Revolution rising in Ukraine



Anti-government protesters outside Independence Square, Jan. 20, 2014

On Jan. 20, thousands of Ukrainian protesters received texts that stated simply, “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass riot.” No one has claimed responsibility for the text as of yet. Protesters blame the government, the government blames service providers, and the service providers blame pirate telephone stations run by protesters. These texts were recieved  in the wake of recent laws passed by Ukrainian President Yanukovych, who cracked down on dissidents in general, especially those in Independence Square in Kiev.

The phone hacking is an issue  of privacy and potential persecution afterwards. The messages were sent to both everyone within a designated zone and to people outside the police blockade. New Trier Junior Vijay Ramamurthy said, “Hacking phones is a violation of the people’s right to protest an unjust government.” He further noted that “governments should not interfere with the people’s right to overthrow an unjust government.” The Ukrainian government has responded to allegations such as this by saying that the demonstration is not a peaceful uprising and should, therefore, not be given that courtesy.

The protests in Independence Square have intensified. Protesters are under siege from Ukrainian riot police. Police periodically fire tear gas at protesters and will beat any who come too close to the police line. Last month, protesters seized a bulldozer and made two attempts at breaking the police siege before being fought off with pepper spray and tear gas. The bulldozer remains in the protesters’ encampment but has not been used since. Protesters have  also periodically firebombed the police, injuring nearly 200 officers in over two and a half months of protest.

Protests began in late November of last year in response to President Yanukovych’s decision to reject a proposal to strengthen ties with the European Union. The proposal would have provided Ukraine with the money it needs to help its struggling economy recover. Western protesters and Ukrainian nationalists see the rejection as evidence of Yanukovych’s corrupt connection to Russia, Ukraine’s eastern neighbor and closest diplomatic and trade partner.

The majority of protesters are from western Ukraine and hope to shed their past connections to Russia in order to more definitively gain an independent Ukrainian identity. Yanukovych, like most eastern Ukrainians, favors continued relations with Russia. Russia and Ukraine have historically been close. Ukraine was once a part of the Soviet Union and nearly half of all Ukrainians speak Russian as a first language.

This uprising is by no means a new occurrence in Ukraine. In 2004, Ukrainian protests erupted over the presidential elections in what was known as the “Orange Revolution.” Yanukovych was originally declared the winner, but there were documented cases of corruption and so a second election was called for, and through in which Viktor Yuschenko managed to defeat Yanukovych. Yanukovych won back the presidency in 2010 in another controversial election against major opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko was later jailed under false pretenses in what was widely considered political persecution.

Yuschenko and Tymoshenko both favored closer ties with the EU and a distancing from Moscow, but President Yanukovych is from the eastern part of the country and making it a big part of his campaign. Yanukovych is speculated to be preparing to step down. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has already resigned and Yanukovych took a four day sick leave due to a cold in what many news organizations considered a preparation for him to step down.

Russia is becoming more concerned about its declining influence amongst its former satellites. Social Studies teacher Dean Pinos said, “Russia’s satellite states are starting to become less dependent on Russia, and that concerns Russia.” The Winter Olympics this year were supposed to showcase Russian power but have only shown other nations how weak Russia has really become. Senior Chris Simon spoke of the Russian tactical need for Ukraine. “The Russian Navy really depends on Ukrainian ports to operate in the Black Sea,” he said. Russia has a constant fear of unrest in Georgia and a heightened fear about attacks from Georgia on the Olympics. With Sochi mere miles from the border, and a Russian ethnic cleansing of Georgians only a decade old, Russian naval superiority in the Black Sea is necessary.

Russia is also invested in Ukraine for purposes of shipping oil to Europe. Simon said that “Ukraine needs to gain autonomy, especially in regards to energy. Russia has too much influence over Ukrainian energy and Ukraine needs to move away from Russia’s sphere of influence.”

Western nations are also becoming increasingly interested in the protests, as this may be an extension of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2010-to the present. European nations are wary of any possible spillover into Eastern Europe, as Eastern and Southern Europe are potential powder kegs of violence and revolution. With the Olympic games in Sochi, the international community has an interest in resolving this peacefully.