Sunday, November 24, 2013

Long live Ukraine

Ukrainians in Kyiv commemorate Holodomor and protest moves away from EU.
The beautiful faces of Ukraine. (yahoo news, AP, Maria Danilova, 23 November 2013).
I'm trying to remain neutral on the issue of Ukraine joining the European Union or the Russian economic alliance.  It's a difficult decision for the country, made harder by the possibilities of higher oil and gas prices and prohibitive taxes on imports and exports.  This would be an awful hardship, a terrible blow.  The uncertainties are  great.

I'm not surprised at all that Ukrainians are divided, with pro EU sentiment strongest in western Ukraine, weakest in the east, strong in large cities like Kyiv, the capital, unsure in more rural areas suffering from high taxes, few services, and high unemployment, not to mention few expectations and dashed hopes.

Yahoo image. Joint Ukraine/EU flag.
According to a recent poll, 45% of Ukrainians want to join the EU, 14% prefer an alliance with Moscow, and the rest, 41%, don't know or are undecided.

That's a large percentage of undecideds, 41%.  I think it reflects the doubts and pessimism of people struggling to survive, many of whom live in the places I worked and grew to love.  They really are not sure which way to go.

Nor am I surprised, on the other hand, that many people are protesting the Parliament's decision to hold off on joining the EU in favor of Moscow.  I've seen how hard people are working to bring change from the bottom up. I've seen small nonprofits work mightily to make life better, more just, more secure, to make their government more transparent, more accessible, less corrupt.  Some folks are plain tired of the old ways.  


Vitaly Klitschko, opposition leader, in Kyiv.
Thousands of them showed up in central Kyiv to protest their president's alliance with Putin and commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Holodomor, the devastating famine engineered by Stalin in 1932-1933 to force farmers to join collective farms.  A few people, some old soldiers and babushkas, are still around to remember.  Up to 10  million people starved to death.  Seeds, farm implements, even grinding wheels were confiscated, thousands of peasants killed outright, their families left to die by hunger.  The Holodomor memorial in Kyiv was one of the most moving visits I made while in Ukraine.  Only recently has this enforced famine been acknowledged and some of the files opened to public view.

Free Yulia Tymoshenko sign, President Yanukovitch's arch rival who's been imprisoned.
The EU, and human rights groups, have urged her release.
These same protestors, young and old, also expressed their hopes for Ukraine to join the European Union, to try new alliances, new economic opportunities, new pathways to jobs and security.  They've given up on the status quo. Among them are opposition leaders like Vitaly Klitschko, a well-known boxer and outspoken reformer.  I have a feeling that some of my friends from Starobelsk, from Chernigov and Lugansk and Khargiv and Donestk, are there as well.  It's a big step.  A bold and daring step.  A leap into the unknown.

Who knows where Ukraine will go?  I only wish for the happiness and well being of the people who make up the country, who are strong, generous and kind, who work for human rights, who want to participate in their government, who are working for change, to make life better for all.  Viva Ukraine. 

For more on the Holodomor see:
http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-holodomor-famine-survivors/25178009.html
http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-marks-tragic-date-amid-setback-eu-hopes-151438925.html;_ylt=A2KLOzHdZpFSBDIAMMDQtDMD
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