A new book: Migrant Friendships in a Super-Diverse City

ibidem-Verlag published my book titled Migrant Friendships in a Super-Diverse City: Russian-Speakers and their Social Relationships in London in the 21st Century in October 2015.

Description

This timely book offers an integrative and critical approach to the conceptualization of diversity of social ties in contemporary urban migrant populations. It explores the informal relationships of migrants in London and how the construction and the dynamics of their social ties function as a part of urban sociality within the super-diversity of London.Based on the results of a qualitative study of Russian-speaking migrants, it targets the four main themes of transnationalism, ethnicity, cosmopolitanization, and friendship. Acknowledging the complexity of the ways in which contemporary migrants rely on social relationships, the author argues that this complexity cannot be fully grasped by theories of transnationalism or explanations of ethnic communities alone. Instead, one can gather a closer understanding of migrant sociality when adding the analysis of informal relationships in different locations and with different subjects. This book suggests that friendship should be seen as an important concept for all research on migrant social connections.

Contents

Foreword by Claire Dwyer
Introduction  
Chapter 1. Limits of transnationalism 
London: a super-diverse city
Russian-speaking migrants in London
Transnationalism: introducing a popular concept in migration studies
Who is a transmigrant?
Critique of transnationalism
Conclusions
Chapter 2. Ethnicity and social relationships 
Ethnicity and migration
Social relationships amongst migrants
The nature of friendship
(post) Soviet friendship
Conclusions
Chapter 3. Localising friends    
‘It just happens’
Looking for Russian-speakers
Expanding networks
Transnational friendships?
Conclusions
Chapter 4. Choosing friends  
Degrees of closeness
Constructing distances among Russian-speakers in the bar
Divisions within the community
Affective distancing
Conclusions
Chapter 5. Rethinking friends    
Becoming cosmopolitan
Everyday diversity
Dynamics of change
Social contexts of cosmopolitanisation
‘Us’ and ‘Them’: questioning the dichotomy
Ambiguous images of ‘otherness’
Conclusions
Conclusion  

Reviews

“Drawing on a range of innovative research methods, Migrant Friendships in a Super-Diverse City presents an original and empirically compelling picture of the Russian-speaking diaspora in London. This book is a must for European migration scholars.” — Alan Latham, University College London

You can buy the book from the publisher, Columbia University Press website, on Amazon (UK/US/Germany/France/Canada) or other vendors.

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Dismantling East European-ness Onstage

Community theatre group Molodyi teatr questions and deconstructs what it means to be an East European migrant in London.


Photo credit: Sasha Taran
Photo credit: Sasha Taran

The  Migrants

I just joined the theatre group Molodyi teatr a few weeks ago. The troupe is made up of about a dozen East European migrants, mostly Ukrainians and a couple of Russians, including myself. We’re rehearsing a short piece to be performed in commemoration of Holodomor, the man-made famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in 1932-33.  The text is drawn from interviews with Holodomor survivors, who narrate their stories of practical survival and death in a chillingly mundane manner.

At one of the final rehearsals, a cast member, a Russian-speaking girl who is not Ukrainian, raises her hand in the middle of the reading. Looking uneasy she asks the show’s director, Olesya Khromeychuk, ‘What is this about?’ After a few moments of awkward silence, the rest of the cast begins to laugh somewhat hysterically. In a few simple sentences, Olesya explains to her the history and significance of one of the most traumatic events in twentieth-century Ukrainian history.

This is one of my first memories of joining Molodyi teatr at the end of 2013. It was, of course, before the start of Euromaidan and the related events that triggered the popularity of Ukraine-related topics in the media and public discourse. This cast member’s question was, in part, indicative of widespread historical ignorance and the poor quality of education in some former Soviet republics. However, her question also speaks to a lack of understanding and curiosity between and among disparate (but also interconnected) groups of post-Soviet migrants in twenty-first-century London.

Since the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s intervention in the East of Ukraine, relationships between Ukrainians and Russians in London have soured. Friends have fallen out. Clashes have broken out between Ukrainians staging protests on the street and Russian passersby, at public events and on social media. This doesn’t mean, however, that the war in Ukraine has coalesced Ukrainians and Russians into two opposing communities with clearly demarcated boundaries.

