Saturday, February 27, 2016
Eternal Shame on Russia
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots.” – Thomas Jefferson
“Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom,” the 2016 Oscar nominated documentary movie about Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity has been broadcast on Netflix for several months but I mustered the resolve to view it for the first time only a few days ago. The historic images of the Ukrainian nation arising against foreign and domestic tyrants two years ago and the accompanying emotions were still fresh in my mind, restraining me from watching it.
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 instantly brought back memories of parades, speeches, rallies, fires, dedication, police depravity and barbarism, beatings, bravery, heroism, patriotism, gunshots, and blood that ultimately forced Russian flunky Viktor Yanukovych to flee from Kyiv into the arms of his benefactor and Ukraine’s oppressor Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The 1-hour and 42-minute movie that covered 93 days in the life of the Ukrainian nation will contribute to Russia’s eternal shame regardless of the outcome of Academy Awards. 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 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 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 change the country. 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 power 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. Serhiy Nigoyan, an Armenian, was the first to shed his blood for Ukraine’s freedom. 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. Our 9-year-old son was shocked when he saw the attackers beat and kick 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. Goose bumps ran up and down my arm while listening to the refrain as flames rose in the night sky.
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 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.
Yanukovych secretly fled to Russia the next day, February 22, and almost simultaneously the Russian army invaded the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine and then regions in eastern Ukraine. The fight for Ukraine’s freedom continues.
“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 generation of Ukrainian patriots to refresh the tree of liberty with their blood.