Traditional disclaimer: everything is IMHO.

New Year at Maidan

A quote from Jan 2 Russian newspaper: "Have you ever seen 1 mln orgasming people? Try Kyiv's Maidan the night of January 1 2005..."

What holiday is the most highly celebrated in Europe -- the New Year!
What day is the best to affirm one's victory and turn the new page of country's destiny -- the New Year!

1.5 mln people... no, 1.5 mln free people came out on Kyiv's central square to celebrate their triumph on the New Year's eve. One has to be there to experience the energetics of that event. The emotions were overwhelming. I was among lucky few to witness it all.

After a major renovation and architectural overhaul, Maidan Nezalezhnosti looks superbly beautiful in the day light, it is even nicer when lit on a winter night. Imagine every square foot covered by the human sea -- from nearby hills to hotel balconies and side streets. Quoting my friend: "I have never seen such a crowd even during peaks of protests!"

Numerous Ukrainian National flags, many orange 'Yuschenko - Tak!' banners, flags of Georgia, Poland, also spotted some Canadian and USA. People wearing strips of orange.

Giant digital (mega-bucks!) screens opposite to the main central stage where celebrities stepped out. In the beginging popular bands and singers entertained the crowd starting 9pm, but closer to midnight politicians and Orange revolution leaders took over.

We arrived quite late ~11:30pm (those knowing me are allowed to :) ) -- just in time to hear the president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili. To my and others surprise he addressed the crowd in very clear Ukrainian. Apparantly, he used to study at Kyiv State University! Georgia and Ukraine traditionally have strong ties and rely on support of each other against Moscow. But this was almost too much -- the crowd roared in approval. Followed a song by a famous Georgian patriarch singer Nina Bregvadze with Georgian National Ansemble.

Then Yuschenko gave a strong speech. By that time it became known that Yanukovich practically conceded a defeat -- he submitted his resignation from the position of a prime-minister (just few days after saying "I will never resign and will fight to the end") after the Supreme Court threw out almost all of his complaints earlier in the day.

But crowd's welcome to Yuschenko can be called tepid comparing to what greeted the 'Joan d'Arc' of the Orange Revolution -- Julia Tymoshenko. "Yulia! Yulia! Yulia!" crowd went exctatic. Pictures of her climbing the police lines with orange carnations became the symbol of the orange spirit. It was clear that people's outmost sympathy was on the side of this strong woman who few days ago travelled to Eastern Ukraine for a LIVE TV session with Donetsk audience and eloquently mastered out any verbal assault from pro-Yanukovich journalists. Ukrainian men definitely have weakness about brave strong Xena-warriors :) -- maybe it is a genetic calling from the ancient times of Amazonkas who populated steppes to the east from Kyiv.

Western Ukrainian band Grynzholy rapped the crowd with their hit song "Razom nas bahato" which is now the song of the revolution -- 1mln people dancing to the tune is quite a scene.

Exactly at midnight the best male voice of Ukraine, Olexandr Ponomariov, fired 'Sche ne vmerla Ukraina'. I heard several tens of thousands singing the Ukrainian Anthem in Lviv in 91. But not 1.5 mln! I've seen tears in many eyes. The tears of success that they stood up to a government machine and they overcame it. They know (and many told me in private conversations) that Yuschenko may come out different. But Yuschenko gives hope for change, while Yanukovich gives a conservation of the existing regime.

Ukraine's glory and freedom have not yet perished,
Brothers Ukrainians, we shall still see the fortune smile for us...

It was meant to be a year of Ukraine -- the Best European Soccer player, the Best European singer, the Best World heavy-weight boxer, the Best World female swimmer, and the birth of the 'Ukrainian Dream'... I saw proud people, I saw happy people, I saw the emergence of the Ukrainian nation. It was not the nation of beggars, a herd of timid sheeps, it was the self-assertive people, full of optimism.

And the skies got ripped by magnificent fireworks and thousands of champaign corks. It was the best fireworks I saw at any 4th of July or Disneyland. Maybe partially because they were very low, just overhead. Frankly -- organizers walked hair split close from neglecting safety -- many rockets flew horizontally across the square. But nobody cared, it was so beautiful....

About 1:30am we started moving down Khreschatyk among piles of champaign bottles (btw Kyiv street cleanning service did their job by 3am!). As we kept walking along miles of tents, which housed thousands of protestors, one could read names of cities, towns and villages... And the tune "Razom nas bahato -- nas ne podolaty" ("Together us are many, we can't be defeated") kept on reverberating in our heads...

Every nation gets a revolution it deserves...

