Ukraine crisis: Bicentenary celebration of great poet Taras Shevchenko swamped by anger over Russian nationalism in Crimea

 

Crimea

The rallies were to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko, the poet and polymath regarded as the founder of Ukrainian language and literature. But it was the swirling bitterness and anger over the rebirth of Crimea as a part of Russia which came violently to the fore on the day.

Unesco has named 2014 as the 'Year of Shevchenko', however it was politics and nationalism, rather than culture, which became the dominant theme at this highly charged time. Russian nationalists, including a contingent of Cossacks, attacked those opposed to secession from Ukraine at a public meeting in Sevastopol, with the police either unable, or unwilling, to effectively intervene.

Terrified protestors, including many women, ran in panic. Some were chased into a car park where a number of men were targeted and attacked, some of them by  Cossacks wielding nagykas, the whips carried with traditional and military wears.

Afterwards, stepping through blue and yellow Ukrainian lying strewn on the ground, members of Russian speaking  Soma Borona, or 'Self Defence Groups', accused their opponents of 'provocations', a charge used by both sides against each other in the  hostile confrontations.

"They used this march to insult Crimea and Russia, they were going to start a fight like the criminals in the Maidan [the centre of protests in Kiev] and try to make this place unstable. Sevastopol is a Russian city, people were not going to allow that", declared Oleg Bogomazov, wearing the orange and black ribbon of the Russian military order of St George on his arm. "Anyway, it was not anything much at the end."

 

Their victims had a different view of their experience. "They had sent the Soma Borona here to start the violence, they want to terrify everyone who don't agree with them", said  Mikhail Yedokymenko, a 25 year old student of Ukrainian extraction. "This was a meeting called by the Writers' Union, not the type of people who are after trouble. I got  punched by two men, but I  managed to get away, I would have been in bad trouble if I had gone down on the ground."

A commemoration  at the Crimean capital, Simferopol, took place with comparatively little trouble. The police, with a larger presence, kept the two sides apart, and attempts at intimidation involved little more than cars, many with Sevastopol number plates, driving around with horns blaring and Russian flags flying from windows.

Read more: Robert Fisk: Western leaders cannot face a 'looming' war
There is no moral equivalence between Moscow and Kiev
Russian troops detain 30 Ukrainian border guards

At the rally, Tatar flags flew alongside those of Ukraine among the 500 present around a bust of Shevchenko. The vehemently anti-Russian community, had been largely been absent from the streets on the advice its representative body, the Mejlis, which had also advised a boycott of the referendum on Crimea's future due to be held next Sunday. Adem Ibrahimov, a 46 year old engineer, said "When I look at all these people here, Ukrainians, Tatars and so many Russians, I wonder whether we should be actually voting. I know that there will be fraud and they will make up the numbers, but if the international media show people going to vote in large numbers then it may be more difficult for them to do fraud in a really big away."

Nataliya Voroninova, a teacher, stressed how fitting it was that people were standing up for a free and united Ukraine on this day. Shevchenko, who was born a serf, was repeatedly arrested by the authorities for his efforts to promote national consciousness in his homeland, then a part of Tsarist Russia: "As well as being such a great writer he was a great patriot", she stressed. "They could not stifle his love for Ukraine then and Putin, the current Tsar, would not be able to stifle our determination to remain with Ukraine,  however many thousands of troops he sends."

Across the city, in Lenin Square, around 4,000 turned up to hear Vladimir Konstantinov, the speaker of the Crimean parliament, say in a speech "The Russians are our brothers. How will you vote in the referendum?" The answer roared back was "Russia! Russia!"

A naval band played songs from the Great Patriotic War; elderly people, some with memories of the terrible hardship suffered in the struggle to beat Hitler, sang along. Marina Vasilyiova held the medals of her father who had died fighting in the Donbas in 1943. "Are there no people left in England, in France who remember what happened then? Why are the governments there supporting the fascists who have taken over Kiev? Well, it does not matter, we are Russians, we will look after ourselves against the fascists again."

In Kiev's Shevchenko celebrations the acting prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, vowed: "This is our land. Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land., and we won't budge a single centimeter from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know this." The reality on the ground, however, is that Crimea has slipped out of Ukraine's control and every day it seems increasingly unlikely that this lost land will ever be regained.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable