Who Governs What in Ukraine?

As events continue to unfold in Eastern Ukraine, there remains the question of who is governing the rest of the country. Following the overthrow of Yaukovych, the Turchynov-Yatsenyuk government appointed new regional governors across most of Ukraine. Their political affiliations are diverse and reflect the very hodge-podge and unstable nature of the present government. Herein is an oblast-by-oblast breakdown of who governs what in Ukraine, with an accompanying map. Overall, local leadership in the country can be broken down into five categories:

Party Affiliation of Ukrainian Oblast Governors, April 2014

Party Affiliation of Ukrainian Oblast Governors, April 2014

Batkivshchyna Party: The party of Turchynov, Yatsenyuk, and Tymoshenko governs eight oblasti. These include Volyn, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Zakarpattia in Western Ukraine, Chernihiv and Sumy in Central Ukraine, and Odessa, Nikolayev, and Kherson in Southern Ukraine. It is unclear how much authority Batkivshchyna wields in these regions. In Western Ukraine, the far-right group Right Sector was influential in Ivano-Frankivsk, where it has conducted fascist-style parades in March (though its credibility there is now reportedly on the decline). In Southern Ukraine, there is a growing movement in the Odessa oblast to overthrow the Batkivshchyna governor and to declare a “provisional people’s government” as was done in Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas. In the remote westernmost oblast of Zakarpattia, the Carpatho-Rusyns have been advocating regional autonomy since Ukraine’s independence in 1991. It is unclear what the current situation is there and how much genuine control Batkivshchyna has over this mountainous region.

Svoboda Party: The far-right Svoboda party is led by Oleh Tyahnybok who is known for his antisemitism, Russophobia, and admiration for wartime Nazi collaborator, Stepan Bandera. The Turchynov-Yatsenyuk government has granted Svoboda party members the governorship of five oblasti. These include three oblasti in Western Ukraine (Lviv, Ternopil, and Rivne) and two Central Ukrainian oblasti where Svoboda has historically had very little popular support (Zhytomyr and Poltava). It is unclear how much influence Svoboda’s militant ideological ally, Right Sector, has in these regions. However, it appears that there is some. Prior to his death in a shootout with police with the aid of the Kiev government’s interior ministry, Right Sector activist Oleksandr Muzychko seemed to have significant influence in the Svoboda-controlled Rivne oblast. This was particularly the case in the power vacuum that developed after Yanukovych fled the country following threats by Right Sector activists. A notorious war criminal, Russophobe, and antisemite, Muzychko (nicknamed Sashko Bilyi by his followers) was famously caught on video bullying and assaulting a local prosecutor in Rivne, shouting expletives at him, and threatening to pull him to Maidan with a rope around his neck.

It is unclear though if Muzychko’s assassination indicates a split between Svoboda and Right Sector. Though ideological allies, both seem to be vying for the position of “Ukraine’s true far-right.” To this end (and to seize power), both are attempting to expand their voter base by trying to appear “more moderate.” At first glance, this appearance of such a sudden embrace of centrism seems like a miracle akin to St. Paul falling off his horse on the Road to Damascus. Except, unlike St. Paul, there is nothing “saintly” about sinful scoundrels and antisemites like Muzychko, Oleh Tyahnybok, Dmytro Yarosh, and others whose politics can be best classified as “to the right of Genghis Khan.” These individuals and groups are just as extremist as they have always been. Western commentators must not be fooled. Israel certainly was not. In February, Right Sector attempted to persuade the Israeli ambassador to Ukraine that they were “not antisemetic.” Tel Aviv was unimpressed, so much so that it abstained from the UN vote on Crimea, much to the surprise and frustration of Washington.

