I returned to Ukraine this week, and the mood at the British Council – and out on the streets – has changed a lot since I was here before Christmas. “We’ve realised that our country has been hijacked by criminals – the men at the top are criminals hanging onto their power” said one friend.
The international press focus has been on the skirmishes between police and protestors around the stadium, and the black smoke of tyres burning hung for a time in the air. Protesters have been shot (and 5 killed) with live ammunition, or stripped naked in the street, and the challenge of maintaining a non-violent protest in the face of such provocation is overwhelming. And of course, there are radical elements on the fringes of the Euromaidan movement. But that’s only a small part of the story…the bigger part is the ongoing struggle to put in place, in opposition, a sustainable framework for democratic action, an independent judiciary and a fairer state.
In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine did not have to fight for its independence. But one corrupt government after another has mismanaged the country in order to line their own pockets, and what is happening here now is that ordinary people all over Ukraine are fighting back against corruption (and Kremlin interference), making a stand… creatively, with great dignity, and with amazing resourcefulness. That’s what the press should be showing more, and what the world should be applauding.
The legislation that was illegally rushed through parliament by the President will have fundamental effects on Ukraine’s connections with the rest of the world, if it isn’t rescinded – as well as making the protesters into criminals or “extremists”, the work of “foreign agents”, NGO’s and perhaps organisations like the British Council will be curtailed.
Those of you who work in the Arts and Culture in the UK could think about what you or your organisation can do to assist (finding and funding professional development opportunities for young producers or curators, for example, or fostering links with Ukrainian artists) …and everyone should applaud the hundreds of thousands of people who are standing in Maidan Nezelezhnosti (Independence Square…hence the name #Maidan attached to this whole movement), or on the streets in other parts of Ukraine, in temperatures of minus 20, doing what they can to make Ukraine’s future one that is built on equality of opportunity, justice, and respect.