Wednesday, October 5, 2011

President Yanukovych in The Simpsons?

Long time no see! This was a busy end of summer-beginning of autumn, but I am back to writing. Here's a post that I did for Global Voices two days ago.

The twenty-third season of the famous television cartoon series The Simpsons premiered in the United States on September 25, 2011. The first episode of the season immediately became popular with Ukrainian netizens, as it humorously portrayed Ukraine and a Kiev mafioso called Victor. The most intriguing part of the episode, however, were the similarities between the character Victor and the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, pointed out [uk] by many journalists and bloggers.
For instance, apart from the quashed criminal record of Yanukovych, media representatives pointed out The Simpsons character’s strong figure, his luxurious office in the center of Kiev and numerous guards. Other details of the episode discussed online included Victor’s treatment of his wife, who is sent “back to her room” (Ukraine’s First Lady is known for leading a rather reclusive lifestyle and spending most of her time away from Kiev) and Beyoncé's planned concert in Ukraine (the singer performed in Donetsk in 2009).
Mafioso Victor, a screenshot from The Simpsons episode set in Kiev
Mafioso Victor, a screenshot from The Simpsons episode set in Kiev
In Ukraine, the episode went viral and was shared by numerous Facebook, Twitter and LiveJournal users. Many found it quite funny, while others were upset by such grim portrayal of the country.
MP and blogger Lesya Orobets (@LesyaOrobets)tweeted [uk]:
Хто б сказав, що сьогодні робочий день почнеться з перегляду мультика про Сімпсонів:(
Who could have predicted that the working day today would begin with watching The Simpsons :(
Twitter user Adam Radkowski (@Adamnet21) shared the link and wrote [uk]:
“Сімпсони” зняли серію про Україну. Ба! Знайомі обличчя!
The Simpsons have made an episode about Ukraine. Wow! Familiar faces!
Tweeter user @dark_vesta shared the link and asked [uk]:
Сімпсони і бандит Вітя і кого мені так нагадує цей Віктор?)))
The Simpsons and a criminal named Vitya and who does this Victor remind me of so much? )))
Dnipropetrovsk-based civic information website also shared the link on its Twitter account (@Dniprograd) and noted ironically [uk]:
ДНІПРОГРАД Янукович - всесвітньо популярний, про нього зняли “Сімпсони” #news #Dnepr
DNIPROGRAD Yanukovych is world-famous, [they] made a Simpsons [episode] about him #news #Dnepr
Ukraine-based Twitter user @idioteque_2017 also shared the link and wondered [uk]:
Напевно тепер Мета Грюнінга чекають трабли???))) #Сімпсони #Янукович
Perhaps now Matt Groening [the creator of the Simpsons - GV] should expect [troubles]?))) #Сімпсони #Янукович
Twitter user Ostap Malashnyak (@stefcjo) shared screenshots from the episode and wrote [uk]:
хоч комусь смішно з нашого горя… “Сімпсони” зняли серію про Україну
at least someone is laughing at our misfortune… The Simpsons have made an episode about Ukraine
Twitter user Kashchuk Ilona (@ScoutGirl19) did not seem surprised, as she tweeted [uk]:
Сімпсони теж нашого ‘президента' висміяли -
The Simpsons have mocked our ‘president’, too -
So far, it is unclear whether the episode will be broadcast [uk] on the Ukrainian television.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Many hidden talents of Ukrainian MPs

Activists of continue their campaign against Ukrainian MPs persistently voting on behalf of their absent colleagues. This time they have came up with a proposal to submit the Parliament of Ukraine and individual MPs for the Guinness World Records consideration in the following categories: "Parliament whose members voted for most absent colleagues during one vote" and "Member of Parliament who voted for most absent colleagues during one vote". To sign the appeal, go here.

A Ukrainian version of this video can be accessed here.
Some GV coverage of the issue is here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Anti-revolution propaganda, Belarusian style

Lately it's been really interesting to follow developments on Belarusian segment of Internet. At this point, I'd like to share a few pretty good (and 'supposedly' user generated) videos created to discourage protests in the country. I assume the trigger was provided by the activities of the Revolution through the social network Vkontakte group and weekly 'silent protests' during which many people were arrested in Minsk and elsewhere across the country. (See some of GV coverage here and here).

