These are tough times for Ukraine, a country in Eastern Europe situated between Russia and Poland. Divided for most of its existence, the state has been serving as a buffer for disputes between East and West ever since its declaration of independence in 1991, thus denying it the opportunity to rebuild its own economy and political and social systems, all the while being pressured by Russian politics and excluded from being part of the expanding European Union to its west. Ukrainians have a character of very adjustable creatures and use their minds to beat the system, not work with it. The notion of surviving, not living, existed throughout generations of Ukrainians. That is why it took more than twenty years for the people to realize that changes, which hadn’t materialized after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, should be conducted urgently or Ukraine would disappear in the arms of a friendly eastern neighbor, as happened with Crimea several weeks ago. There is one “but,” and it’s called a spirit of patriotism. We have to remember that that spirit developed long before the November–March revolution in Kiev and other cities of Ukraine, probably originating from the moment when Ukraine finally did emerge as an independent state more than twenty years ago. The independence of 1991 began the public resistance to the status quo, without any definite plans for the future — or even fresh faces on the political stage to effect those changes. This was when a new century brought the Orange Revolution of 2004, the mother of all revolutions.
EuroRevolution of 2013–2014
On November 21, 2013, ex-president Viktor Yanukovych — now wanted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs for several crimes (including intentional mass murder, even though he is now under the protection of Russia) — refused to sign the European Union Association Agreement with the European Union. On that fateful day, it took one Ukrainian journalist, Mustafa Nayyem, a public post on a social network and small group of dissatisfied citizens to start what would later be known as the EuroRevolution. Ukrainian people, especially students, became genuinely upset. Despite the cold weather, crowds gathered in Kiev at Independence Square, as well as in other major cities, to show their objection to Yanukovych’s action. Throughout Ukraine, and joined by a worldwide diaspora, citizens started to demonstrate their support by creating #EuroMaidans, peaceful gatherings expressing favor for a pro-European Ukraine.
After eight days of nonviolent protesting, however, in the early morning hours of November 30 at around 4 a.m., government soldiers embarked on a campaign of terror by brutally and unlawfully beating protesters at Independence Square. Blood was spilt. That proved a very critical and important development in which the general sentiment shifted from pro-European to anti-government. At that instant, the wider Ukrainian population — and the international community — started to show their interest in the growing problems and needs of Ukrainian civic society. After 89 days of peaceful protests, from February 18 to February 20, the events in Kiev intensified into violent clashes between protesters and special forces military units and police. After two days of an armed struggle which left more than one hundred dead — most killed by snipers (see this Ukrainian newspaper PDF – translation neeed) — Kiev rioters had won. Yanukovych fled the country with his allies, and the Ukrainian Parliament restored the Ukraine Constitution of 2004. Since that moment, every Ukrainian, including politicians, journalists, social activists, and ordinary citizens, began working to stabilize the situation in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian revolution had a very complicated existence, and the process was not necessarily always rewarding. As in any revolution, it took time for the society as a whole to grow, realize the real issues, and seek desirable solutions. This revolution was always about the Ukrainian people and their struggle to improve the impossible economic conditions they had been dealing with for the past four years of Yanukovych’s corrupted presidency. Ultimately, each succeeding generation of Ukrainians was fed up with the politics which the previous government had pursued and which had resulted in an economic downturn resulting in much fewer jobs, life perspectives, or career opportunities.
Neglected and robbed by politicians and billionaires (in one example, a businessman who associated with Yanukovych became a billionaire within a year) and used by interest groups, the country now is drowning in enormous debt. The greatest amount, of course, is owed for Russian natural gas. After Yanukovych fled the country, Ukrainian journalists and activists were able to find piles of shredded documents in his enormous residence at Mezyhiria. The documents detailed the plans to resolve the situation at Independence Square in Kiev, possible tactical moves to crush the rebellion, and the names of people responsible for such mass murder. Documents are now being processed by a commission, specifically created by journalists and social activists and supported by the new government for the purpose of determining the truth.
Ukraine has embarked on a very long road to change. Given the Russian military intervention in Crimea, the constant economic and political pressure in the international arena, and separatist movements in eastern parts of the country, Ukrainian politicians struggle to maintain the peace and unity of the country. They strive to be cautious, not providing Russia with any opportunity to find an excuse for possible future military intervention into eastern regions of the county.
Next time: Why did Ukraine lose the autonomous Republic of Crimea?