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Depressing, but valuable
on 17 February 2015
Andrey Kurkov tells us in the Preface to this book that he has kept a diary for more than 30 years. This 234 page abstract covers just 154 days between 21st November 2013 and 24th April 2014. Kurkov lives within 500 yards of Kiev's Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Independence Square, or simply The Maidan, so his diary naturally contains extensive reference to the increasingly violent and destructive actions and reactions centred on the Maidan and surrounding streets during that period.
Kurkov records that on Sunday 8th December he spent some time in the Maidan and joined in the chanting, calling for the widely-despised Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, to resign. For the most part, though, he skirts the action as he passes between his home, his office and various other points in the city. Nevertheless, he is extremely well-informed and deeply interested at the political level.
One of his most prescient remarks is, 'This country has never had such a stupid President before, capable of radicalising one of the most tolerant populations in the world!' Not that Kurkov has any admiration either for Victor Yushchenko, the previous President and chief beneficiary of the 2004 Orange Revolution, or for Yulia Timoshenko, the former Prime Minister who, although imprisoned, clung to the hope of succeeding Yanukovich.
I have so far felt that there is an enduring question about Yanukovich's ultimate departure: - Why did he flee when he did (in the early hours of Saturday 22nd February), when an agreement to leave him in office for a further ten months had just been signed? Kurkov helps me towards an answer.
We have known for some time that Yanukovich's packing began on Wednesday 19th, and that many of his associates left Kiev on Thursday 20th. So the realisation that all was over evidently came on Wednesday 19th.
Kurkov reports, 'This night of warfare (Tues 18th - Wed 19th February) has transformed the city centre to ruins.' The Kiev Metro stopped running on Tuesday 18th and was still not running on the 19th. On Tuesday 18th, the Maidanistas set fire to the headquarters of Yanukovich's Party of Regions. The Berkutovsky (thugs used by the government as auxiliary police) invaded the Trades Union building - used by the Maidanistas as a dormitory and a hospital - and set that on fire. The Central Post Office and the Music School were occupied by the Maidanistas on Wednesday 19th. With minute-by-minute rolling headlines reporting events such as those, no wonder if those in power felt their time had come to its end.
Moreover, it is alleged that on the night of Tuesday 18th Yanukovich telephoned Vladimir Putin but failed to win his support. Putin effectively confirmed that (as early as Thursday 20th) when he said that he gave Yanukovich no advice - and that his earlier offer of a multi-billion dollar loan to Ukraine was now withdrawn.
So, on Wednesday 19th Yanukovich knew that for him it really was Game Over. He perhaps didn't know that the infiltration of unidentified Russian troops into Crimea was to begin on Thursday 20th, whilst he was still President and active in Kiev, an overlap of timing that Kurkov points out.
I found the book a depressing read. That is because of the many pointers to the mess that has ensued. Nevertheless, it is a valuable read, and definitely recommended if you want to know more of the background to EuroMaidan and the events that have followed.