Sofiya Kominko, University of Ottawa
On November 24th, the local Ukrainian diaspora gathered on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery in a peaceful demonstration to stand in solidarity with the thousands of protestors in Ukraine. Vancouver’s protest is one of many public demonstrations that were organized in over 46 cities throughout the world last week. The cause of these movements is the suspension of the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement, initiated by president Viktor Yanukovych on November 21st. This decision startled the nation, as for many Ukrainians, the Association Agreement was the first step towards achieving democratic reform in the country. The world watched Ukraine’s struggle for democracy during the Orange Revolution in 2004, and now history seems to be repeating itself. However, this time around, the voices of civilians are united under the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag—no political party affiliation is leading this cause.
The global outbreak of Ukrainian protests signifies the true power of social media. Among many other websites, Facebook and Twitter exploded with pictures and videos from all around the world, displaying diaspora gatherings in Canada, Australia, India, South Korea, Bolivia and many European countries. These gatherings are given the name “Euromaidan” which includes the word “maidan”—the name for prominent public squares found in many Ukrainian cities. It is in the “maidan” of Kyiv where a group of protestors showed their dissatisfaction with President Yanukovych’s decision. Today, “Euromaidan” has received the attention from thousands, both virtually and on the streets. Last week alone “Euromaidans” took place in over 22 countries and its Facebook page has reached a startling 91,812 “likes” in a matter of days.
On December 1st, the Ukrainian Vancouver community will once again be meeting on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery—exactly a week after the initial demonstration. However, this second peaceful gathering is a cry for help from the community, as recent events in Ukraine took a somber turn. On Saturday, November 30th, at approximately 4:15 am, civilians who were peacefully protesting in the main square of Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv, were dispersed through the means of physical force. Roughly 2000 policemen from the Ukrainian Police of Public Security, “Berkut”, brutally beat civilians with clubs. Protestors, many of which were women and children, were kicked, pushed, and dragged to the ground. The use of tear gas was also present. Thirty-five people were injured, seven of which are currently hospitalized, and three young protestors will now call prison their home for the next two months. With this repression, Ukraine’s Police Unit of Public Security shames its own name and their primary responsibility of safe crowd control.
Despite the state’s radical attempts of crowd control and lack of first aid supplies on site, the fight against Ukraine’s oppressive government is only beginning. Meetings and demonstrations are continually being planned and revived in the “maidans”. Starting Monday, December 2nd, organizers hope to block all movement in Kiev and call a national strike. Artists, as well as other prominent Ukrainian cultural leaders, are joining the masses. In the city of Lviv, local police declared to support civilians and to prevent the use of physical force. Governments of Germany, Italy, Poland, and the United Kingdom have gathered Ukrainian ambassadors to discuss these recent events and their repercussions. Amnesty International has also spoken out about this case of the violation of human rights initiated by government orders. The Director of Amnesty International Ukraine, Tetyana Mazur, states that Ukraine’s “government must investigate the motion which permitted the use of force in the dispersal of civilians”. The suspension of the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU launched a campaign for democracy, protection of human rights, and most importantly, governmental reform.
In this moment of national crisis for Ukraine, it is imperative that this news transcends beyond the virtual world of Ukrainian Facebook posts and Tweets. The Western world, particularly Western media conglomerates, should be aware of these occurrences in order for them to come to a halt. During Holodomor— the Ukrainian genocide of 1932-1933, it is estimated that nearly ten million Ukrainians perished in a man-made famine organized by the Soviet government under the rule of Joseph Stalin. As the Soviets attempted to cover up the facts of the famine, American journalists such as Walter Duranty published articles denying any assertions of the genocide. Today, photo equipment of journalists is being destroyed on the streets of Ukraine, and the press, particularly in Russia, is delivering faulty messages of what is actually happening. If Ukraine’s government and media are not speaking the truth, then the onus of disseminating the message to governments, who will defend the truth, falls on the people.