Rallying Ukrainians in London have sometimes found themselves in heated debate on the street with someone who turns out to be from East Ukraine themselves. Quarrels with compatriots – friends and relatives – have now become commonplace. While the conflict has created new fault lines and deepened old divisions in relationships between members of global post-Soviet migrant communities, the patterns of these shifting relationships are subtle and cannot be viewed in black-and-white.

The Play

This is among the central ideas behind Molodyi teatr’s first English-language production ‘Bloody East Europeans’. The play was written by Uilleam Blacker, a lecturer in comparative Russian and East European Studies at University College London, and directed by Olesya Khromeychuk, a historian at the University of East Anglia and the driving force behind the theatre group. ‘Bloody East Europeans’ is based on real life accounts of migrants from different East European countries living in London.

The stories are woven into a simple plot. Elements of comedy and drama work to introduce diverse (and mainly marginalised) migrant characters gathered in a bar that gets raided by immigration officers in the second half of the play. In all its simplicity, the play presents a series of vignettes in anecdotal fashion that not only lend the production ethnographic qualities, but also make it, effectively, a theatrical meta-piece: a play by migrants, about migrants.

The stories in the play are brought together to argue against lumping ‘East Europeans’ into one unified or homogenous group. It successfully deconstructs common notions of ‘East European-ness’ through complex accounts of relationships unfolding between the characters on the stage. Most of the time this involves stressing the fact that ‘we’re not all Russian’, or giving the audience a glimpse into the linguistic diversity of the region, or explaining why Ukrainians and Poles may have something against one another.

The play also includes contentious moments, in which such differences and points of tension are themselves performed. For example, at the start of the piece the actors onstage begin introducing the audience to various words and names of cities in Eastern Europe. When one character says, ‘Simferopol!’, a city in Russia-annexed Crimea, another steps forward and adds ‘Nash!’ (‘Ours’ in Russian and Ukrainian) – a clear allusion to the infamous post-annexation Russian slogan ‘Krym nash!’ (‘Crimea is ours!’).

When we performed this segment in London in summer 2015, the tension in the room was palpable. The audience was almost all East European, and mostly Ukrainian. After the show, the actor who played the latter character was worried about the negative reception of these lines. ‘I heard noises. People were definitely not happy about me saying this’, the actor said.

The Theatre

Since the beginning, Molodyi teatr has focused on Ukrainian culture, but the company is not bent on tradition. It is not ethnicity or migrant background that brings its members together. It is, rather, a multilingual space for informal communication about notions of culture in a broad sense. In other words, the group provides a space for the formation of a social network. The members of the troupe are connected through contextual and flexible informal ties of friendship and companionship.

This is not to say that their relationships are always positive and constructive, though: occasionally, there can be tension, anger, and irritation. Just as in any community, there can be frustration and dissatisfaction. There might be boredom. The theatre is an emotional space, after all.

While some of the members say that they joined the theatre because the lives of so many of their compatriots in London seemed too boring and monotonous, the theatre is neither a means of escaping hardships and routine, nor an informal support group. As a community and a participatory space, the theatre offers its members a chance to express their agency. In the case of ‘Bloody East Europeans’, the play allows its participants to speak for themselves and on behalf of other East European migrants in London. The play gives voice to those who are often marginalised, victimised, and stereotyped – undocumented migrants.

By doing so, Molodyi Teatr endeavors to deconstruct not only notions of ‘East-European-ness’, but also the category of ‘illegality’. As one anonymous spectator told the theatre, ‘My life of the last eight years is exactly what you showed in your play’. These kinds of comments from audience members testify to the representational quality of the project in that they come from the groups and individuals who were the initial source of ‘data’ used for the play. Performing for more diverse audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was an important step in terms of moving past the image of ‘diasporic theatre’ and gaining voice on a broader scale.

As ‘Bloody East Europeans’ illustrates through its use of satire, music, and real-life stories, in London there is no single community of East Europeans, post-Soviets, Russian-speakers, Ukrainians, or Russians for that matter. Social relationships among migrants are complex and contingent not only upon historical and political background, but also a variety of personal and structural factors, local contexts such as spaces that they are (co-)inhabiting, and practical qualities of particular relationships.

As London becomes increasingly diverse and questions around migration dominate the press, we can only hope that Molodyi teatr will continue its work as a performative social space empowering both actors and audiences to consider the complexities of London’s social life.

