The revolution in Ukraine is still ongoing, say activists. Photo: Alexey Furman
On 21 November 2016, Ukraine will mark the third anniversary of the Euromaidan revolution. Three years ago people gathered in the main square of Kyiv under the flags of the European Union for democratic values and against the kleptocratic regime of then President Viktor Yanukovych. Three months later, over a hundred activists were killed by this regime. In the end, the regime fell and Ukraine got a chance for reform. However, right after the victory, Russian aggression began in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. For the third anniversary of Euromaidan, Euromaidan Press collected 3 wins and 3 losses of Ukraine after the Euromaidan revolution. But first, let’s see whether the initial demand of the protesters was fulfilled.
The formal reason for people gathering in central Kyiv at the end of November 2013 was the Ukrainian government’s 180° flop on its course of European integration, when Yanukovych refused to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union. The next turn of events revealed that this reason was the tip of the iceberg and that Ukrainians even more so came to defend their dignity, human rights and the opportunity to live in a democratic country. All of this was under threat of the Yanukovych regime.
However, 3 years after the revolution, the formal demand of Maidan to have the Association agreement with Europe has not been fulfilled completely. While it was concluded and is being applied provisionally, a majority of voters during a consultative referendum in The Netherlands voted against ratifying the agreement with Ukraine, stalling its entrance into force.
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“From the point of view of ordinary Ukrainians, this is a betrayal behavior of the European Union. Ukrainians are probably the only people who died under EU flags for EU values. As a country, we fulfilled all the requirements for a free visa regime with the EU, but this question is still on the agenda,” says Oleksandra Matviychuk, human rights activist and coordinator of the Euromaidan SOS organization.
Matviychuk considers this EU policy to be shortsighted because the question is not only about democratic transformations in Ukraine:
“Russia understands clearly that if Ukraine will be able to conduct democratic transformations, it will have an irreversible influence on the whole region. In particular, on post-Soviet countries, especially Russia, where freedom slowly narrows down to the level of the jail cell,” Matviychuk goes on.
Nevertheless, experts say that the delay of the ratification of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is not catastrophic. They explain that it is crucial for Ukraine to change itself and not to wait for outside help.
“The EU is essentially a customs union. Moreover there are a lot of regulations and limitations which Ukraine should not implement, as they will not work in our circumstances,” says Volodymyr Dubrovskyi, who runs the tax reform direction at the Reanimation Package of Reforms (RPR), a coalition of experts that united after Euromaidan to bring through the reforms Ukraine desperately needed. The expert goes on saying that EU norms won’t work in Ukraine without EU principles: “For example, in the EU there is one law for everyone. However, we know how laws are violated in Ukraine, it’s not even close to one law for everyone. That is why we should first to make European principles work here.”
Despite the delay with the association agreement, Ukraine enjoys several positive outcomes from the Euromaidan revolution.
Win #1: Active people
Although it may be not easily observable from the outside, Euromaidan catalyzed the birth of civil society in Ukraine, which is crucial for everything that goes on inside. The experts whom Euromaidan Press contacted pointed out that people in the country became much active and realized that they also hold responsibility Ukraine’s future.
“We have seen the start of a new era of NGOs. And some of them are financed by local business,” notes Ihor Rozkladai, the Reanimation Package of Reform expert on media.
Volodymyr Dubrovskyi confirms this statement: work on the tax reform at the Reanimation Package of Reforms is not supported by foreign donors, which is unusual in Ukraine where the majority of NGOs exist thanks to outside support.
“Business unions started supporting us because everybody wants to pay taxes in a civilized manner,” says Dubrovskyi. Those working in the reforms field are either volunteers, or receive much less than they would be paid in their regular businesses – also a consequence of the higher personal responsibility for their country that many Ukrainians feel nowadays.
According to Oleksandra Matviychuk, the phenomenon of Euromaidan continues, in the hundreds of thousands of people that organize various initiatives at the village, town, and city level, and in those who started implementing the functions of the (often incapable) state.
“This is why Ukraine is the single exception on the post-Soviet area which, despite an ongoing war, demonstrates that it wants to build democratic institutions, while the rest of the countries slide away from democratic values,” Matvviychuk compares.
Both Euromaidan SOS and the Reanimation Package of Reforms were born as a result of the Euromaidan revolution. Representatives from both NGOs recognize that the revolution in the country is ongoing.
Win #2: Reforms were launched
Nevertheless, the activists recognize that after the revolution society received much more control over those who are in power.
“The government became much more open. However, the cooperation is not systematic, it depends on the personal factor. There is no collaboration with many ministries, but we can influence processes through media and criticism,” says Victor Tymoschuk, RPR expert of the public administration reform.
The reformers face the highest resistance when they cross the areas of interest of those who are in power.
Still, the reforming process itself was launched after Euromaidan. It became more visible over the last year.
Thus, in the beginning of summer 2016, the long-awaited judicial reform had been started – amendments to the Constitution on the judiciary and a few corresponding laws were adopted. The step received both criticism and positive feedback. However, both camps recognize that it is too early to evaluate the reform.
