Photo: Ilya Varlamov
It was a year ago, on the night of 21 November 2013, that public protests began on Євромайдан (literally “Euro Square”) in Kyiv (Kiev), ushering in months of demonstrations and riots in the centre of Kyiv. Citizens swelled the streets, but unlike the Orange revolution of years earlier, these protests took on a violent character.
Protesters demanded closer ties to Europe and an end to the massive corruption of both present and past leaders. These events lasted for months and were widely misunderstood both in the near abroad and in the West.
The Kremlin responded with an immediate and very effective misinformation campaign, much of it outright lies, by the Russian media. Moscow’s man, Yanukovich, was in trouble and the Kremlin needed Ukraine to further the “Customs Union” Eurasian economic space.
Most of the Western media did not do much better.
From the Russian perspective my fellow journalist Ilya Varlamov summed it up best. His comments once the scene in January are below:
“I came to Kiev. I came to see for myself what is happening here. Of course, an hour after arriving at Maidan, you begin to understand that everything what you’ve read in dozens of articles, saw in TV news reports is total crap. In the upcoming reports I will try to, as objectively as possible, to sort out this new wave of Kiev revolution.
Usually reporters try to answer the question: “Who came out to Maidan and why.” Depending on the political leaning, the answers are different. Some say it’s “fascists who came out to lynch the Moscali (Ukranian derogatory for Moscovites and Russians in general).”, some say “they’re bums and slackers, who’ve got nothing better to do” and “instigators on the government payroll.”
In reality, there is no answer. Those who came out are completely different. Remember, how a couple of years in Moscow there was a buzzword “angry townspeople.” Here you see football fans, retirees, office plankton. And everyone is standing together. A sweet, ol’ grandmother is pouring Molotv cocktail in a nationalists’ bottles; and a manager of a large company is carrying ammunition to the student.
And as it seems to me at this time, these people do not have a specific plan, nor idea of what to do next. Of course, individually, everyone has their own plan to “save Ukraine.” For some its “we need a couple of crates of AKs and grenades, we’ll sort things out here quickly.” Others “need to ask the world community for help and bring in the UN troops.” At this time there is no central idea of what to do, an idea that can unite and point in one direction the people at Maidan.
The only thing that is completely clear – people came out against Yanukovich.”
Media tent on Maidan. Photographer Ilya Varlamov beside a Russian flag inscribed “I’m for independence.”
By February 21 the riot police were in retreat and the parliament impeached Yanukovych. It is often ignored, but the parliament that impeached Yanukovich was his own parliament from the Party of Regions. Ukraine’s parliament installed an interim government until new elections could be held. They also ordered that political prisoner Yulia Timoshenko be released from prison.
For months the Kremlin denied any involvement in escorting Yanukovich out of Ukraine. When he at first surfaced in Moscow, the Kremlin pretended to be surprised and swore that they were ignorant of his whereabouts. Today, Vladimir Putin matter-of-factly will tell you that the Russian government sent operatives in to get their guy, and brought him to Russia.
The confusion in Ukraine played right into Russia’s hands. Using the false pretext that somehow fascists were in control of Kyiv, the Kremlin moved into Crimea and then the Eastern regions of Ukraine. The money saved by no longer paying rent for naval bases in southern Ukraine was a significant factor. The action was supported by most Russians who had felt that the Soviet Union (they predictably blame Nikita Khrushchev personally so as not to assign any fault to the CCCP) had been wrong to award the former centuries old Greek/Ottoman Turk territory to Ukraine.
Today, Crimea has been annexed to Russia after the democratically elected Crimea government was sacked in an overnight coup and replaced with a non-elected government that immediately called for a referendum on annexation.
Despite the signing of a cease fire in Minsk to end the violence in Eastern Ukraine, Russian troops and equipment continues to pour into the region. Will be fighting come to an end? That largely depends on whether Russia intends to carve out a “land bridge” to Crimea from existing Ukrainian territory.
(Photos and quotes by permission of Ilya Varlamov)