The musical-satire ‘Bloody East Europeans’ by ‘Molodyi teatr’ (Young Theatre) will be featured in the month-long documentary theatre programme at GRAD gallery in London on 9 October. The play is one of three documentary plays included in the series on themes of migration and social inequality in Bulgaria, Russia and the UK. For the complete theatre programme click here.


This article first appeared at: http://politicalcritique.org/culture/2015/dismantling-east-european-ness-onstage/


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Documenting Ukraine

(co-authored with Tom Rowley; first published at https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-rowley-darya-malyutina/documenting-ukraine)


As we end four days devoted to documentary cinema, theatre and debate in London, never have documentary forms had such an important role to play.


Under an intensely red safe-light, a photographic print begins to develop before our eyes: from close up, two tanks move away from us – their turrets pointing into the distance. The tanks, provenance and location all unexplained, are ominously close – so close we can touch them – but yet remain out of reach, strange. The tanks are, of course, somewhere in eastern Ukraine. This image, which opens Release Oleg Sentsov (a new film about the film director from Simferopol, Crimea, currently detained on terrorism charges in Moscow), seems to capture much of the current conflict – so heavily ‘mediated’ for people outside the borders of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO), but so violent, terrifying and destructive for people caught inside of it.

Unfortunately, though, just as Ukraine has only recently ‘arrived’ in the European mindset, so has it disappeared. Mission creep outside Mariupol gets slant column inches, and neither does life in the ATO – the death toll for May is already rising. The now 1.2m refugees flounder without proper state support, nor much interest in the West. Ukraine’s economy has hit rock -bottom under the stress of conflict, annexation and years of mismanagement.

Against a backdrop of ‘Ukraine fatigue’ for Western audiences, the four-day festival Documenting Ukraine (14-17 May 2015) aimed to place Ukraine squarely on the agenda through a programme of documentary cinema, theatre and debate.

Documentary theatre

In recent years, documentary theatre has come to the forefront of experimental theatre practice across Russia and Eastern Europe. In their continued efforts to negotiate civic injustice and its connections to the past, theatre artists from numerous post-Socialist countries have taken to incorporating material from real-life events in their portrayals of everyday life onstage.

With two evenings of theatre performances at London’s GRAD gallery, the first part of Documenting Ukraine focused on recent documentary theatre responses to the conflict in Ukraine. While the first performance (14 May), led by Georg Genoux, reflected on the director’s experience of volunteering in the town of Nikolaevka (Mykolaivka) in eastern Ukraine, the second day saw Ukraine’s leading New Drama playwright, Natalia Vorozhbit (author of Maidan: Voices from the Uprising) present her most recent play Can I or Can’t I, read by Amanda Drew.

Genoux’s story is a thoughtful and affectionate elaboration on the lives of adults and children living in war-affected Nikolaevka, a town which was occupied by pro-Russian separatists, before the Ukrainian army took back control in July 2014. The occupation and military actions resulted in a number of civilian casualties, as well as destruction of some parts of the town, and volunteers from western Ukraine have been working with the local population in order to restore peace and support the community.

The footage together with the interviews provides a multi-vocal account of diverse people trying to overcome the traumatic consequences of the war and restore their normal lives. There is little editing to the audio; there are dramatic monologues and barely intelligible mundane conversations; in the background of some of them, one can hear squeaking of the snow or children laughing. This raw and realistic material is combined with an eerie video: the camera slowly glides through the streets and buildings of the town, some of which bear signs of shelling and bullet marks on the walls.

Genoux’s work captures the tensions and contradictions of the everyday lives of his ordinary subjects, with their joys and sufferings, ambiguous feelings towards the separatists and Ukraine, trust and suspicion towards the volunteers, fear and solidarity. Stressing his ethical concerns about avoiding the exploitation of people’s pain, and grasping the diversity of first-hand experiences, Genoux succeeds at giving his subjects voice and space to express themselves, eschewing the appropriation of their stories.

A different path

Natalia Vorozhbit’s play cuts a different track – an autobiographical monologue of a woman travelling to Donetsk airport through war-torn eastern Ukraine to do research for a screenplay, and who falls in love with the officer accompanying her.

The play offers an insightful take on the war from a female point of view, and includes a combination of the tragic, the routine, the macabre, and the comedic, constantly stressing the coexistence of the intimate and the deadly as its main focus. Stylistically resembling Zabuzhko’s Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex, the draft of Can I or Can’t I also represents a kind of ‘fieldwork’: anecdotal, empirical, emotional, and seemingly very personal.