"What kind of a revolution is it, if not only nobody got killed, but not even a single face got beaten up?" (popular joke).

But indeed, it was a revolution in Ukraine. Little bourgeois revolutiuon, nothing more, nothing less. Like ones that happened in Western Europe in XVII-XIX centuries.
And it got really very serious sometimes -- readers with fast speed Internet may feel the intensity of the moment in the TV5 video of the silent stand-off during one of the nights (background music by the most popular Ukrainian band "VV" -- they declined any money from Yanukovich and played many nights at Maidan for free!)

One of the main US TV channels showed those scenes -- freezing wind, snow storm and the sea of people. Silent people. Standing into the night. Facing the lines of police. Facing the unknown, but proud and confident in truth. The famous US TV anchor concluded: "Watch these courageous people! This is how one should defend his/her freedom!"... I was very proud of my people...

Especially difficult was in the first few days after the most falsified Round 2. My far relative X. whose braveness I admire (about this below) told me that if not for the 50-70K Kyiv citizens, who stepped up on the Kyiv's central square in outrage against widespread fraud, the Orange celebration could not have happened. That spontaneous mass protest caught the government of guard and gave enough time for opposition to consolidate their forces.

Of course Western Ukraine was one of the most active. X. worked organizing rotation trips to Kyiv -- volunteers were travelling to the Ukraine's capital to protest for 3-4 days in freezing temperatures and then going back being substituted by new waves. He estimated that on any given day in the last week before Dec 26 about 200,000 Western Ukrainians lived in Kyiv. Kyivans gave them food and shelter.

In fact every family I visited in Lviv, all my friends, etc etc -- they or someone from their family or their relatives travelled to Maidan Nezalezhnosti. It was a mass movement. Close to a religious pilgrimage. It was almost anecdotal to see every Xmas tree being decorated with orange strip and "Yuschenko-president!" banner (same in Kyiv!).

But it was expected to some extend -- Yanukovich's open Russo-centrism to Western Ukraine was like a red cloth to a bull. People there never forget who deported their 1 mln relatives to Siberia in late 40's. People there remember that last units of the Ukrainian Rebellion Army perished in the woods of the Carpathian mountains only in late 50s, more than a decade after the WWII!

But as I mentioned before, applauds go to Kyivans. In 10 years of independence the center of the pro-Ukrainian politics have shifted to Kyiv. As it should be. The politics of every state is made in its capital.

What made it more special for Kyiv, is that people who yesterday were far from any politics, not even mentionning any Ukrainian idea, found this idea equivalent to democracy and pro-european way, normal, equal and healthy business environment -- all in contrast to the stiffer and stiffer climate of Putin's Russia. This is why it was a little bourgeois revolution -- small and middle business was choking under government authoritarian capitalism. Example -- in September Yanukovich forced them to pay income tax 6 months into future -- he was collecting money to pay off pensioners to gain their vote! And it was this small and middle business which kept on the Orange engine moving.

I was at a New Year party in Kyiv hosted by a woman-entrepreneur, who co-owns an Italian furniture store in central Kyiv. She told us about her partners from Donetsk (Eastern Ukraine, camp of Yanukovich) who were very surprised that she operates without any "cover" from racketeering gangs. They literally asked her: "So you are living like in Europe?" One should understand -- this is a great shift in views on the world, in perception of the reality and social order. Democracy vs Autocracy. Rule of Law vs Rule of Will.

There were businessmen at the party who spent their own money, lots of money on buying loads of food and clothes for protestors at Maidan... X. told me that initially they had no money to send volunteers to Kyiv. Government railroads and buses raised prices. And then, I quote him, "comes one businessman who was never spotted as being a generous benefactor. He pulls me aside into an empty room and silently unloads an equivalent of several thousand USD. And they kept on coming and bringing money. No reciepts asked, no signatures required -- just asking how much and what else we need..."

In Kyiv they told me a story of a KyivStar CEO who slept with protestors in the tents at Maidain. Wireless communications company KyivStar had over $100 mln after tax profit last year.

I was told about some company from Western Ukraine, where everybody loaded on their cars and left for Maidan. Their boss told them -- it's your time to defend your right to choose. He was in the front line. And there were thousands of such cars, buses, etc. Yanukovich employed gangs to scatter spikes on the highways to stop the flood. But local mechanics along the way offered repairs for free and caravans kept on moving...

