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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Українець (The Ukrainian)

The Ukrainian

An Exclusive E-Mail Interview with Andriy, a student and patriot caught in the middle of the Євромайдан (EuroMaidan) Uprising

“Events have taken off in Ukraine. Our oblast [Lviv] has seceded from the central government. Utilities may be cut. It is a state of emergency.”

Andriy is 20. He’s lived in Ukraine all his life. 

He was born in Радехів (Radekhiv), a district in the northeast corner of Lviv Oblast, in western Ukraine. His family also lives in Ukraine, save for his sister, who’s currently in Belgium. His father Ivan is from nearby Броди (Brody), in the valley of the Styr River, and his mother hails from the city of Львів (Lviv).  

Andriy is a student of civil engineering at Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, often known simply as Lviv University. 

“I am personally not inclined to call myself [a] political activist. However, during the Orange Revolution I was a supporter [of the] Наша Україна (Our Ukraine) party led by [Former President Viktor] Yuschenko. Today, I am a supporter of Батківщина [Batkivschyna: The All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland" party] which is led by Yulia Tymoschenko."

Andriy expressed skepticism and pessimism when I asked about President Yanukovych. "I knew that Yanokovych would not sign the EU trade arrangement. It seemed unlikely from the start and I knew almost immediately when the issue was brought up late last year [that Yanukovych wouldn't sign the deal.] He is too pro-Putin and we as a country knew of this when he was elected. It seemed our revolution began then."

How did you initially react to the news that Yanukovych didn’t sign the agreement? Describe the thoughts going through your head. 

"I was upset but was not surprised. To be perfectly honest, I did not even believe until recently that Ukraine [would] ever leave from the shadow of Russia and [the] former Soviet Union. There was significant political and social unrest back from the after effects of the Orange Revolution. We were both still young but I remember then thinking the country would become truly democratic, yet nothing. Then Tymoschenko became Premier and was working powerfully with Yuschenko...yet nothing. Her rise then arrest, then again, nothing. Politics in Ukraine is such that there is much chatter and movement yet no success nor actualization of plans, hopes, and dreams. I do not think that anyone of us thought there would be such big protests. We have had the desire to be part of the EU for a long time. We had tasted it with the Orange Revolution but since this day we have been left craving it. This is why the protests finally happened. People have had enough."

What do the protestors want from the government? Would accepting the trade agreement calm tempers or is it too late for Yanukovych to regain the support of the people?

"With regards to protests, the goals have changed. First Maidan wanted Yanokovych to resign the trade agreement, but now it is too late. He is [a] great traitor [to the] Ukrainian people, not to say he already was not regarded as such. The only way now to quiet the people is to enter the EU, Yanokovych to leave, and Tymoschenko to take over."

Do you believe any of the other three political parties in Ukraine possess a clear alternative to him, or is more change needed? 

"There is [the] Batkivschyna party that is very pro-European. I think people want Tymoschenko to be back into power and government. She is our best hope. However, the political system of Ukraine is severely fractured. With a multiple party government after a period of totalitarian government of the Soviets, it is almost impossible Ukraine is still standing! Imagine having to govern oneself after 80 years of dictations. Self-rule was prompt and Ukraine never had opportunities to recover from so much time under Soviet influence. Social factors do not help either-high rates of drug trafficking and sex trade still cause much crime in populous cities. I think it’s also hard to say how Ukraine will do in the EU since no one alive has ever seen Ukraine without communism and corruption. We are left wondering but hoping.

As for the political parties, they are broken and unproductive. I am hardly a politician or economist and cannot say for sure. I think we will have to wait to see which party rises. For now, I am sure Ukraine in the state it is in now will revisit a period of anarchy. People now hold democracy in their hands. If the leader is bad, they will be kicked out. It will take a populist figure like Tymoschenko to reestablish some bit of order. Only then will we see Ukraine's true potential."

When did the protests spread to Lviv? Do they enjoy wide support in that city?

Protests in Lviv started almost immediately after the first few people sat in Maidan (square) in Kyiv. Commerce is very rich between Lviv and Kyiv as Lviv is a large business district in Ukraine. It is somewhat similar to the anti-war protests that occurred in America in the 1960s and 1970s. Because Lviv is so close to the whole of Europe, we are much more pro-Europe than Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, and even in Kyiv. If one can imagine how pro-Europe the people of Kyiv are, we are ten times more than that.

How have the protests affect Yanukovych’s support in eastern regions? Are cities like Kharkiv, Odessa, and Dnipropetrovsk, and Donetsk) losing their faith in Yanukovych?

I see it can be answered in a simple way. There are those countries who are in support of Russia, and they’re against the Maidan protests. Countries who understand the struggle of Ukraine, like Poland and the Czech Republic, support us. As countries who were once in our place (to be under the compulsion of Russia) and have since become a part of Europe. We seem them as our future and we are their past. As you can see by this stage most of the oblasti have lost faith in Yanokovych. We want him gone, even in more pro-Russian oblasti like Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk!

What similarities between this uprising and the Orange Revolution exist? How is this different?

6) I see these events as continuation of the Orange Revolution. It was a large step to, as I said before, have the taste of democracy, even if Yuschenko's terms did not do so much to change the country. This time we have reached the point of breaking after the imprisonment of Tymoschenko, Russia's constant threats of ending gas and utilities and putting political-economic sanctions on us, these have all catalysed the changing state you see today. We are exercising democracy even if it means death and chaos. You are seeing a clash between old Soviet and New Capitalist. 

How have the protests impacted your daily life in Lviv? 