Minor parties, independents, and oligarchs: In six more oblasti, the Kiev government has appointed minor party politicians, independent candidates, and oligarchs. These include the three Central oblasti of Kiev, Kirovograd, and Vinnytsia, the Eastern oblast of Kharkiv, and the two Southern oblasti of Zaporizhia and Dnipropetrovsk which once comprised the core of Nestor Makhno‘s breakaway anarchist “Free Territory” during the Russian Civil War of 1917-22. Two independent-oligarch governors were also appointed in the Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk) but were overthrown in the recent unrest there. These Kiev-installed governors now effectively have no authority in these regions. Further, in the Kiev oblast, Right Sector has attempted to exercise some influence. In the Kiev suburb of Vasylkiv, Right Sector activists seized control of the town council amid protests shortly after Yanukovych’s overthrow. On the whole though, both Right Sector and Svoboda maintain much more influence in Western Ukraine. In regional elections, the far-right has always fared poorly in Central Ukraine.

No governors: Meanwhile, there are presently no governors at all in two Central Ukrainian oblasti (Cherkasy and Khmelnytsky) and one Western oblast (Chernivtsi).  Khmelnytsky and Chernivsti straddle the Central-West divide in terms of culture, language, and electoral politics.

Self-declared people’s provisional governments: In the Donbas, protests against the Turchynov-Yatsenyuk government have led to the declarations of “People’s Republics” with “provisional governments” in the oblasti of Donetsk and Luhansk. The Kiev-appointed governors have effectively lost authority in these regions which are practically controlled entirely by the rebels. Kiev claims that the rebels are “agents of Moscow.” Moscow disavows any involvement. In truth, there are Russians who are involved in the Eastern Ukrainian unrest, but these are not “government agents” but rather Russian nationalists who seek to assist their “compatriots” from across the border. On the whole though, much of the frustration leading to the unrest appears to have come from a genuine rejection of the Turchynov-Yatsenyuk government. To exclude any discontent among the people of Eastern Ukraine with the government in Kiev assumes that Ukraine and its Eastern oblasti specifically have no domestic concerns. In fact this is not the case. Kiev has been unable to assert control in this region. There was an attempt to do so this week by military means, prompting commentators’ fears of the start of a civil war. In the end, the troops from Kiev refused to fire on their East Ukrainian compatriots. Some simply drove away, while others defected to the rebels’ side. Meanwhile, there is a possibility that more “provisional governments” could appear in other Southeastern and even Central Ukrainian oblasti. Already in Odessa, there has been talk of a possible proclamation of an “Odessan People’s Republic” with “People’s Provisional Government of Odessa.”

A presidential election alone would not likely remedy this situation. Parliamentary elections, in which these distinct regions are properly represented, are a reasonable immediate solution to this current chaos.

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4 thoughts on “Who Governs What in Ukraine?

  1. Certainly in mid-March there appeared to be a threat in Ivano-Frankivsk from Right Sector, as you cited above. However, in the past five weeks or so, the organisation has been barely visible with its influence over local politics waning. The occupation of various offices here has ceased, while it is proving difficult for Right Sector to get the young lads from Tryzub/Trident organisation who made up most of the numbers to come out on to the streets with them. The last protest, jointly with Maidan Self-Defence, earlier this week mustered barely 50 people and was done within an hour.

    • Thanks for the very informative feedback, UA_UK_Lecturer! I was actually wondering what the status was of Right Sector in Ivano-Frankivsk and in the West generally in recent weeks. A friend of mine from Ukraine who has friends in Lviv told me just yesterday that not only was Right Sector and the far-right losing influence in the West, but that the Turchynov-Yatsenyuk government in Kiev was losing support as well.

      • I would say re: Tur-Yats govt that there was never really any popular enthusiasm for it, merely acceptance that for now they were better than the Yanukovych-Regions govt. I would say that any legitimacy or tolerance for the new Kyiv govt was based on the sense that it would be temporary and the due democratic process would be resumed. The longer it goes without any sign of parliamentary elections, the less legitimate the Yatseniuk cabinet looks regardless of its struggles to keep the country intact.
        As for Right Sector, today I saw its activists – basically teenagers – trying to raise money for its election campaign around the city’s Easter market with very little success and people actively refusing to accept leaflets.

  2. Pingback: RUSSIA & UKRAINE: JRL 2014-#89 contents with links :: Saturday 19 April 2014 | Johnson's Russia List

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