The questions of personal involvement and defining one’s position in respect to the ongoing conflict, either as a journalist or as an artist, have become key issues in today’s increasingly hostile climate. Vorozhbit stressed that her current work is a reflexive attempt to voice not only the concerns of other people, but also to speak for herself, while also being part of the ongoing crisis. Natalia Gumenyuk, co-founder of Hromadske.tv, noted that working on Euromaidan and the war in Ukraine as a journalist has been a specific experience for her: ‘As a journalist, the main thing is to make your account as human as possible. You are just a transmitter of information, but you need to make people care; and even though you are emotionally affected you can’t put in too much of an emotion.’

In line with the main idea of the festival, Gumenyuk underlined the importance of documentary as a means of gathering information and presenting it to the audience, particularly stressing the need to pay attention to the ways in which the war has affected the routine lives of the people. While it has become increasingly difficult for Ukrainian journalists to gather first-hand information in the East, such materials are invaluable for any analysis of the conflict, its risks and implications.

Quality media, then, is critical for creating opportunities to digest and adjust to the consequences of the war with the least possible loss. A documentary approach, whether in theatre or on the screen, is a potential way to increase empathy and understanding, facilitate dialogue between diverse parts of the society, and bridge distances. Vorozhbit and Genoux’s initiative of creating a theatre performance with the children from the East, based on their stories, and take it to the West of the country is one of the ways to do that. Gumenyuk asserts that for creating a credible media narrative in the current circumstances, it is vital to speak to the people on the ground and present the material in an accurate way.

Lastly, a question that is bound to be raised in regard of any attempt to portray sensitive and political issues by an outside observer, concerns the ability to represent the events and human experiences in their complexity, and the dilemmatic choice between giving people voice or speaking for them. Are we at risk of commodifying personal narratives, of involving ourselves in crisis tourism, when it comes to artistic response?

Though this question remains unanswerable, these performances, based on interviews and real experience, raise the possibility of a fruitful dialogue between the ‘East’ and the ‘West’ (in both Ukraine, and beyond).

Documentary cinema

Organised by Open City Docs and DocudaysUA, and with the support of O’Neill Consultancy, Documenting Ukraine: Cinema aimed to bring not only the conflict, but some of Ukraine’s cultural history to audiences in London.

While the late 1980s saw a resurgence of committed documentary making in the Soviet public mind, the 1990s – with the upheaval and funding difficulties that decade brought – were far from kind to documentary cinema in Ukraine. The 2000s, though, have seen bold steps in the making and funding of documentary film – partially aided by technology.

The film festival opened with Sergei Bukovsky’s Ukraine: The Countdown (2011). Produced to mark the twentieth anniversary of Ukrainian independence, Bukovsky, now a veteran of documentary cinema, tells the story of how Ukraine became independent in 1991 through interviews with political and cultural figures from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and the US.

That story of independence, under however much pressure in 2011, experienced another radical break in 2014. The overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych, annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, has altered the political landscape of both Russia and Ukraine completely. Release Oleg Sentsov, a film by Askold Kurov (director of Children 404) and Andriy Lytvynenko, details how Oleg Sentsov, a film-maker from Simferopol in Crimea, found himself caught up in that situation.

Sentsov is currently detained on terrorism charges in Moscow after he was arrested in May 2014. While other people arrested in that operation have been sentenced up to seven years in prison for their alleged activities, Sentsov was later tortured and accused of being a member of the Right Sector group, planning a campaign of terror against the newly-acceded peninsula. He is now awaiting trial – though the hearings are constantly pushed back. With powerful footage from the last few months, Kurov’s film follows Sentsov’s sister Natalia Kaplan as she attempts to help her brother in prison, as well as the international efforts by film-makers to intercede on Sentsov’s behalf.

Indeed, Agnieszka Holland made a special appearance at this event to raise awareness of Sentsov’s case: ‘He is a young man. He is a talented man. He is a man full of life and courage. He remains in prison with incredible strength and courage. I just want to see him free in the country he chose, making his movies and raising his children.’ Russian by nationality, Sentsov has stated that he is a citizen of Ukraine.

