Over the course of the last few months Ukraine has been a topic of great interest and concern; not only here in Europe but around the world. Killings, fire, barricades, tires, Berkut, corruption, Yanukovych- those are the words and those are the images that we have heard and seen almost every day in our national newspapers and TV-programmes: a peaceful country in the heart of Europe suddenly exploding and turning into a new conflict zone. How did this happen? Did anyone see it coming? Who were the people who took part in this revolution? What did they want to achieve? What was the role of the young people in this historical movement? Is there a continuation of such strong social and political activism? These were some of the questions that we had in our mind when we crossed the border between Belarus and Ukraine.
You cannot avoid noticing the striking difference between Minsk and Kyiv when you are travelling in the region. Whereas Minsk breathes order and stability, Kyiv is the complete opposite. It seems to be chaotic and uncontrolled. The traffic is your worst nightmare and the drivers seem to have completely forgotten about the parking rules. The advertisements have taken over not only the metro but also all of the surfaces including pavements. But despite this chaos in the transportation and administrative systems, people in Kyiv are not afraid to talk about politics. You hear them discussing who will be the next president and why is this or that person not good enough everywhere: on the streets, in the metro, in the private conversations. And as Maidan has shown, such interest clearly goes beyond a plain talk. On our first day in Kyiv we were invited to attend a presentation of the political party – Democratic Alliance in one of its local offices. Democratic Alliance is a new but fast growing political party. One would think that after all the corruption scandals and dramas within the political parties Ukrainians would be too tired and uninterested to trust any political party. To our greatest surprise, the room was full of people who wanted to join this young party and they were ready to ask tough questions about what makes their party different to all of the old political forces. Yaroslav Yurchushyn explained that the Democratic Alliance is the only party in Ukraine that publishes lists of their sponsors and they are going to continue this practice, as this is the only way out of the political deadlock in the country. Opening party finances is also the only way to make sure that the oligarchs stay out of politics and stop buying their own parties.
In Kyiv, we had very interesting talks with the young people that were active during the Euromaidan and are still involved in many social initiatives post-revolution. Anastasia Rozlutska a volunteer from Euromaidan-SOS, explained to us how a movement that helped to coordinate activities of thousands of people and hundred different organizations started; how they managed to collect and share firsthand information via social media and keep the public informed about what was happening on the streets of Kyiv. “Euromaidan – SOS was founded in the morning of November 30 after we switched on our computers and saw the shocking images from the main square where peaceful students protesting for the signature of the Association Agreement with the European Union were brutally beaten by the Special Forces. Most of our volunteers were young people from all over Ukraine and not only. There were also people from Russia and Belarus coming to help us”. The struggle for the better future did not finish on Maidan for the volunteers of the Euromaidan-SOS. “We are also trying to work after Maidan but of course it is harder to organize people in peaceful times. One of our initiatives is to make a historical summary of the events on Euromaidan. We also continue to search for 84 missing people. The hardest thing for me to do as a volunteer of Euromaidan – SOS was to go to the hospitals and talk to all those injured men and later informed the families that their husbands and sons were no longer with us”.
We were surprised to see that there were still barricades and tents on the central square. In one of the tents we found 3 men, one of them was ready to talk to us and explain why they are not going home. “Even though, the new government does not want us to be here we will stay as long as it is necessarily and at least until the elections. They need to know that Maidan can happen to them too if they follow the path of Yanukovych”. Some people stayed at Maidan while many others started their own movements, businesses or NGOs in order to start changing the Ukrainian society. One of these people is Iryna Koval. Together with her friends Iryna initiated Employment Center for the Free People. This center helps people who lost or left their job because of the Euromaidan to find new employment opportunities. Having a lot of experience in the HR, Iryna felt that this is the area she can contribute the most. Initially the focus was to provide employment for the people from Maidan. However, because of the situation in Crimea, Iryna’s organization is also trying to resettle the people who are fleeing the disputed region and would like to move to the mainland Ukraine.
The visit to Kyiv has been an inspiration and an eye-opener. It made us better understand the motives of the people who took part in this struggle for tomorrow. We were inspired to see the energy and determination of the young Ukrainians who want to change their country for good and turn it into a place where they can flourish.