“Before, it wasn’t possible to drive out a president, a prosecutor general and judges which were misusing their positions. Now it is possible,” Mykhailo Zhernakov, RPR expert on the judiciary, noted the positive transformations. But he also adds that still there are doubts on whether there will be progress or just walking in circles.
Matviychuk, however, is not so optimistic: “Now the reform narrows down to needing honest judges. But we have yet to create a system where judges are not allowed to steal. Also, the adopted changes promise everything will be solved at the level of legislation. But we know that in Ukraine the implementation of legislation is a whole different story.” The activist suggests to wait at least for the second package of the legislation on the judiciary and calls on people to read these laws carefully.
Ukraine’s steps towards transparency are another major change. Recently, Ukrainian government officials were obliged to reveal their assets and property in electronic declarations – which resulted in a shocking display of wealth for one of the poorest countries in Europe. According to Ukrainian Minister of Justice Yuriy Petrenko, the Ukrainian system of control over the wealth of officials is one of the most transparent in the world. However, it is only a first step towards eliminating corruption.
Similar measures were taken in the field of media when legislation on the transparency of media ownership was launched. The legislation only confirmed the intuition that all major media in Ukraine are controlled by oligarchs. Here again, official recognition of the problem is the first step towards its solution.
One of the Soviet legacies that Ukraine still experiences is the bloated and inefficient system of governance that gives little power to local communities. As RPR expert on decentralization Anatoliy Tkachuk told, here Ukraine also made significant progress:
“Among all European countries which started voluntarily merging municipalities, Ukraine had the fastest pace. Unfortunately, the position of the Verkhovna Rada [the Parliament] and the Central Election Commission have not allowed to speed it up even more. The system can’t keep up with the changes in the legislation, and can’t yet use the new rules to achieve success.”
Some important steps were also made to reform the tax system. “The main question is whether we reached the critical mass of changes which will allow launching the evolutionary path of development?” asks Dubrovskiy.
The experts note that so far the changes are not irreversible, and in case an authoritarian leader would come to power all positive transformations could easily be brought to naught.
Win #3: Saying goodbye to Russia
Last but not least: Ukraine’s smothering dependence on Russia, both physical and mental, began to break down in the three years after Euromaidan.
In the two decades since Ukraine became independent, it was held tightly in Moscow’s political orbit thanks to its dependence on Russian gas. Gas prices and supply conditions became an instrument for manipulations and Russian control over Ukraine. Actually, the ground for Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea after Euromaidan was prepared thanks to Russian gas. Back in 2010, then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev signed the Kharkiv agreements providing Ukraine a discount for the Russian gas in exchange for prolonging the duration of stay of the Russian naval fleet in Crimea. The same fleet was instrumental in the military takeover of Crimea in February-March 2014.
The war in the East had a sobering effect on Ukraine’s energy policy. In 2014, the country started its course towards energy independence. In 2016, Russia and Ukraine could not agree on gas prices and terms of provision. In result, Ukraine cut gas imports from Russia altogether, replacing them with gas imported from EU countries. In its turn, Russia tries to promote gas projects bypassing Ukraine.
The mental breakup isn’t easy either, considering that after the breakup of the USSR Russia dedicated significant resources into propaganda, including in Ukraine. While Ukraine didn’t have resources for creating its own competitive TV content, it broadcast Russian TV series, concerts, and other entertainment programs. Russia promoted its agenda through Ukrainian media by influencing local outlets. Media influence was a crucial instrument for influencing public opinion, as well as inciting separatist movements in eastern Ukraine as well as Crimea.
One of the emotions to which Russia appeals to is the common Soviet past. Recently Ukraine started also saying goodbye to Soviet and communist relics. It was the Communist Party which worked to destroy Ukraine as a nation during the Soviet era, with millions starved in the Holodomor and hundreds of thousands deported to concentration camps. However, the Communists’ anti-Ukrainian motives remained deeply entrenched in the cultural code after the breakup of the USSR. After decommunization laws were passed in the Ukrainian parliament in 2015, Ukraine rapidly started shedding Soviet symbols in monuments, names of streets, cities, and villages, as well as opened up the repressive archives of the Soviet secret police. The process did not go completely smoothly, however, it was the start of a new Ukrainian era without communism.
Instead, Ukraine finally started to protect its own culture, starting from its language, which has a history of over 200 years of repressions under the Russian empire and Soviet rule. Innovations in the sphere of language foresee signs only in Ukrainian and English at railway stations, quotas for Ukrainian songs in radio and TV broadcasts.
Discussions and quarrels on language issues are ongoing, among them – disagreements about the notorious Law on Principles of State Language Policy passed in 2012. The law defines the official status of Ukrainian language, but give expanded rights for regional languages, de-facto giving Russian the status of a second state language. The law was promoted by Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. After the start of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, it became clear that games with regional languages only help the Kremlin to implement its plans in Ukraine. Currently, the process to recognize the law as unconstitutional continues in the Constitutional Court.