The necessity of hearing people, of objectivity, has never been more relevant, and personal stories cut through the media narratives and clichés. As photographer Aleksandr Glyadelov, whose prints accompanied the festival, put it: ‘we are, unfortunately, too accustomed to statistical reports: the day before yesterday 3 people were killed and 7 injured. I give another way of looking. When you know people directly, you can’t forget what is really going on. The sharpness comes back.’

In this sense, never has documentary been more needed than now. Anthony Butt’s The Curious Tale of the Handmade Country (in production) fulfills this function perfectly by tracing the formation of the Donetsk People’s Republic through real life ‘characters’ who participated in the events of 2014. As if a response to the call to ‘Listen to the Donbas’, Butt’s film lets people in the Donetsk region speak for themselves – even as Butts gets right up close to the messy and brutal formation of the DPR.

Messy and brutal may be the words to describe the final part of Saturday’s programme, focused on Maidan, with a series of shorts from different directors charting the emerging situation in January-February 2014. Shot on hand-held cameras, these films are almost too intense to watch – to be in the crowd during the violence on both sides, as a society (as these films depict) visibly breaks apart, is too much. Influenced strongly by photojournalism, these shorts return to those recognisable moments from 2014 – the crowds and the riot police clashing, bodies in central Kyiv, and the uncertainty of what would come next.

The time before

There was also time for recent documentary cinema from Ukraine before the country became known for violent conflict. Going back to the 1920s, Ukraine has long had a pedigree of documentary film-making and poetic cinema, and the Cinema section was packed with treasures: Tomorrow is a Holiday (1987), Mum died on Saturday in the Kitchen (2010), Crepuscule (2013) and Dziga Vertov’s Year 11 (1926), re-scored by Anton Baibakov.

While Maxim Vasyanovych’s touching family portrait Mum died on Saturday in the Kitchen made its UK premiere, Sergei Bukovsky’s perestroika picture took us right back to a time which, for many, is all but lost. Movingly shot in black and white, Tomorrow is a Holiday tells the – gripping – story of a chicken factory in Soviet Ukraine during the late 1980s. Crepuscule, made by Valentyn Vasyanovych, focuses on the personal relationships in a Zhytomyr village – the arguments, slow pace of life, and, unfortunately, the slow death of the Ukrainian village.

Maxim Vasyanovych’s piece, though, stole the show in many ways – technically accomplished, its self-reflexive editing and engaging subject matter herald a new age of documentary. On stage, it was clear the representatives of two very different generations of film–makers were far from being on the same page when it comes to the technological innovations and strict financial constraints documentary film now faces.

One hopes that, some one day, this kind of conflict might supersede the current one.


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‘The Point of No Return’ and discussion on ‘Ukraine then and now’ at New Diorama Theatre

From the end of April to the end of May, the play ‘The Point of No Return’ runs at New Diorama Theatre, alongside a number of post-show panel discussions. On 30 April, the show was followed by a conversation on the legacy of Euromaidan with Dr. Rory Finnin from Cambridge University, writer and director of the play Tommy Lexen, and Ukrainian producer, actor and playwright Dmytro Ternovyi.

20150430_221956‘The Point of No Return’, a result of collaboration between BeFrank Theatre Company and their Ukrainian partners Theatre na Zhukah, explores the stories of people involved in the last, and most violent, four days of the Ukrainian revolution in February 2014. Extensive research, trips to Ukraine, interviews with Euromaidan participants, and discussions with experts provide the production with a solid background.

Although no references are made to real people or countries, the atmosphere portrayed on the stage is very recognisable, especially for those who followed the developments of the winter of 2013-2014. The performance deals with a highly topical issue of ordinary citizens involved in dramatic events related to the civic uprising. The action is fast-paced and dynamic, and while each of the actors has a few roles to play, they switch between the scenes smoothly, allowing the intertwining storylines to form parts of something bigger, just like the individual stories were part of the bigger process of Euromaidan. Actors and props are well coordinated; together with the creative approach to incorporation of various materials, from rubber and metal to water and rope, and the use of interplay between light and darkness, this provides, at times, an almost tangible experience.

The second act of the play is slightly less impressive, starting off a bit sloppy, and later on hovering on the verge of cliché a couple of times, with the poignancy occasionally turning into pathos. However, overall the play leaves an impression of a well-researched piece that is both emotional and technically coordinated, and makes a decent attempt at exploring the diversity of experiences entangled in a process of major historical, political and cultural importance.

