Friday, 13 December 2013

Ukraine protesters: ‘We want our country to have EU values, not a dictatorship’

(Edit published in The Independent)

Yuri, 34, is a tax lawyer working for an international law firm in Kiev

I’ve been going to Independence Square almost every day since the President refused to sign the Association Agreement, after the famous journalist Mustafa Nayem posted on Facebook saying he was going to demonstrate and why. I went because the President has told people for three or four years that he would sign the agreement, and then refused to do it without consulting anyone or preparing anyone for that. I went to say that I disagreed with one man deciding a strange course for our country. 

On November 30th, police beat up students, kids, who were staying the night on the square.  Now I’m standing there for my rights, and the rights of my children. If we will not go there now, we should forget about democracy, about peaceful demonstrations, about any rights not in line with the desires of our President.

I’m going to the square when I’m needed there, when there are police movements. If that is during the day, I work during the evening. I’m usually there between 4am and 7am, because it is the most difficult time for people and police try to clear the square when there are less of us. 
It’s hard for me to work right now, my thoughts are always on the square, and all the time I’m checking the news. It’s difficult to sleep when you can get a call at 2am, saying come now because they are demolishing the camp, and you are getting up, taking your ski helmet and standing there all night.

Sophia, 23, is from Kiev and works in the events industry

I first went to Independence Square on 22 November, the day after the government announced they wouldn’t sign the agreement. It was pretty clear for me that meant they would sign an agreement with Russia, which would be like going back to the Soviet Union. It would mean an end to human rights and freedom of expression. But at least in the Soviet Union there were still some morals and ethics, and people were educated in science and culture. These guys who are the government of Ukraine are not educated, ignorant criminals. They don’t care about people’s education.

I’m going to Independence Square after work, sometimes during the day on my way to work. I’m at every major rally. All my thoughts are in the revolution right now, it’s pretty hard to focus. I always have my Facebook open at work, I constantly check it and opposition media for news. During the past few weeks, you can expect something new to happen every twenty minutes.
After November 30th, my reasons changed a bit. The government tries to disperse the protest when there are less of us. If they achieve this, they will feel their power and introduce a new wave of repression. Now I’m not going to the square just because I want Ukraine to sign an agreement with the EU. I want the government and this President to leave.

Lubomyra, 63, is a doctor. She returned to Kiev from her home in Germany to support the protesters

For the last three years I have been living in Weimar, Germany, with my husband. I’m originally from Kiev and spent several years working in Moscow, but we met in Ukraine. When I heard about the government decision not to sign the EU agreement, I knew I had to return to do something for my country. I was afraid for the students protesting all night on Independence Square, and wanted to help them. I worked in the medical tent, but also preparing hot tea and food for the protesters.

On 30th November the students were singing the national anthem and I was in the medical tent. We were surrounded by riot police in helmets and balaclavas. At first students were chanting ‘police are with the people’, but then police attacked. They hit everyone with truncheons, even those in sleeping bags on the floor. I ran to some of the students on the floor, and stood in front of them with my arms spread out. One of the officers ran towards me and hit me, striking my arm. I later found out it was broken. It was terrifying, I couldn’t see his eyes and I didn’t know how we could protect these kids. There was blood all over the square.

Police chased demonstrators down the streets, beating them. We took refuge in St. Michael’s monastery. After the attack, police came to my home and questioned me. My lawyer advised me not to go to the protests any more, but I have continued to go everyday. I want Ukraine to have European values, freedom of speech and other human rights. Not this dictatorship.