Newly appointed Kharkiv governor makes first public appearance

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March 4, 2014, 10:55 p.m. | Photo — by Daryna Shevchenko
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EuroMaidan activists gather in Kharkiv near the Taras Shevchenko monument on one of the city's central streets for a regular evening rally.
© Kostyantyn Chernichkin

Daryna Shevchenko

Daryna Shevchenko is a Kyiv Post staff writer and executive director of the Media Development Foundation, started in 2013 by Kyiv Post journalists to support investigative and in-depth journalism, journalism exchanges and journalism training.

Kharkiv Oblast's newly appointed governor made his first public appearance on March 4, speaking to a crowd of pro-European demonstrators and expressing his support for the new government in Kyiv.

"I came here to show my respect to you and state that I am ready to face the existing challenges," said Ihor Baluta, the new regional governor. In his speech, which was met with huge applause, he told the crowd that he plans to talk to pro-Russian oriented Kharkiv citizens as well "in case they are really Ukrainians with different ideas, not Russians brought to destabilize the situation in the region."

Earlier media reported that Russian citizens were spotted during a violent rally in Kharkiv on March 1. Around a hundred people were injured during a siege on the regional administration building here by pro-Russian activist. EuroMaidan activists were still based in the building, which the pro-Russian crowd seized and then hoisted a Russian flag atop.

The first question the crowd asked the new governor was: "Why is (Kharkiv mayor Hennadiy) Kernes is still in power?"

Kernes is known as being pro-Russian, and was closely tied to the previous government of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.

"Kernes is a legitimately elected mayor, he was present at today's meetings," Baluta said.

While many dislike him, there are plenty of Kharkiv residents who praise Kernes for the beautification of Ukraine's second-largest city.

"We can't deny that he has done something for the city, but I am more than sure that much more could have been done for the money used," says Oleksiy Stryzhak, a manger from Kharkiv.

Some people are more concerned about Baluta himself. "I am not sure he is strong enough to handle such a big region in such a difficult situation, and working with Kernes, you have to be either very strong to resist him or give in to him," says Yulia Smagina, a Kharkiv native who holds a poster reading: "I am Russian and I feel good in Ukraine!"

The main concern of the crowd on March 4, however, is neither an old mayor or a new governor, but a big rally of pro-Russian activists planned for March 5. 

First there were calls from the stage to gather an alternative rally, but Baluta called on people to delay all rallies. 

"We expect many provocations these days, especially tomorrow as another storm of the regional administration building is being planned by Russian forces. Lets help police and let them protect the buildings without being concerned about our safety," he told the crowd. 

In response, people chanted "We believe you," and agreed. 

Later Baluta said that several dozen young people in five or six buses attempted to enter the country at the Russian border near Kharkiv on March 4. He suspected Russia of busing them in to join the pro-Russian protest planned for March 5.

Editor’s Note: This article has been produced with support from the project, financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action.The content in this article may not necessarily reflect the views of the Danish government, NIRAS and BBC Action Media.

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