A lot of people consider November 21st as the official starting point of all that has happened over the last two years, since that was the date that then-president Victor Yanukovich refused to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union, and that was the date that students began to protest the non-signing. Yanukovich had been saying all along that he intended to sign the agreement, which would begin the long, slow process of Ukraine possibly someday becoming a member of the European Union.
The students protested in an open space downtown commonly used for all sorts of public events, a large square (it isn’t square!) which is bisected by our ‘Main Street,’ Kreshatik. It’s a beautiful area, really, especially after extensive renovations were done several years ago in the buildup for the celebration of the tenth anniversary of independence. The square is called Independence Square – Maidan Nezalezhnosti – commemorating Ukraine’s becoming independent from the USSR in August of 1991. The word ‘maidan’ is a Ukrainian word, and is pronounced ‘MY-dawn’ as in ‘that dawn belongs to me!’ The only reason I go to the trouble to give you the correct pronunciation is that the word Maidan has come to be used extensively in many languages since November of 2013.
So back to my story… The students were gathered in the lovely square downtown, pretty much hanging out and hoping to get noticed.
They got noticed.
In the wee hours of Saturday, November 30th, a special unit of police went to the square with the intent of dispersing the protesters, which numbered maybe several hundred at that point. This is where things irrevocably went off the rails. For inexplicable reasons, the authorities chose to use brutal, violent force to disperse the peaceful, unarmed protesters, evoking shock in everyone present and in those who would see evidence of it later. Thus the match was lit. You see, violence of this type is just not common here. Back in 2004 when there were a round of unprecedented (at that time) protests after a rigged presidential election, it was pretty much the motto, ‘If it turns violent, we’ll shut it down because we are not violent people.’
But someone forgot to remind the people running the show that we live in the modern era, where something on the streets becomes something on the internet within seconds. And that is what happened. People whipped out their phones and immediately began documenting the police brutally beating unarmed, peaceful protestors. The screams and shouts of the recordings posted only magnified the horror.
That moment, on through to the culmination of the horror in February when special forces snipers began killing unarmed civilians, has been seared into the national consciousness here. People suddenly realized that they didn’t merely want to choose their future for themselves, but they also realized that they just wanted to be treated as human, treated with respect.
Coupled with the national day of remembrance on the last Saturday of November for the man-made famine that happened 80 years ago and November becomes a pretty solemn month around here. As much as we love Thanksgiving and all that it means for us as Americans, we do feel quite the contrast as the end of November rolls around.