Kyiv: Jewish Band Plays a Solidarity Gig for Lebanese Cafe Attacked by Far-Rights
25 May, 2017

An impromptu music show was held in downtown Kyiv in solidarity with a local Lebanese cafe, which was previously attacked by far-right paramilitary activists. The concert, organized by a local Jewish band, attracted dozens of supporters.

A conflict between nationalists and the administration of the Lebanese "Linas Cafe" in Kyiv broke out on May 21. After addressing the owners and staff with xenophobic insults, the far-right group demanded service exclusively in Ukrainian. Nationalist protestors shut down the cafe following the incident, no police action followed.

In response, Kyiv residents gathered near the cafe for an "Anti-pogrom Concert" on May 24.

What Provoked The Conflict?

Conflict arose between one of the leaders of the National Patriotic Movement of Ukraine, Mykhayl Kovalchuk and the employees of the Linas Cafe in Kyiv's Bessarabska Square on the night of Sunday May 21. According to Kovalchuk, he and his friend tried to buy coffee from the cafe to-go, when a waiter brought them a bill with a price greater than they were expecting.

Linas Cafe in Kyiv. Photo: screenshot from hromadske's video

Kolvalchuk wrote on his Facebook page that he asked the employees to speak to him in Ukrainian and to bring him the complaints book (the post has since been deleted). At first, seeing the negative comments inside, Kovalchuk tried to photograph the contents of the book. He then left the cafe taking the complaints book with him. He claims that a few minutes later people associated with the cafe, one of whom carried a knife, attacked him and his friend.

"We will do everything possible so that this business won't be in the centre of the city," Kovalchuk wrote in a Facebook post that has since been deleted. The next day he called on all "conscious Ukrainians" to help him carry out his threats, using offensive language to describe the owners of the establishment.

"You're Provoking a Pogrom"

Later, on Sunday May 21 at 14:00, a group of around 50 young people made their way from the nearby Taras Shevchenko Park to Bessarabska Square, chanting "Ukraine above all", "Death to enemies!" and "Remember, stranger: Ukrainians are the owners here".

Photo: Tetyana Blyzniuk Facebook page

They entered the premises of the Linas Cafe, stopping employees from working and demanding they call the owners, who they called "blockheads". They also demanded that the employees speak Ukrainian and were outraged at the Russian-language menu. The staff explained that the establishment is aimed at foreign, mostly Arab, customers.

"We came here for a civilized protest and you are provoking a pogrom," said one activist.

In the end, under pressure from the right-wing radicals, the staff were forced to close the cafe.

Traces of Hate Crime Attack

The next day the Linas Cafe was open once again. By lunch time Right Sector activists had returned to the establishment. After calling the police, the cafe was forced to close again.

Press Secretary for the Kyiv police, Oksana Blyschyk told Hromadske that law enforcement is now investigating the incident at the cafe.

Right Sector activists had returned to the establishment the next day. Photo: Stanislav Kolomiets Facebook page

In the opinion of Maksim Butkevych, project coordinator for the "Without Borders" human rights organization, the attack contained all the signs of a hate crime:

"The fact that violence was not applied is nothing to celebrate, instead there was bullying and intimidation," the human rights activist explained.

Compromise: Free Coffee and a Flag

Despite numerous attempts Hromadske was unable to reach the owners of the Linas Cafe for a comment. However, the establishment's staff feel very uneasy after the attack.

Linas Cafe in Kyiv. Photo: screenshot from hromadske's video

Kovalchuk told Hromadske that the activists and the owners of the cafe (which is part of a chain) "had reached a mutual understanding and settled the conflict":

"The promised to fulfil our demands: they will fire the people who provoked the conflict, they will communicate in Ukrainian and translate the menu. The might even hang a state flag. They also promised to provide free coffee to volunteers."

On Tuesday the Linas Cafe reopened. The owners and management of the chain have yet to comment on the incident.

/By Igor Burdyga

/Translated by Eilish Hart