Day of Dignity and Freedom 2020 – Recalling 93 Days that Changed Ukraine
Thomas Jefferson poignantly reminded that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots.”
Yesterday, Ukrainians around the world commemorated the Day of Dignity and Freedom, which recalled and paid tribute to the hopeful and inspiring days in late November 2013 that set in motion the long sought after ouster of Russian gauleiters from Ukraine. The Revolution of Dignity as it became known became another tree of liberty for Ukrainians as they struggled to cement their independence proclaimed in 1991 and on numerous earlier occasions.
The visions of the multitude of Ukrainians standing in the cold on Maidan, the feelings of hope and anger, anticipation and desperation reverberated deep in the hearts, minds and spirits of Ukrainians. Twenty-two years after the latest Declaration of Independence of their Ukraine, the latest generation of Ukrainians was called upon to fight. The nation was not to be deprived of its dream of living in a country of their choice, free of Russian imperialism and subjugation and heading toward Europe, not back into the Russian prison of nations.
They were not to be stopped, not by their corrupt, treacherous President Viktor Yanukovych and by his mentor Russian fuhrer Vladimir Putin.
In the fall of 2013, when Yanukovych began to exhibit his true turncoat colors and reject the aspirations of the nation to join Europe, Ukrainians from every corner of their country embarked on their trek to the capital, determined to strike their chord for Ukraine’s freedom.
The chapters quickly unfolded: Ukraine’s subjugation by Russia, the nation’s desire for accession to the European Union, Yanukovych’s acquiescence, Putin’s opposition and finally Yanukovych’s last-minute reversal. The nation couldn’t stand the government’s duplicity and subservience to Moscow. The people demanded that the accession process go forward and that ex-convicts like Yanukovych be removed from power.
The masses of humanity, the killing of patriots, the cold, the acrid smoke of burning tires, the speeches, passion, songs, imagery, signs reading “Resign,” anger and hope summoned Ukrainians to declare that they are Ukrainian; they are responsible for the future of their country and people. And the nation came together. Ukrainians of all walks of life, from the four corners of the country, those who speak Ukrainian regularly and those who don’t, young and old, male and female, professionals and laborers, Orthodox, Catholics, Jews and Muslims stood on the Maidan in Kyiv to resoundingly declare their irrepressible allegiance to Ukraine.
Collapse Seen Round the World
While the throng had already been massing on the streets of the capital for several days, the truly unbelievable and stunning genesis came with the crashing sound heard round the world. In the end the Lenin monument was a pile of shattered bronze, marble and mortar that littered the sidewalk. But while it stood, it represented Russia’s subjugation of Ukraine, millions of Holodomor deaths, repression, persecution, denial of human and religious rights, political prisoners, and russification.
For Ukrainians who came to Kyiv to vent their rejection of President Yanukovych’s refusal to align Ukraine with the European Union but rather to return to Russia’s prison of nations, the Lenin monument in the center of the capital represented foreign occupation and imperialism at its worse.
As evening fell on December 8, 2013, the people took their frustration out on the statue of the Russian and toppled it to the ground in a symbolic gesture of destroying Russian occupation, breaking Russia’s shackles around Ukraine, and allowing Ukraine to forge its own independent future by aligning itself with Europe. According to a Reuters reporter, the protesters broke up the statue with hammers after toppling it with the help of metal bars and rope.
Ironically, they knocked over the statue without the presence of police or the threat of immediate retribution. A few days earlier the statue was photographed with cordons of police protecting it.
The pedestal of the demolished statue was replaced by flags of Ukraine, the European Union and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).
A sea of Ukrainians estimated at nearly 2 million and confirmed by satellite photos flooded the capital to protest against President Yanukovych as authorities opened a criminal probe into attempts to seize power in an increasingly tense standoff with the opposition, according to Ukrainian and foreign news agencies.
Waving EU and Ukrainian flags and red-and-black revolutionary OUN banners, the protesters filled Kyiv’s iconic Independence Square renamed Euromaidan and surrounding streets to a bursting point to denounce Yanukovych’s rejection of an EU pact under Kremlin pressure.
Significantly upping the stakes in the confrontation, demonstrators marched on the government headquarters and erected one-and-a-half meter (five feet) high barricades outside which would make it impossible for ministers to go to their offices.
Yuriy Lutsenko, ex- interior minister, realistically declared: “Our plan is clear: It is no longer a rally, or action. It is a revolution.”
Violence gradually unfolded as police provoked fisticuffs with protestors. Skirmishes were visible in many cities beyond the capital but finally the riot police – Berkut – unleashed its fury and truncheons against young and old demonstrators as well as journalists, leaving all who came in contact with its power bloodied for all the world the see. Moscow’s response was evident.
