The Ukrainian spirit is one thing the Russians will never be able to conquer. On itself a simple and for most, if not all, an obvious statement. But the roots of the Ukrainian desire for the European and Western style of organizing a society, surpasses superficial explanations. And Ukraine living under Russian occupation would mean a postponement of a free Ukraine, which is bound to happen when historical tendencies are to be continued.
Ukraine is shouting from every rooftop that it wants to choose its own future. And let it be that this future is Europe and the Western style of organizing a society. It could be argued that the first indicator of this is the Granite Revolution that took place in October 1990, the first revolution out of three. Ukraine was still a part of the Soviet Union but was seeking change in the form of self-determination. It all started when students set up tents on the granite tiles of the Kiev’s independence square (hence the name), put op posters, hang up flags and made five big demands. One of which was that Ukraine had to deposit itself of the head of state and seek independence. When more and more Ukrainians, as well as workers’ organizations, expressed their support by organizing marches, the Kremlin did not know how to respond properly and acceded. Ukrainians from every corner of the land could vote in a referendum which was won with 90% of the people voting for independence. A Ukrainian victory. But not one that would change the collective mindset to resent present-day Russia, as later would come nevertheless.
Forward to November 2004 and the second revolution, the Orange revolution, erupted. When several reports from domestic and foreign election monitors labeled the latest election as fraudulent, nationwide protests erupted once again. People flocked to the streets to show their discontent with the former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych that stood for close ties to Russia and Putin. As people didn’t back down, the Ukrainian Supreme Court ordered a re-vote which opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko won. And under Yushchenko, Ukraine drove further towards the West. But beside the ‘Ukrainian victory’, the new election did show the first real sign of the East-West division in the country. Because even though Yushchenko succeeded in winning the majority vote, the people in the East, who were more Russian-sympathetic, showed a clear stronghold for Yanukovych. However, after the protests more and more people in the East also started to like the idea of a non-meddling Russia. After all, these people did also vote for independence in the 90’s.
The third revolution, named the Euromaidan revolution, proved unfortunately to be a bloody one. But one that would shape the Ukrainian collective mindset for good. In November of 2013, the government in Kiev announced that it would suspend plans to sign an association union with the European Union, choosing closer ties with Moscow instead. Again protesters gathered on the Freedom Square in the capital. The people persevered and felt their cause was right. But no-one would suspect that security forces would mount massive attacks. As people barricaded themselves with tires, fences, wood and whatever they could find, police started multiple offensives beating protesters with steel batons and snipers firing from rooftops. Approximately 100 people were murdered with hundreds more injured. Mothers received calls from their children who said their last goodbyes as the protests carried on. Late February of 2014, the French, German and Polish foreign Ministers arrived in Kiev and reached a settlement between still Prime Minister Yanukovych, who later sought refuge in Russia over fears for his life. Because even though Yanukovych tried to hold on to his power for as long as he could, he could not rid himself of allegations that he received a 15 billion dollar bailout package from Putin. As the Ukrainian Parliament elected an acting Prime Minister who declared to bring his country closer to Europe, the Kremlin responded by invading Crimea and funding and arming separatists in the Eastern region of the Donbas.
As Russia now invades Ukraine, it’s easy to forget that Ukraine is not the only one that had this struggle. From the moment the Soviet Union collapsed, many Eastern and Central European countries sought freedom from the East. Poland, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Moldova, Hungary and even the Northern-European country of Finland, were all, either completely or partly, under the influence of what is now Russia. All these countries either peacefully, or through protests or war, succeeded and installed sovereignty with feelings of resent towards the past. And despite some of these countries re-seeking closer ties with Russia like Hungary, the historical essence of these events cannot be looked at as like it has nothing to do with Ukraine. Putin has already expressed sentimental feelings towards the Soviet-Union, calling the collapse of it ‘the greatest mistake in recent Russian history’ and is out for a greater Russia, or so it seems. And either Europe and the West install a contentment around the countries that are already free from Russia, or it recognizes that the European continent is not yet free from Authoritarianism and acts as is. And yes, arms and humanitarian aid are in constant supply to Ukraine with the European Union already promising a place for Ukraine as a EU candidate for accession to the European Union, but the question whether a defeated Ukraine could be part of a possible outcome in Europe remains. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly stated that Ukraine will not make concessions about the loss of territory and it’s people and will continue the fight in order to achieve this goal. But if Ukraine should fall and become a satellite-state of Russia, the conflict could, again, turn completely inwards and develop itself once again when the next Ukrainian revolution is bound to happen.
Cover photo by Nessa Gnatoush (CC BY 2.0) taken during the Euromaidan Revolution.