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Feature Story September 17, 2004
Ukrainians In the Mist
Gorilla tactics in the campaign for Ukraine's highest office By Jake Rudnitsky Browse author Email
Page 4 of 6
Motives aside, 45-year-old Rzhavsky is a rather appealing character. With short, slicked-back hair, a round face and well-tailored clothes, he looks like exactly what he is: a reformed New Russian. I have no doubt that ten years ago he was running around his native Donbass decked out in a track suit and gold jewelry, waving his oversized mobile phone about. He told me he made his money in machine building and banking, and he retired when he became a Rada deputy. I never heard him swear, even after a few drinks, and all his staff was genuinely fond of him. While he came across a bit wooden in most public appearances, he's a vast improvement over most public figures in this part of the world. He'd customize each speech, altering them slightly and using different metaphors. When there wasn't a crowd, he was quite charismatic.

The entire day was spent giving speeches and talking to the press. Meanwhile, the agitatory handed out Rzhavsky newspapers at various points around town. During the brief time I spent with them outside the central market, the highlight was getting denounced as "bourgeois" by an old Communist. "It's mostly the babushki who don't have anything better to do that want to argue politics," agitator Andrei told me. The 18-year-old student liked Rzhavsky, although he didn't care one way or the other about his political positions. "But the pay's decent," he said about the work he found over the internet.

The agitatory usually hand out papers and sweets in Kiev for 25 hryvna a day. By comparison, Yushchenko's kids, who sit in yellow tents along Kiev's main drag Khreshchatyk handing out propaganda, are rumored to earn 40 hryvna. So much for ideals.

Most of Rzhavsky's other campaign stops that day were as misguided as the first one at the orphanage. Two were held at technical colleges, where most of the kids were 17, still too young to vote. Even the prospect of 400 hryvna stipends didn't seem enough to excite them. The press conference with local journalists and the live TV interview were slightly more lively, but even these dragged. During the press conference, a cute campaign worker named Marina wrote in my notebook, "EVERYONE'S FALLING ASLEEP." I certainly was. As with most press conferences, I got the feeling that most journalists had showed up for the prospect of a forshet (free food and, of course, vodka) at the end, rather than to gather material. Indeed, there were only a few questions asked. Unfortunately, Rzhavsky's tendency to draw out his answers interminably caused it to drag on. The live interview was a little more interesting, with the interviewer asking aggressive questions and Rzhavsky fielding them relatively well. It also helped that they were only allotted a finite amount of time.

During the conference, much was made of the presence of two foreign correspondents, me and Volodya. Volodya is actually Rzhavsky's press handler and was posing as a Moscow journalist so that he could plant a few easy questions that Rzhavsky could hit out of the park.

Volodya wore many hats. He'd prompt students to ask questions if none were forthcoming, he dropped his Ukrainian "h" in favor of a Russian "g" when posing as the reporter, and he called in to fawn on Rzhavsky during the live interview. It was as though the campaign really thought that these tricks would work in lieu of popular support. "Sometimes people need to be helped along, to keep things lively," Volodya said. Volodya can pardon their apathy -- he himself is a Ukrainian patriot who undoubtedly feels closer to Yushchenko than Rzhavsky, an easterner who never really learned Ukrainian. But he said he joined the campaign for the professional experience and, I'm sure, the money. Like everyone else in the campaign, he wasn't a believer.

Rzhavsky himself was amazingly optimistic about his own chances. He'd refuse to answer whom he'd vote for in the runoff, saying that he planned to participate. Even when he was alone with his workers and me, he'd act like he had a chance. The closest he got to admitting otherwise was during a photo shoot, when he was joking with his campaign manager about the ministers he'd appoint as president. "Oleg has a minister's face -- I'll make him minister of transportation," he said about his massive driver/body guard. If minister's face means "flathead," I'd have to agree.

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Save The eXile: The War Nerd Calls Mayday
The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

Scanning Moscow’s Traffic Cops
Automotive Section
We’re happy to introduce a new column in which we publish Moscow’s raw radio communications, courtesy of a Russian amateur radio enthusiast. This issue, eXile readers are given a peek into the secret conversations of Moscow’s traffic police, the notorious "GAIshniki."

Eleven Years of Threats: The eXile's Incredible Journey
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Russia's freedom-loving free market martyr Mikhail Khodorkovsky answers some of this week's letters, and he's got nothing but praise for President Medvedev.

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Your Letters
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Everybody complains about celebrities, but nobody does anything about them. People, it’s time to stop fretting about whether we’re a celebrity-obsessed culture—we are, we have been, we’re going to be—and instead take practical steps to clean up the celebrity-obsessed culture we’ve got...


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