(Thanks to Vilhelm Konnander for sharing!)

I can't recall such videos being circulated prior to or during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. This, however, is NOT to imply that current situation in Belarus can be compared to events that took place here in 2004... 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Belarus: "the beginning of the end"?

One of GV RuNet Echo editors Alexey Sidorneko has written a good post about the last week's 'silent protest' in Belarus. While we're used to reading about protests organized online in the recent months, this post gives a good overview of some things unique to Belarus; in particular, the use of Russian social network Vkontakte, government going online and trying to engage with protestors through Twitter and LiveJournal, perceptions of Belarusian citizens about these protests being the "beginning of the end" of the regime, etc. 
Alexey has shared many user photos and videos as well. 
More here:

Belarus: Police Crack Down on Minsk Protest

Written by Alexey Sidorenko Posted 24 June 2011 1:19 GMT

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ukraine: Censoring Facebook? (Updated)

This post has been originally written for Global Voices and published on the 6th of June. However, it seems that as soon as I posted it, new information started to emerge. In the end, I decided to go back and update it to reflect important developments. 

To the dismay of the Ukrainian Facebook community, the account of one of the most popular Facebook users in the country, Mykola Sukhomlyn [new account], aka Николай СУХОМЛИН, was terminated by the social network on June 1, 2011.
On May 17, Mykola Sukhomlyn shared a YouTube video by journalist Oleksiy Matsuka showing Governor of the Donetsk region, Anatoly Blyzniuk, driving a customized S-class Mercedes worth at least 60,000 euro. His post got picked up [ru] by a popular online news source Ukrainska Pravda, which linked to Sukhomlyn’s profile, and was later referenced by dozens of other Internet sites. The next day Sukhomlyn received the first threat.
This is how he recounts [ru] the events in a Facebook note shared by his friends:
На следующий день я получил «приватную рекомендацию» удалить видео, а также «умерить свой пыл по отношению к украинским политикам». Вскоре «советы» начали приобретать менее рекомендательный характер и человек, позвонив по телефону и не представившись, сообщил, что «на меня найдут управу».
В течение недели личные сообщения на Facebook содержали ту или угрозу. На сей раз неизвестные с временных аккаунтов грозились заблокировать мой профиль в социальной сети и принять меры для дальнейшего «недопущения распространения порочащей украинских политиков информации». 1 июня 2011 года профиль на Facebook был удален администрацией социальной сети.
On the very next day I received a “private recommendation” to remove the video as well as to “cool down my fervor for Ukrainian politicians.” Very soon such “advice” stopped being just recommendatory when a man called me on the phone and, without introducing himself, informed me that I “would be dealt with.”
For about a week, personal messages on Facebook contained threats. This time anonymous users from temporary accounts threatened to get my social network profile blocked and take action that would “prohibit [me] from spreading defamatory information about Ukrainian politicians.” On June 1, 2011, my Facebook profile was deleted by the administration of the social network.
According to a popular portal of online activism, Facebook has failed [uk] to notify Sukhomlyn about its intentions and reasons for deleting his account.
Official explanation (Updated)
On June 6, Ukrainian web-based media watchdog Telekritika turned to Facebook for an official explanation about its actions regarding user Mykola Sukhomlyn. The network’s representative in Russia, Yekaterina Skorobatova, told [uk] Telekritika that Sukhomlyn’s profile was blocked due to “repeated copyright violations” about which he had been warned several times. She then added that the video depicting the governor was not among such cases.
On June 7, editor of the website Roman Shrayk confirmed [ru] the statement of Facebook, stating that user Mykola Sukhomlyn repeatedly used content from their website while removing copyright notices. This is what he wrote [ru] in a letter to Telekritika:
Я подтверждаю заявление администрации „Фейсбука”. Николай Сухомлин многократно (десятки раз) воровал фотоприколы с сайта Он срезал с них лого и ник автора и размещал как свои. На замечания не реагировал. Комментарии о воровстве поудалял и закрыл мне доступ к своему аккаунту. Меня возмутило такое отношение, и я обратился в администрацию ФБ. Они раз 5 просто удаляли ворованный контент, но Сухомлин не переставал мошенничать. Видимо, после очередной жалобы его аккаунт и был закрыт.
I confirm the statement of Facebook administration. Mykola Sukhomlyn has stolen photo jokes from the website dozens of times. He has been removing copyright notices from the pictures and names of the authors and was posting them as his own. He did not react to any complaints. He deleted comments about the stolen [content] and blocked me from accessing his profile. I was outraged by his behavior and turned to the administration of Facebook. Five times they simply deleted stolen content, but Sukhomlyn did not stop cheating. Apparently, after yet another complaint his account was deleted.
Shrayk also noted [ru] that between March 20 and June 1 he had sent seven complaints to Facebook about Mykola Sukhomlyn.
Together with Sukhomlyn’s profile, Facebook deleted the page “On Politics with Humor” (300,000 viewers per month) and a popular group for journalists “MediaUkraine,” administered by Sukhomlyn. In response, some Ukrainian users set up an open Facebook group [ru] in his support, while others suggested appealing personally to the network’s creator Mark Zuckerberg.
The emergence of Roman Shrayk’s statement on June 7 sparked heated debates [ru] on Facebook about whether Mykola Sukhomlyn’s story of becoming the “victim of the regime” was an elaborate fraud.
His case would not have been the first instance of closing accounts unpopular with the Ukrainian authorities. Just a few months earlier, Facebook suspended [en] an account of the female protest groupFEMEN [en], most known for its provocative bare-breasted acts, for several weeks.
Internationally, Facebook has already been criticized [en] for allowing the disabling of accounts after just one report, regardless of whether or not the user in question had actually violated the network’s policies. Once an account has been disabled (regardless of the reason), it is very difficult to restore it.
Many Ukrainian netizens have pointed out that such policies make it easy to stop activists and silence dissidents on the social network. Currently, over 700 users have already signed up to attend a Ukrainian Facebook event called “Freedom of Speech on Facebook [uk].”

