Ukraine marks two years since Maidan
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Ukraine’s history is peppered with revolutions, bloodshed, and war. Today, Vladimir Putin continues his invasion into the country’s interior, expected to regroup his troops and make a renewed attack this spring. Ukrainians have for years battled with the powers that be to establish a democratic political discourse.
This includes in 2014, when pro-democracy protests broke out around the country, later going on to be known as the Maidan Revolution.
Demonstrations began on February 18 of that year, but ended two days later after dozens were killed in the capital of Kyiv at its Maidan Nezalezhnosti, also known as Independence Square.
Sparked by then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s unexpected move to opt against Ukraine joining the European Union — and so moving his nation closer to Russia — the horrific scenes played out across the globe.
Yanukovych, despite Ukraine’s parliament voting to approve the final agreement that would have seen Ukraine apply to become a member of the bloc, was placed under pressure by lawmakers in Moscow to reject it.
Anti-government sentiment skyrocketed, and thousands descended on Kyiv, demanding Yanukovych quit.
Yanukovych was familiar with such calls: he was forced from his post as Prime Minister in 2004 after allegations of voter fraud and rigged elections.
The Maidan protests were documented by filmmakers in the Netflix documentary, Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, which aired in 2015 and placed the impact of Yanukovych’s EU snub under the microscope.
Among those protesting against Yanukovych’s decision were students, who were disgusted by their President’s decision to u-turn on the European Union promises he made.
They included Olena Stadnik, an art critic, who described how the public had “woken up” to the President’s decision-making, moving to make their voices heard at Kyiv’s square.
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Another furious Ukrainian told the documentary: “I came here because several days ago, our Government crossed out the future of Ukraine and the aspirations of Ukrainian youth.
“I came here to defend my future, the future of my children, compatriots and country.”
A fellow student noted how Kyiv’s now-mayor, the ex-heavyweight world champion boxer Vitali Klitschko, joined the rally in what were the early rumblings of his bid for mayoral power.
They said: “Klitschko came to Maidan when he saw that a huge crowd was gathering there.
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“He brought his truck with the banner of his political party, but people made him take it away. In general, these were people indifferent to politics.”
Klitschko, who lost only twice in his professional boxing career, would eventually become Kyiv’s mayor in 2014, a post he continues to hold today.
Protestors took over the square, and soon the scope of them widened. Calls for Yanukovych’s resignation grew harsher.
As well as their fury at his Brussels betrayal, many were left incensed at what they deemed widespread government corruption, abuse of power, human rights violations, and the influence of oligarchs on Ukraine.
The square became a huge protest camp in the days leading up to the bloody killings, with thousands living on the concrete monument, protected only by makeshift barricades.
Kitchens were set up to feed those demonstrating, as well as first aid centres and broadcasting posts. Stages were set for speeches to be delivered and debates started.
Volunteers called Maidan Self-Defense units, notable with their impromptu uniforms and helmets, secured barricades, armed only with shields, sticks, stones and petrol bombs.
The police-civilian anger had been steadily growing until on February 18 it climaxed, and fierce fighting between the two resulted in the deaths of nearly 100 across 48 hours, including 13 police officers.
Days later, Yanukovych and his opponents in Parliament signed an agreement to bring a unity government to the country, as well as early elections.
Police left Kyiv after it was agreed on February 21, 2014, and many of the country’s officials, including Yanukovych, fled.
Within 24 hours, Yanukovych was gone, and a unity government was installed.
More recently, officials in Kyiv are preparing for the anniversary of the current Ukraine war, which began on February 24, 2022. Ukraine has increased its requests for support from Western allies, who have in recent weeks pledged more military aid.
Russia has bolstered its ground attacks in Ukraine thanks to tens of thousands of reservists coming in to support Putin’s army, leading to a “tense” situation, according to Ukrainian deputy defence minister Hanna Malya.
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