As the post Soviet country finds itself split between Russia and Europe, Ukraine has experienced a wave of civil unrest in recent weeks, known as the Euromaiden movement. Here are the top five things to know about what’s happening:
Civil unrest began late November after Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, suspended a free trade agreement with the European Union that had been in negotiations for years. Instead of strengthening ties with Europe as many Ukrainians desire, President Yanukovych seeks closer relations with Russia.
The deal was suspended because Ukraine’s economy would drastically suffer if it were to cut its trade with Russia, according to the government. “The Ukrainian government will suspend the negotiations for signing the Association Agreement with the EU, until we find a solution for the situation is found and when the drop in industrial production and our relations with CIS countries are compensated by the European market,” said Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Boiko at a press conference in Kiev. Additionally, Ukraine would jeopardize losing its gas imports from Russia, which it heavily relies on to get through the bitter winters.
Although Ukraine retains economic relations and Soviet influences since its independence from Russia in 1991, many Ukrainians resent Russia for overtaking their farmlands and suppressing their intellectual culture during Soviet rule. Since gaining independence, they’ve sought to distance themselves culturally by seeking relations with the West. However, many Russians still reside in Ukraine from the Soviet era and Ukraine remains dependent on Russia for trade and gas imports.
Protesters aren’t just calling for the president to sign a trade agreement with Europe, they are protesting for a new (less corrupt) government and a new way of life. One of their largest demands is for the president and his cabinet, whom the people believe are too corrupt to govern, to step down and allow a leader who is more aligned with the people to be freely elected by the people. They want Ukraine to become economically aligned with the European Union so that their economy may grow and improve their quality of life.
In Ukrainian, the word “Maiden” is the name of a public plaza, usually meaning the main square of the city. When the EU agreement was suspended, young political activists turned towards social media sites like Facebook and Twitter using the #EuroMaiden to inspire and organize people to gather in their town squares. During the first week, police brutally beat many of the young student protesters, but over the past few weeks, they haven’t brutally cracked down on the hundreds of thousands of protesters who have gathered in town squares. Instead, protests have grown to mass crowds, putting on public demonstrations and huddling around barrel fires through bitterly cold, wintery nights.