What started as a peaceful demonstration in November 2013 in Kiev’s main square became a world-discussed and probably the most horrifying event in Ukraine since its independence.
Known for being slightly more open to freedom of expression than its close neighbors, Russia and Belarus, the regime in Ukraine today is comparable to a dictatorship. However, there are always two sides of a coin.
November’s peaceful demonstration, called “Euromaidan,” was no surprise after the President’s failure to keep his promise to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union. While the agreement was popular, most people understood that signing it might lead Ukraine to economic disaster. Threats from Russia in the form of a trade embargo, cutting off gas, an unwillingness to let Ukrainian people in to Russia, as well as the Ukraine’s manufacturing of poor-quality goods help to explain the President’s actions.
Questions & Protests
However, the question people asked was “Whose fault is it that our production is not modernized? Why would you promise to sign the Association and negate it within a week? How long should we be considered as part of Russia without having the opportunity to choose our own path?”
After a couple of weeks of protests, people were ready to go home; not much was left to do. However, some of the protesters who remember the 2004 Orange Revolution stayed in Maidan, even during the increasingly cold night. On November 30th, at 4 am, an act of violence occurred, never before seen in the new, independent Ukraine. People sleeping peacefully, mostly students, were violently attacked and beaten by the internal police forces, known as “Berkut.” Seeing videos and pictures of injured youth and children was a breaking point for the Ukrainian people. The explanation for the violence by the authorities was: “We needed to clean Maidan to put in a Christmas tree;” the line became a popular joke. The people of Ukraine will never forgive the authorities for that night.
A New Community
Walking through Maidan in December, I saw a brand new and highly organized community. There you could find anything: a church tent, medical tents, a warm clothes station, a food station. People from East and West, engineers and students, rich and poor, Russian-speaking or Ukrainian-speaking, you could find them all there. It was peaceful again. People wanted justice, but without politics, without weak opposition promises. The problem was that nobody knew how to achieve it without breaking the law. So they stayed there, giving interviews to journalists from all over the world, mobilizing help from everybody who could provide it.
The set of anti-democratic laws, enacted on January 16th became a new breaking point for further acts of violence. This time the square seemed like a real war zone. Activists were throwing Molotov cocktails and the “Berkut” were shooting and throwing bombs. There was no right or wrong then. There were just deaths and injuries, tears and negative twenty degrees Celsius temperatures; desperate people fighting against the symbol of current corrupt power and desperate soldiers fighting to protect their friends from being burned.
Violence against Itself
Both sides were in horrible conditions while the government and opposition began weak attempts at compromise. A mix of kidnappings and tortures of activists, crimes committed by provocateurs, diplomatic scandals, and uncontrolled extreme-right powers acting on their own further complicated and distorted the events. On the one hand, the recent events in Kiev seem to be written like a classic book, starting with peaceful student protests and ending with government’s attempts to undermine the protesters. There is no way to predict how this conflict will be resolved. The recent abolishment of anti-democratic laws enacted on January 16th does not seem to be enough to make people go home. But the real question that remains is, “Are there going to be more victims?”
The international community has supported Ukraine in many ways. Its neighbor Poland still remembers what it is like to be under Russian command and sympathizes with us. The Russian media talks about neo-Nazism in Ukraine and crimes against public property. The North American community talks about democratic values and freedom of speech. While this recent gathering of people for a national value is the most impressive one since the Orange Revolution, and while the courage of activists who gave their health or life for our future deserves a great respect, there is no more horrifying grief for a nation than violence against itself. And unless the Russian Empire will let us go, no change can come to the political power structure. May peace and freedom prevail in Ukraine.