What originated as a relatively small, nonviolent student protest in Kyiv — the capital of Ukraine — has, within a matter of months, developed into a geopolitical crisis.
On Nov. 29, 2013, Ukraine’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the Association Agreement, an act that would have allowed for closer trade relations between Ukraine and the European Union. He instead accepted a $15 billion dollar loan from Moscow to prevent Ukraine from slipping into an economic depression. To many Ukrainians, it seemed as though the deal with Russia came with a price: we give you a loan, and you cater to our political needs and outrageous gas prices.
In response to the president’s actions, Ukrainians gathered peacefully in Kyiv’s “Maidan Nezalezhnosti,” also called Independence Square. For months, Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike flocked to the square.
Not only did they intend to voice their desire for closer ties with Europe, they also hoped to achieve tighter limits on the president’s powers, speak out against ineffective state management, corruption and poverty. The revolution became known as the Euromaidan. “Euro” represents a vision of democracy and closer ties with the West. “Maidan,” both a public space and an idea, has come to symbolize the struggle for a just government motivated by the needs of its citizens, rather than the needs of its dishonest leaders.
Myself, and a majority of the Ukrainian community in Chicago, hoped that the situation would remain peaceful. We understood the struggles that our country faced in the past and intended on broadcasting the president’s ineffective and dishonest leadership to the world. Ukraine would be trampled on for the last time.
The atmosphere was calm and jubilant during the early weeks of the Euromaidan. People anticipated that their demands would be taken seriously, but did not intend to use violence to achieve these requests. Ukrainian folk music, dancing, poetry and singing filled the central area in Kyiv for weeks, until President Yanukovych ordered riot police to forcefully break up the protest.
Videos of the violence flooded social media within minutes. Innocent people associated with the protest were taken aside and publicly ridiculed. It was appalling to see the police force — an organization responsible for protecting their fellow brethren — command non-violent protestors to strip their clothes and walk naked in the streets. These men and women suffered injustice at the hands of their own people.
Soon after the videos surfaced online, demonstrators turned against the president and his government, demanding his resignation. By Feb. 20, the death toll rose to more than 90 people as the president called for government snipers to shoot defenseless protesters at will, escalating the conflict further.
Yanukovych eventually reached a compromise with the opposition, agreeing to early elections and decentralization of presidential authority. Soon after, the Ukrainian parliament voted to remove Yanukovych from office. However, he fled the country. Warrants for his arrest circulated the media. He was charged with the mass murder of innocent civilians during the protests.
In the background of all the chaos, Russia placed 150,000 troops on high alert. These troops later seized the Crimean parliament building, Simferopol International Airport and a military airfield in Sevastopol, a Ukrainian city on the Crimean Peninsula.
Before its annexation into the Russian Federation, Crimea existed as a semi-independent peninsula at the southern tip of Ukraine. The area became a part of Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Just as Florida is a hub for many of the United States’ vacationers, Crimea is filled with beautiful, relaxing resorts overlooking the Black Sea. It also houses the naval base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, a struggling but significant Russian asset.
As international focus shifted to Crimea, Moscow began employing typical Soviet-era propaganda tactics to form a pretext upon which to invade Ukraine.
Newspapers and television broadcasts falsely portrayed the Ukrainian anti-government protesters as vicious neo-Fascists and anti-Semites. Attempting to detract from the main issue, Russia did everything in its power to justify its interference in Ukrainian politics and its forceful presence in Crimea. The Russian government specified that its presence in the semi-autonomous region of Crimea was necessary to protect Russian-speaking citizens in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin stated in his speech to the Russian parliament, “The residents of Crimea and Sevastopol turned to Russia for help in defending their rights and lives.”
On March 16, the future of the southern territory of Ukraine was to be based on an illegal referendum monitored by Russian forces. The result: a 95 percent support rating for the union of Crimea and Russia, an unrealistically high percentage as Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians and some Russians refused to participate. Since foreign election observers were not allowed to oversee the referendum, there was no way to guarantee the validity of the vote.
Crimea was annexed based on an illegal referendum, and thus the world needs to realize that Ukraine is not in fact a divided country. Putin paints an image of a “broken” and separated nation that needs Russia’s help. This is not the case and Russia should not have any authority in Ukraine and its government.
Throughout the past several months, the Ukrainian diaspora around the world has diligently worked to collect medical supplies, clothing and money to send to the demonstrators in Ukraine.
More specifically, Ukrainians in Chicago have protested almost every week since the beginning of the Euromaidan demonstrations. The local community has been creative in its means of protest: staging various car rallies, marches and videos that have since gone viral online.
A local Ukrainian-American student at DePaul University, Julian Hayda, has been working on a documentary that focuses on the events that have transpired in Kyiv. On Jan. 28, the Loyola University Chicago Ukrainian Society hosted Hayda as a guest speaker for a Euromaidan information session. Hayda presented to the Loyola community the raw footage he filmed during his most recent trip to Kyiv. The trailer for the documentary, The Last Revolution: Ukraine’s Euromaidan, can be found on YouTube.
On Feb. 20 after more than 100 civilians were killed in Ukraine, a candle-lit vigil was held in honor of the Nebesnya Sotnya (Heavenly Brigade) which sacrificed their lives for the sake of freedom and democracy during the protests at the Maidan. The vigil began at the Historic Water Tower (Chicago and Michigan avenues) and was followed by a procession to the Ukrainian Consulate (State and Huron streets). The crowd said prayers for the fallen and left flowers and candles by their images at the Consulate.
Furthermore, a movement began encouraging Chicago to sever its ties with Moscow as a sister city; however Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated on April 2 that the city will not do so.
Although originating from unspeakable chaos and unforeseen violence, the Euromaidan Revolution has been a uniting point for Ukrainians around the globe. Many of the diaspora may no longer speak the language or have been to their homeland in years, but they are actively working to increase international focus on the Ukrainian Revolution.
The situation in Ukraine remains tense, as Russian soldiers are currently stationed at Ukraine’s eastern border. Caught in Russia’s unshakeable grasp, Ukraine struggles to maintain democracy within its country in order to guarantee an honest and prosperous future for its people. As the country’s citizens continue to push for justice, the global community will be advocating for their cause every step of the way.
The purpose of this article is not only to educate the Loyola community, but also to call our fellow Ramblers to action. The Ukrainian community is constantly holding events to fundraise, advertise and support the Euromaidan Revolution. Loyola students are welcome and encouraged to help out in any way they can.
Solomiya Grushchak is the president of the Ukrainian Society and a contributing columnist. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org