As some may know, for perhaps the entire time I’ve been here, Ukraine has been in talks with the EU over a trade agreement that would align the country with EU, and it would be one of the first steps to full EU membership. The trade agreement, which would mean big things in terms of international investment and commitment to reform, came with a set of conditions for the country to meet before the agreement would be signed. The condition getting the most “air time” is the release of Tymoshenko, the former prime minister that has been imprisoned on charges of murder as well as other crimes. The EU sees her imprisonment as a case of selective justice, and most hold the belief that her imprisonment is a political chess move to keep the current president, Yanukovych, from having to face her in the 2015 elections. This trade agreement is set to be signed on Wednesday. During the negotiations, Russia has been sending threats and increasing the pressure on Ukraine to join a Soviet Customs Union. Being the second populous Ex-Soviet country, Ukraine is very important to the success of the Soviet Customs Union, and let’s face it, Russia just doesn’t want to let go of its hold, in general, on Ukraine.
On the 21st, parliament shot down legislation to allow Tymoshenko to leave the country to receive treatment, and therefore halting the plans for the EU agreement. The current prime minister, Azarov, announced on the same day, that we would be breaking off negotiations with EU in the “interests of national security and to renew active talks with Moscow.”
Now, there have been a few accusations of blackmail from both Russia and EU. Russia hasn’t been quietly issuing threats during the process. Russia’s man, Glazyev, at the Yalta conference back in September said that this agreement would mean chaos for the county. That if citizens appealed “directly to Moscow” that Russia might be forced to intervene. That if Ukraine singed this agreement it would be in violation of standing agreements with Russia, and that perhaps it would fail to continue to view Ukraine as a sovereign state.
With Ukraine receiving majority of it gas from Russia, there are concerns about the cold winter (coming off of the snowiest winter in 40 years) and what going against the Kremlin will mean for heat for Ukrainians (a move they’ve utilized before). Russia has already refused to import some Ukrainian chocolate.
A shift to EU is supported by over 50% of Ukrainians, and with it being so greatly supported, Ukrainians are taking to the streets. Yesterday, Ukrainians all over Ukraine joined in city centers to raise their voices against their government trying to create closer ties to Russia. Having been oppressed by Russia for so many years during the Soviet times and before, the pain and scars of those times are still fresh, and Ukrainians in my part of the country are none too pleased.
Today, is the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Holodomor, a forced famine during the Soviet times that killed millions of Ukrainians. Russia still refuses to own up to their part in the Holodomor, and in fact, its very existence, and this denial shows to many the true nature of Russia and Russian politics. As we gather together today, and place candles in our windows in remembrance of those whom the Soviet Union starved to death, let us not forget from whence Ukraine has come. Let us sit in this moment of Russia bullying Ukraine into a closer relationship, and remember the events of the very recent past, and consider, ‘what really is the best thing for this country?’ These latest threats and bully tactics to delay, postpone, and end entirely this EU deal, is nothing other than business as usual from the Kremlin.
“We are trying to get to Kiev tonight.”
As a reported 1,500 people took to the center of L’viv last night, some were found wondering how to get to Kiev. Some folks said that train tickets were made unavailable, that cars and buses were being pulled over and turned around en route to Kiev (this I found in no articles, but was told by friends, as a friend of mine is en route to Kiev during the writing of this blog, I will let you know what her journey was like). My friends were trying to find cars and buses, and the best ways to get to Kiev. I also found myself wondering, “I wonder if I could get a train to Kiev”. Unfortunately, during such events life does go on, and someone (me) has to preach on Sunday….
Some friends and I went to the protest together, and found others that we knew among the crowd. There were signs that said Ukraine=Europe, people saying that ‘you cannot give me permission to join Europe, we are in Europe.’ One fella had a sign on that said, “I can’t keep calm, I’m Ukrainian.” There was chanting of “Слава Україні” (glory to Ukraine) with the response of “Героям Слава!” (glory to the heroes), and chants of glory to Ukraine and death to the enemies.
And there was a lot of singing. There was singing, dancing, and flag waving. At one point the lady said, the people all around you are your Ukrainian brothers and sisters, put your arm around the person next to you, hold up your cell phone lights, and sing with us! A vertically challenged boy, like myself, (who was pretty cute) put his arm around me, and we swayed as I faked the words to whatever that song was. Though, I’m not Ukrainian. I have no Ukrainian blood, in that moment, I did feel like I was a part of this great people. I was standing there with them, and though I know that these events won’t necessarily change my future, I care about it changing theirs. This is a great and amazing people I have come to love, and this that is happening against their will is heartbreaking.
Folks will say that this is led by young people. Which, by in large, is true, but do not be misled. The older folks care just as much. They maybe even care more. The folks that were alive and have memories of Soviet times are just as disheartened. (This is of course from a Western Ukraine standpoint). My friend Olya was reading me this story this morning, of a young man who was watching the news with his very elderly father. His father said, you young people don’t remember what it was like, I can’t believe that none of you care enough to go out and fight and protest. Then the son told his father, that there were rallies and protest throughout, and his father gave him just over $100 and said, go to Kiev, that is where the history of your country is being made. At the L’viv protest last night, there were plenty of older people representing their views.
So what do these protesters want?
They want Ukrainian officials to do fulfill the requirements laid forth by the EU, so that we may still sign the deal on Wednesday. If they fail to do so, the Ukrainian people want to hold parliamentary and presidential elections early, so that they may oust those who are holding Ukraine back.
Protesting is expected to go through Wednesday or until the terms are met. As people flood Kiev and city centers, please be in prayer for a peaceful movement. A movement that demonstrates the will of the people without having anyone come to harm.
Below you will find some photos from the second night of protesting (last night) and a bunch of links to really interesting articles about what’s going on in these parts.
Know that the largest of the demonstrations is scheduled for Sunday night. So stay tuned.
Live Updates from the rallies This one also has a really interesting tidbit about how parliament on the second day (but the first big day) of protesting passed a law that said they couldn’t put up a tent that would be housing tea and other things of this nature.