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Blogging Post-Soviet Style

Ukrainian newspaper The Day (also available in English) has recently run an article [ukr] about the growing role of blogging and cyber-activism in the post-Soviet world. The newspaper interviewed me fot the article in a capacity of a GV author, plus, they referred to two of my GV stories: the one on how social media pushed traditional press to cover anti-Tax Code protests, and the one about bloggers spreading information about political repressions in Ukraine.

English version of the article can be accessed here:

Blogging post-Soviet style

By Jakub PARUSINSKI, The Day

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Untold Story of the Victory Day Clashes in Lviv

I was devastated by May 9 clashes in Lviv (Lvov) and the way our media covered it, as well as by how many Ukrainians bought into the picture they saw on TV. I'm still overwhelmed by it all and am not sure I could write anything good about the events. Instead I've decided to link to a well-written post by a new GV author Will Partlett - it provides a general overview of the situation and puts it into a perspective by drawing parallels with other post-Soviet countries. Will also quotes from one of the numerous eyewitness accounts that have recently emerged online, telling how things were staged and how violence was sparked by numerous provocations. 

While  the question of what really happened in Lviv on the Victory Day remains controversial, one thing is clear - the discussion around raising red flags on the holiday in general and tensions in Lviv in particular (together with the whole media hype around it) were meant to deepen divisions in a Ukrainian society, and take peoples' minds off the current anti-government sentiments and critical social and economic issues. 

Will's post can be accessed here:

Ukraine: The Untold Story of the Victory Day Clashes in Lvov

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Show on Maidan Must Go On?

