Unrest across the world hits close to home

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Public meeting by the Ukrainian community held in the Ukrainian Village of Chicago on Jan. 26, next to the Saints Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church.

By Khrystyna Halatyma

Executive Features Editor

Let me start by stating that I was born in Ukraine and am 100 percent Ukrainian. The violence which has recently developed in my home country has impacted my entire family, though thankfully, none of my extended family in Ukraine has been physically harmed due to the violence, but the protests still have constantly been on our minds and in our hearts. This issue is not one most people outside of the Ukrainian community know about, and the media hasn’t exactly been doing its best job covering it. I have been following the story since the first protests in November, getting sources from both the American and Ukrainian news, citizens of Ukraine and international articles. The following is a summary of events up to this point.

Last November, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych declined the opportunity to sign an agreement with the European Union (EU). This agreement would have resulted in Ukraine joining the EU, numerous law reforms and the minimization of rampant government corruption.

Since the unexpected decision, Ukrainian citizens have been gathering in mass protests across the country. Although these protests have been going on for months, they have only recently reached international news. Unfortunately, it took at least 26 deaths and hundreds of violent injuries for international news media coverage to increase. The country itself is very split on its alliances, the west being more pro-EU and the east leaning towards Russia.

Even though the choice to abandon the EU agreement was the spark of protests, their true meaning has evolved to something broader. After the peaceful protests turned violent due to Berkut, a “special” government police group, in late January, the protests turned to an anti-government uprising requesting resignations of corrupt government leaders. These include the Prime Minister, Interior Minister and the president himself, who is widely known to be Pro-Russia and corrupt.

Independence Square, the central quarters for the mass protests, is a war zone. Military police have been suspected of kidnapping and torturing protestors. A Youtube video has surfaced of Berkut riot officers ridiculing a naked protester in freezing temperatures without any efforts to conceal his identity or obscure their beatings of the man. This is a perfect example of how the government is not focusing on what is best for the citizens of the country; you would think this was all a joke to them.

As for actions being taken internationally, there hasn’t been much. the U.S. has put visa travel bans on individuals they view as responsible for the violence. The EU is meeting Thursday to discuss placing sanctions against officials they believe need to be held accountable for the situation. This could result in them being forbidden to travel to countries part of the EU and freezing their assets (cutting off financial support). As for Obama, he condemned the violence and urges the military police to cease using riot police.

This statement seems to be more of a step towards keeping up international appearances rather than intending to evoke action. Saying he doesn’t approve of the violent turn of events has about as much effect on the Ukrainian government as I do writing this blog.

Russian president Vladimir Putin accused the West of “meddling” in Ukraine’s affairs. Why? He wants the country to fall back under Russian rule. It is no coincidence Putin offered Ukraine’s president a $15 billion dollar bailout. For what exactly? It was not specified.

The escalating violence begs the question of who is to blame for the state of the country. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, after a meeting with the President of France François Hollande, concluded the violence is the result of a “deliberate delaying tactic” by President Yanukovych to preserve what is left of his control in the country. Both political figures made it clear they are in support of the Ukrainian opposition and its goal of electing a new government for the country.

This is not being called a civil war, at least not yet, but at the pace violence is escalating, I can’t imagine we won’t be seeing headlines of this sort soon.