In the panel discussion after the play, Dr Rory Finnin, Tommy Lexen, and Dmytro Ternovyi spoke about the implications of the Maidan both in Ukraine and in the West, and the shift between Ukraine ‘then’ and ‘now’.

Tommy Lexen described how he became obsessed with the story – and stories – behind the Euromaidan since its start in November 2013, and worked to obtain first-hand information about participation in the events that unfolded during the revolution. The very idea of the play, according to Lexen, was born out of the questions: What about the people behind it all? Would we, in the West, do the same? What would we do? The play was an opportunity to take a story from ‘outside of our life’ and take it back, trying to make Ukraine more accessible to the ‘Western’ audience, said the director.

Dmytro Ternovyi from Kharkiv’s Theatre na Zhukah stressed the role of the Maidan as not just a political but also cultural event. While Ukrainian art used to be seen as traditional and archaic, Maidan allowed it to be seen as something modern. The flourishing of art in contemporary Ukraine, especially taking into account the ongoing war with Russia, was spoken about very warmly.

Rory Finnin, who also contributed to the play with his previous discussions with the cast, underlined that Maidan shouldn’t have been a surprise. Protest has been a frame for the Ukrainian cultural society going back to 17th-18th century. The importance of the play, according to Dr Finnin, lies in its ability to help think about the bigger picture, about people achieving something remarkable, and tackle issues of a global significance like struggle for democracy or state violence. At the same time, this art piece is assertive in its approach to the civic and political agency of the Ukrainian people; Dr Finnin reminded of the critical importance of seeing the people of Ukraine not as objects but as active subjects of their own story.

While, according to its director, the play is concerned with questioning what would happen if these events took place in the streets of a Western city, there is another, no less significant issue pertaining to this work: the quandaries of representation. For that matter, the play – as well as the making of it – is also a reflection of the power relations and the constructions of ‘the East’ and ‘The West’. Can the West represent Ukraine? Can a London-based team with a Swedish director represent the people who took part in the Maidan? Are you giving voice or appropriating their ability to speak for themselves? To what extent are Ukrainians active subjects in the play?

It seems that the creators of this play must have given a thought to these questions. This is suggested by the amount of research underlying the production. As well, the stress on the multiplicity of truths revealed and uncovered by the processes triggered by the Maidan is a way to avoid the potential risks connected with the politics of representation. The multivocality and fluidity of the events unfolding on the stage are appropriate artistic devices to do that.

Audience reviews

I think the play was really good. The actors seemed focused and concentrated, and their actions were well coordinated. I enjoyed how they shifted between the roles, working both emotionally and realistically. They were really making an effort. I understood pretty much everything, except the moments when some other languages seemed to be spoken from the barricades – but I think it’s the question to the director. The play was a very emotional experience for me; I felt like I travelled back in time to the Maidan period, a time of great expectations and a big tragedy. (Yaroslav)

It might take years to understand and to heal the trauma of the Maidan protests, especially the violence which unfolded in the final stages of the protests. Artistic representation of these events could be a way to work through the conflicting emotions raised by the Maidan. One of the main achievements of the ‘Point of No Return’ is that it tries to tell a number of stories, avoiding the usual black-and-white portrayal of the events. (Olesya)


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Graham Phillips vs. Stepan Bandera: pro-Russian propagandist breaks into London museum

On Sunday 26 April, London-based Museum of Stepan Bandera organised guided tours focused on the history of national liberation struggle in Ukraine and the life of the controversial leader. However, there was an unexpected visitor: Graham Phillips, the notorious pro-Russian video journalist.

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The museum which was opened in 1962 has a collection of Bandera’s personal belongings, but is not only focused on this historical figure. There is a wide selection of various print materials from the Archive of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), books, brochures, leaflets, newspapers and magazines. There is also a collection of drawings and other handcrafted items produced by Ukrainian prisoners in German and Soviet concentration camps. One of the most interesting items which embodies memory and historical continuities in an interactive way is a guestbook which is over half a century old: the first comment in it was made when the museum was opened, and visitors have been writing in it ever since.