Ever since over half a million of Ukrainians gathered in Kyiv to peacefully protest 2004 electoral fraud (events that later became known as Orange Revolution), country’s main square Maidan Nezalezhnosti (en. - Independence Square) has remained a powerful symbol of peaceful civic resistance, tolerance and democracy. Moreover, the events in Kyiv were so unprecedented that they inspired similar episodes in many cities and towns across Ukraine.
Orange Revolution participants on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv, photo by
And although Ukrainians have grown largely disillusioned with leaders and outcomes of the Orange Revolution, the experience itself and values manifested on maidans (main squares) around the country are still remembered. For instance, a leading Internet hub of civic activism in Ukraine is called Maidan, and genuine popular protests are still commonly referred to as “maidans” by both people and the media.

However, it seems that those memories as well as the symbolic power of Kyiv’s Maidan have recently come under intense attack from the side of certain authorities and the media. After mass tax protests of late 2010 – when participants have set up a tent city on the central square much like 2004 “orange” protesters – it has become clear that having Maidan Nezalezhnosti in its current role of a powerful emblematic and physical center of civic resistance may not be so desirable  in a country, where the protest sentiments are said to run rampant among 45.3% of the population and government's popularity continues to decline [ru].

After a partial victory on the side of tax protesters, their tent city has been quickly removed by municipal workers and law enforcement at dawn (see this GV post). Afterwards, city authorities have explained that ahead of winter holidays a country’s main Christmas tree had to be installed on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [ru], while the square itself had to be prepared for New Year’s celebrations.
Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv around New Year is occupied by a tree, two stages and a skating ring. Photo by LJ user denmes 
The holidays have passed, but the issue of what to do with the crucial space in the center of Kyiv remained. In February, a “reconstruction” of the square has been carried out to replace tiles damaged by tax protesters’ tents (an offence for which several of them faced criminal charges [ru]). The state of Maidan Nezalezhnosti during that time had been captured on camera by LJ user gk-bang, who ironically pointed out that the extent of the damage and reconstruction activities hardly required encircling the whole square with a solid Soviet-style wooden fence (see this GV post).
Reconstruction of Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Feb. 2011, photos by LJ user gk-bang
 However, it was clear that a more permanent remedy to “Maidan issue” was needed. In March a new grandiose dance show ”Maidan’s” has been started in Ukraine, during which teams of 500 dancers from different cities compete on the main square while being broadcasted live on a national TV channel “Inter” (associated with the head of Ukraine’s state security service Valeriy Khoroshkovsky). On my recent trip to Kyiv, I have witnessed how because of the show Maidan Nezalezhnosti remains fenced and is blocked for access by regular public on weekends. 
Maidan Nezalezhnosti in May of 2011, photos by Kateryna Krasynska

News agency UNIAN attempted to investigate the funding of the show, officially organized by “Inter” TV channel and Kyiv city administration. According to their findings [uk], such show must cost at least $250,000-300,000, but its financial profitability for a channel whose main audience constitutes of pensioners is highly questionable.
Curiously, organizers of “Maidan’s” refer to it as a “dancing revolution”, and try to present it as a real “people’s show” [uk] by sharing stories of pregnant or elderly participants that volunteer to dance. The show itself, as well-observed by Taras of Ukrainiana, sometimes reminds of Soviet-style choreography (see his video below). 

“Maidan’s” performances often look fun, but they also serve a purpose of occupying both symbolic and physical space that recently played a crucial role in a formation of Ukrainian nation-state. However, the question of whether the phenomena of Maidan could be transformed into a simple show-business event replacing the memories and values symbolized by the square for the last seven years remains open. As does the question of how much longer Maidan Nezalezhnosti can be kept “occupied” in such a manner, and whether with time it could possibly lose its symbolic significance and be turned into a regular city square.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

World Press Freedom Day Sparks Discussions on the State of the Media in Ukraine

On May 3 - World Press Freedom Day, I have translated from online discussions about the state of the media in Ukraine and the possible reasons behind the shrinking of press freedom in the country. I'm sharing the post that has just been published on Global Voices below.

May 3 has been declared World Press Freedom Day by the United Nations, in order to raise awareness of the importance of media freedom around the globe.
As in many other countries, in Ukraine on this day journalists traditionally announce the results of an anti-rating “Enemies of the Free Press.” This year, the Institute for Mass Information and the Ukrainian Independent Media Trade Union have included the Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov at the top of the “black list.” Among the incidents [uk] that prompted the inclusion of President Yanukovych on the list were the disappearance of criticism of the regime from the “1+1” TV channel's story on his 100 days in office, a ban on photographing the presidential motorcade by journalists of Vechirni Visti newspaper, and reporters not being allowed to ask questions during his joint press conference with the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
World Press Freedom Day has also provoked many online discussions about the state of the media in Ukraine and the possible reasons behind the shrinking of press freedom in the country.
On his blog on Ukrayinska Pravda, journalist Serhiy Leshchenko wrote [uk] about the difference between Ukraine’s official Journalist Day and World Press Freedom Day:
An [artificial] holiday – Journalist Day – exists in Ukraine, and is celebrated on June 6. This holiday has been initiated by state officials and declared by the Presidential decree. […] It is especially cynical, how ahead of the official June 6 Journalist Day different MPs and state officials attempt to greet editorial offices with their “professional holiday.” A culmination of such absurdity is a picture of the government awarding various honors to loyal media representatives for their “merit.”
It can be compared to, let’s say, a butcher greeting a cow on a Beef Day.
The real Journalist Day around the normal world is May 3 – World Press Freedom Day. It is a day when journalists do not celebrate anything, but remember their murdered colleagues, politicians who interfere with their work, and governments that institute censorship.
Zoryana Byndas, the executive editor of an Internet newspaper Pohlyadshared [uk] her experience with skeptical attitudes toward press freedom that prevail in the Ukrainian media industry:
I have recently attended a meeting with a potential advertiser. We discussed his services and how they could be best presented to our readers, clarifying details. At the end of the meeting, this man asked me about the owner of the Internet newspaperPohlyad. I responded that everything was stated on our website. Potential advertiser smirked and said, “Well, alright, you are in charge there, but whose property is it, who funds you, what political party.” I explained again. The man started getting nervous and told me how this newspaper was funded by this guy, who also owned a TV channel. And how that newspaper kept covering activities of a certain party, which meant it owned the outlet. The man was convinced that a small group of enthusiasts, like my friends and I, would not run an Internet newspaper, since such outlets were only created to [elevate some and discredit others in the public eyes].
“Well,” I thought to myself, “the man is right.” Independent press today is [unprecedented]. Even if it still exists somewhere, one is tempted to ask, What’s the catch?
On the Ukrainian political social network, user Serhiy Trehubenko criticized [uk] the Ukrainian media, stating that press freedom itself was not enough for Ukraine:
Ukrainian press carries on the functions of the Soviet press – on paper, it supports development, but the outcomes demonstrate that it is worse than the communist plague.
In civilized countries some things are granted, but in post-Soviet states they have to be discussed. Freedom of the press is not enough for us, we also need to create an intelligent and responsible press that would be able to explain things as they are and suggest ways for improvement.
On, blogger Viktoriya Yadoshchuk wrote [uk] about why World Press Freedom Day cannot be dismissed as a simple formality in Ukraine:
Of course, since the Orange Revolution, the Ukrainian society has democratized because of the press. But it is not enough because the full freedom of expression in Ukraine [has not been achieved]. Moreover, since [President] Yanukovych came to power, according to the watchdog Freedom House, freedom of expression has actually declined. […]
As we can see, the situation is critical: Ukrainians are once again afraid to speak the truth, because of fear for the lives. I think the society itself must address this problem. If the nation unites in speaking the truth, it would shake up the government and prompt them to [reconsider their actions]. Let’s put fear and doubts aside, let’s stay honest and not allow those in power to destroy the biggest value – freedom, freedom of choice, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression!
Ahead of the World Press Freedom Day, Freedom House released a report highlighting [ru] the continuous decline of press freedom in Ukraine – a piece of news that has been shared extensively by Ukrainian bloggers and Twitterers. Earlier this year, the organization also lowered [en] Ukraine’s freedom rating from “free” to “partly free.”

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter!

This year I'm spending Easter at home in Lviv. (Usually I try to come home for both Christmas and Easter, but it doesn't always work out). 
It's nice to be able to bake stuff with my mom. And although we haven't painted any eggs ourselves, the basket we took to church had some very pretty pysanky in it from our market. 

