Amid the gradual crumbling of the EU, with upcoming referendums in many of the member countries, Europeans are experiencing a sense of shock and concern over what comes next. In this moment of instability, it is natural to think about those countries which are not members of the EU, and have always sought to hang the flag of Europe alongside their own, like Ukraine.
A few months ago, Ukrainians commemorated the 83rd anniversary of the country’s greatest tragedy—Holodomor (“hunger extermination” in Russian). As suggested by the name, Holodomor was a great man-made famine that lasted from 1929 to 1933, used by the Stalinist government in an attempt to exterminate the Ukrainian race. The motive behind such genocidal actions was the alarming rise of a Ukrainian Cultural Renaissance, which began in 1920. This renaissance oriented Ukrainian society towards European models of democracy. Ukraine then turned into a threat to the central government’s geopolitical aspirations and a challenge for the Kremlin’s authority.
Still, on November 21st, Ukraine celebrated the 3rd anniversary of the Euromaidan revolution. The primary cause behind this civil unrest was the Ukrainian government’s choice to suspend the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement, caving to Russian interests. Many citizens perceived this move as a threat to their country’s socio-political emancipation and development. In November 2013, approximately 800,000 people from all over Ukraine gathered in Kiev’s main square for almost a year. The Ukrainians were protesting the corrupt government and attempting to raise awareness of Ukraine’s political instability. Their protests consisted of peaceful demonstrations, while the government responded with police brutality.
Ukrainian economic and political development has always had a strong link to the central power of Russia. Despite the liberation from the oppressive regimes of the Soviet Union and the declaration of Ukraine as an independent autonomous country, very little had changed until a couple of years ago. The Ukrainian national identity and pride was still seen as a tool for dangerous rebellions threatening the Russian government’s plans, just as under Stalin’s rule.
The common thread between Euromaidan and Holodomor is the way national identity is perceived by the Russian authorities and their surrogates in Ukraine—as an inconvenience, a mishap, something innocuous and at the same time scary, hindering and maddening.
Throughout this time, the authorities were right to be worried, because the Ukrainians proved that there is nothing more dangerous than a people united.
From the onset of Holodomor to the first march in Maidan Square, the Ukrainians could have grown bitter and coveted revenge. They could have spoken and acted out of impulsive anger. Instead, looking back on their country’s hardships, what grew in the soul of every Ukrainian was patriotism. They showed it in every day’s little-big things like the study of Ukrainian history in school, the reawakening of the Ukrainian language, the celebrating and respecting cultural traditions and folkloristic customs. The Ukrainian national identity stands as a symbol of resilience and resistance against Ukraine’s threats.
This patriotism has made Euromaidan unique in the history of revolutions. There are very few demonstrations of civil disobedience that have shown such strong unity among their participants. During Euromaidan everybody was on the streets—from retired veterans to the head of the Orthodox church, from the kids of the Roma communities to the students of Shevchenko’s State University, from the Caucasian immigrants to the upper class professionals. Protesters were not divided by religion, by politics, or by socio-economic background. Everybody was there because, somewhere deep inside them, they all were called to be there by their love for the land they belonged to. They were there because they were proud of who they are. They were there because they all believed they deserved the freedom and emancipation that signing the EU agreement would have brought. They were there because while it was disappointing to watch the suspension of the EU agreement, they were not ready to give up on it. They were there together and they were united. They were there and they were organized.
Each and every citizen had participated by providing their own simple contributions, from the doctors sharing their skills and setting up temporary hospitals, to the ordinary citizen sharing a blanket or a warm meal with the activists in the square. Everybody in Maidan had a task, and everybody was working as one force. Especially during the hardest days—with the cold, the events of police brutality, the riots of the titushkys*, and the lack of medical relief—Euromaidan was proof that thousands of simple contributions could produce change.
Today, after Holodomor, Euromaidan, and all the threats to its national identity, Ukraine shows us how the people together are unbreakable and undefeatable. Europe is everyday losing its idealized unity and strength with member countries resigning or adopting policies that represent a threat to such unity. In the meantime, countries like Ukraine—that have long viewed Europe as the next step for progress—, actually have a lesson to teach the EU about unity and patriotism.
It is with profound and sincere respect that we say “Slava Ukrayini!”**.
*titushky: mercenary agents who posed as hooligans to perpetrate illegal actions against civilians during Euromaidan.
**Slava Ukrayini!: “glory to Ukraine” in Ukrainian. National motto, greeting and slogan.