By Christian Neef and Matthias Schepp
Ivano-Frankivsk, formerly Stanyslaviv, is a city in the region once known as Galicia. It was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for almost 150 years. Then it was a Polish city with a large Jewish population. Although it was eventually named after the Ukrainian writer Ivan Franko, Stanyslaviv's churches and old houses still convey an air of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Nowhere are Ukraine's ties to Europe stronger than here, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. Stanyslaviv is also the home of Yuri Andrukhovych, one of Ukraine's most renowned writers.
It is a cold Saturday morning in the city. A red-nosed Andrukhovych, 49, arrives wearing a red scarf and a red knit cap. He looks a little worse for the wear. The evening before, he read from his book "The Last Territory" to a packed audience at the philharmonic in the nearby city of Lviv.
Andrukhovych uses the term "last territory" to refer to his native country on the eastern edge of the continent, a region that Europeans have almost forgotten, now that Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have all joined the European Union. Oddly enough, the geographic center of Europe is only 100 kilometers from Stanyslaviv.
But Stanyslaviv and Ukraine are a no-man's land today, wedged between the border to the Schengen zone and Russia. Andrukhovych, who knows Berlin and Vienna almost as well as he does Stanyslaviv, tries in his writing to prevent Ukraine from being forgotten again.
It isn't a task that has become any easier over the years. Ukraine, at least in its current form, "won't do Europe any good," he says. "We've missed our opportunity, for now."
Andrukhovych is among those who struggled in support of the Orange Revolution in 2004. Today he sees Yushchenko as nothing but a notorious opportunist. When asked about Yanukovych, he says that he didn't expect anything of him then and still expects nothing of him today. But his greatest disappointment is Tymoshenko. "She's an actress," he says, "but a bad one. How can such a bad actress be so successful? She is the biggest populist, constantly promising people that she wants to give something back."
Andrukhovych is the first to admit that he saw the country's 1991 independence and Yushchenko's 2004 election victory as "political miracles." But, he adds, one should not forget that the election five years ago was basically a neck-and-neck race, and that Yushchenko barely managed to garner more than 50 percent of the vote in the important runoff election. It was only half a revolution, he says, and predicts that now the scales will tip to the other half. "We are back in the mid-1990s, and we will have a new Kuchma. It's no surprise that the West doesn't trust us."
Andrukhovych, who has an engaging and cheerful manner, doesn't sound bitter. Perhaps all of this will be useful, he says. "If Yanukovych wins, maybe people will realize the importance of freedom."
Ivano-Frankivsk has benefited from the Orange Revolution. The city's downtown has been carefully renovated, and its historic buildings, including the Jesuit college, the cathedral, the synagogue and the town hall, as well as many of the Art Nouveau villas, are in good shape. There has been much new construction throughout the city since 2004. And when it comes to quality of life, the city, which has a population of over 200,000, is doing very well by Ukrainian standards. But the construction cranes have been idle in Stanyslaviv since Ukraine got hit by the economic downturn, which affected the country worse than almost any other in Europe.
Nevertheless, Andrukhovych remains optimistic. Some of the consequences of the Orange Revolution are irreversible, he says. For example, the border, at least to the West, is now open. The birth rate is rising again and, most importantly, Ukraine has acquired its own identity. The gray post-Soviet era, the shaved heads, the tracksuits -- all of that, with the exception of Russian pop music, is on its way out, says Andrukhovych. "The country has rediscovered its individuality."
For Andrukhovych, perhaps the most eye-opening experience was something he recently witnessed in Donetsk, a mining city in the far eastern part of the country, as foreign to a western Ukrainian as Shanghai or Cairo. Donetsk is Yanukovych country and is dominated by ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians.
Andrukhovych was in the city with the rock group Dead Rooster, which was premiering its new album "Made in Ukraine," with songs based on his poems. The poet even sang one of the songs himself. The club was full of young people, Russian-speaking Andrukhovych fans who even knew the poems of a western Ukrainian by heart. "Ukraine is alive," says Andrukhovych.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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