“Ukraine in Flames” is the most popular image of Ukraine nowadays. We see pictures as if from the battlefield and wonder what is going on and why? What does it mean? How did it happen that in the geographical center of Europe we see pictures that remind us the still shots from the Soviet Ukrainian cinema classics Ukraine in Flame (1943 – 1962)? The script to this movie was written by Olexandr Dovzhenko, his wife Yulia Solntseva directed it. The movie was about WWII. What do we see now? Is it a Revolution? Is it a Rebellion? Is it a Civic War?
In this article I am going to outline the chronology of events in Ukraine and cover some issues, which, hopefully, will help to understand the situation in Ukraine today.
The protests started more than two months ago. These protests can be divided into several phases. First phase which can be called “pro-European movement” started on November 23rd and lasted till November 29th (before and during the EU summit in Vilnius (Lithuania) where Ukraine could have signed the Association treaty with the European Union). During that phase several rallies with the pro-European slogans were held in various cities. Those rallies were called “Euro-maidans” (from Europe and maidan, which means ‘square’ in Ukrainian), the main maidan was organized at the Independent Square (Maidan) in Kyiv where the Orange Revolution was happening in 2004. The marker of those rallies was the EU symbolic: colors of the EU flag match the colors of Ukrainian flag, blue and yellow ribbons were worn by the protestors. Main slogan was “Україна — це Європа!” (Ukraine is Europe!) Main goal for those demonstrations was to convince President Victor Yanukovych to sign the agreement with the EU. People also wanted to demonstrate to the European community their own good will and desire to belong to the European family.
When the President Victor Yanukovych did not sign the Agreement, people (mostly students) decided to remain in the streets. Their rallies became more similar to the “Occupy!” movement. People did not have a clear aim. Their slogans were both pro-European and anti-Russian, because the alternative direction for Ukraine was the Custom Union with Russia and some other former USSR states.
In the same time at the European Square (the place is located not far from the Independence Square) in Kyiv the political opposition (leaders of three opposition parties represented in the Parliament, Vitaliy Klichko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and Oleg Tiagnybok) organized their own actions, with their own symbols. It is important to note that two rallies were organized at the same time, had the same agenda – the European integration, but were separated. Activists from the Independent Square claimed an apolitical position; most of them were students. When the President denied the agreement, these rallies merged. The rally of politicians moved from the European Square to the Independent Square.
Suddenly on November 30 in the early morning hours the riot police dispersed peaceful protesters using tear gas and brute force. People were beaten up and arrested. This was the first blood shed for political reasons in Ukraine since its independence in 1991. The next day over 1 million 600,000 people joined the protest. It was the beginning of a new wave of the protests.
The main aim of the protest changed. People declared they could not stand the criminal government anymore. Europe from the political place became a symbolic space of human values. People were mobilized immediately.
Creative phase of the Euro-revolution started. Active use of all social networks became its major characteristics. Dissemination of information, self-mobilization, sharing the routine and different creative products, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube became the essential part of the everyday life of protesters. Social video production became one of the forms of the civil society education. This phase remained peaceful, however sometimes there were some provocative actions attributed to so-called titushky. These are young people named after Vadym Titushko, who had beaten the female journalist of the oppositional 5th channel on the 18th of May 2013. His name is now used to refer to young fit people hired by the Ukrainian authorities to intimidate and beat up peaceful protestors in Ukraine. Those provocations were usually blocked by activists.
Even though virtual space is very important for understanding Ukrainian events, the protests also have precise physical location – Maidan itself. Protesters from all over Ukraine created in Kyiv a city inside of the city with internal structure and rituals. It has its own powerful dynamic. Every hour people sing the Ukrainian national anthem and light the lights. Several mass activities were conducted in order to attract attention of the broad audience on the Ukrainian case. The second phase of the protest was remarkable by the extending the space controlled by protesters. To the traditional squares and streets of the neighborhood people added some important administrative buildings like the Labor Union Palace, Kyiv City Hall, the Palace of Art and Culture, the Ukrainian House. Activist Dmytro Bulatov started the civic right movement Auto-maidan. Activists of Auto-maidan, who are predominantly members of the new-born Ukrainian middle class blocked the main roads, helped people to reach downtown of Kyiv, helped to coordinate actions, transported supplies to Maidan, blocked residencies of politicians and officials responsible for the bloody dispersal of the peaceful rally. Some anonymous businessmen helped to cover the territory of Maidan with free wi-fi. The whole infrastructure receives financial help from private donations and volunteers (even tough in Russian media the idea of “Western sponsorship” of these events is the official version).
