Eight years after a brutal government crackdown on protesters led to the overthrow of a pro-Russian president, former Euromaidan protesters see Ukraine’s race to the Western orbit as irreversible.
When a massive crackdown was launched against anti-government protests in February 2014, Olena Halushka was among hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who took to the streets.
Now 32, he was working for opposition politician Lesia Orobets when protests first broke out in November 2013 against then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to reverse the signing of a Association Agreement with the European Union, which would have seen the former Soviet Union establish a closer political-economic relationship with the bloc and move further away from Russia.
“The next day we saw that the protest was very violently dispersed by riot police,” Halushka told TRT World, “and that was the point of no return for Ukrainian society.”
The violent response to the protests only encouraged more to join. The release of imprisoned protesters quickly became one of the square’s main demands. Halushka has been actively involved in tracking down protesters imprisoned without trial, participating in their hearings through Orobet’s parliamentary privileges, publicizing their cases and names to international media, and arranging visits.
“We used all available channels to ensure that no one was left behind and that every missing person [would] be found safe and sound,” she added.
A package of anti-protest laws passed in mid-January only exacerbated violence on the streets, as some commentators at the time remained concerned about the growing presence of ultra-nationalist groups among protesters. The violence peaked in mid-February when more than 100 protesters were killed in Kiev’s Maidan Square, many by snipers. On February 19, 2014, the independent daily Den headlined on a verse by the Ukrainian poet Vasyl Symonenko: “There is no more place for graves in the cemetery of killed illusions”.
These events ultimately led to Yanukovych’s flight from Ukraine and a dramatic change of course for the country in what protesters called a “dignity revolution.”
Oleksandra Ustinova, 36, who is now an MP for the pro-European center-right Holos party, recalls taking time off from her job at an American company to volunteer during the protests in central Independence Square in Kyiv, working with foreign media and journalists. .
“The scariest part was watching it on TV,” she recalled. “When you sit there and watch it, every minute people are running, crying, people are being hurt and killed.”
“I understand that sounds ridiculous, but I was [calmer] in the Maidan and outside.
“Pushed back for generations”
“If you ask many Ukrainians, they will tell you that they would rather Maidan had never happened because they associate it with later Russian aggression,” Peter Zalmayev, director of TRT World, told TRT World. the Eurasia Democracy Initiative (EDI).
“Similarly, many Ukrainians would say that it was worth the price, that the Maidan and the resulting aggression and the war that is unfolding has raised the profile of Ukrainian culture, its distinctive national identity to a level that n would probably not have been possible without this aggression,” he added.
Russia’s invasion of Crimea later that year, as well as the capture of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, an area known as Donbass, by Russian-backed separatists, further alienated the Ukrainians from Russia.
“[Putin] repelled Ukrainians for generations to come,” Zalmayev says.
The ongoing war in Donbass is estimated to have killed 14,000 people, including civilians and military.
Several polls, including those conducted by the Democratic Initiative Foundation (DIF), have indicated growing support for Ukraine’s possible NATO and EU membership over the past decade. For Halushka and Maidan supporters, the protests were about what they see as an irreversible Russian drift in the name of “European values”.
“For us, it was dignity, rule of law, market economy, respect for human rights, zero tolerance for corruption,” says Halushka, who now works for the Center for Anti-Corruption Action (ANTAC), a reformist NGO in Ukraine that counts among its board members the American political scientist and free market supporter Francis Fukuyama.
Russia has amassed around 150,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, now surrounding the country on three sides as negotiations with the United States and Europe continue. In recent days Vladimir Putin announced the partial withdrawal of some of his troops, but this was met with skepticism by Western leaders, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying there had been “no significant backsliding “and that the satellite images appeared to contradict Russia. complaints.
“We really need the West to take decisive action while there is still that small window of opportunity to prevent aggression, because preventing war is usually cheaper and much easier than stopping war” says Halushka, whose NGO is campaigning for sanctions against Russian oligarchs. and their assets in Western countries.
“We have NATO and the EU enshrined in the constitution,” Ustinova says, referring to Ukraine’s decision to enshrine its desire to join the Western bloc in its constitution in 2019. “We’re not changing that. just because you bring twice [as many] weapons at our border.
Source: World TRT