One of these days we met Anna, an Ukrainian woman who had lived in Lisbon for almost thirteen years. She actually spoke such good Portuguese, that a distracted person would not even hear her subtle and lovely accent. Honestly, it was one of the first Ukrainians we had ever met. It was a great opportunity to hear from a direct and young source what is really happening in her country.
In November 2013, mass protests quickly escalated to violence in Kiev after president Viktor Yanukovych – under pressure of the Kremlin – announced that the historical agreement with the European Union was not going forward. Despite the violence and repression in the government’s first response to the protests, the opposition grew stronger and hundreds of thousands walked to denounce governmental corruption and Russian influence in politics.
By December, Ukrainians were told that Moscow had approved a $15 billion bailout with President Yanukovych. Again, hundreds of thousands of protesters continued to march in the freezing temperatures. Although it is not clear how many protesters have died, the simple fact that civilians have been killed by governmental forces is scandalous and is giving much impetus to the opposition demands. This month, in January 2013, Ukraine’s prime minister submitted his resignation. For now, Ukrainians will have to wait for elections.
By reading the headlines of our Western newspapers, it seems that the Ukrainian government is repressing a vast majority of its people. Its seems that the vast majority of Ukrainians desires to be closer to the EU and profoundly despise the Kremlin’s influence. Yet after chatting with Anna and doing some research, we realised that these protests are far more complex than a minority oppressing a majority.Ukraine politics are and have been starkly divided between the East and the West. In Southern Eastern Ukraine, there are numerous Russian speaking industrial regions and there, the majority voted for Yanukovych in 2010 – whose party is closer to Putin (in blue). The other half of Ukraine (in pink) voted for Yulia Tymoshenko, who strives for Ukraine’s integration into the EU.
Although we do not think that our ‘Western’ media is exaggerating the events, reading articles that do not explaining the historical and social inheritance of a country is an easy way for the media to sell more newspapers. It’s important not to picture Yanukovych as an evil Tyron: at the very least he represents half of the Ukrainian vote. The country politics are extremely polarised and in our opinion, this stark division makes the situation even more dangerous. Build your own opinion and take a look at this piece from Time and this article from Forbes.