Understanding the ‘Euromaiden’ Protests in Ukraine

Originally reported on SensibleReason.com on February 24, 2014

Google “Ukraine” and instantly your screen will be consumed with riots, protests, opposition movements, and more. Open up the newspaper, and it’s no different. After months of civil unrest and increasing violence, Ukraine’s ‘Euromaidan’ protests are dominating international news as the rest of the world awaits reports of what seems to be an unpredictable peace.

What started as protests against the suspension of many years worth of negotiations with the European Union for a roadmap to membership, soon turned into a revolt hoping to overthrow the government of President Viktor Yanukovych and his followers. How did it escalate so quickly, and when will there be peace in Kiev?

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The Start of a Revolution

Ukraine’s ‘Euromaidan’ began in November 2013, after President Viktor Yanukovych’s government neglected to sign an Association Agreement and a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, in favor of closer economic relations with Russia. The plan, which had undergone negotiations since 1999, sought to further integrate Ukraine into the EU in the areas of justice, freedom and security. Part of the agreement included a reform of the Ukrainian judicial system, law enforcement agencies, election system, and would enact stronger measures to fight the rampent corruption in the country.

Protesters in favor of the EU agreement gathered in the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, in hopes of reinstating negotiations, charging President Yanukovych with accusations that he is unwilling to enact constitutional reforms that would limit his power. Once met with severe anti-protest laws and police brutality towards protesters, more and more activists joined the opposition movement across the country, calling for the resignation of “the President and his corrupt government.” Protesters and opposition figures have constantly blamed Russia for exerting strong influence and interfering with the internal politics of the Ukraine. Many analysis have stated that Russia fears loosing the Ukraine from its sphere of influence. Which is closely associated with Russia’s statues as a world power both in the view of Russians and the international community.

In light of recent media blackouts and in fear of total misperception of the Ukraine crisis by the international community, many members of the opposition party have hastily worked to get their message out to the world and mainstream media before it is too late to ask for assistance in enacting some sort of change in Ukraine.


Timeline of Events

21 November 2013: Protesters gather in Kiev’s main square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, after receiving information that the government plans to suspend negotiations regarding the Association Agreement with the European Union. ‘Euromaidan‘ begins.

29 November 2013: After Ukraine refuses to sign the Association Agreement on November 29th, as was previously anticipated, the number of protesters in Kiev swells to 10,000. Many protesters call for the resignation of the government.

30 November 2013: Berkut, special police units, attack and disperse protesters by use of batons, stun grenades, and tear gas. Protesters are accused of reciprocal violence, throwing stones and burning logs. An estimated 79 people are injured in the riot.

8 December 2013: “March of a Million” rally takes place in Kiev, with more than 200,000 protesters coming out to support the opposition. All opposition parties claim the turnout met the 1,000,000 mark. After the rally, protesters topple the Lenin statue in Kiev without any interference from police. The statue is decapitated and later smashed into pieces with sledgehammers.

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9 December 2013: Police raid the headquarters of the main opposition party, Batkivschyna. Their website goes offline soon after.

10 – 11 December 2013: Catherine Ashton, the high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union, meets with the government of Ukraine and several opposition figures to support a way out of the political crisis. While they discuss the release of Euromaidan detainees and the implementation of future EU reforms, members of the Euromaidan movement are not present at the meeting.

11 December 2013: Through use of bulldozers and chainsaws, Ukraine police attempt to remove barricades built by the opposition activists, but protesters rebuild barricades soon after police leave.

13 December 2013: Formal negotiations for peace begin between President Yanukovych and members of the opposition party. The two live TV streams of the discussion are disrupted when opposition leaders speak. Opposition party leaders claim that Dmytro Levin, who was invited under the guise that he is a part of the Euromaidan movement, is actually a pro-President party member. The real leaders of Euromaidan are not invited to the discussion.

17 December 2013: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine President Yanukovych sign the Ukrainian-Russian Action Plan, which reduces the price of natural gas sold from Russia to Ukraine and restores custom regulations on imports to Russia from Ukraine.

15 January 2014: Ukrainian courts ban protests and public assembly in Kiev.

16 January 2014: The Communist party of Ukraine pass anti-protest laws, which criminalize all Euromaidan opposition methods. Protesters call January 16 “Black Thursday,” and claim that “Ukraine Parliamentarianism is dead.”

19 January 2014: Protests erupt in Kiev over the “dictatorship laws.” In response to escalating violence, police are permitted to increase measures in stopping protests, which include blocking roads into the city and using water cannons on protesters despite freezing air temperatures.

21 – 22 January 2014: Three demonstrators are killed by Ukrainian police. The president presents several medals and honors to policemen and military officers for their service in the conflict.

22 January 2014: Opposition leaders present the president with a 24-hour window period to give into their demands before protesters will “go on the attack.”

23 January 2014: Police raid and destroy a Euromaidan medical center, and media blackouts to channels carrying Euromaidan coverage are reported all over the nation. The opposition movement claims police are now using improvised grenades by taping nails and other shrapnel to conventional stun grenades.

Anti-government protest in Kiev, 24/11/13

28 January 2014: The anti-protest, ‘dictatorship laws’ are abolished by Parliament. Prime Minister resigns and is replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov.

4 February 2014: United States Vice President Joe Biden calls President Yanukovych and urges him to accept international support to resolve the crisis. Biden calls for the release of detainees, the removal of riot police, and the prosecution of those attacking journalists and protesters.

18 February 2014: Mutual violence breaks out in Kiev as protesters advance on Ukraine’s parliament in support of rolling back the Constitution to its pre-2004 form. Police attempt to repel nearly 20,000 protesters with tear gas and flash grenades, while protesters respond by throwing molotov cocktails and other explosives into Kiev Square. At least 25 people are killed, and over one thousand injured. President Yanukovych leaves negotiations with opposition.