“By my count we are talking of tens of cruelly beaten people, perhaps hundreds,” Andriy Shevchenko, an opposition deputy, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency. “It was absolute savagery.”
The violence was deemed unacceptable, leaving even Yanukovych government officials to express their disdain for his presidency.
At one point, demonstrators were seen chasing away police escorted by a bulldozer, defying a government ban on protests on Independence Square. The event was live streamed on the Internet for the entire world to experience this biggest contemporary demonstration of Ukrainians’ anger over the president's refusal to sign an agreement with the European Union since the popular uprising called the Orange Revolution of 2005.
Thousands of demonstrators tried to storm the nearby presidential administration building, but were driven back by riot police using tear gas and flash grenades, which produce a loud bang but are not intended to cause injury. The standoff continued, with more demonstrators arriving.
Opposition leaders called a national strike, with schools, universities and businesses announcing their intention to close in support of Euromaidan. Popular support for the Maidan protesters was great. Food and solace poured into their encampment.
But Moscow continued to play its historical card. Russian troops clandestinely entered the capital and positioned themselves on rooftops in a scene reminiscent of the culmination of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and shot indiscriminately into the crowd, killing anyone – young or old, man or woman – who stood in the way of the bullets.
Ultimately, 125 were killed; 125 Ukrainian patriots whose blood refreshed the Ukrainian tree of liberty. Serhiy Nigoyan, an Armenian, was the first to shed his blood for Ukraine’s freedom.
American Lawmakers Attend
The images of unarmed Ukrainians defying Russian and Ukrainian stormtroopers captured the imagination of the international community. And it replied with expressions of strong support uttered even in person. In words that harkened back to Ronald Reagan’s famous, bold assurance that Ukrainians’ fight for freedom is America’s fight, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) arrived on the scene and told the million-strong multitude on EuroMaidan that America stands with them in their struggle.
Indeed, those words proved that in the face of adversity, oppression and invasion, Ukraine is unbeatable, it will not perish. Ukraine will prevail.
Gesturing at his colleague on the grand stage, the late Senator McCain inspired the throng saying through simultaneous translations that he is a Republican and Murphy is a Democrat and they represent US solidarity with Ukrainians who seek to align with the European Union and not Russia with international media reported their every word.
McCain went on to say that Ukrainians’ nationwide peaceful protests have inspired the world and their sovereign right is to decide their own future. Ukraine’s destiny is with Europe and Europe will be better with Ukraine and Ukraine will be better with Europe, he said.
McCain concluded by imploring the patriotic throng to heed Taras Shevchenko’s plea: “Love Ukraine for the times are evil.”
“You are making history,” Murphy told the crowd. “If you are successful, the United States will stand with you every step of the way.”
The two senators’ personal support for EuroMaidan was part of a growing international wave of backing for the protesters. Governments around the world have announced that they are considering imposing a range of sanctions against President Yanukovych and his regime for unprovoked acts of violence committed against peaceful protesters by Berkut militia officers. McCain and Murphy were part of a larger, unprecedented US intervention on the side of Ukrainian protesters.
Then Vice President Joe Biden telephoned Yanukovych and according to the official readout of the conversation, the vice president “expressed his deep concern about the situation in Ukraine and the growing potential for violence. The Vice President underscored the need to immediately de-escalate the situation and begin a dialogue with opposition leaders on developing a consensus way forward for Ukraine. He noted that violence has no place in a democratic society and is incompatible with our strategic relationship. The Vice President reaffirmed the strong support of the United States for Ukraine’s European aspirations and welcomed President Yanukovych’s commitment to maintaining this path. He underscored the close alignment of the United States and the European Union, and welcomed the upcoming visits of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and State Department Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland to Kyiv.”
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined US Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and others last week in introducing a Senate Resolution urging the government of Ukraine and members of the opposition to find a peaceful and democratic resolution to the country’s current political crisis.
“The mounting political impasse in Ukraine is deeply troubling,” Durbin said. “Ukraine is an important friend and ally of the United States that I believe has a promising future with the West. Such decisions should be made without coercion from other nations and through a peaceful and democratic process. I urge all parties to this current political challenge to refrain from violence, adhere to democratic norms, and strive to focus on long term solutions to the country’s economic challenges.”
US Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued the following statement: “I am deeply dismayed by yesterday’s decision by Ukrainian authorities to use Interior Ministry troops against peaceful protests in central Kyiv, coming after the already brutal dispersal of protestors last week. There is no justification for these actions, which, along with other human rights violations, are grossly at odds with Ukraine’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) commitments and a serious blot on Ukraine’s OSCE Chairmanship. I call upon the Ukrainian authorities to take immediate, resolute steps to ensure that freedom of assembly and expression are respected.”
