KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (AFP) – As he campaigned for Ukraine’s parliamentary polls, to be held Sunday, Nestor Shufrych was pelted with eggs and injured in a scuffle with nationalists.
It’s not easy for one-time allies of ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine these days.
Shufrych, a former minister and ruling party MP, trod a fine line when he spoke to 300 voters at a recent rally in the eastern town of Kramatorsk, taken back by government forces from pro-Russian rebels in July.
On the one hand he made sure to attack the pro-Western “morons” now running the country in Kiev but on the other he went out of his way to dump all over his former boss too.
“We could have snuffed out this crisis on the Maidan,” Shufrych said, referring to the protests in Kiev that toppled Kremlin-backed Yanukovych in February. “But he sodded off instead– a hero of our time.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday acknowledged for the first time on Friday that Moscow had helped Yanukovych flee his country.
“I’m telling you frankly, Yanukovych asked to be brought to Russia and we did that,” Putin said.
At the dark heart of Ukrainian politics for over 15 years, Yanukovych’s Regions Party is conspicuously absent from the ballot this time round.
Since its one-time chief was turfed out of power and fled to Russia the party has not fared well.
The ex-leader’s key cronies vanished abroad too and the party has haemorrhaged members.
Now – with much of its stronghold in the Russian-speaking east controlled by pro-Moscow rebels – what’s left of the party has officially decided to boycott Sunday’s vote.
But in the smoke-and-mirrors world of politics in this ex-Soviet state that does not quite mean that it has totally left the scene.
Like Shufrych, some of Yanukovych’s erstwhile ruling party allies have switched to a new party called Opposition Bloc, set up by former energy minister Yuriy Boiko.
This formation, accused by some of representing the deposed leader’s interests, appears to be just a pale imitation of the once-dominant Regions Party.
As pro-Western politicians and strident nationalists ride high in the polls it is languishing close to five per cent of the vote , the minimum threshold for entering parliament.
Another party, Strong Ukraine, headed by former deputy PM Sergiy Tygypko, who turned his back on his former master, is also hovering around the same low figure.
If the remnants of the former ruling elite are to make any headway then that will come in the Russian-speaking regions that Yanukovych once presided over as his own political fiefdom.
Their campaigns have focused very closely on “precise groups of voters,” said Kiev-based political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko.
“Their main bet is on Russia-speaking regions, with Russian-speaking voters who are unhappy with the current authorities,” he said.
Hampering that drive though is the fact that swathes of that territory are now in rebel hands where no vote will be held.
And when they have hit the campaign trail the results have usually been pretty poor.
In the Russian-speaking port city of Odessa, Shufrych was grabbed by ultra-nationalists who tried to throw him into a dumpster. The attempt turned into a fistfight that ended up with the candidate in hospital. Mykhailo Dobkin, the former pro-Russian governor of eastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, has only dared make one campaign appearance around his old stomping ground.