The people of Ukraine who continue to rally in Kiev’s Independence Square demanding the resignation of their president will get their way — and the United States should be proud of them.
On the eve of the death of Nelson Mandela an uprising was reaching a boiling point in the Kyiv. Protests began against President Viktor Yanukovych for turning down a trade deal with the European Union due to pressures from Russia. These protests continue today in record numbers.
Relations between the two countries have been strained at best since the downfall of the USSR. The explicit autonomy of Ukraine as its own nation sometimes seemed to be so only in name. Disputes over elections, the price of natural gas, and national economics have been factors in tension between the two countries since Ukraine declared sovereignty in 1990, the first time that Ukraine existed as its own nation.
Ukrainians have not taken their birth as a nation for granted. People have been occupying Maidan Square in Kyiv off and on since Nov. 21, building and rebuilding barricades against police despite clashes with police and military. Ukrainians have a message for the E.U. and the world: We are not Russia and we do not want to be governed like Russians. Unfortunately Yanukovych has not gotten the message, choosing to respond to protestors with physical force. There have also been instances of cyber attacks, journalist censure, seizure of protestors and raids on opposition party offices. The similarities to how Russia would handle a protest like this are striking.
The response from the United States has been reasonable. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) visited protesters in Kiev on Dec. 15, telling reporters he was “proud of the people of Ukraine and their steadfast efforts for democracy,” before meeting with opposition leaders.
A strongly worded statement from Secretary of State John Kerry has also indicated the United States’s increasing displeasure with how Yanukovych has handled the situation. “The response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy,” reads an excerpt Kerry’s statement. “[T]he United States stands with the people of Ukraine. They deserve better.” Hours later, the U.S. began to consider leveraging sanctions against Ukraine from its improper retaliation against its people.
Kerry could not have said it better. The people of Ukraine should be set as an example of understanding the value of their freedom. Protestors sing the national anthem of Ukraine on the hour and withstand the authoritarian force of a government that does not understand or comply to the desires of its own people, and the people will not tolerate it.
The people of the United States have something to learn here about the responsibility of living in a Democracy and voicing our displeasure actively against corruption and those who would not serve the people. The United States stands with Ukraine not because we have something to gain by the former Soviet country gaining admittance to the E.U., but because we once understood what it meant to fight for our unalienable rights. Maybe its time we remember a little harder.