For the last six months most Ukrainians have been living in anticipation of a crucial decision for their country – signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union at Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit on November 28, 2013. Both international and national mass media, Ukrainian legislators, officials, and diplomats have been discussing this possibility for Ukraine. The polls showed that the majority of Ukrainians (58%) were in favour of Ukraine joining the European Union (DW-Trend poll). Moreover, within the youth this percent was even higher – 75%.
The main prerequisite for the successful completion of the National Programme of Integration into the EU, approved by the Decree of the President of Ukraine on the 14 of September 2000, was the recognition of European integration by the Parliament within its powers as defined by the Constitution. Further, signing the Association Agreement with the European Union and EU membership were declared as the priorities of Ukrainian foreign policy.
Hopes and promises to sign the AA have come from numerous speeches and comments by political leaders of the Party of Regions, who claimed that they, and especially President Yanukovich, were devoted to European integration. It seemed that the government and the opposition were able to reach a consensus on the main demand of the European Union for signing the Agreement – treatment of ex-Prime Minister of Ukraine, Tymoshenko, abroad. Former Presidents of European countries, Cox and Kwasniewski, tried to facilitate the settlement of the issue as much as possible by visiting Ukraine 27 times.
All the hopes were destroyed on “Black Thursday”, 21th of November. Firstly, Party of Regions did not support any of the seven draft laws for the treatment of prisoners, which would have affected Tymoshenko. Few hours later, the Cabinet of Ministers decided to delay the signing of the Agreement and, therefore, to stop the processes of European integration.
Few hours later, hashtag #Euromaidan became the most popular hashtag in Ukrainian social media. First, activists started to mobilize the resources for protests. In the evening, around 5-6 PM, first people came to Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kyiv. A huge stand with speakers was used as an improvised stage. It was the beginning.
Friday began with a considerable gathering on the Maidan. The weather was not favourable for protesters: it was cold and windy, and it was permanently raining. However, nearly 200 protesters stood on the Square in the morning despite adverse weather conditions. Cafes and restaurants in the city center started helping people with hot drinks and food. Also, the raincoats were delivered to the protest’s location.
The two main groups of people present on the demonstration were the students and young activists, who composed the majority, and people over 50 years, who composed the second largest group.
The situation changed in the evening. Not in terms of the weather, but rather in terms of the number of protesters. Suddenly, people started to come to Maidan and their number was increasing every hour. Around 6-7 pm, there were few thousands of participants. Also, some provocateurs arrived. Few old men stood near the entrance of #Euromaidan and shouted mottoes like “Power of Russia and weaknesses of EU”. Since people did not pay attention to them, they disappeared before midnight.
The most important fact is that people did not stand for any political party or opposition leaders. Instead, they were united by the idea of European integration. There were no party symbols: only the flags of Ukraine and the EU. People talked about pros and cons of the Association Agreement for Ukraine, as well as they argued that Ukraine has to be a part of the EU in the future.
Everyone could have made the speech from the stage. Of course, there were speeches from the leaders of opposition parties – Klitchko, Yatsenuik, and Tiahnybok. However, a number of the civic activists like Oleksandr Danylyuk, the journalists like Sviatoslav Tsegolko, the visioners of Ukraine like Pavlo Sheremeta and Yevgen Hlibovytskii, the bloggers like Oksana Bilozerska, and many others spoke as well.
Below are the quotes from their speeches:
“We want European values to be present here, in Ukraine”
“We vote for Euro integration. We want to be with other nations in the EU”
“Yes, it is cold, but we must defend our rights”
“I decided to take active part in political life of Ukraine. It is time to fight!”
“I am Ukrainian. And it is the motive”
“It is an opportunity for me to show that I care. There are benefits and drawbacks in the EU, but Europe is closer to me than Russia”
“Politicians speak about the negative image of Party of Regions and about the positive image of their opposition.. Nothing is said about the importance of the Association for us, Ukrainians!”
“We need more people and more ideas”
“Impression is positive, I will be here tomorrow!”
“I expect more people here”
In the morning, it became clear that Ukrainian media failed to provide full information support for the protests. Some passers asked: “Who is playing today?”(meaning football match), when they saw someone with the Ukrainian flag or other symbolics. So, the awareness about the protest was scarce.
The march from the monument of Taras Shevchenko to the European Square was scheduled for 12 AM. The most optimistic predictions for the level of attendance were expressed by opposition leaders. They waited for 100,000 of protesters. Common people were pessimistic and expected from few thousands to nearly 10 thousands of people:
“I will definitely go to the Maidan, but I do not believe that there will be many others with me”
Vitaliy, 21, Kyiv
However, even the most optimistic prediction was surpassed. There were many more then 100 thousands of people:
“Already 200 thousands… Khreshchatyk is full, people are still arriving.”
Having gathered, people set out to the Cabinet of Ministers. Few hundreds police officers and Special Forces units were already waiting for protesters there. The police started to use tear gas, smoke grenades and physical force to edge people out from the Cabinet buildings. Protesters, in return, chanted peacefully like “Police, be with your peoples” and “Shame!” The peaceful demonstration could have easily become a fight, but it did not due to the awareness and patience of protesting Ukrainians.
From 4 PM onwards, the crowd started shrinking. However, there were still thousands and thousands of people on the European Square, where a live music concert began. The most common slogans of the Euromaidan were:
“Ukraine – is Europe, we are Europe”
“Ukraine is not Soviet, Ukraine is European”
“Honour for Ukraine! Honour for Heroes!”
There were also many posters that indicated thoughts of the demonstrators. Most of visual materials were related to the EU, but few underlined the pressure of Russia on Ukraine as well.
Finally, protesters successfully installed a campsite on the European Square. Civic organizations also organized temporary places for living for those who arrived to Kyiv.
To sum up, Ukrainians indulged in the protest in order to fight for their own future and the future of their country. Under torrential rain, as well as under constant pressure from the police, they made it very clear for their government and the whole world that they prefer European values and European integration over tying with Russia. In a few hours, the hashtag #euromaidan occupied leading positions in Ukrainian twitter, and, one day after the beginning of the action, this sign became a leader in global media references. It is the biggest protest in Ukraine since 2004 Orange revolution.
And thanks to the people who protest, Ukraine still has a chance to sign the Agreement. For instance, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, Stefan Fule, reports that the EU is ready to resume negotiations in his exclusive comments for the newspaper “MirrorWeekly”. The European future, which is still alive in dreams of the majority of Ukrainians, must be achieved through this struggle. They are ready to stand for their choice till the very successful end.