collapse
of the USSR itself in 1991.The hearts of
all impressionable people everywhere are
going out to those in Japan, suffering
from a terrible catastrophe in Fukushima,
where a nuclear plant, under the impact of
an earthquake and a tsunami, is imploding.
The Ukrainians have a lot of experience to
offer. It raises fundamental questions -
and how. They are sending experts to help,
right across Eurasia.
Ukraine at the crossroads
The Ukrainians are not sure where they go
next. The Rose Revolution of October, 2004
did not work out. They were massively
ill-advised by Western consultants of a
heavily ideological stamp. The message was
'smash the state – and the market will
sort everything out fine.'
It hasn't worked in the West, as the
recent crisis in its economies has shown.
It didn't work out in Russia or Ukraine.
The Russians and the Ukrainians made the
mistake of supposing that the current
people, politicos and economists, in
charge of the West understand why it has
been such a phenomenal success over
several centuries. They don't even begin
to. They are benighted ideologues,
virtually all, as misled by 'verities' of
the Cold War as the myopic Soviets.
If the Western world is still functioning
it is by ignoring their advice and having
the state pour billions into the banks to
save them. Such a ready response is not
likely to work in the aftermath of a
collapsed socialist economy. It is going
to take generations to rebuild a viable
civil society and market economy, which go
hand in hand.
Yanukovich recidivus - and Russia too?
President Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian
Ukrainian and former premier, came to
power last year. He was premier before the
Rose Revolution of 2004.
Yanukovych, who ended a five-year
pro-Western period under Yushchenko,
during which Ukraine attempted to move
closer to the West, came to power on a
pro-Russian ticket, pledging to restore
closer relations with Moscow.
So far, Mr Yanukovych has honoured his
commitment. The Russian and Ukrainian
governments have signed agreements in the
economic, military, aviation and nuclear
spheres. On top of that, the Ukrainian
leader has made it clear that his country
has no interest in joining NATO, reversing
a policy pursued by his predecessor, Mr
Gas merger proposed by Putin
Suddenly Moscow has upped the stakes in
Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime
Minister, has proposed a merger between
Russia’s state run gas company, Gazprom,
and its Ukrainian counterpart, Naftogaz.
At a time when the Ukrainian government
agreed to extend the lease of the Russian
Black Sea fleet in the Crimea for a
further three years, following a deal done
between Moscow and Kiev, Mr Putin’s
suggestion demonstrates the extent to
which relations between Russia and Ukraine
have been repaired since Ukrainian
President Yushchenko was around.
Speaking about the proposal, Dmitri Peskov,
Mr Putin’s spokesman, said the idea to
merge Gazprom and Naftogaz had been
“thoroughly thought through” by the
Kremlin and was a reflection of how
“Russia is ready to integrate with Kiev”.
Russia’s first deputy Prime Minister, Igor
Shuvalov, has now been given the task of
overseeing greater integration between the
two former Soviet republics in the field
Feminism goes AWOL - perhaps into Europe
It's not every day that a women's rights
group from Eastern Europe makes it big
time. But it's no surprise that the media
made an exception for Femen last year. Its
thousands of teenage and twenty something
Ukrainian campaigners regularly go topless
with flowers in their hair, have worn
bikinis made from surgical masks, and even
mud-wrestled to draw attention to their
cause, since they launched in 2008 –
causing outrage among feminists and
traditionalists alike. Yet today Femen's
almost weekly protests are so successful
it is planning to expand into Europe.
Founded by Anna Hutsol, Femen began as a
campaign against the explosion of
prostitution and sex tourism in Ukraine
(sparked by the collapse of the Soviet
Union in 1991, and intensified by the
arrival of budget airlines and a depressed
economy). As its popularity grew, Femen
took on issues as diverse as vote-rigging
and the stoning sentence meted out to
Iranian Sakineh Ashtiani. The next
protest, on 26 April, was timed to
coincide with the anniversary of Chernobyl
when Russian politicians were visiting
Inna Shevchenko, 20, a spokeswoman for the
group, admits no one was listening before
they started stripping off. "At the
beginning, we were not protesting topless
but we realised we had to do something
really radical. We don't have people to
promote or help us, or big money.
Everywhere – from TV channels to magazines
– you see naked girls selling something.
We are trying to say: 'You should not show
your body like that; you should use it to
protest and fight.'"
With a pool of 40 topless activists, 300
local members and an estimated 30,000
online supporters, there are now Femen
groups in five Ukrainian cities, with
plans to set up one in Poland in time for
the European football championship next
The group's tactics have certainly had an
impact, says Ukrainian gender studies
expert Tetyana Bureychak. "At the
beginning of a lecture on feminism I asked
my students what they knew about feminism
and what associations they had with the
word. One of the first replies was Femen."
Yet many feminists point out that the
group's tactics reinforce the idea that
women are sex objects whose only value
lies in their appearance – a serious issue
in a country where the prime minister,
Mykola Azarov, felt he could defend his
all-male cabinet by saying “conducting
reforms is not women's business.”
So, it's not surprising that most
Ukrainian women are unimpressed by Femen,
says Bureychak. "They do not contribute to
a positive representation of Ukrainian
feminism." However, there is certainly no
doubting the commitment of activists such
as Shevchenko, who says she has been
arrested more than 10 times, lost her
government job, and spent nights in jail
for her work with Femen. She is one of
several full-time activists the group
supports through donations and the sale of
its merchandise – including pictures
painted with their breasts. Like many of
the group's members – whose average age is
22 – she is a student in a country where
one in eight sex workers is said to be a
university student or schoolgirl.
"Men come [to Kiev] in groups of 100 for
two or three days and go to nightclubs to
pick up girls and do what they want.
Before we protested no one talked about
prostitution and sex tourism in Ukraine,"
she says. "But now, all the media here and
abroad show that Ukraine is not a country
of prostitutes but a country of naked
girls fighting prostitution and sex
Shevchenko blames the economic downturn
for leaving women few alternative ways to
earn money, and wants the government to
take action. "Our government has done
everything to develop sex tourism – you
don't need a visa to come here.
Prostitution in Ukraine is illegal, but in
the centre of Kiev there are so many
brothels, and the police know about them
and do nothing."
Maria Mayerchyk, from Lviv University,
stresses that Femen is a "positive,
radical and important phenomenon that is
able to raise social issues". And
Bureychak points out that Femen is
operating in the aftermath of a feminist
backlash – because gender equality is seen
as a socialist preoccupation and too
closely linked with the ideals of the
Socialist era. As Shevchenko says: "We
didn't want to be traditional feminists .
. . Women's organisations and groups here
only write papers and nothing more. We
need activists who will scream and leave
their clothes in the street."