Stepan Bandera was certainly a controversial historical personality, as well as the whole history of the OUN. This legacy remains divisive for the Ukrainian society and has not been entirely constructive for relations with other countries, primarily Poland. Moreover, Russia-Ukraine war has provided fertile ground for Russia’s manipulative juggling of the history of Ukrainian independence struggle, as part of its ‘weaponization of information’ strategy. It was not surprising, then, that Graham Phillips, perhaps one of the most infamous pro-Kremlin media journalists, turned up with a camera and attempted to break into the premises.

Phillips who has spent most of the time last year in Eastern Ukraine, produces propaganda videos for Russian media including RT and Zvezda channel. He has a long track record of crossing the line between journalism and propaganda, spreading disinformation, and disregarding journalist ethics. According to the tour organisers and to a video filmed by Phillips and his operator, he tried to get inside the museum, continuously repeating like a mantra something about ’Nazi collaborator museum’.

‘We asked him if he had registered for the event. Instead of replying, he suddenly started yelling that we were Nazis and fascists. When asked for a journalist ID, he showed something like a driving licenсe’, says one of the witnesses. ‘He was very professional, in his own way, of course,’ says the other, ‘he did not let us say a word, but rather was going on and on with his monologue about Nazi collaboration and celebration of WWII criminals, primarily for the camera’. In Phillips’s video, one can see, indeed, how he constantly turns to the camera and pushes the same line, turning the situation into a one-man show, instead of recording an actual interaction.

Eventually, the museum called the police, and it was only a matter of a couple of minutes until Phillips, still squealing about fascists, was escorted off the premises. ‘I don’t get him’, tells one of the visitors. ‘He could have registered, maybe even under a fake name, but he could have come legitimately. He could have looked at the items on display quietly and listened to the lecture, instead of breaking in and being kicked out with a scandal by the police. He could have gone to the British Library and studied the materials on OUN and Bandera if he’s so interested, instead of making a fuss’. For that matter, the methods used by Phillips and the likes are not the methods of investigative journalists or researchers, and instead of producing a valid critical analysis he deliberately generates unsubstantiated, biased and unethical statements.

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Russian and Ukrainian activists protest against Russian pop star Valeria at the Royal Albert Hall: a few comments on the media coverage

On 21 October 2014, a joint Russian-Ukrainian protest took place outside the Royal Albert Hall in London ahead of a concert by Russian pop singer Valeria.

Nicknamed ‘Kremlin cheerleaders’, the singer whose real name is Alla Perfilova, and Soviet-era crooner Iosif Kobzon were supposed to perform together in London (Kobzon cancelled his trip at the last moment). Both are known as staunch supporters of the Russian regime who signed an open letter supporting Putin’s policies in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. London-based Russian refugee and political activist Andrey Sidelnikov with his campaign group ‘Govorite Gromche’ (‘Speak up’) initiated a petition calling for banning the singers’ entry to the UK on the grounds of their public political activities and support of the Russian regime. To date, the petition has gathered over 4,000 signatures. It was handed to Downing St in mid-October. (Probably the most detailed overview of the events preceding the protest in English can be found in Luke Harding’s Guardian piece). London-based Ukrainian activists took active part in campaigning and protesting.

Of all the numerous protests that took place in London in the last year, organised by the vocal group ‘London Euromaidan’, or those campaigns that Andrey Sidelnikov’s activist group initiated in the 4 years of its existence, this one was among those which received significant media coverage. Indeed, in the weeks preceding the concert, Russian media concentrated on Sidelnikov’s plans to urge the UK government to deny entry to the country to Kremlin supporters. Personal attacks on the activist by pro-Russian media ensued almost immediately, stressing the ‘anti-Russian’, provocative (or downright ‘treacherous’) nature of his plans and making links to his personal history as a refugee and opposition activist (sometimes presented in ridiculously misinformed ways). On the other hand, the interest to the campaigner has re-emerged from those from the same side of the barricades, including Ukrainian media. Ukrainian Radio Svoboda published a brief interview with him, espreso.tv praised his activity as ‘fighter for peace and human rights campaigner’, another piece stressed the ‘conscientious’ character of his activity and collaboration with the Ukrainian diaspora.