20 February 2014: Violence continues to escalate as both sides use firearms to protect themselves. Ukrainian special forces reportedly shoot at necks and heads, while also targeting ambulances and journalists. Members of government flee the country as more and more troops switch sides. Over 75 deaths are confirmed by nightfall.

21 February 2014: After increasing turmoil and violence, opposition leaders and President Yanukovych meet and sign an agreement aimed at resolving the months-old political crisis. The agreement moves the upcoming presidential elections from March 2015 to no later than December, but many protesters still say it is too far away. The agreement also limits presidential power, but says nothing about the abandoned EU negotiations.

What’s Happening NOW

As of Saturday morning, protesters took control of Kiev, seizing the president’s office without interference by police as they try to form a new government. A group of protesters protected by shields and helmets stood guard at the president’s office Saturday.

While the President left Kiev for a more supportive part of east Ukraine after signing the agreement, he addressed the public via TV broadcast Saturday afternoon, saying he had not resigned and had no plans to do so.

“I am a legitimately elected president,” he said. “What is happening today, mostly, it is vandalism, banditism, and a coup d’etat.”

Ukraine’s parliament, now controlled by anti-Yanukovych protesters, have impeached him and appointed an interim government. The acting interior minister has issued an arrest warrant for the former president. A tentitive date for new elections has been set for May 2014.

However, lawmakers in Kiev fear the possibility of Ukraine being split in two. While the western regions of Ukraine want to be closer to the EU, eastern Ukraine – which is comprised of most of Yanukovych’s supporters and accounts for the bulk of the nation’s economic output – favors plans to become closer with Russia.

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Anti LGBTQ Laws in Russia May Call for Protest at 2014 Olympics

Originally reported on SensibleReason.com on October 9, 2013

In June 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill that banned the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” towards minors. The bill is seen by many, both in and outside of Russia, as an attack on the Russian LGBTQ community. The bill has created great controversy in Russia and throughout the world, especially as athletes from around the globe prepare to travel to Russia for the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi, Russia this February.

Swirling around this issue are various debates on how this law will be applied to international athletes and visitors during the Olympics. Even in the face of controversy and international condemnation comes another proposed anti-Gay bill from the Russian Duma (Russia’s parliament), a bill that would deny gay and lesbian couples the parental custody of their own children. The bill seeks to remove children from the custody of parents who are deemed to be “neglectful, cruel, violent, and/or degrade their children’s human dignity.” Alexei Zhuravlev, the author of the bill, has been quoted saying that homosexuals “corrupt” their children and harm their development. Referencing researcher Mark Regnerus’ widely discredited study, he firmly believes that gay people are more likely to be unemployed, have sexually transmitted diseases, and are often “addicted to suicide,” which further puts their children in harms way. Alongside homosexuality, other grounds for the dismissal of parental rights under the bill include alcoholism, drug abuse, and insanity.

Earlier last month the Associated Press reported that “Alexei Zhuravlev referred to the earlier law and said that homosexual ‘propaganda’ had to be banned not only in the public space ‘but also in the family.’”

Zhuravlev’s bill will go up for discussion in February, the same month that Russia will host the Olympics.

As debate of the laws within the international community ensues, one question keeps reappearing: how will this affect those at the Olympics this winter?

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While top officials of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said they are “fully satisfied” that the anti-gay laws banning “homosexual propaganda” will not affect athletes, fans, and media and have given Russia the final approval for the Olympics, others are not too sure.

Thus far, the Russian government has enacted strict regulations, banning all protests around the Olympic Games and deporting foreign visitors that were found protesting against the law.

The IOC has taken action on its own by reminding and warning athletes that those who protest the law at any event related to the Olympics are subject to theOlympic Charter’s Rule 50, which states: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” What does that mean? Any athlete who represents the LGBTQ community in any way, such as painting their fingernails in a rainbow design or wearing rainbow pins or flags, as many have already committed to doing, could face punishment by the IOC.

Although many governments have spoken out against the discrimination in Russia, no country has yet to pull out of competing at Sochi this February. Top Olympic federations, including the United States and Canada, have also urged their athletes to take heed to the warnings and refuse the temptation to protest.

U.S. Hockey Director Brian Burke agreed that countries shouldn’t plan to boycott, saying that boycotting only “punishes the athlete.” Instead, he’s looking towards the future.

“My call on the (International Olympic Committee) and the U.S. Olympic Committee is to make sure Russia is not awarded an international competition of any kind until these laws are repealed,” Burke said. ”People forget – or if they are not aware – that when the IOC granted these Games to Sochi, these rules were not on the book. They are relatively recent. It has to change. It’s wrong. I don’t think that when you go into a host country you should dictate what they do, but this is a basic human right that is being trampled and it has to change. Until it does, in my mind, no federation should be granted any games of any kind – any competition of any kind – in Russia.”

Other organizations are looking at the here and now, planning protests that they intend to carry forward during the Olympic Games.

All Out, New York based advocates for equality around the globe, said that they will pressure sponsors and governments to speak out against Russia and defend the Olympic principle of nondiscrimination.

Activists in Moscow have also pledged to hold a gay-pride parade in Sochi on the opening day of the Olympics. Other athletes, such as gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup and Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro, continue to verbalize their discontent with Russia’s new laws and have said that they will don some sort of LGBTQ symbol during the Games.

And on Saturday, peaceful protesters in Athens, Greece sat on the steps of the Acropolis Museum holding pro-Gay propaganda and banners as the Olympic flame started its journey from Greece to Russia.

If Russia does indeed take action against international protesters, athletes and visitors alike, it could sour international relationships between Russia and the governments of those prosecuted and call for further action by human rights organizations across the globe.