Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants’ blood
The freedom you have gained.
— Taras Shevchenko
Does any of that sound familiar? Probably not, because no one cares about Ukraine … unless they are throwing Molotov cocktails at policemen of course.
Taras Schevchenko was Ukraine’s most famous poet. Exiled on April 5th, 1847 for writing an “inflammatory” poem that criticized Emperor Nicholas I, Shevchenko’s life and death have served as the great Ukrainian metaphor: the stifling of artistic expression and the censorship of political opposition.
Since its independence in 1991, Ukraine has had a rough ride. Not only have Ukrainians been at odds with their government since well before WWI, the election of President Viktor Yanukovych has only exacerbated the rift between king and countrymen.
Probably the paradigm of corruption and incompetence, Yanukovych has done literally nothing for the people of Ukraine. While he sees to it that his family and friends get richer through his ties to Vladimir Putin (whose agenda is still to rape and plunder Ukraine for all it’s worth,) Ukraine has fallen into impoverishment and bitterness, lending to its reanimated anarchic spirit.
Ukrainians want the same thing that they have watched their neighbours to the east and west of them obtain: prosperity and transparency (see: glasnost.) Too long have their public officials shirked accountability for their corruption and lies. In a situation such as this, where a bad state of affairs has seen no progression, swift and violent rebellion is the only natural advancement.
The moment that sparked the revolutionary fire in Ukraine was Yanukovych’s refusal to back the EU trade agreement. He threw away 5 years of negotiations between the EU and Ukraine after a meeting with Putin. Not only does the agreement contain material such as clauses on copyrights and the registration of patents, it would resolve many trade disputes that keep Ukraine under Russia’s proverbial thumb. It would mean more independence, recognition and backing from the EU (one of the most powerful economies in the world), and an imposed transparency of government that would serve to fight corruption. Is it any wonder that Yakunovych turned it down?
Even if Yakunovych conceded, Putin would never let it happen. Putin believes that a treaty between Ukraine and the EU is a dishonour to Russia and himself; that Ukrainians should follow suit and support Russia’s decisions to play by their own set of rules. The EU agreement would also threaten Putin’s advantage over Ukrainian markets because a market driven by the rule of law would eliminate those Russian companies who think they can operate above and outside of the law.
Putin is also trying to build his own trade union, the Eurasian Customs Union, between all of the post-Soviet states. Kazakhstan and Belarus have already signed up, their compliance no doubt owing to fear of Russian antagonism. Since Ukraine was once a part of Russia (and some might argue it still lies writhing in Putin’s claw), it is imperative that Ukraine be on board with his plan.
All things considered, the revolution in Kyiv is the typical circumstance in which a people who have been screwed for far too long are rebelling against a government who has left them no alternative.
Two protestors were killed by police in the clashes in the capital on Jan 22nd. It is confirmed that they died of bullet wounds. When the police stormed protesters’ barricades at Independence Square (Hrushevskyy Street: a road leading to government buildings) protesters hurled petrol bombs and stones at police. Riot police responded with stun grenades and rubber bullets. Demonstrators began setting tires on fire and throwing them at security forces. Protestors wore masks and helmets, in direct opposition to the new anti-protest laws issued on January 16. These are a group of ten laws restricting “freedom of speech” and “freedom of assembly.” They are known as the “dictatorship laws.”
Why should we care? Besides the obvious moral issues here, we are a country of privileged democrats who have the time and the money to care. Why should we help? Because we CAN.
Canada was the first country to formally recognize Ukraine’s independence. Since the onset of the violence in Kyiv, Canada has agreed that Yanukovych has lost his entitlement as leader of his people. Of course he is refusing to resign. As a method of persuasion, Canada introduced Visa restrictions for top Ukrainian government officials. The United States followed suit, but no other western countries have aided in this effort.
The next step for Canada is to impose sanctions. If they do not do something soon, we may have to witness the onset of another civil war … From the comfort of our homes, through the screens of our computers, over Youtube no doubt.
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