Sunday December 1st, I joined in the Євромайдан (EuroMaydan) protest in central Kiev. Over half a million people took to the streets marching through the city to Maydan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square).
Following the announcement that Ukraine would not ratify the EU Association Agreement, anger has overflowed onto the streets.
Revolution is in the air. Since November 21st there have been daily protests, last Sunday was the largest so far but will certainly not be the last.
As I arrived at Maydan metro station around 2pm, I found the exits blocked full of people. Chants “Слава Україні! Героям слава!” (Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!) came from outside. Once on the street, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The entire square was crammed; protesters were in every nook and cranny, standing on vehicles, windowsills, ledges, over bridges, up hills, and even on the giant Christmas tree now resembling a fortress of revolt.
The atmosphere was electric – Ukrainians united against their government. Old and young braved the chilly weather, with people from all corners of the country and society including students, professionals, even nuns and priests joining the protest. It was a remarkable sight, especially as demonstrating in Ukraine (just like in Russia) is not a simple endeavor.
The Association Agreement is the straw that broke the camels back. People have been putting up with injustice and corruption for years. Now have reached their limit, surprising authorities and taking real risks to voice their discontent.
The Police here don’t protect but control. They work for the President not the people. The Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, has currently banned protests until the 7th of January. Anyone attending the rallies will be arrested. Some roads to Kiev have also been blocked and vehicles heading to the capital stopped.
The government is in a fix, using all their resources and power to squash the unrest. It is history repeating itself; such mass demonstrations have not been seen since the Orange Revolution in 2004.
However the Orange Revolution did not live up to the people’s dreams. After the revolution Ukraine was as corrupt as ever. Nothing had changed for the ordinary citizen and many became disillusioned with politics. “Why protest when nothing changes?” was the general attitude. Like a slave bound to lifelong chains, Ukrainians resigned themselves to the crooked system governing them.
And there is Russia; ally to some Ukrainians, enemy to others. The Iron Curtain may have fallen in 1991, but it’s shadow still looms. Ukraine remains a no man’s land between the West and Russia. Pulled from side to side in a continual tug of war.
The Association Agreement was a first step to integrating this key country into the EU. Of course Putin prevented any such rapprochement, reminding Yanukovych who pulls his strings.
Russia’s grip over Ukraine is overpowering.
In the East and Crimea there is much support for the pro-Russian government, but in the West and other parts people are striving to break free.
The u-turn on the Association Agreement has resulted in a major rebellion. Russia won the battle over the EU deal but may well lose the war as Ukrainians themselves aim to take back the reins of governance, no strings attached.
Standing in Maydan with protesters singing the anthem “Ще не вмерла України ні слава, ні воля” (Ukraine’s glory has not yet perished, nor her freedom), hands on their hearts and raising lights, one feels hope returning.
Kiev shines, as a force to be reckoned with.
EuroMaydan on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EuroMaydan