Ukraine’s Three Revolutionary Breakthroughs

The end of the criminal Yanukovych mafia regime may be nearer than we think. Three developments in the last week mark sea changes that favor the democratic opposition.

First, the regime’s elite guards—the Berkut riot police—shot and killed several demonstrators. Another man was disappeared by a death squad, tortured, and killed. These actions were criminal, but they were also profoundly stupid. In killing at least five young men, the Yanukovych regime has provided the democratic revolutionaries with something every revolution needs: martyrs and symbols. The Ukrainian revolution of 2014 now has its Nathan Hale (hanged by the British in 1776), its Medgar Evers (killed by white racists in 1963), its Benno Ohnesorg (killed by the West German police in 1967), and its Steve Biko (killed by the apartheid South African regime in 1977).

As Yanukovych will soon learn, you can’t fight martyrs, and you definitely can’t fight symbols. They will remain permanently alive, inspiring the struggle and promoting implacability and irreconcilability. In martyring five men, the regime made them into invincible enemies who will hasten its end.

Second, the democratic opposition declared that it was forming an alternative parliament—the People’s Rada. Thus far, the democratic Rada is a paper institution, but, unless the democrats suffer a sudden loss of political will, it will progressively grow into a real parliament that issues legislation, appoints governing bodies, and rewrites the Constitution. Local branches of the Rada have already banned the Regionnaires and Communists in Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, and Khmelnytsky provinces. Unless nipped in the bud—and there is hardly any way the regime can do that without crushing the entire country—the People’s Rada will quickly evolve into a contender for sovereignty. Since it will enjoy popular legitimacy, it will eventually reduce the Supreme Rada, the discredited faux parliament run by the Regionnaire thugs, to a sideshow of political has-beens. If and when that happens, the regime is pretty much dead.

Yanukovych, who may still remember some of the Soviet history he learned in grade school, will recognize this as a condition of “dual sovereignty” similar to what emerged in Russia after the February Revolution of 1917. Then the socialists established the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, thereby spelling the beginning of the end of the provisional government. Yanukovych may also remember that the Soviet had armed self-defense detachments. The Maidans in Kyiv and elsewhere may soon have them as well. When they do, the Berkut thugs, whose courage extends only to beating defenseless and wounded protesters, will head for the hills.

Finally, the Euro Revolution in Kyiv has become the Ukrainian Revolution. Grassroots Ukrainians throughout the country have begun to seize the buildings housing Yanukovych’s governors, thereby taking control of the Provincial State Administrations they ran. As of this writing, the state administrations in Lviv, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, Rivne, Lutsk, Zhytomyr, Khmelnytskyy, Chernivtsi, Vinnytsya, Poltava, and Kyiv (city) are in the hands of revolutionaries; those of Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Kherson province are under assault; those of Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, Sumy, and Cherkasy have been recaptured by pro-state forces. Government forces are relying on hired goons known as “titushky” for help; they will prove to be unreliable as the standoffs continue and the weather refuses to get warmer. In the meantime, expect Ukrainians to continue seizing the levers of local power and claiming their bit of sovereignty at home.

This development has, in effect, “decentered” the Kyiv Maidan. At this point, if the Kyiv revolutionaries lose the territory of the Maidan to the riot police (and there are rumors that the long-awaited crackdown will soon come), nothing will change in terms of the overall correlation of forces. After all, only thousands of Ukrainians could travel to Kyiv from the provinces to participate in the Maidan. Millions can now pursue revolutionary goals by staying right at home—on their own turf, where the Berkut is far outnumbered by the people. They can either seize the state administrations or other offices or, like the soccer fan clubs of Kyiv, Odessa, Sevastopol, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Dnipropetrovsk, join in protecting local Maidans from the predations of regime-hired goons. By the way, these clubs are not just groups of beer-guzzling fans: given the extreme weakness of self-organization in Ukraine’s southeast, fan clubs may actually be said to represent local civil society.

Yanukovych’s worst nightmare is coming true: the revolution has spread and will continue to spread. It is no longer focused on the capital. It is now completely beyond his control. Regionalization of the revolution also has important tactical consequences. Up to now, the regime could concentrate its police forces in Kyiv. It can’t do that anymore—which is good for Kyiv. But neither does the regime have enough riot police and internal troops—at most 35,000—to control a huge country with 25 provinces. And some of them have already begun defecting from what is becoming an increasingly obvious lost cause.

The writing is on the wall.

After the Bastille fell on July 14, 1789, Louis XVI asked, “Is it a revolt?” The Duke de La Rochefoucauld answered: “No, Sire, it’s a revolution.” Louis, as you know, lost his head. 

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