Although I don’t consider myself particularly interested in politics, the current mess in Ukraine is hard to miss. It seems that the powers that be, aren’t, and the powers that want to be, aren’t. And that leaves a whole bunch of people pissed off about their future.
The basic premise is that Ukraine wants to ally themselves more closely with the European Union than with Putin’s proposed Eurasian Union. Some bad memories remain of the treatment of Ukraine and its people by the Russians throughout the Soviet Union era, notably an attempt to completely wipe them out. As it stands, Ukraine has no government, its people are begging for outside help which, although tugs at the heart strings of many, isn’t being heeded.
A brief recap of what is going on in Ukraine:
- President Yanukovych refuses to sign the paper work to move Ukraine in the direction of joining the European Union citing that the EU would ask for infeasible austerity reforms.
- This sparks protestors to assemble at Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti and voice their displeasure with the choice. The protestors fear a return to Russian rule which brings with it memories of previous Russian meddling: the 2004 Orange Revolution which was brought on by Russian meddling in Ukrainian politics; and, even worse, memories of the genocides brought on by Russian central-government, specifically the 1932-33 Holodomor that starved millions of Ukrainians. Russia still does not recognize this event as a genocide. This assembly of protestors becomes known as “Euromaidan” or, simply, Maidan, named after the square where they have assembled.
- The protestors keep protesting and Yanukovych won’t back down so he sends in the Berkut and other police forces to disperse the crowds. Much to his chagrin, violence erupts and the use of force just inflames the situation.
- Former heavy weight boxing champion, Vladimir Klitschko, assumes the political “face” of the opposition. Calls for talks with Yanukovych.
- The Ukrainian government somehow passes a bunch of laws that make it illegal to protest or gather in opposition to the government.
- In mid-December, Yanukovych signs a deal with Russia agreeing to a $15 Billion bail out and cheaper natural gas. The protestors are infuriated.
- Protestors begin storming government buildings and setting up resistance outposts. Western media begins to pick up on what’s going on and reports it more regularly. They begin to demand the resignation of the government full stop. As in, no coalition, no nothing, just GTFO.
- The protests turn bloody as protestors are shot and killed by snipers.
- The military refuses to pick sides.
- Mykola Azarov, the prime minister of Ukraine, resigns and flees to Austria. No shit, the guy probably has a mark on his head from now on.
- The 2014 Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, Russia, which Yanukovych attends. Putin has spent billions on these games and sees them as part of his legacy. The other part of that legacy being the construction of a Eurasian Customs Union that would see former Soviet Union countries rejoin Russia by way of economic and free trade agreements. Ukrainians aren’t buying it. Protests continue during the games and Ukraine is in the international spotlight. The Games end, some Western outlets consider it a failure considering the cost and problems encountered along the way.
- Yanukovych tries to flee the country but the airport won’t let his plane leave without some more proper documentation. Go figure, Ukrainian bureaucracy stops him from leaving his own country. His house is raided and pictures are spread all over the internet of the opulence the guy lived in. Some rare books are recovered (and where are they now?) among other pricey items. In essence, Yanukovych has been disposed. He eventually makes his way to Russia by helicopter.
- Julia Tymoshenko, a central figure in the 2004 Orange Revolution, is released from prison, but for some reason she begins heading to Russia to negotiate something. She states she’ll run in an election against Vladimir Klitschko.
- A new government is formed while the military remains on the side lines. The Crimea erupts in a Ukrainian vs Russian battle, some stating they want to be part of Ukraine, others stating that the Crimea is properly a part of Russia. Armed guards take over the airport, then realize they got it all wrong, apologize, and leave. Meanwhile, Russian APCs and tanks make their way to the Ukrainian-Russian border. Putin hasn’t really said much about why they’re there, but people, in general, know why: to protect the Russian military base in the Crimea.
So, as it stands, Ukraine has no government and no real way of settling this revolution. The international community, although issuing harsh statements and saying that they won’t attend the G8 Summit in Sochi later this year, refuses to commit troops or equipment to defend Ukraine while Russia warns of outsider meddling. Western media points to how Russia dealt with Georgia so many years ago. Another comparison is between Germany and the Sudetenland region, during which Hitler declared himself an advocate of the ethnic Germans living in the region and then proceeded to occupy the area. That’s what it looks like Putin is doing to the Russians in the Ukrainian Crimea.
Is it East vs West? Ukrainian vs Russian? Russia vs the world? A return of the Soviet Union? It’s become apparent that the Ukrainian people do not want any sort of Russian-led union since that brings up a whole bunch of bad memories. Lenin statues were toppled all over the country, except in Kharkiv and the Crimea. No one really knows how this is going to be settled but it looks as if it’s going to take some time to resolve. Blood has been spilled in the name of freedom, something people don’t forget too easily.
If you’re looking for more information on what’s going on, subscribe to a few social media feeds on Facebook and Twitter:
- Euromaidan on Facebook
- Maidan Timeline on Wikipedia is updated regularly.
- Twitter is home to quite a few feeds: Euromaidan, Radio Svoboda, Українська Правда in addition to media outlets such as the BBC, CBC, Reuters, and the Associated Press.
- Maidan also has its own website.
- And, finally, there is at least one English teacher still teaching in Kharkiv, Ukraine, the city where I lived and taught for four months. She blogs at 8 Month in Ukraine (though it’s been a little longer than that).