The level of self-organization of the crowd was amazing. The camp at Maidan was kept away from alcohol. People elected commanders, elected a guard squad. Solid lads from Volyn region patrolled the wide-spread camp and any drunk was immediately escorted to the trainstation and thrown back home: "Do not disgrace the nation!". Let me remind you that Yanukovich sent about 20-30K of his supporters to Kyiv too. Some were paid, some promised to get paid, some were simply ordered to do so in old Soviet style, some were simply convinced that they are going to "liberate Motherland from Orange fascism". The cynicism of the ruling regime had no limits -- Yuschneko's father went through 4 death camps during the WWII... It was very important not to let any provocateurs in, not to let any legal precedence for the government to use force. The crime level also dropped drastically.

I was told about a businessman, who desparately wanted to help the protestors. His jeep stopped near tents and he asked "Lads, what do you need?" At that time temperature plummeted to ~10F and many "orangemen" found themselves unprepared. So they told him -- we need better boots and gloves. The businessman run his jeep to a nearest boutique store to pile it up with Italian designer boots, to discover later that they were no good. Angrily he went back to return them to find out that the store is closed. He was so pissed off that he left the giant bag filled with $300-shoes in front of the store. Next morning he came back and found the bag in the same place intact.

Then there was a story of travelling monks -- imagine a unit of monks, all in robes, jogging along Kyiv streets in a formation and singing "Razom nas bahato". All to inspire people to fight for their basic rights...
Maidan brought about sharp humor, numerous anecdotes about Yanukovich & Co.
A pet-goat with a sign "ProFFessor" -- Yanukovich happened to make many grammar mistakes in his application for President election as well as was caught using the word "goats" in respect to opposition.
Oranges pierced with giant syringes and old Soviet style "valianky" (high boots for winter) with words "Made in USA" -- making fun of infamous Yanukovich's wife speech were she alleged that Maidan lives on "doped" oranges and is dressed up by the CIA...
And numerous protestor songs.. Some of which could bring tears... Best Ukrainian singers and bands kept the fighting spirit going. Every night Ponomariov's live rendition of the National Anthem was inspiring for tomorrow's hope...

And then were elections... There was no doubt that government rigged them in all rounds. Especially in the 2nd when it was obvious that Yuschenko was winning. I heard numerous witnesses from many parts of Ukraine about travelling groups of people from Donetsk who were using absentee ballots multiple times. The local committes at election centers were supposed to prevent such an abuse, but as it appeared later they were paid off in many cases -- in the late December a truck leaving Kuchma's President Administration was stopped by "orangemen". People discovered lists of many local election committee member names and how much they were paid. The truck was heading to the shredder...

And then there was Western Ukraine. Stubbornly idealistic, stubbornly nationalistic and stubbornly freedom-loving.
X. was working in the regional election committee which supervised local election districts. By the law there were Yanukovich representative's present all the time. They could not believe when they saw coming results from many villages -- 0.0 votes for Yanukovich. "This can't be true! He raised them pensions!" They checked and rechecked. But everything was correct. They couldn't get it that there are things which money can't buy.

There was a story of one village teacher, who was a member of a local election committee. Yanukovich campaign paid him to be their representative. No crime, he agreed. $100 for a day of work and nothing illegal. But a village is a village -- everybody knows everything. Students stopped greeting him, his neighbors started shunning him. Ostracized for few days he turned to X.: "Please, send me to Maidan till the end!"... They decided to keep him as an insider. Before the 3rd Round he provided an info which helped preventing massive invalidation of election results in Lviv region which could have cost Yuschenko a million or so votes. In the end villagers forgave their teacher once they learned the truth...

Yanukovich campaigners couldn't believe when they saw that the number of registered voters was growing in Lviv region from round to round, reaching almost 100% in some places. "This is fraud" they shouted. Surely, they knew that from their own experience of "105% turn-out" in the East. They checked and rechecked again -- but nothing. Frankly, I was also sceptical, but X. pointed to the following. People realized that Yanukovich will do his best in the East. And there was a danger that the Central Ukraine gets too tired of the 4 month election race and the turn-out will fall there. So there was total "mobilization". Whoever haven't voted since the times of Austrian Empire was called upon. If he/she couldn't walk -- taxis were working for free to bring that person to the voting booth. I think it would be fair to say that the Western Ukraine scrapped all possible vote for Yuschenko. They gave it all to the last. But the stakes were too high.

X. himself felt the brutal face of the dying regime.
Before the 2nd Round they put $50,000 in front of him -- "Just deliver us a count we need". He said - "Go away!"
Before the 3rd Round they came to him again -- "You didn't take the money stupid. Deliver the count or now we will kill you or your family". He said - "In 1945 our fathers took guns to fight your likes. We have army units ready to fight now. Just try me." Of course it was a bluff -- (in the part of the army :) ) but they never came back...

