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Death By Firing Squad in Eastern Ukraine Over a Cartoon?

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Arts & Culture, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Humor, Media & Journalism, Politics, War & Conflict, Women & Gender, RuNet Echo
"Mutant Vatnik," YouTube screen capture, written by Irena Karpa. Published October 10, 2014. [1]

“Mutant Vatnik,” YouTube screen capture, written by Irena Karpa. Published October 10, 2014.

Did the Luhansk rebels’ minister of culture just ask a local court to execute a Ukrainian writer over an online cartoon? Or was the bizarre request for capital punishment part of a propaganda campaign by forces in Kyiv, bent on damaging the reputation of the “terrorists” to the east?

Earlier today, the pro-Ukrainian portal Lugansk Radar reported [2] that Irina Filatova, the supposed “minister for culture” of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People's Republic, intends to sue Irena Karpa, a Ukrainian musician and writer, for lampooning Filatova in a satirical cartoon. Filatova allegedly demands that a court sentence Karpa to death by firing squad, “by the laws of war time [sic],” and also asks to be awarded 50,000 rubles ($1,200 USD) in compensation for moral damages and nightmares, before Karpa is shot.

Lugansk Radar quoted its own anonymous source inside Ukrainian law enforcement, even publishing scans of Filatova's apparent notice of suit against Karpa.

The “minister”‘s main beef with the cartoon is that it depicts her in a state of undress, holding a bottle of champagne. These images mimic the not-altogether-flattering photos of Filatova that were found on her Vkontakte page in May, earlier this year, when rumors of her appointment first surfaced. 

Fragment of Filatova's alleged complaint, demonstrating her photo and the cartoon likeness. Screenshot from Lugansk Radar.

Fragment of Filatova's alleged complaint, demonstrating her photo and the cartoon likeness. Screenshot from Luhansk Radar.

The press service of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic told [3] Slon.ru that Irina Filatova is not and never has been their minister of culture, recalling that claims about Filatova's position in the new government trace back to the pro-Kyiv media. Apparently, a woman named Lesya Lapteva currently heads Luhansk's ministry of education, science, culture, and religion.

The cartoon that Filatova allegedly found so deadly insulting is part of a project that Irena Karpa and Podrobnosti.ua launched earlier this month, “Mutant Vatnik,” aimed at ridiculing “vatniki,” a derogatory term for the pro-Russian leaning citizens of Ukraine. The second episode (the one at issue now) mocks eastern Ukraine's female “vatniki,” like the former mayor of Slovyansk, Nelya Shtepa.

For her part, Karpa says she isn't too worried about Filatova's suit, even if it's real. In fact, the next episode [4] of “Mutant Vatniki” is already in production. The scathing attacks on prominent rebels, she promises, aren't going anywhere.

Журналисты и мои друзья, по-моему, испугались больше, чем я. А мне смешно, что мои мультяшные герои оказались более реальными, чем я планировала. Но это уже предъява не мне, а художнику: мы не называли никаких фамилий, но портретное сходство сделало свое дело.

I think journalists and friends were more afraid than I was. I find it funny that cartoon characters proved to be more realistic than I planned. But I owe this to the animator. We did not name any names, so it must have been the uncanny likeness [to Filatova] that did it.

Luhansk under rebel-control is fertile ground for peculiar stories like the one about Filatova and Karpa. High “ministerial” turnover is a fact of life there, as is the steady stream of outrageous decrees banning various things. (Most recently, it was gay sex [5].) Just the other day, rumors [6] spread online that Luhansk had appointed a local musician to act as culture minister. (The man later denied it.)

The Luhansk People's Republic, in short, has become a circus. In the city's bedlam, the outside world is now left asking itself, with every strange, new story that comes out of Luhansk, “is this the bungling of a bunch of rebels?” or “was this part of a brilliant propaganda campaign by Kyiv?” 

Whatever the truth of “Mutant Vatnik,” it's clear that humor and satire remain some of the most potent weapons still exploding over eastern Ukraine today.