Western leaders putting pressure on Ukraine to accede to Russian demands and offer the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ autonomy would be well-advised to notice all the other parts of Ukraine which, according to Russian media, are also demanding self-rule.

Around 20 people staged a blitzkrieg demonstration with banners demanding greater autonomy for Halychyna [Western Ukraine] on July 17.  The action lasted no more than 5 minutes, but was presented on Russian pro-Kremlin channels as a 300-strong demonstration blocking one of the central streets in Lviv.  Rossiya 24’s report was entitled “The West of Ukraine is Kyiv’s new problem”.

The event bears a strong similarity to a similar stunt in Odesa on March 19, most chillingly because the fake demonstrations supposedly reflecting an increase in separatist sentiments have been preceded by bomb blasts.  If, in Odesa the first such acts of terrorism date back to April 2014, there have been three in Lviv in the past three weeks.  Two police officers were injured in two explosions outside police stations on July 14.  Those, like the ‘demonstration’ on Russian TV, have been presented as linked with the conflict between members of the far-right Right Sector and the police in Mukacheve [Transcarpathia].  Commentators suggest that, if they are linked, they are more likely to have been orchestrated by the Russian FSB, than to have been an act of revenge by Right Sector.  It is not clear that they were a direct result of the Mukacheve events, however, since the first such explosion outside a Lviv police station was earlier, on June 25.

Ihor Zinkevych from the civic initiative Varta 1 [Civic Watch] writes that a group appeared at 17.30 on July 17 with some strange banners, “dashed out onto Horodotska St. near the Circus, ran along the road, took several photos, and like rats, dispersed in different directions so that they wouldn’t be caught.”  He says that Varta 1 was alerted by residents and arrived within 5 minutes, but the participants had already fled.

Zaxid.net reports that the demonstration was apparently organized by two local left-wing organizations, ‘Halytsky Yastrub [Halychan Hawk], and ‘Zakhyst Suspilstva’ [Public Defence].  Nothing is known of the latter, but Zaxid.net had written just days before about attempts by the communist publication Halytsky Yastrub, and the husband and wife – Dmytro Lyashchenko and Olena Boiko – associated with it, to “organize provocation with communist symbols in the city”.  Lyashchenko, for example, on the night following Victory Day [May 9] walked around Lviv with a communist flag and the St. George ribbon.  The latter symbol, which re-emerged  in modern Russia only in 2000, was used during the events marking the 70th anniversary of Victory, but is widely associated for most Ukrainians with Russian aggression in Crimea and Donbas. Lyashchenko was assaulted, which Zaxid.net suggests was clearly the aim, so that the Russian media could trumpet about an attack on a Lviv journalist for supporting War veterans.

Russia’s attempts to present Lviv as a hotbed of nationalism, ‘fascism’, etc. are nothing new, but the paid stunt on July 17, was worryingly different.

The reports in the Russian media, for example, mix up a couple of details which Zaxid.net suggests means that the information was prepared well in advance of the event, with the latter needed only for the photos.

The above-mentioned organizations had formally notified of their plan to hold a picket under the banner “More self-government for Halychyna” outside the Lviv Regional Administration at 11.00 on July 17.  Right Sector had said that they would try to stop the picket, and they were present, together with journalists and the police. The picket did not, however, take place, apparently because the authorities prohibited it, seeing it as obvious provocation.

It is, of course, just possible that only the original bagnet.org source was unaware or decided to ignore the fact that the scheduled picket did not take place, and that the Russian media simply repeated its information, inaccuracies and all.  Possible, but unlikely.  This Ukrainian website has a spotted reputation, and is also anything but a mainstream source, yet Russian channels like Rossiya 24 and Life News had reported the same ‘story’ within an hour or two.

The picket had been stopped, but a five-minute sprint for the cameras was still held, just much later, and not outside the Lviv regional administration. The banners visible read: “Special status of Halychyna – real autonomy for the Lviv oblast”; “Enough of feeding the thieves in Kyiv!”, “More self-government for Halychyna”.  Most importantly, the participants were all carrying Ukrainian flags, and banners in the same blue and yellow colours.  This was highly unusual for the communist Halytsky Yastrub (the only ‘organizer’ where more is known than the name),  but perfect for Russian propaganda.

The flash-mob ‘demonstration’ produced three photos clearly intended to suggest a larger-scale and longer event.  Rossiya 24 shows all three, asserting that Right Sector tried to stop the protest which ended outside the Lviv regional administration, with the presentation of quite extensive demands for autonomy.  From there the channel moves to Mukacheve, with the key theme much the same: conflict, lack of unity and demands for greater self-determination.

The Russian media did not mention or show the widely posted photos, allegedly from the same event, where participants were being paid for their ‘separatist zeal’.

Even if there had been a 300-strong demonstration in support of Western Ukrainian autonomy, it would not necessarily have been a problem.  This is something that Moscow does not understand with even modest attempts to call for greater autonomy in Russia last year resulting in criminal prosecutions, activists being placed on Russia’s List of Terrorists and Extremists, and widespread blocking of the media.

The fact of yet another fake against a background of real explosions is disturbing.  As well as the above-mentioned fakes, there is clear evidence* of active Russian encouragement, if not creation, of fringe separatist movements in Odesa and Transcarpathia.  Any western illusions regarding an end to Moscow’s demands following Ukraine’s acquiescence over greater autonomy for Donbas seem dangerously misguided.

By Halya Coynash, Human Rights in Ukraine