Last Sunday while watching Yuschenko-president taking vows in front of the half-million crowd at Maidan, I kept on thinking about whether he realizes that Maidan is not big enough to fit all unsung heroes of this revolution. And how many eyes are watching him from above. Does he feel the full gravity of responsibility? Does he understand that he has no right for a mistake?
For as the venerable Otto von Bismarck have once said:

"Revolutions are invented by intellectuals, made by fanatics, and serve only the opportunists."

I hope there will be a nice exception to this rule...

First Nobel Prize to Ukraine?...

And the hope was stronger and stronger as the inauguration proceeded. Ukrainian TV channels broadcasted everything on the Internet. C-Span showed it in the USA. It was very emotional.

The official part was attended by unprecedented number of foreign celebrities (64 delegations), which made it even more special. Yuschenko swore on the Constitution and the ancient Ukrainian Bible from the XVI century (there were also Ukrainian historical valuables -- the regal scepter and flag of most famous Cossak hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky). He kissed both volumes and crossed himself twice. Some could see a PR trick, but I would rather be inclined to think that his miraculous return from dead after being poisoned made him a strong believer. Interestingly, he had a big bronze(!) ring on a finger. Commentators explained that it was made from an ancient Cossak horseshoe. Horseshoe is also the sign of Yuschenko campaign.

After official part, Yuschenko came to Maidan, where a 500K crowd was waiting to see him. My friend was there and could barely hold down tears as emotions and feelings were overwhelming. It happened. Peacefully and in spite of all predictions. The belief in future was back.
Yuschenko build his program around the idea that Ukraine is a part of Europe and strategic goal is EU. This is the back-bone for future reforms in Ukraine. Later, there was a festive concert in honor of the new president and his guests. It was a nice mixture of world classics and Ukrainian classics easily recognizable in the world of music. The concert ended in Beethoven's 9th Symphony whose Ode to Joy is adopted by the EU as the National Anthem. Nice move!

Over all the spirit of celebrations, the democratic behaviour of new leaders -- all reminded me of the Clinton first inauguration euphoria in 1992 (I just hope for there will be no Ukrainian Monica!)... Even Ukrainian commentators discussing who was dressed from what designer was something refreshing. Btw, Yuschenko and his wife Kateryna Chumachenko, former US citizen, and his 5 children, all ordered exclusively from Ukrainian designers (I am very proud that 2 of them are from Lviv!). Kateryna was wearing a golden brooch made on the territory of Ukraine 2,500 yrs ago -- lease from Ukrainian museums. All to underline the heritage of Ukrainian culture.

New winds, new changes... It seems that the 2nd stage of the Ukrainian move for independence, the one that was dropped in 1991, finally went through. But only time will tell...

But now, Yuschenko is on a European tour... Tymoshenko acts as interim prime-minister and very likely to be confirmed by the Parliament next week...

USA nominates Yuschenko (Ukraine) and Saakashvili (Georgia) for Nobel Peace Prize... It could be first one for Ukraine as an independent state. Very symbolic. Actually, Sheldon Glashow (Nobel prize 1979) once said that in his count a couple of dozen Nobel prize winners are related to Ukraine. Oh well, maybe it's time now to get one here....

The first lines of the National Anthem go about overcoming enemies and the faith in the victory. The last lines, which are seldomly sung, are what everyone in Ukraine should recite. Only then, the dream of European Union will become true.

Our persistence and our sincere toils will be rewarded,
And freedom's song will resound throughout all of Ukraine.
Echoing off the Carpathians, and rumbling across the steppes,
Ukraine's fame and glory will be known among all nations.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Traditional special thanx: to CERN physicists Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau who invented World Wide Web in 1990.
Besides commercial and academic benefits for the mankind, WWW elevated freedom of speech to the highest level, unreachable for any government to muzzle the flow of information.

It happened so that Internet editions became the source of information about Yushcneko and Orange revolution for readers in Ukraine and the world as Kuchma's government controlled all but one TV channels. For example, one of them -- served like a newswire from various volunteers all over Kyiv to warm about government moves.

Moreover, at the peak of tensions, Yanukovich put pressure on Ukrainian Internet providers to block the traffic to opposition websites. One could only regret that the US Congress never found time to consider special proposition of developing the Triangle Boy Web developed at SafeWeb. This would allow democracy idea to beat censorship even further...

PS This is not Maidan but downtown LA -- Orange Thanxgiving. We got about 200 people on 1 day notice.

