A "Revolution of Dignity" has restored values, unified society, Ukrainians say
There’s a certain sadness that comes with November in Ukraine. It’s the time of year when Ukrainians commemorate the Holodomor—the forced famine they suffered under Stalin in the 1930s. And Nov. 15 is the anniversary of the Soviet annexation of Western Ukraine in 1939, which for many brings up all kinds of memories.
But when Ukrainians gather tonight to remember the beginning of a movement that began just one year ago, they will come together with a sense of hope.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has declared Nov. 21 a National Day of Freedom and Dignity. It marks the first anniversary of the beginning of the Euromaidan demostrations in Kiev, which spread to other cities and had far-reaching effects. Beginning as a protest against former President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to forgo closer ties with the European Union in favor of better relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the movement evolved into a clarion call for a cleaner, more transparent government, free of corruption, and a life of greater dignity for the average Ukrainian citizen.
It came to be known as the Revolution of Dignity, and it spurred a major political shift in the country, leading to Yanukovych’s resignatioin and the election of a new president and parliament.
“This time last year nobody dreamt about changing our president and parliament. Today, it seems like a miracle,” said Anatoliy Babinskyj, editor in chief of a magazine of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Kiev.
But Ukrainians also didn’t imagine that they would wind up in a war with neighboring Russia.
Indeed, the Revolution of Dignity has not been without much struggle and bloodshed. Yanukovych’s security forces tried to squelch the protests that continued through the winter, leading to beatings of activists and journalists and, in February, in a quasi-Tiananmen-Square-like crackdown, the death of some 100 protesters in Kiev’s Maidan Square.
Putin, meanwhile, presided over the annexation of Crimea, and a pro-Russian separatist movement sprang up in parts of Eastern Ukraine, where almost 1000 people have been killed amid continuing hostilities since a September 5 ceasefire, according to a UN human rights office report this week. Altogether, since April, fighting has claimed at least 4,317 lives. The number of people internally displaced by the violence has risen sharply in the past two months to nearly 466,830 in all.
Russia has denied accusations of covertly supplying the Ukrainian rebels with military aid. The conflict had international implications with the downing of a passenger airliner over Eastern Ukraine, thought to be the result of rebels firing a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile.
In spite of the hardships of the past year, however, many Ukrainians cherish the freedom they are securing.
“I don’t think the fall of the [Yanukovych] regime, which was in power for a long time, could happen without extra difficulties,” said Marina Sidorkina, a psychologist in Kiev who works with families of “the Heavenly Hundred,” the protestors who were killed at the Maidan in February. Noting that the economy has suffered over the past year, she said, “People who are more democratically oriented are ready to go through these financial difficulties for the sake of the future of the country, for the sake of living in a free country, for the sake of having politics which are more transparent, not having hidden decisions which benefit only a few people while the rest suffer.”
Sidorkina is part of an NGO called the Ukrainian Association of Specialists in Overcoming the Consequences of Traumatic Events, which began in the midst of the Euromaidan. “We have trained volunteers all over Ukraine who are providing support to the families of those who died, to the wounded, to the refugees and other traumatized population,” she said.