Loss #1: The war
Saying goodbye to Russia became a complicated and painful task. The annexation of Crimea, installment of Russian puppet states in parts of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, and the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine is a cruel price for Ukraine’s choice of independence. The war has taken thousands of lives. Nearly every day there are killed and wounded, despite the Minsk agreements called to settle the situation. Many of those who used to defend human rights and fought against the regime of the dictator Viktor Yanukovych at Euromaidan continue their fight for Ukraine at the frontline.
Dmytro Riznychenko, the Euromaidan activist, the press officer of the Donbas Battalion and the founder of the movement Novyi Vohon [“New Fire”] agrees with the statement that if there was no Euromaidan, there would be no war:
“Putin could not have found a better moment [for a military interference] than just after the revolution. He would have rather tried to conquer Ukraine politically, as he had done for many years before.”
Dmytro himself didn’t support the European integration hopes of the people who initially gathered at Maidan. Neither did he believe that the dictatorship of Yanukovych could have been ended just by gathering on the streets, as he and his friends had repeatedly tried this method before. However, eventually Dmytro also joined Euromaidan:
“When these students were beaten, of course, I came to the square because the question of social justice is higher than any Eurointegration.”
The activist was sure that in autumn 2013 Ukraine was not able to revolt, and that Ukrainians were submissive and could be easily manipulated. When people did rise up, it came as a surprise for him.
Dmytro realized that there will be the war after Euromaidan protesters were shot in the end of February. After that, he went to Crimea and then joined the volunteer battalion Donbas.
After three years of war the soldiers experienced betrayals, losses, and disappointments:
“Nobody among my comrades is disappointed in their fight, but they are disappointed that the current power does not belong to Euromaidan. They are the same representatives of the Party of Regions, but painted in another color,” says Dmytro.
He notes that the fact that soldiers start to see the real faces of those who are in power is actually a good thing, as parting with illusions is always beneficial.
Losses #2 and #3: corruption and the old system
Soldiers are not the only one who are dissatisfied with those who are in power. This is rather the general trend. According to an online poll conducted by the Kantar TNS Online Track, only 9% of Ukrainians are satisfied with the president’s actions, and 70% are dissatisfied. Only 5% are satisfied with the Government and 58% are not. And the Parliament gets the less of support among the population – only 2% satisfied with what they do and 83% are not.
This attitude can be justified in the country with growing poverty levels and soaring utility prices (domestic prices natural gas increased by 50%), where an average pension is often insufficient for merely paying the bills, and the average monthly salary is a little over $200. At the same time, the average MP of the Parliament had over a million dollars of savings.
Oleksandra Matviychuk says that she does not feel disappointed, as she had no illusions about the new power before. She also adds that this government does not deserve its people, illustrating the statement by a story of a woman who called Euromaidan SOS after the battles near Debaltseve in Donbas. The woman told that her husband went to the war as a volunteer soldier. Later he was captured and there was a video where he was imprisoned. Oleksandra suggested psychological help to the women, but she refused and said that she is having a baby in 2-3 days. When telling this Oleksandra starts to cry:
“I thought what should a man think when going to war as a volunteer soldier and leaving a pregnant wife? The people expected this level of sacrifice from this government. It does not demonstrate it.”
The fight against corruption in the country is ongoing, however, its pace is far from the desirable level. In 2015, Ukraine managed to move only one point up in the results of the World Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), ranking 130 out of 168. The oligarchic system still sets the rules of the game in the country. Moreover, one of the main oligarchs of Ukraine is actually its President. According to the declaration of Petro Poroshenko, he owns some 100 companies. The president also has allies in key state positions. For example, the Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko.
Rinat Akhmetov, oligarch #1 in Ukraine, also still milks the country. For many years he remains a monopolist in the coal market. The coal accounts for about 70% of electricity production. Thus, his enterprises dictate the prices for coal and for the tariffs for the population.
The investigation of the killings at Maidan is also an exam which those who are in power today have not passed. According to activists, the investigation is in a deadlock and the main reason is that the people in charge of it are the same ones who made the decisions to kill Euromaidan protesters.
“If we do not bring these cases to justice now, our children will have to once again flock to this square already filled with blood and tears,” predicts Matviichuk.
At the same time, she says that new people do appear in Ukrainian politics. They are not that popular, as they do not own media outlets, so their activities are not promoted. Matviichuk suggests to pay attention to them and to support them.
Despite the complicated circumstances, all the people whom we talked to are optimistic about Ukraine’s future:
“The organism of our country now is like a body under surgery. It is unpleasant to be under surgery. It is a bloody and painful thing. After a surgery, the organism feels bad. Those who are in power try to lie that if we take medicine, everything will be fine. However, the operation has been started and we stepped on the path of healing. We are far from the finish, but it is better than the processes of decay which were taking place in the country before the revolution,” concludes Dmytro Riznychenko.
The Euromaidan revolution was the greatest push for Ukrainian society, but the sign which was hanging on a fence at Euromaidan, “Sorry for the inconvenience, we are changing the country,” is still relevant.
Read more about Euromaidan in our resource center: Euromaidan: rebirth of a nation