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Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Lviv’s café revolutionaries: feeding the protests in Kiev | beyondbrics #EuroMaidan

Lviv’s café revolutionaries: feeding the protests in Kiev | beyondbrics:

Lviv’s Vienna Café is serving up revolution with its cakes and coffee. Half of the restaurant in the centre of the west Ukrainian city has been turned over as a command centre sending bus loads of activists to Kiev every evening to take part in the protests there.

“Of course I’m losing a bit of business but we have to do what we can to help the movement,” says Oleg Mandiuk, the café’s owner, speaking on his mobile phone as he drives towards Kiev.

Mandiuk is part of a wider movement of small and medium sized businesses from western Ukraine who are helping finance and organise the protest movement that has shaken the authority of Viktor Yanukovich, the country’s embattled president.

The business owners tend to be hard-bitten people used to dealing with the corruption and inefficiency of the Ukrainian state. Many hope the protest movement will allow for the creation of a better-ruled and more westward-orientated country.

Business leaders in Lviv, the leading city of western Ukraine, stepped in after local authorities put in a lacklustre effort in organising buses to transport demonstrators to the country’s capital.
Mandiuk and his peers form a business elite quite different from the moneyed oligarchs who dominate the centre and east of the country. There, heavy industries like coal and steel became the property of a tiny group who have given crucial backing to Yanukovich, although some oligarchs are now shifting positions. Western Ukraine does not have the same natural resources as the east of the country, so what business there is tends to be smaller and more entrepreneurial.

The two halves of the country have distinct business traditions. Western Ukraine spent centuries under Austrian and Polish rule, only being joined to the Soviet Union during the second world war, while eastern Ukraine has been tightly integrated with Russia for more than 300 years and spent decades longer under communism. The Vienna Café is no misnomer – the centre of Lviv has much more of an Austro-Hungarian feel than a Russian one.

The café is crowded, with dozens of people milling about signing up for subsidised bus trips to Kiev, dropping off food and clothing for demonstrators, and stuffing money into a large jar filling up with bank notes.

“We want a change of government,” says Anastasiya Kovalik, 27, a clothing shop cashier whose boss was in Kiev taking part in the protests.

Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, a friend of Mandiuk’s, runs a textile business with about 1,000 employees, some of whom now make protective clothing for demonstrators in Kiev. Rushchyshyn is a frequent visitor to the capital, often taking with him a few of the men who work in his female-dominated business.

“I have to be in Kiev,” says Rushchyshyn, sipping tea in another restaurant that houses the local association of small business owners. “If my workers know the director is there representing them, they can relax and work.”

Rushchyshyn took part in the 2004 Orange Revolution, when protesters denied Yanukovich the presidency after a flawed election (he won more legitimately in 2010), and he was involved in a round of anti-government hunger strikes in the early 1990s.

“We are not scared of authority. Here, everyone is part of the revolution,” he says. “We are losing a lot of money and time in supporting the protests, but we are building our country.”

While many west Ukrainian business people share their region’s disdain of Yanukovich and want him gone, there is a more pragmatic reason for them to support the revolution. With the border with Poland and the EU less than 100 km away, local businesses hope a new government will sign an association agreement with the EU which could spur trade and investment. Yanukovich’s refusal to do so in December set off the protests.

“I know a lot of investors would like to come to Ukraine, and the association agreement would help a lot,” says Andriy Sadovyi, Lviv’s mayor.

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