In late November, the odd news report was trickling into Canada suggesting that Ukrainians were protesting in many of the large urban centres. The protests began when the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych made a sudden decision to pull out of an agreement with the European Union (EU) and establish closer trade ties with Russia. The EU agreement would have strengthened economic ties with the 28-nation European Union (EU) and made Ukraine more Western-oriented. It would also have likely weakened the control Russia was seeking over Ukraine.
Euromaidan (name of the protest) started on November 21st, 2013 when up to 2,000 protesters gathered at Kiev's Maidan (City Square) Nezalezhnosti and began to aggressively communicate and organize themselves by using social networks. On November 23rd and 24th the number of demonstrators escalated to about 50,000. The protestors were demanding the government sign an agreement with the European Union. This was the biggest protest Ukraine had seen since the peaceful 2004 Orange Revolution; a protest that overturned fraudulent presidential election results and brought a Western-leaning government to power.
My visit to a peaceful Ukraine
It was only 8 months ago that I spent a month touring Ukraine and enjoyed what appeared to be a peaceful and friendly country. Yes, the students I spoke with in the universities (in Lviv) displayed their displeasure with the Russian influence, the corruption in government and stated how important it was for the future of Ukraine, to join the European Union. On December 2, 2013 when I opened my email from my Ukrainian friend, guide and interpreter Irene, I was surprised with her shocking assessment of the Ukrainian protests. A revolution is in full swing.
A revolution is currently in full swing in Ukraine – with Kyiv and Lviv being its major centres.
I can't concentrate on anything else – I spent last week in our Maidan (City Square) bringing food and hot tea to students who were demanding from our criminal President to sign Association agreement with the EU
After night events in Kyiv on 30 November – all Lviv came out to demand the resignation of the President and his corrupt Government.
The following day Irene sent me the following link to a video showing how peaceful protestors were beaten by the police while staging the friendly protest. http://protruskavets.org.ua/berkut-po-zviryachomu-byv-mitynhuvalnykiv-bilya-administratsiji-prezydenta-1-hrudnya/
The following are reports from a variety of sources including daily updates from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euromaidan
On the night of 30 November 2013 at 04:00, Berkut special police units armed with batons, stun grenades, and tear gas, attacked and dispersed all protesters from Maidan Nezalezhnosti. It was reported that 35 people were injured as a result of the militia raid, including a Reuters cameraman and a photographer. It was immediately following this confrontation that news agencies reported over 100,000 protestors gathered in Maidan Nezalezhnosti alone, and the total number of protesters to be from 400,000 to 800,000.
The day after the riots, peaceful protests continued to take place and occupy Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kiev, with tens of thousands attending, while thousands blocked the main Cabinet buildings.
December 8th marked the third Sunday in a row of mass protest in Kiev. After the rally, a large group of Ukrainian protesters toppled the statue of Lenin in Kiev and people gathered up fragments as souvenirs. International media gathered up a story.
On December 10 at 1:00 am, the Ukrainian government cut off the power in the Kiev City State Administration used by protesters as a headquarters. It was reported that protesters feared aggressive measures would be taken. At the same time public servants with their faces hidden and 100 riot police cleared the barricade at the cross section of the Hrushevskoho street and the Kriposnyj provulok in Kiev. Hours later, 200 police advanced on the barricades on Lyuteranska and Bankova Street, with hundreds of protesters holding their ground. The standoff resulted in numerous photos being distributed throughout the world over social media and with television coverage.
On December 11th, an article in The Economist http://www.economist.com/news/europe revealed:
“THE bells of Mikhailovsky Cathedral in the ancient heart of Kiev began to ring in alarm just after 1am on December 11th. As in medieval times this was a sign that the city was under siege, and a call to citizens to come to its defence. Down a steep hill, columns of riot police, in black helmets and bearing metal shields, descended on Independence Square, popularly known as Maidan (square), from three directions. Maidan, the site of revolutionary protests over the past three weeks, seemed to be facing its most critical hour.”
In the early morning of 11 December, thousands of co-ordinated Internal Troops (VV) and Berkut surrounded the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (square) to clear out all remaining protesters, barricades, and encampments. There were no immediate signs of violence, and no attempt by riot police to take down camps located within the square itself. The fiercest battle came on the north side of the square, where hundreds of black-helmeted riot police struggled for several hours against lines of protesters who wore orange hardhats distributed by organizers. By 5:13 am, the crowd had swelled to 25,000 from 5,000 hours earlier. The confrontation between protesters and police during the removal of barricades re-energized the demonstrators. The barricades were rebuilt shortly after the departure of the police.
Many see Ukraine’s choice as very defined; resume efforts to integrate with the European Union or fall back into control by Russia.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Ukraine and issued a strong statement, expressing the United States' "disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest … with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity. This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy," said Kerry, urging authorities to show, "utmost restraint and protect human life. As church bells ring tonight amidst the smoke in the streets of Kyiv, the United States stands with the people of Ukraine. They deserve better."
As Ukrainians continue to protest in temperatures of minus 13°C they now realize they are defending something far greater than an association agreement with the EU, which was the initial cause. They are defending a future democratic way of life.
Having endured numerous sieges throughout its history, Ukraine kept reclaiming its identity. Part of Poland, part of Ukraine, part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and following WWII, part of the Communist Soviet regime. It was during this time that ownership of all property was seized by the Soviet government; businesses, houses, farms. The citizens of Ukraine (and other Eastern European countries) were provided with the necessities of life like housing and healthcare but were forced to work for the government. The land of the farmers was seized and they were forced to work as laborers for the Soviet Union on large communal farms. In 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved and Ukraine was permitted to regain freedom of speech and ownership of property. Slowly, the country began to rise from the crippling hold of the Soviets and is achieving significant progress.
Today, the country continues to struggle with a division of philosophical, social and historical set of beliefs; east vs. west. Western Ukraine leans towards a lifestyle and governance similar to that of the Western world and Eastern Ukraine is similar to that of the Soviet Union. The country struggles to take a united stance towards vision and direction and has struggled with a both sides striving to achieve political power and control of the country.
At the time of writing this article, more than 4 weeks later, the stand-off continues with no clear way out. But, the world is becoming more aware, and more supportive of the efforts of the Ukrainians to establish a democratic country. The Ukrainian protest has become a revolution.