Ukraine Will Reveal The True EU


It is two days after Ukraine’s second revolution in a decade and dozens of the country’s artistic community are deciding what Ukraine’s new democratic culture should look like. They have taken over the basement of the Ministry of Culture to do so.

There is no elation tonight. Many are exhausted from months on the barricades. The people here have survived so much. Unlike Ukraine’s Orange Revolution a decade ago, this revolt has had its baptism in protesters’ blood.

Over the past week, many here have escaped the fire government forces lit inside the trade union headquarters on Maidan, which, demonstrators say, burned people alive.

This meeting has been called to decide what is to be done about cultural funding in the country. Under Viktor Yanukovych’s government, artists estimate, one in two dollars used to go missing. Widespread corruption in the Ukrainian arts industry made it difficult for the country’s film industry, for example, to secure European financing, artists tell NM.

Back at the Ministry of Culture a woman tries to maintain order with a megaphone. People offer ideas for what ought to be done to stop graft. One man wants the ministry’s budget to be published online, like it is in Estonia. That will ensure no more money can be stolen, he says. There’s disagreement over whom artists should propose as the new minister for culture — the new government is due to nominate ministers tomorrow and these folks would like to be consulted.

At the end of the meeting, the artists decide to set up an industry watchdog to monitor the ministry.

These sorts of scenes — attempts to establish a popular, open democracy — were everywhere in Kiev in the first days after the Winter Revolution. They reflected the “come as you are” spirit of the Maidan protests, where everyone from pop stars to religious leaders to average Joes had spoken on stage in the centre of the cavernous square over the past three months.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and his new cabinet were even presented to the crowd on the city’s Independence Square for approval late last week.

Many of the people appointed to office came from among the ranks of protesters. They include Tetyana Chornovil, whose investigations of government officials’ private fortunes earned her a savage beating in December and activist Dmyto Bulatov, whose scarred face was broadcast across Europe after his torture by unidentified kidnappers. A woman who ran a clinic on the Square was also appointed health minister.

Not everyone in the crowd approves of the new ministry. Yatsenyuk, an ally of former prime minister Yulia Tymoschenko, is viewed as a representative of the ancien regime, where oligarchs pulled the strings and politicians gouged the country’s citizens. Enthusiasm for Yatsenyuk on the square was reportedly very tepid indeed.

Days earlier a popular Youtube video had shown a confrontation between Yatsenyuk, Tymoshenko and protester militia groups. In a translation provided by the protesters, militia members condemn the leaders’ decision to travel in motorcades. They inform Tymoshenko that the revolution has meant the end to cronyism. She promises to do her best to represent the people.

The video symbolises the way that, in the days after 21 February, when Yanukovich fled, protesters flipped the script on officials: they issued commands while officials obeyed.

And, for a while, their actions seemed poised to transform the nature of government in the country. There, doctors earn 100 euros per month. But Ukraine’s former government, its successors say, transferred 70 billion dollars into offshore accounts.

Anger at inequality, autocracy and corruption was the factor common to both of Ukraine’s revolutions this decade. And that emotion continues to bring protestors onto the streets in Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine, even amidst yet more official violence.

Unlike last time around when, after 2004’s Orange Revolution, people went home and official theft continued, protesters this time say they are determined to stay until the job is done — and they see that their country is functioning again.

And in the early days after the revolution, people in Kiev literally made their city work. In the government quarter above Maidan, protesters cleaned up the mess left over after the clashes. Opposition militias took over responsibility for security after police disappeared from the city: many of the Berkut, whose name still inspires fear in the capital, are now reportedly in Crimea and will be issued Russian passports.

Last week it was near impossible to find a supporter of the ousted president in Kiev — which, like Western Ukraine, supports European integration. Even mentioning Yanukovych’s name prompted some to burst into tears. Many are still traumatised after the government assault on protestors on 18-19 February.

Meanwhile, in the Russophone regions far from Kiev, there was confusion but little overt support for Russian action in the early days of last week. Locals report both pro- and anti-Russian demonstrations on the weekend. One source in Kiev told NM in the early hours of Monday morning that many in the region are separatists — but fiercely oppose Russian intervention all the same.

Still, it is highly difficult to gauge real levels of public support in the South and the East for Moscow’s military incursion in Crimea. And this is equally the case when it comes to both Russian and Ukrainian soldiers. Ukraine’s navy chief defected on Sunday, though protesters say that was because his family was taken hostage.

Meanwhile, they add that Russian forces in Crimea have been behaving “very professionally” so far and are unwilling to open fire on Ukrainians holding out at military bases, most of whom speak the same language.

It is now one week since the former Ukrainian president fled his capital after three months of protests against his rule. Since then, calm has returned to the battered centre of the city.

Most of the 84 protesters who died in Ukraine’s February Massacre perished hoping for a Ukraine where you could protest without facing torture or death.

Europe must now decide how to help those who have survived the killings, as their country faces invasion from an expansionist northern neighbour. The true nature of today’s European Union will reveal itself in how it responds to February’s Kiev Spring.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.