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Face to Face With Life in the Extreme: Eyewitness to Ukraine’s “Revolution of Dignity”

Jose Luis Orihuela

John Burger - published on 11/17/14

Papal nuncio offers impressions on the effects of Euromaidan, one year on.

One year ago this Friday, hundreds of Ukrainians began pouring out into the central square of the capital, Kiev, after their government suddenly rejected a political and free trade agreement with the European Union—a deal that could have paved Ukraine’s way to eventual membership in the EU.

President Viktor Yanukovych cited pressure from Russia in declining to sign the deal, and in spite of pressure from growing crowds of protestors, he refused. And when the window of opportunity passed, protestors demanded his resignation.

The protest rallies continued, drawing hundreds of thousands of people to Kiev’s Maidan, or Independence, Square, giving the movement its nameEuromaidan. Protests spread to other cities.

In early December, Yanukovych and Russian President Vladimir Putin met to discuss the drafting of a strategic partnership agreement, further energizing the protestors.

Soon enough, though, Euromaidan took aim at the corruption that was rife in the government and the undignified way average Ukrainians were foreced to live.

It beggars belief that in this age, on the continent of Europe, an acknowledged beacon of civilization and equality, 45 million people must bear the injustices imposed on them by a corrupt and self-absorbed kleptocracy,” wrote Andy Hunder, director of the Ukrainian Institute in London, in an article titled “A Revolution of Human Dignity.” “That is what millions of Ukrainians have been living with for years – a system that is decayed and crooked at its core. A system where only the privileged few reap rewards, and whose values seem to be based solely on greed and oppression. The people of Ukraine have said, ‘Enough! The time has come for change.’”

But like most revolutions, this “revolution of dignity” was not without suffering. There had been clashes—some violentbetween security forces and protestors, as well as targeting of activists in the movement, but things took a dramatic turn for the worse in February, when two nights of violence left an estimated 100 protestors dead.

Meanwhile, Yanukovych signed anti-protest laws, Russia annexed Crimea, and pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine declared areas to be independent of Kievand continue to engage Ukraine’s military. Tragically, a surface-to-air missile, thought to be supplied by Russia, brought down a civilian aircraft overflying Eastern Ukraine.

But Yanokovich eventually was forced from office, and the country elected a new president, Petro Poroshenko, and parliament. Though the war continues in the East, Ukrainians are hopeful for more lasting and deeper changes.

Poroshenko recently signed a decree to establish a new national holiday to commemorate the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2013 Euromaidan protests. The new holiday, which will be celebrated November 21, will be called the National Day of Freedom and Dignity.

Aleteia is speaking with several people in Ukraine this week to get a glimpse into how their lives have changed as a result of the “Revolution of Dignity” and what they feel must happen now.

Archbishop Thomas E. Gullickson, a native of South Dakota, has been the Vatican’s nuncio to Ukraine since 2011. He provided Aleteia his viewpoint through email.

What from your perspective as the Pope’s representative in Kiev has changed for Ukraine in this year since the beginning of Euromaidan?

Lots. Refined in the crucible of suffering and heroic sacrifice, Ukraine is forging leaders for its people and a national identity, something new after so many years of repression. After presidential and parliamentary elections, there is hope that governmental and social reform will further empower people for nation building. One of the most challenging questions to answer would be what impact this year has had on the Churches and religious communities here in Ukraine.

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