Dec 20 2013, 1:23am CST | by Forbes
This week Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych signed a bailout deal with Russian president Vladimir Putin. The agreed upon gas price reduction to $268.5 per 1,000 cubic meter and $15 bln purchase of Ukrainian bonds will keep Ukraine in Russia’s orbit for the time being.
But what about the half a million protesters in Kiev that have demanded Ukraine’s government resign? They are still there and plan to stay for the duration of the holiday season because for them Russia’s attempt to win over its smaller neighbor with a bailout has addressed none of their concerns. It looks to be the beginning of a long fight.
Amidst ongoing geopolitical games and domestic politics, the spotlight is on the Ukrainian people who have surprised everyone, spearheading revolutionary protests and demanding changes to their corrupt authoritarian government. Showing the world that Ukraine can, in fact, speak with a strong voice.
First Protests and Riot Police Attack.
The trouble arose when Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, unexpectedly turned away from its planned integration with the European Union, deciding to partner with Russia’s trade bloc.
A few hundred Ukrainians assembled in the main square of Kiev, the nation’s capital. The government’s heavy-handed response – using riot police to oust protestors – evoked such outrage that the demonstration ballooned into a movement involving thousands, and then hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens calling for Yanukovych’s removal.
In hindsight, the issue of European Integration was only a spark, a rallying point for the many Ukrainian citizens who’ve lost patience with the government’s abuse of power, and the authoritarian path Yanukovych has marched since he took office in 2010.
In Maidan, people have formed a protest village. Some of them live here, others join on weekends or after work on weekdays. People in the village hail from all over Ukraine. Their goal is dismissal of the government, better job opportunities, an end to corruption and hope for a better life.
Speeches and music continue non-stop, day and night, from the stage in Maidan square. And Protesters have built barricades new attacks by riot police.
The Government Attempts To Clear Maidan
On December 11th, when Kiev was sleeping, Ukrainian authorities ordered security forces to surround protesters and clear the area around the square. Riot police and internal military forces tried to remove the barricades and unblock the streets. For eight hours protesters and security forces clashed, pushing against one another.
That night, a nearby monastery began to ring its bells awaken the city. More citizens joined the protesters around dawn and the police soon retreated.
The following day, protesters rebuilt their fortification – this time much stronger. People are not afraid of riot police and feel that since the country’s constitution is built on democratic principles that include the right to protest peacefully, they have done no wrong.
World heavy weight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, is one of the opposition leaders. With the common goal of changing the government, opposition parties work together: Klitschko is joined by Andrey Yatsenyuk from the Fatherland party, and Oleg Tyagnibok, head of the union Freedom.
The opposition is not in charge of Maidan, as people have proved skeptical of any politician in general. If anything, the people lead the movement and the opposition listens to their concerns and communicates them to the government.
The government, for weeks, avoided protesters and has never showed up on stage to address its people.
The Maidan movement in Kiev has not been replicated Ukraine. In Kharkiv, the country’s second main city located in the East, things are quiet. It’s close proximity to the Russian border means the populace is less likely to embrace European Integration at the cost of breaking up with its neighbor to the east. Also, local authorities take steps to keep the city free of protests: a metal fence has been erected around the city’s main square, fearing that small groups of protesters would grow into larger crowds.
In the East, traditionally more loyal to Yanukovych, many still don’t like the government, with its criminal raiding on private businesses and improvised racketeering.
To show that Yanukovych has support, the government has organized a meeting labeled Anti-Maidan. People from the East, mostly state employees, have been transported to the capitol to offer a counterpoint to the massive army of protestors. Both movements are Ukrainian people. Unfortunately for the government, the Anti-Maidan group dissolved after one meeting.
Maidan however, self organized and highly disciplined, marches on.
Backed by the West, seduced by the East.
Despite west’s show of support, president Yanukovych seems to have chosen Russia and its money. Regardless, many Ukrainians will spend this holiday season in the square, protesting against him, singing songs and playing music. According to recent polls, those in the square say they are ready to remain there for as long as it takes to take their nation back.
Source: Forbes Business
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