Life in Lviv has changed dramatically. Many people are staying home. Our mayor has told us to stay at home and to prepare our families to live without utilities and electrics for weeks even months. I am staying here with 3 of my friends and we have filled our bath with water, bought many boxes of matches, chopping trees for firewood, stocking for food and water. We are told to buy lot of milk products because they help the pain from burns of tear gas. We are no longer going to classes because of the protests. Some have left the country and others have gone to Kyiv to be in the action. 

But we are celebrating! Though this [Lviv’s recent secession from the Yanukovych government] is a decision that will only last us for a few months as we cannot survive without the rest of Ukraine, we are hoping that they will all follow us. It is a symbolic movement to say to the central government that we are no longer with them and no longer willing to abide by their dictations. 

Traditionally, Lviv has been a city that is very European. She has French architecture, Italian cars, German business people, and many Polish speaking people. The city has also always been a business centre for the country. It is one of the most important of our cities. Above all, the people have Lviv have always spoken Ukrainian. Not many of us here speak Russian unlike parts of the country like Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Odessa where this is all you hear. Today, because Lviv has broken from the central government, and provided what she symbolizes culturally, Lviv markets a new era for the country. The rest of the country will follow her because she is the heart of Ukraine.

What do you think about the European Union’s reaction to these protests? Should they do more, do less, or stay on their present course? 

I think that in the EU has taken too much of a passive approach to our situation. Either they did not want to upset Russia, administrative failures, or they simply did not know what the reality of the chaos was, they took too long to act. Even so they cannot disturb the sovereignty of our country. I know that a week ago Chancellor Merkel called to Yanukovych as well as your Vice President Biden. He ignored both of their calls. Yesterday the EU finally heard our cries and put sanctions on the country until the conflict is resolved. I finally think that they are on our side. Social media has helped very much with this.

The government here in Washington has sent representatives to Kyiv to offer words of encouragement, but not much else. What more, if anything, should the United States do?  

The American government seems to not want to anger Putin. Obama did not do anything for us. It was rather the American people. We are so fortunate to have [a large population of emigrants] in America that have actively communicated our message to their friends who are non Ukrainian. For example, Aria shares my emails with her friends and they post on their Facebook who then share with others. Yesterday I received a call from my friend at university in Kyiv telling to me that she has seen a message I sent to Aria, who she does not even know. This is part of the reason why I believe the Maidan was so successful over the Orange Revolution.

What do you see happening in the immediate future? 

For now, we will have an intermediate government. Tymoschenko will be released from prison and I think Verkhovna Rada [the Ukrainian Parliament] wants her to take over the government. The positive news we have been receiving in the middle of all the violence and killings does not negate that Yanukovych is crazy. He is under pressure from Putin and Russia will not let him to give power up. He will fight for his presidency but for now I think he wants the conflict to end because it is making him to look bad in front of Putin. He has shown to us before that he flakes on decisions and agreements so I will not be surprised if he does again. We have to wait to see...

The only way now for the conflict to be resolved is for Yanukovych to leave. The Maidan leaders have said today that they will not leave until he goes away. As Lviv follows Kyiv so Kyiv follows Lviv. If they do not leave their Maidan then we will not leave our streets. We will continue to stand in cold weather and rain and snow until this man is removed and we are accepted to the EU. This is the next goal for us.

What do you want this uprising to accomplish in the short term? In the long term?

In the short term, we will remove Yanokovych. In the long term we hope to remove the deep root Sovietism of the country, the communist mentality, etc. in an effort to revitalize our Ukrainian identity which recently has been shadowed by economic, political, and administrative failures. 

Our final goal is the same it is for Kyiv. Maybe more than Kyiv we want to be part of the EU. Kyiv I think is more concerned with central government power because it is the capitol. We here in Lviv already feel we are part of Europe and want to be a part of the EU. It is the best for our commerce and it is most similar to what we culturally are. Our lifes here in Lviv are more similar to people in Germany or Italy than in Moscow.

Is there a nearby country in Europe you would like Ukraine to emulate?

I do not ever think that the protests were really only about the EU Trade Agreement. In reality the Ukrainian people have not had the same liberties that other European neighbors have. We look to Poland as an example of a former block country that has become a progressive, western European country. We want to be this. This trade agreement was many things. Economically, it is the first step to removing Ukraine from the total economic and financial dependence on Russia. Basically, we cannot be Putin's subject if we do not need his oil or loans. Next, politically, the country is ready for change. We have lived with the memory of Soviet Union for too long and our generation looks to friends in America, Canada, Australia, England and we see what they have that we lack. This is our freedom. Democracy will give this to us. The whole Maidan is a radical change from the old Soviet era to the new European/American idea of lifestyles that we want to have. We see it and we have to have it.

I think Ukraine has already become examples to the world of what an oppressed people will do after a certain point. This EU Trade Agreement was the final drop of water that flooded the river. Belarus may not happen for several more years but all of these countries will eventually follow us I hope.

It depends where the person you ask in Ukraine. In Lviv, we say we are most like Paris or Berlin. I think though that the easy choice is Poland because of similarities in culture, language, religion, politics, economies, and strife.

What if Yanukovych does not leave? 

If Yanukovych will not leave, I think that he will be taken from his apartment and beaten to death. The scene we all describe is like Benito Mussolini pulled through the streets of Italy and destroyed his body. This or the protests will be more violent. Maybe more people will die. It is good now that we have world attention so if he amplifies his violence against us he will be taken down by international watch people [such as the UN] and charged with human rights abuses.

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