Maidan – one year after

Posted on 08. January 2015

by Orest Franchuk (guets contribution)

Kyiv, one year after the protests: Some of the Maidan-activists have taken the seats of those, whom they have managed to expulse from Parliament. I was there, in November 2013, when the students first took to the streets. I expected and hoped that when Maidan would successfully end, President Wiktor Yanukovych would be ousted, that we would have a new President, a new Parliament and that everything would be so much better. After all the bloody crimes at Maidan I was absolutely confident that no one would ever dare to take bribes, steal budgetary funds or lobby pro-Russian interests in the Parliament, that police would not use force against protesters and judges would make truly impartial and just decisions.

I was being naïve or my feelings just dulled the sense of reality.

Now, one year later, we have a new president and a new parliament. But the parliamentary elections have been a huge disappointment to me.

The Opposition block (the old Party of Regions, led by Yanukovych) received 9,43% and the Radical party of populist Oleh Liashko received 7,44% of votes. Sixty two politicians who voted in favor of the “dictator laws” in January, as we Maidan-activists call them (laws restricting freedom of speech and assembly in the course of the Maidan-protests), made it into the Parliament. And again, we see whole “families” there (even the President Poroshenko did not neglect an opportunity to bring his elder son into the Parliament). The conflict in Eastern Ukraine has grown into a war, many people die; those who fight are poorly equipped and fed. Very often the problem is also in mid-level and lower class officials, who were part of the previous regime and remain at their positions now.

One year after the protests, I have a more realistic point of view.

But despite these disappointments, I would say that I share a rather optimistic view with most Ukrainians: The overall mood is rather bright. People are inspired to act responsibly and in a patriotic way. People used to joke that the economic situation is so bad that it cannot get any worse. They still talk that way – but I have the impression that they have become more educated when it comes to financing matters: they no longer withdraw their deposits as much as they did. Hopefully, this might lead to a stabilization of the Ukrainian banking sector.

Despite all the sad news, the war in the East welds together the Ukrainians. Almost every day, we read of acts of bravery of our soldiers in Eastern Ukraine. Common people volunteer and donate great amounts of money to the army. There are people who have families, well-paid jobs and excellent education, who volunteer for the army and show great patriotism at the front. Those, who do not fight, dedicate their support to those who do: they raise money, deliver food and uniforms, even vehicles and war-planes.

However, it is still a war. People die. Sorrow and fear dominate the feelings of Ukrainians these days . My friends keep telling me how their relatives or friends were mobilized into the army. Some of them, are dead now. People are drawn into the army randomly all over Ukraine, so there is a constant anxiety among people that their sons, fathers and husbands might be selected to fight against the terrorists and Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine. Students feel a little bit more safe, as they have not been called upon yet. But now the Ministry of Defence suggests starting partial mobilization in order to substitute those who have been fighting in the East for a while and need to rest and heal their wounds.

The number of victims is a lot higher than what state officials report on in the media. Also, the situation of food supply and clothes for soldiers is much worse than officially accounted for. As a result, people turn to independent media and to first-hand sources who report directly via Facebook and Twitter.

Slowly, people have learned to double-check and verify news with multiple sources. Facebook as it did during Maidan serves as a platform for like-minded people to meet and organize themselves in order to carry out different tasks, such as donating money, delivering things to the army or monitoring corruption.

People monitor Poroshenko’s new Cabinet of Ministers very closely. Ukraine has entered into the way to reforms and development, which is exactly what I had hoped for, when I took to the streets one year ago. But it has to protect itself from a Russia, a country, which has constantly called itself a “brother nation”. Now, the “brother” has become the aggressor, supporting terrorism in Eastern Ukraine and occupying Crimea. It is a war not only endangering Ukrainian interests, but also against the democratic and prosperous world to the end of protecting Putin’s totalitarian regime.

Very often when I go to work, I walk across Maidan. It reminds me every time of the events that happened exactly one year ago. Although it again functions as a common street, it has become a symbol – for democracy. And somehow also a sacred place. People no longer just entertain themselves at Maidan as they used to before Maidan happened – they come here to mourn, to protest and to remember.

We started these protests driven by a European dream. When I think of the EU today, my feelings are mixed. It is very sad and disappointing for me to see people like Marine Le Pen, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Czech President Milos Zeman or Nigel Farage praising Putin and lobbying Russian interests. It makes them responsible for the deaths in the east. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want the EU to start a war with Russia. But I want more support for my country. Considering our bad economic situation and the supply of the Ukrainian army, financial support is essential for Ukraine.

I still have an overall feeling and belief that Ukraine is heading the right way. At least, the governing parties have managed to form a pro-European coalition in Parliament, we have a new and promising government and, at least, there are reforms, albeit slow ones. I still am inspired and believe in a better future of Ukraine. But at the same time I understand that I must be patient. Change will not come fast and easily. Times are hard and it is a big challenge for all of us, especially when Russia tries to make everything to prevent Ukraine from developing.

This blog post has been written in the framework of a cooperation between FutureLab Europe and Süddeutsche.de