Tag Archives: euromaidan

Ukraine: What’s Going On?

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).

Ukraine’s Sovereignty

Let me start off by saying I hate politics but the news coming out of Ukraine is simply bothering me too much to be quiet. After travelling through 23 countries and living in Ukraine for only four months, I hear news about a place I’ve visited and often wonder if I missed something when I was there.

Ukrainian protestors continue to clash with police despite the recent ban passed by the government outlawing public demonstrations. I was watching a live feed of the events on YouTube from downtown Kyiv and the only thought that came to mind is “insanity”. I mean, on both sides. First, that the protestors are still going at it and second, that the government refuses to let go.

Where is this all leading?

The protestors want freedom and by that they mean for the current government to get out of office and stay out. It’s hard to tell what the government wants other than to stay in office. This is where a lot of people will point out the corruption in the Ukrainian government, after all, how else could they stay in power? And that’s the point, they must be making money or doing something for somebody in order for them to maintain their power with little to no outside interference, except from Russia. The US Government finally released a statement that condemned the violence used against the protestors.

One of Ukraine’s top exports is steel. Many folks hinge Ukraine’s future on joining the EU because the dictatorship-style government the Russians often utilize scares the Ukrainian people. The EU wouldn’t tolerate such treatment. However, the problem is that if Ukraine’s biggest export is steel and China is the biggest importer of the product, then the easiest way to get it there is through Russia.

This presents a problem.

This isn’t about money, people would say, it’s about freedom. I would say it has more to do with money than people think. The Russians are trying to re-unite their old Soviet empire under a new banner called the Customs Union which is a precursor to a budding Eurasian Union. The Eurasian Union, for all intents and purposes, is practically a reconstruction of the Soviet Union, just a new name and some new faces and links former Soviet countries under one political and economic union.

When I visited Ukraine a few years back I remember people saying that the 2004 Orange Revolution was like a party and that nothing really happened as a result. Years later it was the same old news. The revolution lasted a little while and enabled Yuschenko and Tymoshenko a chance at governing the nation but something or someone else got involved and messed it all up.

Neither Yanukovych nor any of his minions show any sign of backing down. Whatever the government does the people of Ukraine simply won’t go away. This has gone on for months now and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. In other words, regardless of the laws passed, protestors aren’t backing down and regardless of what the protestors do, the government won’t back down. At some point this has to end, right? Or are we at the tip of a very larger iceberg?

What would end these protests?

It seems as if violence has become the answer, as we now see happening in the news.

As a student of Ukraine’s history through my upbringing, these happenings remind me of what I’ve learned about the 1917 Russian revolution, the difference being that there are no Tsars to overthrow in Russia but a communist government. That revolution, although it did finally change the face of Russia, took five years to put Lenin in power. The reason why this is important is because it was only between 1918 and 1922 that Ukraine was actually an independent, sovereign country. That is, not ruled by Lithuanians, Polish, Austrians or Russians. 4 years. FOUR YEARS of independence. Before 1918, the last time Ukraine governed itself was with a military regime in power, that is, the Cossacks. They maintained control for a little while, but it wasn’t long before the Russians again impeded upon the lands.

This begs the question, does Ukraine have the ability to govern itself? Although people tell me things are a lot better now than they were 20 years ago, the apparent rampant corruption suggests that the country is going to have a very difficult time making it on its own. What would stop Russian influence in the region? Would they build a Ukrainian Wall? How could Ukraine even protect the freedom it gains? The idea of joining the EU would change everything is almost entirely absurd. The is no physical border between Russia and Ukraine, what would stop Russian troops from moving in?

All that being written and said, I’m fully supportive of the Ukrainian’s peoples efforts to oust a corrupt government. The problem with pointing fingers at any other corrupt government is that they’d turn around and ask about our corporate governance. One doesn’t have to look hard to see how corruption has plagued democratic and capitalist countries too.

As the protests continue and the rampant corruption remains in the government offices, Ukraine is slowly extending the time it has as a sovereign, independent nation. But is it really free? History shows that Ukraine and its people are often controlled by other governments or forces. If the protests succeed, what will guarantee and enforce that freedom? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered in order to gain and maintain the country’s independence.

This is all my opinion and thoughts on the matter but it does hit close to home. As a Ukrainian-Canadian, I and my friends still know people living in Ukraine being affected by these riots. However, having travelled some of the world I can tell you that the media is presenting only one part of what’s really going on. Further, as a student of history Ukraine’s independence, if it is maintained, would be a truly historical achievement, one that hasn’t been seen in hundreds of years.

For what it’s worth, Slava Ukraini!