Most of the time walking around Lviv you would just think this is a nice old city with interesting architecture. Some are apartent buildings built in the days of the old Soviet Union. Others are far older. We went into one beautiful old cathedral. But if you look more closely, you are reminded of the reality.
As I noted on my Facebook page, the day started with air raid sirens going off. The alarm sounds whenever Russia fires missiles at Ukraine from outside the country, since when the missiles are shot off the government doesn’t know what direction they will take.
Every few minutes, a few soldiers will pass you by. We passed by a few buildings with those tank “barriers” – steel rails welded together in a 3-D kind of triangle. I didn’t think they would stop a tank, but E. explained to me that when a tank gets to it, the tank rolls up into the air, thereby losing traction on its tracks.
The most clear reminder came when we stopped by a little park. Up on a small hill in the middle of the park was a building with a fence surrounding it. We started to climb into the park but it was too much hassle so we just stood alongside it and chatted while E smoked a cigarette. We’d been standing there about five minutes when all of a sudden a soldier appeared armed with a rifle. He wanted to see our I.D. Fortunately, I’d remembered to bring my passport with me. E showed him his ID and then responded to a series of questions. It turned out that the building was some sort of military institution and the soldier wanted to know what we were doing standing there. “Move along,” was the message!
We strolled through a small park. A guy had a box with a picture of Putin’s face tacked to a box. The picture was in black and white. He also had an air rifle. For a buck or so, you cold get four shots at Putin. On the target were two slogans. One said something to the effect of “Not just an attraction; a dream” in reference to Putin being shot. The other statement was something like, “It is not shameful to miss; it is shameful not to try.” He was keeping pretty busy. He said 15% of what you gave him goes to the army. Who knows if that’s true, but it was a popular selling point.
My day ended with reading that a train station in eastern Ukraine had been struck by missiles – maybe the same missiles that had set off the sirens this morning.
I also had a long discussion with E about Ukrainian far right, including the fascists. I think it’s a lot more complicated that I had originally thought. The previous president, Poroshenko, is of the far right, kind of a more “respectable” face of it. But yet Zelensky called himself an “anarcho capitalist” (if I understood E correctly). E said that, for example, while it is illegal to give the nazi salute, you won’t get into trouble for doing so. However, you could get arrested for singing the Internationale!
From what I am understanding, Ukrainian politics and political thought are dominated by two things. One is regionalism and the other is the question of the relationship with Russia. This latter goes way back to the days of the Holodomyr or great starvation in which some 13% (I think it was) of Ukrainians were starved to death by Stalin. Then there was the reincorporation of Ukraine into the Soviet Union under Stalin. Then Russia’s annexation of Crimea and it’s establishing of the two proxy “republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk. And now of course the invasion.
So, in a way most people don’t even think in the terms of far right or far left as we do in the left. In the US, for example, millions of workers (mainly but not only white) have a general pattern they see or think in terms of – the US being inundated with foreigners, most of whom have darker skin; those same foreigners diluting our culture, speaking in a language that is not understandable and taking up “our” resources and jobs. At the same time, many of these same people think there is a “deep state” that is trying to take over everything in order to control us. All of this might be confused and contradictory, but at least it is a general pattern that people think in terms of. From what I’m understanding, in Ukraine there is one “pattern” that dominates the thinking: How do we relate to Russia? In the past, there was some support, especially in parts of the East, for joining the Russian equivalent of NATO, for example. Others support joining NATO. (That support has skyrocketed since the invasion, naturally enough.)
So, for example, there are many youth joining Azov nowadays. Why? It’s not because they necessarily agree with Azov’s underlying politics; it’s because Azov is seen as the best fighters against the Russians. But at one point we saw a few young guys who were either in the army or the national defense guard. Two of them had right wing symbols sown on their uniforms.
There has been a little bit of a spillover effect, for example in attacks on Roma people. But this is not the basis for the rise of the far right; it’s coincidental to it. Maybe something of a natural outgrowth of the feeling that we need a strong nation in order to be able to stand up to Russia.
As far as anti-Semitism, E said that the majority of Ukrainians have some prejudice against Jews, but not really hatred, and they would really look down on anybody who harassed a Jew or defaced a Jewish symbol or the home of a Jew.
I am also told that there is, or was, a great deal of respect for Israel, for one simple reason: It’s seen as a small country with an extremely effective army.