PPS I noticed many Western journalists often confuse money flows especially when trying to overexaggerate influence of the USA. Although USA played a great role in supporting democratic movements, non of my friends who were frequent visitors at Maidan during the stand-off, nor X. confirmed any pay-offs. Of course Yuschenko campaign got some money, at least for initial projects -- hi-tech gigantic screens at Maidan cost mega-bucks. Also small and mid-size business was actively involved. But over-all expenses are being estimated in the ballpark of $100 mln Yuschenko vs $1 bln Yanukovich. Democracy idea is very appealing by itself. On contrary, the evidence points to Yanukovich paying his supporters quite well. E.g. according to X. Yanukovich representatives in election committees got payed $100/day + $100 for an ordinary complaint about violations by Yuschenko side or $200 for a complaint with severe circumstances. No wonder Yanukovich submitted ~500 volumes of "complaints" to the Supreme Court.

I'd like also to quote again a posting from which was authored by some anonymous NY trader. It sheds some light on the financial sources of Yanukovich campaign as well as possible circumstances of "suicide" of Georgi Kirpa, Minister of Transportation, after Yuschenko's victory. I could indirectly confirm some of the facts mentioned below.

"I read with interest the Ukraine alternative view you linked to. I trade emerging markets securities for a large hedge fund in New York, and I have a decent amount of exposure to Ukraine. Based on what I've seen in my seat, drawing moral equivalence between Yuschenko and Yanukovych is idiotic. Let me give a couple of vignettes.

- Last year, after years of stalling, Ukraine finally moved ahead with the privatization of Krivorozhstal, the country's largest steelmaking concern. Several western companies were bidding, along with a local consortium operating on behalf of Mr. Akhmetov (the oligarch mostly closely linked with Yanukovych) and Mr. Pinchuk (Kuchma's son-in-low). A Swiss bank that shall remain nameless tried to interest us in participating in a syndicate to make an acquisition loan to this consortium. Their team paid us a visit a few weeks before the auction. The guy delivering the pitch was Ihor Yushko, a former finance minister of the country. The weird thing about the presentation is that they figured they were going to be able to buy Krivorozhstal for $800mio; it was pretty well known that the western companies were planning to bid north of $2bio. I challenged Mr. Yushko on this point. Without a hint of shame, he replied that we shouldn't worry about that, the consortium was sure to win the auction at its price. How, I asked. Again, with remarkable forthrightness, he pointed to the constituents of the consortium. Mr. Akhmetov and Mr. Pinchuk, he said, are too well-connected to lose. Needless to say, we passed on such a dodgy deal. A few weeks later, the Ukraine privitization board announced a new condition for bidders. Only those bidders who had purchased more than a certain quantity of coking coal from Ukrainian sources in the past two years would be eligible. Surprise, surprise. Which bidder do you think was the only one that had existing steel operations in Ukraine and therefore satisfied the criterion? The crooks won the auction at the ludicrously low price of approx $800mio.

- In September I got a call from a German bank who shall remain nameless. Would we consider lending to Ukraine via a somewhat unorthodox channel? Instead of a bond in the public markets in the name of Government of Ukraine or National Bank of Ukraine (the central bank), this security would be a promissory note issued by the Ministry of Transport, with some sort of letter of comfort from the Finance Ministry. The ostensible purpose was to fund some specific highway project. As it turned out, it became clear later that the highway project was a sham. The money would indeed be disbursed to a contractor who would keep a small amount and pass on the rest to the Yanukovych campaign. The loan came several hundred bps ( several % ) wide to Ukraine government bonds. I am sad to report that my colleagues in the industry snapped up this loan with eagerness. The Yanukovych camp was so happy with this little scheme that they repeated it three more times in the space of a month, pulling in something like $500mio.

- We've invested very actively in the Russian oil sector. I heard from more than one of these companies that the Kremlin "encouraged" them to find ways to siphon money to the Yanukovych campaign. After the Yukos conflict, no Russian oil company will lightly say no to the Kremlin. Notwithstanding that powerful threat, the Kremlin also hinted at rewards. Yanukovych had promised Putin, it was said, that should he win, he would show his gratitude to the Russian oil sector by agreeing to reverse the direction of the Odessa-Brody pipeline.

I'm sure Yuschenko isn't a choir-boy. And I realize that the people of Eastern Ukraine have legitimate aspirations to be full participants in Ukrainian society in spite of their felt closeness to Russia. However, the scale of corruption in the Yanukovych campaign must be very great if it is so smackingly obvious even to a humble bond trader sitting in New York.