Rhino's Ramblings - Political Dancing In Odesa

By Robert Thomas Opinion/Commentary

In the City of Odesa, Ukraine there is a park on Derebovskaiya Street called City Garden. At this park there is gazebo stage and from it outdoor concerts are regularly presented.

This past Saturday evening there was a concert put on by political veteran Sergei Kivalov who is running for re-election. Some are saying it is an uphill battle for the 65 year old Kivalov who could be called old school and part of the problem with what is wrong not just in Odesa but wider throughout Ukraine itself.

The Kivalov machine is well oiled and more or less running on all cylinders as he goes out campaigning and looking for another mandate.

If you watch closely though as he goes through the crowd shaking hands and saying hello he is surrounded by political handlers and operatives. Sometimes they are at a distance but other times right beside Kivalov depending on the questions and who is asking them.

When approached by a constituent he takes time to answer the questions but at the same time there is always six to eight supporters right next to him. In the background standing back just out of sight there is an armed police officer who is blended into the edge of the crowd ever watchful at this campaign event.

The Kivalov campaign is well orchestrated.

There are first the songs followed by a short speech where promises are made to work with Ukraine's new president Volodymr Zelensky to change the lives of all Odessits for the better.

Working with the new presidential administration Kivalov promises better pensions, more infrastructure and Odesa will not be forgotten in Kyiv.

Kivalov speaks to a constituent

Kivalov speaks to a constituent

As he gives his speech there are people in their thirties and forties who walk by and surreptitiously give Kivalov the finger. That is as far as any opposition to the veteran Ukrainian politician goes on this evening.

The concert of local university students continues while the pensioners continue their outdoor dancing. Kivalov works the crowd until he gets to a point where he gives a speech to his media about the event. There are no journalists here following nor asking any questions on this evening.

It is all Kivalov's team as he receives a touch of makeup just before going in front of the small camera crew with a prepared speech. The pensioners dancing in the background add the ambiance to the media event.

If you watch closely there is a tent where students hand out campaign literature. A glossy brochure full of promises and a newspaper full of the events and things Kivalov has done all under appropriate sections. The thing is less than a dozen take the literature at the event.

Given the problems in Odesa – corruption with infrastructure money gone missing, the majority of public beaches illegally sold off and the same organized crime element with its tentacles everywhere still existing – you would think people would be in a mood for change but strangely many are not.

This is a snap election President Zelensky called to hopefully fill Ukraine's Rada, or its Parliament, with like minded reformers. People who are going to set Ukraine's politics on its head and finally leave behind the Soviet Union or rather the politicians born from it.

As you go around Odessa very few want to talk about politics. As I was told by more than a few “I am tired of elections. I am tired of politics.”

The big question to be asked is it the voice seeking change or is it the voice of those who simply are tired and totally apathetic? Have they given up on the entire system and now resigned to the final outcome?

As I was told “there are so many people running and promising so many things the only problem is who are these people? Nobody knows anything about them. Who are they.”

Kovalov gives his later to be broadcast public interview using the festivities behind him as a backdrop

Kovalov gives his later to be broadcast public interview using the festivities behind him as a backdrop

For well known incumbents such as Kivalov the access to the media, the local events such as the Saturday night in the park plus name recognition seem to be the winning ticket when it comes to winning re-election.

All throughout Odesa there are election fliers and ads everywhere.

On almost every busy street corner or place where large numbers of people walk by there are tents set up to pass out campaign literature. But as with Kivalov's event nobody seems to want any of it.

Booths have been set up by candidates at strategic corners to hand out campaign literature but there are very few takers

Booths have been set up by candidates at strategic corners to hand out campaign literature but there are very few takers

It might be the greatest understatement here that very few if any care about the elections and the Rada support Zelensky's snap election call was suppose to generate.

Even Odesa's mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov, long rumoured to be a dual Ukrainian and Russian national - which like all holding dual nationality is illegal in Ukraine – plus in many people's minds one of the most corrupt mayors ever is running for the political party Opposition Block.

Most politically minded people in Odesa will tell you the obvious if he gets into the Rada then Trukhanov will have immunity from prosecution. Life goes on.

This past Saturday even President Zelensky at a press conference requested Trukhanov to please fix the port ownership problem as a private monopoly controls the only sea access and in reality the flow of trade in Ukraine.

Mayor Trukhanov replied he would see what he could do to fix the problem.

Meanwhile on the election front Trukhanov controls access to the prime advertising spots, civic events and parade permits.

Odesa Mayor Gennady Trukhanov running for the Opposition Block Party election poster in a prime Odesa bus shelter location

Odesa Mayor Gennady Trukhanov running for the Opposition Block Party election poster in a prime Odesa bus shelter location

President Zelensky's very own political party Servant of the People may according to the polls be destined to wipe aside the old political guard from the former Soviet Union days but the big questions which can be asked in Odesa is who are you and more importantly where are you?

Will President Zelensky manage to sweep in by the coat tails political novices nobody has ever heard of or will it be business as usual for the Paris of the Black Sea?

We will know July 21st.

Next in this series - At The Movies Odesa Style

Editor's Note - Robert Thomas is in Ukraine this Summer working as a stringer for a group of smaller German publications

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