Performing Kharkiv similar to Donetsk or Lugansk — is a huge mistake. Yes, Kharkiv regional state administration has been assaulted as well, yes, the Russian flag was raised on the top of it, and yes, pro-Russian protests are carried on almost daily, moreover a «referendum» was conducted last Sunday. Russian media and most of Ukrainians — from politics to social net users — are quite satisfied with this one-sided picture. But it is not true.
A city’s control panel is in the hands of Gennadiy Kernes. It was, is and will be like this until another candidate defeats him on the regular elections. And it seems a Russian expansion is totally out of his plans.
Kernes is an irritating, odious, non-transparent mayor, recklessly being rude to journalists and subordinates. However he is the mayor, who in spite of these features, or even because of them, has a real support of a considerable part of residents.
Furthermore Kernes is a man, solely recognizing his own scenario and successfully inserting it into any circumstances.
The camp of dozen of Lenin monument defenders, formed out of his intermediation on 23 of February at the central square, turned into the rally of many thousands in a week of direct heating with firewood and food and almost daily Kernes appearances.
On March 1 a group of protesters has thrown Euromaidan activists out of regional state administration (RSA) building. The last ones were occupying a foyer and an area in front of main building entrance, demanding the resignation of Mikhail Dobkin, the governor, thought, not obstructing the work of other RSA officials. The assault was brutal, entailing «tricolours» hanging out. Less than in an hour after attack, Russian flags were replaced by the Ukrainian ones, while Kernes was declaring «Ukraine has to be a unitary state» for the umpteenth time.
No more pro-Russian attacks succeeded. Because there were no Euromaidaners annoying the mayor in RSA. Municipal workers demolished Lenin monument defenders’ camp without prior arrangement, on the personal mayor order.
Separative Kharkiv is a myth as well as a «separative congress» in Kharkiv on February 22. Even if it indended to be like this — southeast deputies of all levels were summoned and Victor Yanukovich was expected to appear in presidium — really it wasn’t.
Instead of getting to presidium Yanukovich got on the run. At the same time then-governor Mikhail Dobkin and mayor Gennadiy Kernes explicitly, rapping out the words were claiming to the audience: the most important was to maintain the state unitarity. Having completed their speech, both abandoned Ukraine for about a day. They both came back. Dobkin announced himself as a presidential candidate and return to governor seals.
«Dobkin is a separatist», — perhaps it is the true, but unprovable. Ex-governor can't stand the sight of «bandera», calls Ukrainians nationalists «fascist», considers a new government as an illegitimate one and a thousand times says «thanks» to «Berkut» for their work. But till now his only separatist expression is a tweet on December 29: «The Molotov — Ribbentrop Pact! Let these idiots with their coffins and with trash in their heads go to thunder! Let them go away!»
In public being aware of possible consequences he always talked on the federalization with a proviso that it is just one of many ways leading out of crisis. Nevertheless the Office of General Prosecutor started a criminal case against Dobkin based on this “tag” precisely, and gave him a great opportunity to add to the election campaign a political persecution theme.
Those, who recognize the Kharkiv mayor Gennadiy Kernes to be a «renegade», are wrong as much as those, who consider him as an organizer of pro-Russian protests in Kharkiv.
Kernes’ return key message sounds: politics is not my business; I’m working for the benefit of the city and Kharkiv residents. In contrast to Dobkin, he doesn’t call new government «illegal». «The winner would magnify his triumph by turning enemy to a friend», — he said, stepping of the plane on February 23. He repeated this phrase after that several times.
The message hasn’t reached the audience or merely hasn’t been heard. On March 11 Kernes received an Office of General Prosecutor notification for three criminal code paragraphs at one stroke. Same to the Dobkin’s case, the court chose a measure of restraint in the form of house imprisonment. But if the jobless ex-governor was allowed to leave his house morning hours only, the court permitted Kernes to travel free from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in order to meet his mayor obligations.
Indeed, those pro-Russian and «cutting of» spirits became peculiar to many in Kharkiv. First, these people are not pro Russia, but contra the Maidan. And during all these three months of protests in Kiyv both Kernes and Dobkin were tirelessly narrating to Kharkiv people through under-controlled media: the rebels were lazybones from western regions, fed and watered by East Ukraine Toiler. Secondly, spirits were not the objectives, which city-dwellers counted for an energize-worthy.
But it’s really the case for the marginal persons, who are in charge of depicting Kharkiv as the pro-Russian city. The troops landed «from the manufacturer» with Russian passports in the hand, low-budget residents of Kharkiv region and suddenly resurrected local organizations named »Rus the triune» within the last few weeks have done their best by common efforts to turn the city into an insecure place, where you could hardly go for a walk by your own at the evening.
Daria Iurovska for The Ukrainian Magazine, Prague
Translation: Anastasiia Manina, MediaPort™