Nationalists in Ukraine braced for a new enemy

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The Independent Online
MENTION Ukraine's new president to Sergei Pushchik and he starts muttering about 'the woods'. That was where he and his comrades in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army went half-a-century ago to fight Stalin and Hitler.

Back then it was a quixotic, and exceedingly brutal, struggle to make Ukraine independent. Now it is a fight, sometimes no less quixotic, to keep it that way - without losing, en route, Crimea and a dozen regions east of the Dnieper River that speak Russian, look to Moscow not Europe for help, and voted for Leonid Kuchma.

Like 1,727,000 other people in the Lvov Region, nearly 94 per cent of the population, Mr Pushchik voted for the loser, Leonid Kravchuk. For the winner, Ukraine's new president, this is enemy territory. Whether under Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Polish, Soviet and, now, Ukrainian rule this gorgeous city of cobblestone streets, baroque churches and stone mansions has nourished the most fervid patriots of a nation that from 1654 until 1991 was never really allowed to exist.

Mr Pushchik's Ukrainian Insurgent Army (known as UPA by its Ukrainian initials) was unique among guerrilla groups in Nazi-occupied Europe in that it had no foreign support and kept fighting in the forests until the 1950s. Mr Pushchik put down his arms in 1948 and now swaps war stories with fellow veterans beneath a portrait of their hero, Stepan Bandera, and a red and black battle flag. Sunday's election worries them and most of Lvov.

He has nothing personal against the leader-elect and likes the fact that in a first press conference in Kiev on Wednesday Mr Kuchma made an effort to speak only Ukrainian, hesitant though it was. Nor was Mr Pushchik that keen on Mr Kravchuk, a former Communist official who converted to nationalism only in 1991.

What worries old-timers from the underground and most other people in Lvov (Lviv to Ukrainians) is where the logic of Mr Kuchma's victory may lead. He won because of the desperate state of the economy. The national currency is a joke and Ukrainians earn on average only pounds 6.50 a month, a tenth of what Russians earn across the border. 'We must learn to sacrifice some material things to keep our country alive,' says Mr Pushchik. Never mind that the incumbent President, Mr Kravchuk, presided over an economic collapse perhaps unprecedented during peace- time in an industrialised society. 'In the woods we were hungry all the time, but that was not an obstacle to fighting. Patriotism came first.

Others are less nostalgic but many seem to have nothing but contempt for compatriots in the east, a bleak industrial region where coal miners in Donetsk and factory workers in Dnepropetrovsk enjoy none of the history or beauty of Lvov. They are still more Soviet than Ukrainian. 'They keep thinking they will get cheap sausages and more vodka,' says Ukhoch Yakiv, an activist in the national movement Rukh. 'They think it was better in Soviet times.'

But so far only one political group, the Republican Party, has announced a policy of non-co-operation with the new president. Rukh, the veterans of the forests, say they will reserve judgement on the new president. But there are no doubts about who must change first. 'The big problem is the east. These people know they are citizens of Ukraine and now is the moment they must prove it.'

Mr Kuchma has tried to calm anxiety, fanned by the press, in Lvov and 11 other western regions that voted against him. But it is not newspapers that created the split. The Central Intelligence Agency warned that Ukraine could slip into civil war if its economic decline continued to aggravate ethnic, linguistic and cultural differences between the two halves of the country.

The one group in Lvov drawing comfort from the triumph of Mr Kuchma, widely seen as pro-Russian, is the most militant of the Ukrainian nationalist organisations. 'This is a signal flare for us all,' said Andre Shkil, of the neo-Fascist Una-Unso and editor of the newspaper, Our Nation. 'It shows everyone that there is a real danger that this cannot go on.'