The reaction of the media after the concert (and the protest) took place was, in a way, also predictable. BBC Russian observed the protest, producing a reasonably balanced material. ‘Angliya’, UK-based Russian language newspaper, provided a brief overview. Ukrainian sources, including diasporic media, stressed the collaborative character of the Russian-Ukrainian protest, and in general paid more attention to the protest as well as to the cultural event’s political underpinnings, rather than to the concert itself. The general message of the pro-Russian media, on the other hand, focused on the success of the show and the presumed futility of the attempts to disrupt it by the alleged provocateurs. Russia’s 1st channel notes: ‘Not having succeeded in their attempts to cancel the concert, the protesters with Ukrainian flags and anti-Russian banners rallied outside Albert Hall, but they did not meet any compassion from the spectators. Valeria wasn’t particularly worried by the events outside the stage’. NTV asserts: ‘The voices of the protesters were not heard inside the walls of Albert Hall. The local authorities did not listen to them, either’. ‘RG.ru claims: ‘The marginal campaign [of Govorite Gromche group] would have failed completely, if not for the support from the representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora from ‘London Euromaidan’. Ukrainians only attracted the attention because of coming to Albert Hall with flags and banners’.

By accentuating the marginality of the protest, its small scale, lack of influence, or by ridiculing the protest organisers, pro-Russian media are putting forward messages that are hardly new or surprising. However, there was also one more important issue that was touched upon by both ‘sides’ and raised in a discussion led by Mikhail Kozyrev at Dozhd channel. To put it briefly, the question is that of a risk of possible ‘double standards’ approach. The dilemma entails, in this particular case, similar attitudes of the supporters of the regime and its opponents to expression of political views by artists. Attacks on musicians and cancellations of concerts have been actively employed by the regime supporters; should the opposition resort to the same methods? At the same time, if the artist is vocally supporting international aggression and oppressive laws, that should be making him/her more of a propaganda tool and less of a purely cultural activist – shouldn’t this invoke any counteraction?

Evgeny Chichvarkin, an exiled Russian businessman and protest activist who also took part in the rally, writes in his blog: ‘Banning people’s professional activity because of their political views is the prerogative of dictators, like the same Putin. […] I am for the artists, whoever they support, to perform and travel freely to any country. […] But I think that it would be right to remind the thousands of people who will come to listen to their favourite singer about her civic and political position. People like her, and especially Kobzon, have a serious influence on their huge audiences, and one cannot close their eyes on this’, ‘I want and demand from the celebrities not to call for voting for Putin’, he states. His position is perhaps one of the least radical among the protesters, though.

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‘France, make cheese not war!’ Ukrainians rally in front of the French embassy in London

On 7 September 2014, over 30 Ukrainian activists and supporters rallied in front of the French embassy in London, protesting against France selling Mistral warships to Russia.

20140907_155416Russia has ordered two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships from France. The first one was scheduled to be delivered in October this year, and the French officials have been defending the arms sale for a while despite the position of the international community against arming Russia as an aggressor in Ukraine. Following the increasing criticism from NATO and the EU, after the meeting of the French defence committee on 3 September, a statement was issued by the office of French President Francois Hollande announcing the suspension of the 1.2 billion euro deal and claiming that the conditions for the delivery of the ship ‘have so far not been met’.

20140907_152627Despite the warship delivery has been put on hold, Ukrainian communities worldwide continued rallying against the military deal between France and Russia. The suspension was approached with a degree of scepticism; especially considering that the decision was made after months of resistance by Paris, did not mean ultimate cancellation of the sale, and could cost France at least 1 billion euro to reimburse what Russia has already paid and to cover the penalty fee. Protests took place this and previous weeks in the UK, France, Ukraine, Ireland, Spain, USA, Canada, Finland and Netherlands.

20140907_153423_1London-based activists have already rallied against Mistral sales in June and July this year.

20140907_152637Today, they gathered in front of the embassy with flags and banners. The protesters chanted: ‘No Mistrals for Putin’, ‘France, save Ukraine’, ‘France, stop arming aggressor, ‘France, save Europe’, ‘No business with Russia, no business with Putin’, ‘Today Ukraine, tomorrow France’, ‘Make cheese not war’ and ‘France, sell snails not warships’.

20140907_153208Some of the passers-by expressed their solidarity; cars driving past the rally occasionally honked in support. Although the protest took place in the upscale area of Knightsbridge which has a high concentration of Russian residents, no conflict occurred during the two hours, except a rather peaceful discussion with passers-by from Donetsk. Some people, on the contrary, openly articulated their support in Russian language.

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