Kyiv. The Day of Tymoshenko’s Arrest. 5 August 2011

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Prof. Marta Dyczok, Associate Professor, Departments of History and Political Science, University of Western Ontario

Today Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was arrested. Around 4:00 PM on a Friday afternoon in the middle of summer, in a political trial that has been going on for weeks. The charismatic, photogenic leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution with the braid is now behind bars.

I heard that something was happening while in a taxi, late in the afternoon, after leaving an interview with the editor of one of the country’s reputable newspapers. I was asking her about my research project, on the impact of mass media on collective memory and identity. I had no idea something important had happened, even though I was in the editorial office of a major newspaper. Nothing was mentioned by any of the staff as I was leaving. Once in the cab an announcement came on the radio taxi, informing drivers that the capital city’s main street, Khreshchatyk, was closed because of pro-Tymoshenko protests. My cab driver’s reaction – ‘not again, traffic jams, how much can we be expected to take?’ He needed to get me across town, and the route was through the center, the main street, that was closed. He took an alternative route, up the Andriivs’kyi Uzviz, a historical street which is officially closed to traffic.

On the Khreshchatyk, I saw the protesters. A handful of people, hoarse voices trying to get public attention. I must admit I rushed past them. My beloved cousin from Canada was arriving with his Japanese wife and two small children for a big family visit to our ancestral homeland. I needed to meet them, settle them into their apartment, take them out for dinner, show them the beautiful historical capital city that they had travelled half the world to see.

Once finally home near midnight I checked the news online. Ukrainian media outlets had plenty of video of the arrest, mainly from camera phones. But few details were included in the reports, such as why Tymoshenko was arrested, the time of the arrest, analysis of possible legal ramifications. I was glad to have seen the video but was left with many questions.

One of the videos had a voice shouting, “we are not a ‘banda,’ we are standing up for our rights. ‘Banda.’ A term that I have been coming across in the archives I’ve been plowing through for weeks. The reference in the archives is to another group of people. Generations ago people stood up for themselves and organized a political, and later armed, resistance to the Soviet regime. They called themselves the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army during World War II. Soviet authorities called them a ‘banda,’ meaning rabble.

The term also appears in the award winning novel I’m reading, Vasyl’ Shklar’s  Black Raven (Chornyi Voron). It’s about events in a part of Ukraine called Kholodnyi Yar at the end of World War I. Then too people who stood up for themselves and opposed the Bolshevik order that was being imposed upon were called a ‘banda.’ Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ is playing. ‘Everybody knows the dice are loaded. That’s how it goes.’

I went out on the balcony and looked out into the courtyard. It is uncharacteristically dark tonight. But the stars are out. Shining brightly over the beautiful golden domed city that I love. Tomorrow I will show it to my family, who are here for the first time.

Marta Dyczok, DPhil (Oxon), Associate Professor of History and Political Science in University of Western Ontario, Fellow, Jacyk Programme for the Study of Ukraine, University of Toronto. She has published 3 books, including Media, Democracy and Freedom: The Post Communist Experience (2009, with Oxana Gaman-Golutvina), and in Kyiv for the summer on a research trip.

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