'Fighting for our future': Stories from the front lines of the Ukraine protests
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During a trip to Kyiv three weeks ago, I noticed that many of the Ukrainians occupying its frigid streets were youth.
I was there to write about the riots and considered myself lucky to find Yuliya Kudriavtseva on a translation forum. She took me to protest camps, barricade checkpoints and occupied buildings.
Since that trip, 10 people have died. One online video shows a bruised, naked man in the snow as police photograph him and smack his head.
I called Kudriavtseva for an update.
“I do what I can to support the cause. I’m too scared to go out and protest,” she said.
“I have a business so I pay lots of taxes. I’m happy to pay for schools and hospitals, but it all goes to corrupt officials.”
She added that protesters want democracy and human rights.
“We want to be part of Europe, not the Soviet Union.”
Dasha Mychailova, 19, Kyiv. International-relations student. Sees the protests from an international perspective.
Oleg Komin, 32, Kyiv Lawyer. Studied in the U.S., hopes his country will follow the West.
Yuliya Kudriavtseva, 30, Kyiv. Translator. Worked with the reporter at the protests.
Andrew Meakovsky, 24, Kyiv. IT specialist Joined the protests after a law targeted freedom of speech.
Kyiv’s protests started in November when Ukraine’s president pivoted the indebted country toward Russia, which offered a $15-billion bailout, instead of the European Union.
Thousands set up Occupy-style tents in Kyiv’s central Independence Square and draped banners over the massive Christmas tree.
Ten days later, the government shut down mobile communications and sent in riot police. Dozens of protesters and journalists were injured. Dasha Mychailova, 19, was in the crowd.
“We ran for our lives.”
She hid in a bar with friends while others were beaten with police batons.
“Friends of mine were attacked and had to be hospitalized. There’s been no compensation or justice,” she added.
“This is now a battle over human rights.”
When I visited in January, the government had just rushed a law mandating up to 15 years in jail for anyone attending mass rallies.
A week later, thousands at the protest site received an Orwellian text message: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”
That’s when Andrew Meakovsky got involved.
“Our freedom is at stake; I had to join the protests.”
Although happy with his IT job, Meakovsky said many youth consider moving abroad for higher wages.
“Then you have your freedoms threatened. How can you live here?” he asked. “We are fighting for our future. We love our country and we don’t want to leave.”
What happens next is uncertain. On Sunday the EU announced a U.S.-supported bailout, contingent on reforms and respect for human rights.
The government proposed releasing arrested protesters last week if activists evacuated occupied buildings. Few did, which worries Kudriavtseva’s boyfriend, Oleg Komin.
“There’s an unwillingness to listen; both sides won’t hear each other.”
- The minimum hourly wage in Ukraine is $0.87.
- One in five young Ukrainians is unemployed, according to official figures.
- Forty per cent of university graduates take jobs far below their qualifications.
- Transparency International ranked Ukraine 144 out of 175 countries on last year’s Corruption Perceptions Index