Rep. William Keating (D-MA), ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, sent a letter to Yanukovych condemning Ukrainian authorities’ use of force against peaceful demonstrators in Kyiv’s Independence Square. He was joined on the letter by House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) and the co-chairs of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus.
Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told Yanukovych that police action against encamped protesters calling for his resignation was “absolutely impermissible in a democratic society.”
Nuland had met with Yanukovych in Kyiv, where thousands of protesters have been occupying Independence Square. “I made it absolutely clear to him that what happened last night, what has been happening in security terms here is absolutely impermissible in a European state, in a democratic state,” she told reporters.
In the wake of the killings and brutal dispersal of peaceful protesters in Kyiv by the Ukrainian riot police, government leaders and institutions issued statements condemning such officially sanctioned violence. While Yanukovych himself also facetiously condemned such ruthlessness, in today’s Ukraine the killings and beatings would be impossible without his even implicit approval.
The US Embassy in Ukraine stated: “The United States condemns the violence against protesters on Independence Square early this morning. We urge the government of Ukraine to respect the rights of civil society and the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, which are fundamental to the democratic values that are the bedrock of our strategic partnership.
“We support the rights of citizens to air their views through an open and free media and through non-violent rallies.
“In the spirit of the principles embodied by the OSCE, we urge the Government of Ukraine to foster a positive atmosphere for civil society and for the free exchange and expression of opinions among the citizens of Ukraine.”
Eternal Shame on Russia
The Ukrainian nation’s latest revolution against Russian oppression caught cinematographers’ imaginations.
“Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom,” the 2016 Oscar-nominated documentary movie about Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity, depicted the wide range of passion of the Maidan. The historic images of the Ukrainian nation arising against foreign and domestic tyrants two years earlier and the accompanying emotions reminded viewers that the Ukrainian nation will not be vanquished; it will prevail.
The momentous events on Maidan in Ukraine’s capital in 2013-14 that attracted more than a few million Ukrainians from around the country kept the world glued to live web streams of what was quickly evolving into the nation’s latest manifestation of its invincible will to live free, without foreign domination.
The movie brought back memories of parades, speeches, rallies, fires, dedication, police depravity and barbarism, beatings, bravery, heroism, patriotism, gunshots, and blood that ultimately reasserted the nation’s dominance and forced Russian flunky Yanukovych to flee from Kyiv into the arms of his benefactor and Ukraine’s latest oppressor Russian president Putin.
The 1-hour and 42-minute film that covered 93 days in the life of the Ukrainian nation will contribute to Russia’s eternal shame. Subsequent generations of Russians will have to answer a host of muted questions about their country’s role in trying to quash liberty in Ukraine just like today’s Germans are attempting to cope with Nazism. Likewise, future generations will have a glimpse of one episode from a millennium of examples of Ukrainians’ unconquerable, freedom-loving spirit to live in their own independent, sovereign, democratic and indivisible Ukraine.
The film conveys the background and reasons for the Revolution of Dignity, including Ukraine’s subjugation by Russia, the nation’s desire for accession to the European Union, Yanukovych’s acquiescence, Putin’s opposition and finally Yanukovych’s last-minute turnaround. The nation wouldn’t tolerate any longer the government’s duplicity and subservience to Moscow. The people demanded that the EU accession process go forward and that ex-convicts like Yanukovych by removed from power.
Social media was the instrument for capacity building in Kyiv. It summoned Ukrainians of all walks of life to Kyiv to voice their disgust and opposition to Russia’s corrupt, anti-Ukrainian colonial administrators in Ukraine. National opposition grew from a few hundred protesters in the center of the capital to several thousand to more than a million, testifying that this was, in fact, a popular, national movement for freedom.
The nation again awakened to stop those who sought to subvert Ukraine’s fate. The marchers emphasized that Ukraine, as a European nation, is part of the European Union and the nation’s youngest generation demands that Ukraine finds its rightful place among European countries and not in the Russian prison of nations.
The protestors, whose numbers swelled from grassroots levels, were emboldened into believing that they could fight and change the country and national destiny. It taught them and future generations that Ukraine can only be pried from their lifeless hands. Fed up with Yanukovych’s corruption and submission to Moscow, their movement evolved into a revolution whose goal was to depose the government and liberate Ukraine from Russia’s bonds. Their daring and strength grew from their unwavering beliefs and expanding numbers. They were determined to fight for Ukraine and that victory would be theirs.
