In Ukrainian, Maidan translates as square and Nezalezhnosti translates as Independence. Independence Square is the central square located in Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine. Commonly referred to as Maidan, it has been the epicenter of several huge protest movements since the end of the cold war.
Maidan Revolutionary Movements
- 1989 “Revolution on Granite”
- 2001 “Ukraine without Kuchma”
- 2004 “Orange Revolution”
- 2013-2014 “Euromaidan”
Euromaidan in 2014
I visited Kiev in 2014 in the last few days of the Euromaidan revolution. Fortunately, the violent protests had mostly ended by that time. This did not mean that it was not still dangerous, especially at night. I was in Kiev for several weeks and one morning I visited Maidan to learn that there had been a grenade attack the night before.
Demands for Reform
Public protests began in Maiden on November 21, 2013 demanding broader integration with the European Union. The protests evolved into the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution after President Viktor Yanukovych signed a large economic agreement with Russia and used heavy handed tactics against the Maidan protestors.
The protestors demanded the resignation of Yanukovych and the end of political corruption in Ukraine. At times over 200,000 would fill Independence Square. Finally, the protestors demands were met when Yanukovych abdicated and a pro European government was instated in Kiev. This included the election of President Petro Poroshenko in 2014.
Photo of Independence Square at the end of the revolution.
Casualties of Euromaidan
The clashes between police and protestors grew increasingly violent. Between February 18- 23 2014 over 100 people were killed by sniper fire. However, examination of the bodies revealed that similar bullet wounds killed both protestors and police officers.
This indicates that the snipers may have been deployed to stoke tensions. Possible provocateurs include foreign agents or Ukrainian security forces. Hennadiy Moskal, a former deputy head of Ukraine’s main security agency suggested in an interview published in the Ukrainian newspaper Dzerkalo Tizhnya:
“Snipers received orders to shoot not only protesters, but also police forces. This was all done to escalate the conflict, to justify the police operation to clear Maidan.”
Dubious Political Convictions
However, a October 10, 2014 report published by Reuters concluded that there were “serious flaws” with the evidence used to convict members of the special Ukrainian police force who were prosecuted by the new Ukrainian administration for killing 34 protestors.
- The senior officer convicted lost his right hand in an accident 6 years previously. However, the photo of a man holding a rifle used to convict him showed he had both hands.
- No one was charged with killing any officers
- The prosecutor and minister in charge of the investigation had all taken part in the Euromaidan uprising.
- The General Prosecutor for Ukraine Vitaly Yarema was captured on video striking a traffic officer in the face during the protests.
This is a memorial listing the names and photos of the protestors who lost their lives at Maidan.
The photo above is also the location where massive clashes occurred between police and protestors. The location of the government buildings is behind the barricade which was a target for the protestors. However, this is also where police would try to break through into the protestors camp. The HD video below depicts the approach leading up to the barricade.
Civil War Erupts In Eastern Ukraine
The 2014 Ukrainian revolution proliferated into a larger battle in the east between Russian separatists and Ukrainian nationals. Several districts with large Russian majorities want to be rejoined with Russia. The Ukrainian government has resisted this and unfortunately, this conflict still rages on.
The Russian government is viewed with deep hostility by ethnic Ukrainians.
Protest poster that I photographed in Independence Square.
Annexation of Crimea
The annexation of Crimea by Russia was a direct result of the Euromaidan protests. The Crimea had been given to Ukraine in 1954 by the U.S.S.R however, at that time it was not foreseeable that Ukraine would ever achieve independence. Crimea has historically been very important for the Russian Navy because it is their only warm water port on the Black Sea. This means that during the winter the water surrounding the port does not freeze over.
Crimea Voted 2 Times for Independence from Ukraine
In 1992 the Crimean legislature voted for independence from Ukraine however, due to opposition form Kiev the referendum was never held. In 2014 there was a referendum in Crimea that broadly approved the reincorporation of Crimea into Russia. This referendum has been heavily criticized by the west. However, due to the very large Russian majority still living in Crimea it is completely conceivable that the most recent referendum was legitimate.
“Clash of Civilizations”
Political integration between the Ukrainians and Russia did not occur until the mid 17th century. However, this connection was not based on ethnic unity. Instead, the Ukrainians had sought Russian protection against Polish aggression. Additionally, after incorporation of Ukraine into the U.S.S.R. in 1922 there had been a large amount of migration of Russians into Ukraine. However, the cultural divide still existed as a “clash of civilizations”.
This fault-line was identified by Samuel P Huntington in his 1996 book “The Clash of Civilizations”. There is a clear divide between western and eastern Ukraine. This divide is based on different religions, language and ethnicity. The ethnic Ukrainians have strong historical and ethnic ties to Europe and not Russia. Historically, the Ukraine has never been embraced by fellow Europeans and has been used as buffer zone separating Russia and Europe.
The ignorance of Europe regarding Ukraine is despite the fact that Ukraine played a pivotal role in the defeat of the Nazi army. The Eastern front saw the vast majority of the fighting during WWII. In addition, the treatment of Ukraine by the Nazis during occupation was brutal. It is estimated that between 5-8 million Ukrainians lost their lives during WWII.
93% of the Nazi causalities would occur on the eastern front. As a result, 8.7 million Soviet soldiers would be killed of which, 1.4 million were Ukrainian soldiers who lost their lives during the struggle.
Kiev McDonald’s Opening 1997
Ukraine got its first McDonald’s restaurant on May 24, 1997 and it opened to much fanfare. Between 6AM and 130PM 20,000 people were served at the Lukyanivska location. The crowds waited in line for up to 2 hours and the lines stretched for over 150 meters. Olena Kondratiuk had been standing outside in line with her daughter for an hour and still had 75 meters to go before she would enter the front doors. She said her friends in Moscow convinced her it would be worth it.
“They told me that McDonald’s hamburgers are far better than what we have tasted until now. We will see. I’m doing this for my daughter.”
This MacDonald’s restaurant is located adjacent to Independence Square.
Gilded Bathroom at Mezhyhirya
Mezhyhirya residence is likely the most popular attraction to hit Ukraine since MacDonald’s came to town. The home of the deposed Viktor Yanukovych was abandoned as protestors seized the grounds and Yanukovych fled to Russia. The grounds have been turned into a museum so visitors can observe and learn from the absurd opulence of the deposed president.
The most popular attraction at the Mezhyhirya was the “gilded bathroom”. Unfortunately when I visited the property the main residence had been sealed off to visitors. No reason had been given.
Economic Integration into the European Union
Prior to Euromaidan little efforts had been made by Ukraine to increase economic ties with the EU. The Ukraine-EU Association Agreement was ratified by the EU in 2014. However, the “Approval Act” which would put the agreement into full force has still not been put into effect. Economic integration into the EU is imperative for Ukraine’s economic development. In 2013, 24% of Ukrainian exports went to Russia while only 5% or Russian imports came from Ukraine.
Russian Gas Imports
Ukraine has historically been very dependent on Russia for its energy needs. Prior to Euromaidan Ukraine received 50% of its gas imports from Russia at large price discounts. The price paid for Russian gas imports was below what Russia charges its own citizens. Unfortunately, Ukraine remains one of the most energy inefficient countries in the world.
EU Visa Liberalization
Unfortunately, the promised visa liberalization for Ukraine’s citizens into the Schengen zone still has not been implemented.
The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel P Huntington