December 10th marked the third phase of the protest. At night, the riot police started to attack the peaceful demonstration. These events were broadcasted live. One could observe an interesting gender dynamic. Men were called to protect the camp; to keep the perimeter of the symbolic defensive wall. Women were called to hide themselves inside of the fortification and to support men by songs. Generally speaking the symbolic medieval city of Maidan called back to the traditional gender roles. Men had to be protectors and warriors; women had to work on the “home front”: cooking, nursing, and entertaining. Sometimes, girls came to the military troops with flowers and kissing as it was in the USA during protests against the Vietnam war in the 1960s: “Make love, not war”.
Farewell with the USSR became an act of the smashing Lenin’s monument. This symbolic act of the liberalization from the Soviet past invoked a huge discussion not only inside the country, but also abroad, especially in Russia. Since it is Euro-maidan and Euro-revolution the connection with external world is extremely important. People create different appeals in English and other European languages. They address them to different officials as well to ordinary people. On the main stage the foreign representatives are always warmly welcomed. Foreign press is also extremely important. All world press was monitored; publications on Ukraine are spread via social networks immediately.
During these protests the Government did not react and pretended not to notice hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. Protesters sing their songs, called for the peaceful protests. But nothing changed. Later on protesters organized actions near private houses of the power establishment. When the Auto-maidan came to the house of Victor Medvedchuk, the former Head of the President Administration and politician who stands firmly for the closer ties with Russia, and broke the fence of his residence, he promised to start the war against Euro-maidan and all the protesters.
On January 16th – 19th the Parliament adopted and published 20 antidemocratic and anti-constitutional laws. After publication those laws any kind any form of protests became illegal. It was the end of the peaceful period of the Ukrainian revolution. Bloody phase started by radical right wing protesters in the uniforms, equipped with sticks and petroleum bombs (Molotov cocktails), who started fight with riot police (so called Berkut) on Grushevsky Street while trying to march to the Ukrainian Parliament and protest the laws, implementation of which could lead Ukraine to the establishment of dictatorship and police state. Berkut started using rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades.
Five protesters died on Grushevsky street of firearms. About 20 protestors received eye traumas, 5 lost eyes forever, one person lost the hand. Besides of that, according to the oppositional media, one girl was killed in Kharkov (the biggest city in the Eastern Ukraine), some people were kidnapped and were found in the nearest forests with signs of torturing. Hundreds of people were arrested.
Right now protesters keep Maidan and Grushevsky Street, occupy the building of the Ministry of Justice and some other important buildings. In the regions people started to block the local administrations. Now protestors control region administrations in the Western and Central Ukraine.
On the occupied territories they organized the library, the free university, the hospital, the sport yard. They still are singing the Ukrainian anthem and pray (Church role in the protests is big, but this is a separate issue; most of the Churches in Ukraine declared their support to the peaceful protestors).
Statistics of the Maidan says it consist from 50% of Kyiv people and 50 % of people from regions (not only from the Western Ukraine, Eastern Ukraine is presented also, even on the most hot points like Grushevsky street), 92% of people do not belong to any political party, the average age is 36 years old, 64 % of people have high education, 54% use only Ukrainian language, 27 % use only Russian, 18% use both languages. 40% are specialists with graduation, 12% are students, 9% are business owners, 8% are white collars high level managers, 9% are retired people, 7 % are workers.
On January 28th the Premier Minister Mykola Azarov resigned, Yanukovych accepted it. Yanukovych proposed some posts in the Government to three leaders of the Opposition, but they rejected it. Parliament cancelled the bloody laws from January 16th, but Yanukovych did not sign it yet. Even more, January 29th the deputies from the ruling Party of regions, under the pressure from the President, who came to the Parliament and spoke to these people behind he closed the doors on the evening when the laws were adopted, voted for their own version the law on amnesty which basically makes people under arrest into hostages and tries to whitewash abuse of power on the part of riot police.
Summing up, the current protests in Ukraine demonstrate the new stage of the civil society mobilization. This stage is characterized by multiple polylogs inside the country and outside. People show that society is much more mature than the official leaders of the country. They are in the streets for for the human values and for civilized future of the own country without corruption and violence. They are allying neither for Europe nor for Russia, they are there for their own country and ready to be responsible for it. That is why any kind of negotiation with the current power is not accepted. They do not want to be governed by the President who collaborates with criminals and remains in power by employing titushky and giving unlawful orders to military troops and riot police. Right now the President is reportedly in the hospital with fever. He declared that he is on the sick leave and therefore he is not signing any of the laws adopted by the Parliament recently. This does not allow for legal or political way out of the situation.
Note: This article was received by Platzforma’s editors on February, 1st.