Those who were interviewed and appeared in the movie underscored that the Revolution of Dignity was popular and national. Busloads of demonstrators from across Ukraine participated. Doctors from around the country came to Kyiv to treat the wounded and dying. Young and old helped with food and other provisions. Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian speakers, including Russian speakers, were equally vocal in their disdain for Moscow’s subjugation of Ukraine. Among the Maidan Defense Units were Jewish Maidan Defense Unit and Women’s Maidan Defense Unit. All religious hierarchs, representing the broad swath of faiths of Ukraine, Ukrainian Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, Moslem, Buddhist and others prayed in unison for the nation’s salvation.
Teenagers and even younger Ukrainians were involved in the movement. One seemingly pre-teen spoke of helping with medical supplies and provisions. Another boy, a teenager, wearing a t-shirt of Stepan Bandera, leader of OUN assassinated by the Kremlin, was seen speaking with his mother on his cell phone. Not knowing what will be his destiny, he ended the call by saying “Mamtsiu, I love you.”
The documentary did not show the involvement of civic leaders except for boxer Klychko and pop singer Ruslana, which further confirmed the people’s mass dedication to the cause of Maidan.
It was pointed out by many that the participants maintained the highest level of moral behavior during the revolution. Drugs and alcohol were not seen in their encampments. The participants were peaceful and unarmed as they faced the depraved barbarism of the Berkut security officers, whose brutality was clearly visible throughout the documentary. They repeatedly charged into the nonviolent protesters wildly swinging their truncheons without regard for life or limb. They beat and kicked defenseless, cowering protesters on the ground. Army veterans observed that the Berkut officers “didn’t act like human beings” even destroying makeshift red cross stations. For the first time since 1240, the bells of the St. Michael Sobor tolled anxiously, summoning more and more people to join the protests on Maidan.
Despite repeated waves of baton-wielding officers, none of the protesters broke rank and fled. They were committed to their mission, realistically noting that even if they abandon their cause now, eventually they would be hunted down and eliminated. In a comical, futile effort to protect themselves against the police, protestors covered their heads with kitchen utensils, pots, pans and colanders.
The documentary offered many insights about the Ukrainian nation for all viewers but one, in particular, was clearly, warmly perceptible by Ukrainians. Repeatedly throughout the documentary individuals or mass throngs chanted “Glory to Ukraine,” and “Glory to the Heroes,” an old Ukrainian mantra that was adopted by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and was banned by Soviet Ukraine and Russia and ridiculed by some others.
In time, truncheons were exchanged for rubber bullets and then for live ammunition and Putin/Yanukovych’s organized killers began shooting unarmed demonstrators from rooftops like fish in a barrel. The Revolution of Dignity lasted 93 days during which 125 innocent, peaceful citizens of Ukraine were murdered on the orders of officials in the Kremlin and Kyiv. They indisputably earned the sanctified moniker “Heavenly Hundred.”
Push came to shove after the timid members of the Verkhovna Rada adopted a law outlawing demonstrations and Klychko’s ineffective attempt to convince the lawmakers to rescind the vote. I recalled watching this live two years ago. His effort was rejected by the crowd on Maidan. Infuriated by the slow evolution of events, Volodymyr Parasiuk, a young defense unit commander, seized a historic moment, jumped on the stage and grabbed the microphone from the Ukrainian boxer. He declared that Yanukovych must present himself to the crowd on Maidan and resign by 10 am the next day or else he would lead the nation in storming his multi-million dollar estate and removing him by force.
“Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” fulfilled its mission of telling the world of Ukrainians’ indomitable spirit to fight for their freedom and that the generation that stood on Maidan for three months and faced the enemy without weapons is the latest, greatest generation of Ukrainian patriots to refresh the tree of liberty with their blood.
When all was said and done, Yanukovych, like a thief, secretly fled to Russia on February 22, 2014. Shortly thereafter, as the 2014 Winter Olympic Games – which together with the Summer Olympics comprise humanity’s celebrated quadrennial exhibition of peace and fraternity – were winding down, the host country Russia abruptly shattered global peace and stability. Moscow launched its blitzkrieg to re-subjugate Ukraine and the other x-captive nations and restore the iron curtain. The Russian army invaded the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine and then regions in eastern Ukraine.
The fight for Ukraine’s freedom continues.
The free world was staggered by Russia’s invasion of an independent European country. But all along Moscow has been forthright with its imperial and aggressive intentions regarding what it perceives as its sphere of influence. The Kremlin habitually asserts its authority on its so-called near abroad and warns that the countries will face dire consequences if they violate its directives or seek to accede to EuroAtlantic political, military or economic pacts.
Both events – Maidan and the Russian invasion of Ukraine – are connected. They show that Russia’s eternal mission that transcends the occupants of the Kremlin is to subjugate Ukraine at all costs while the Ukrainian nation – alone or in concert with the international community – will fight. And Ukraine will prevail.
Nelson Mandela said: “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.” This lesson is not lost on today’s and future generations of Ukrainians.