SHEILA NJAU ’17
As people tune in to watch the Winter Olympics and cheer on their respective countries, there is a country close to Russia that is not. Instead, the past couple of weeks have been wrought by violence and destruction and the question that remains is when it will end. The problems in Ukraine began towards the end of November when Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovytch, refused Ukraine’s integration with the European Union. For many Ukrainians who waited years for the trade agreement that was supposed to be formed between Ukraine and the European Union, they were dealt a harsh blow. This bitter pill became even more difficult to swallow when in December, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin stated that he would give Ukraine a 15.9 billion loan and 33% off Russia’s natural gas. Many viewed this as a sign that President Yanukovytch was going to form a deal with Russia. Due to the fact that Ukraine used to be under Russia’s rule, it is understandable why many people would become upset at the idea of an alliance between Russia and Ukraine.
It turns out that this is not even the first time that Ukraine has had problems with President Yanukovytch. In 2004, during what is referred to as the “Orange Revolution,” there were protests against Yanukovytch being elected as president as he was considered to be a supporter of Russia. After the Supreme Court ruled for a new vote count, Viktor Yushchenko (not a supporter of Russia) was chosen as the winner. In the end, he managed to be elected to the presidency again in 2010 and did what people had feared in 2004 by electing to side with Russia over the European Union. Once again, the people’s displeasure became evident in the form of protests, ironically taking place in Independence Square, which is in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital. Sadly, on Jan. 22, matters took a turn for the worse as the protests turned violent due to the prohibitions that the government had placed on people such as deeming the protests unlawful and censuring of the media. About five people were killed and hundreds were injured and this was only the beginning of what has been escalating to people throwing Molotov cocktails and the police using live ammunition against the protestors. The mayor of Kiev, Volodymyr Makeyenko, resigned from the President’s Regions Party in protest of the violence.
In February, the protests grew even worse as the death and injury count continued to rise. On Feb. 18, 28 people died (including protesters, policemen, and a bystander) and 335 people were injured. Only two days later, 70 people were killed and more than 2,000 people were injured in what may have been the most violent day since the protests began. It is also the most violence since Ukraine got its independence from Russia. To think that these are only two days in one month is frightening and also jarring. All of this is taking place against the backdrop of the Winter Olympics, which in a way represent nationality and the unity that comes from cheering on one’s fellow countrymen; a unity that at this time, Ukraine does not have. After the violence of Feb. 20, other countries decided to take action with the European Union placing sanctions such as travel bans and “freeze of assets” on those officials responsible for turning what had begun as peaceful protests into violent ones. The U.S. seems to be also following a similar route.
Now it seems that Ukraine’s unrest may be coming to an end. On February 22, the members of the Ukraine Parliament, with a vote of 328 out of 447 members, made the decision to impeach President Yanukovytch and stated that they would hold a special eletion on May 25 for a new president. This also came in the wake of protestors taking over Yanukovytch’s office and residence. This also led to the release of Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovytch’s opponent in the 2010 elections. She was imprisoned in 2011 on charges of abuse of office, which many thought was suspicious. At this time, Yanukovytch claims that he will not resign and has left Kiev for the time being. Also, the new Interior Minister has stated that the police will no longer fight against the protesters, which hopefully means that peace will be restored.
Something that I read that I thought to be so true was the fact that even though it was the people who had elected Yanukovytch to become their president, it was with the expectation that he would do what was best for the citizens of Ukraine. Even though the stimulus from Russia may have helped the economy, it also meant that Ukraine would be tied even tighter to Russia, a country that Ukrainians had achieved independence from in 1991. I get it, the lull of power can be an intoxicating thing, but this is not a dictatorship and Yanukovytch should respect the people’s choice because it has become apparent that what Yanukovytch wants and what his citizens’ desire are completely different.
I find myself thinking about the picture that I saw of a Ukrainian priest standing between protesters and the police and how sad it is that things escalated to such a point. Maybe now with these new changes, Ukraine can find balance again as they mourn the lives lost these past three months.