‘We’re here to exercise our rights; our constitutional right to say no. We want a general election. That’s it. But Yanukovych doesn’t want an election, he wants to kill the people.’ -A protester in Kiev last week
Amidst the rubble of Kiev’s central square, Maidan, protesters clamber over broken stone and wade through the layers of ash and dust that have gathered over the past week. Only a few days ago, the atmosphere here was quite different. Civilians packed the square calling for an election; some for the release of imprisoned opposition leader, Yevheniya Tymoshenko, some for new leaders altogether, all for an end to the violence from the authorities (it’s thought 77 have been killed within five days) and all essentially calling for their freedom. The protests come 80 years after the country was abused by Stalin’s Russia – an estimated 7 million died in the ‘forced famine’ imposed by Soviet policy in 1932. It seems that freedom has the cruel tendency to evade the Ukrainians.
Saturday, however, saw the disappearance of the main source of the troubles: corrupt President Viktor Yanukovych. Only a day after he signed a peace deal with the opposition, and swore he wouldn’t leave the country or abandon his responsibility, he fled to eastern Ukraine where Russian sympathy lay waiting. Meanwhile, protesters celebrated in the more cosmopolitan capital and ventured to the President’s private, and hidden, headquarters. What lay waiting was unorthodox, to say the least. Although, given the man’s corruption, perhaps not unexpected. With security men and gates gone, protesters were free to roam the vast estate that surrounded a newly built wooden chalet-mansion, a galleon moored on the private lake, and a private zoo complete with peacocks, ostriches and deer. Extravagance doesn’t quite seem to cover it.
What struck me most has been the way in which the Ukrainians have protested. In the face of the cruel tyranny, and idiocy, of the authorities, the Maidan movement remained strong, united and – quite uniquely – rational. You may well have seen the viral video I Am A Ukrainian that’s been circling Facebook recently. In the depths of the protest, a woman calmly presents their plight to the sea of international internet users. Following Yanukovych’s sudden disappearance, protesters and the opposition politicians took to parliament to organise the political mess (or at least make a start), whilst visitors to the President’s Disney-esque compound formed orderly queues, treating it as any other spectacle. Of course, I wasn’t expecting a recreation of the Storming of the Winter Palace. Fighting for freedom, the Ukrainians never lost their sense of reason.
Perhaps it’s because the Ukrainians have something uniting them – something that even the majority of the government know is worth fighting for. Key emblems circulating throughout Kiev and the rest of the world were of freedom, but vitally through peace. The artwork perfectly symbolises the movement’s aim; to banish corruption, and with it the insanity of a power-crazed, private zoo owning President. Yanukovych has been impeached, and Tymoshenko released, and the country is no more out of the limbo than they were yesterday. Ukraine waits with bated breath for the next step.
These are the posters from last year that helped unite the sane to unseat the absurd.
Picture credits: Edmonton