Ten years ago, the Euromaidan changed the fate of Ukraine
On this 21st of November, due to martial law and war, there is no large-scale gathering on Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the Independence Square in Kiev. Yet, the blue and yellow flags that fly on the green space next to the Independence Monument are a reminder of the thousands of lives of soldiers who have fallen at the front since the nearly decade-long war that followed the Euromaidan, the pro-democracy and pro-European movement that preceded the February Revolution, or Revolution of Dignity. in February 2014.
Independence Square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, November 21, 2023. © Emmanuelle Chaze/RFI
By: Emmanuelle Chaze
From our correspondent in Kyiv,
This year's commemoration of the Euromaidan is special: November 21 marks ten years since the fall of the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych, but also the beginning of a new era of war between Moscow and Kiev. In his address to the Ukrainian people, President Volodymyr Zelensky stressed the importance of these protests in the country's history, calling them the "first victory" in the war that has been launched by Russia against neighboring Ukraine. For him, even more than in 2004, the events of 2013 and 2014 were crucial for the rapprochement with Europe: "Twenty years ago, it was a romantic reverie, ten years ago it was an ambitious goal, and today, it is an inescapable reality, where it is impossible to stop our progress and the completion of all the conditions" to join the 27.
To underline this European rapprochement, select visitors visited Kyiv on Tuesday. Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, stressed that Ukraine is "fighting for [Europe's] common values and [the] common future". Boris Pistorius, the German Minister of Defence, came to Kyiv for the second time and with a new commitment from Germany: 1.3 billion euros in military aid, including ammunition and four IRIS-T-SLM air defence systems. Referring to the "costly fighting taking place here", the German minister put at the centre of this visit the involvement of several generations of Ukrainians in a war that has been going on for almost ten years.
« The fuel of the revolution was the students »
Historian and activist Valentyn Desiatnyk, 29 at the time, went to Maidan as soon as Mustafa Nayem called (see box) "in reaction to the actions of our government. The fuel of the revolution was the students. They held rallies in every city. They really created this movement. At the time, there was also a strong political opposition that had also joined the movement, but the politicians who came to Maidan were sent away by the demonstrators to the Place de l'Europe, a few hundred meters away. The whole country was in revolt," he recalls.
Valentyn Desiatnyk in front of Maidan Square on November 21, 2023. © Emmanuelle Chaze/RFI
Russia started this war ten years ago, and I am convinced that the country is responsible for the deaths during the protests Valentyn Desiatnyk explains in front of the flags that represent the lost lives of thousands of Ukrainians. During the rallies, 108 people died, killed by the police. Since then, the 108 protesters have been awarded the title of "Heroes of the Celestial Centuria", and their portraits line the eponymous alley, just off Independence Square. Since 2014 and the beginning of the fighting with Russia, the blood of thousands of other Ukrainians has been added to these first victims of the war.
A protest movement violently repressed
On 21 November 2013, when negotiations on an economic agreement between the European Union and Ukraine were almost complete, the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych suddenly suspended the process. This manoeuvre led a few hundred people to head for Maidan, in the centre of Kiev, after a Facebook post by journalist Mystafa Nayem: "Meet at 22:30 p.m. in front of the Independence Monument. Dress warmly, bring umbrellas, tea, coffee and friends." In the following days, the movement grew, drawing more and more students, activists and citizens, not only to Kiev, but also to the whole country: Lviv, Kharkiv, Cherkasy, Ternopil, as well as Donetsk and Luhansk, in the east of the country.
The government's response has been brutal: the Berkut, the former riot police in Ukraine, which was disbanded in February 2014, are relentlessly attacking the demonstrators, as are militiamen sent by Moscow to inflame tensions. In the face of violence, the population's determination to make its voice heard redoubled, culminating, in February 2014, in the Revolution of Dignity, which led to the fall of the Yanukovych government and its flight to Russia. These events then serve as a pretext for Moscow to attempt a first invasion of Ukraine from the east, in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and to annex Crimea. Since then, November 21, "Dignity and Freedom Day", commemorates the 108 people who died during the Euromaidan and the February Revolution.
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