Happy Easter!

Ukrainian traditional Easter eggs (pysanky) and bread (pasky)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

On politicians in our popular culture and everyday life

The years when out of the political spectrum most Ukrainians could distinguish only Communists and non-communists and paid little attention to politics are definitely behind us. After all, sine 2004 protests known as “Orange Revolution” most of us have been following the twists and turns of the domestic political game very closely. And, to be honest, the Ukrainian political drama sometimes gets very intense and it frequently has us glued to the TV screen or a computer monitor for hours (e.g. when Shuster LIVE is on!).

By now, however, a few years of such intense attention have turned our politicians into some sort of folklore characters that have managed to enter every household. 

First of all, there’s an incredible amount of jokes, user-generated videos and photo collages circulated on- and offline – such as a recent YouTube video [ru] humoring President Yanukovych in a mix of official footage with parts of an old Soviet comedy. 

Then, there are TV sitcoms and parodies, such as those created by Ukrainian version of "Bolshaya raznitsa" [ru] TV show or "Kvartal-95" [ru]comedy studio. 

"Bolshaya Raznitsa", "Victor Almighty" episode. 
 Actors portray ex-President Victor Yushchenko and 
current President Victor Yanukovych

"Kvartal-95": an actress impersonates Yulia Tymoshenko 

An actress plays Yulia Tymoshenko in a
sitcom  "Nedotorkani" (available only online).

There's even popular fiction being written about our politicians - take, for instance, Yuriy Rohoza's To Kill Yulia (Tymoshenko) book series, where the first book promotes her, while the second one, according to the author, reflects his "disillusionment with Tymoshenko during her premiership" [ukr].

And while social polls continuously indicate [ru] that most Ukrainians don't only share Rohoza's sentiments toward Tymoshenko, but also feel this way about most other politicians, this does not hamper latter's widespread presence in our lives far beyond TV screen.

For example, owners of a recently opened pizza place in Lviv chose to use our political leaders as an interior decoration theme:

Puppet dolls in a Lviv Pizzeria resemble former and current
Prime Ministers Yulia Tymoshenko and  Mykola Azarov

A doll of Pinocchio's father in a Lviv Pizzeria bears a close
 resemblance to Ukraine's former President Leonid Kuchma

A doll of Pinocchio in a L'viv Pizzeria resembles former
Speaker of Parliament and Presidential candidate Arseniy

And, if you happen to forget who the main players on Ukraine’s political scene are – just visit a small photo studio around the corner from my parents’ house. A few years ago their price list contained photos of Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, and Yanukovych. Now, however, it looks like this:

A price list in a Lviv photo studio with pictures of
President Victor Yanukovych, Prime Minister
Mykola Azarov, Vice Prime Minister Serhiy Tihipko
and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

One Flew Over the..."Mezhyhirya"

Apparently, our journalists got tired of waiting for President Yanukovych to fulfill his 2010 promise [ukr] to show them his "Mezhyhirya" residence (because of which, bthw, we now got one of a few good roads and a helicopter landing pad being built in Kyiv).

Today, reporters from Segodnya [ukr] newspaper have gone on a helicopter ride and released first photos of his lavish mansion.

According to the news source, out of dozen of Kyiv's helicopter clubs and private pilots only one agreed to fly them over "Mezhyhirya" on a condition that they wouldn't reveal his name. (Some said [ukr] they were afraid of getting shot while flying or being fired for taking journalists' offer).

Nevretheless, because of one brave pilot of Robinson-44 from Kyiv region, we finally got an actual idea of what "Mezhyhirya" is like.

Take a look yourself! (all photos by Segodnya)
A 'Club house', with a waterfall nearby and an indoor tennis court
A small private creek with a crossing
A waterfall
An arbor
A helicopter aerodrome
I suppose now the rumors about “Mezhyhirya” should finally stop. I must admit, however, that we all sort of guessed a while ago why Mr. President has been so reluctant to reveal this modest home to the public...