Thankfully, no one from Sonoma’s sister city Kaniv was killed in the bloody days in Kyiv (Kiev) two weeks ago, but nearly 100 people were, and flowers and candles are clustered outside City Hall. People continue to send donations and to go to the capital to support the continuing vigilance. Now, with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression, they are deeply worried.
The uprising in Ukraine is not about the European Union or Russia. It is not about regions of the country, or any alleged division between them. This has been much exaggerated in the western press and is dangerous thinking. Linguistic, political or ethnic differences do not line up neatly to create a “divided” country.
Many Ukrainians and Russians are married to one another. Most Ukrainians I know favor trade and cooperation with both Russia and the West. If there is a division, it is between the ordinary people on one side and the oligarchs and entrenched politicians on the other.
The “Maidan of Dignity,” as Ukrainians call it, has been an uprising by people from all parts of the country to overthrow a criminal government and to establish a fair and democratic nation. Period. The new government is committed to a unified Ukraine. The interim president is a Russian-speaking ethnic Russian from eastern Ukraine. A friend of mine knows him personally and tells me he is an honorable man, a protestant minister. Their goal is an independent Ukraine with a clean government, a healthy economy and a just system.
Ukrainians are notoriously patient, and they tolerated Yanukovich even though they knew he is, literally, a criminal and thief. But when he authorized brutality against peaceful protesters in early December, it was too much. Up to a million people gathered in Kyiv in the large central square, and there were at least tens of thousands there for more than three months, living in a highly organized tent city, even through a month of brutally cold weather.
(Note: The Ukrainian and official name of the capital city is Kyiv, pronounced almost like the word ‘cave’. KehYEVE. It is respectful to use it. Kiev is the Russian spelling.)
Then, as the world saw, the situation erupted into vicious attacks on Feb. 18. Sensational photographs create an impression of a violent people, but Ukrainians are orderly, calm and restrained. Videos give a better impression then selective still photos. Videos reveal months of huge gatherings with singing, hot food, church services and a free university. Then there were barricades and fires to protect the people from the police. Then came the violence two weeks ago, if you can stomach watching it, as dozens of unarmed protesters were picked off one by one – many as they ran to help others – by professional snipers shooting to kill, who have now been conclusively identified as Russian soldiers.
Then, on Feb. 22, the opposition “won.” Which leads to the question, why hasn’t everyone gone home? Yes, the people won, at great cost, the pullback of the military and police, compensation for victims and their families, release of all protesters arrested, criminal investigation of all deaths and outlawing the use of guns against the people. But shouldn’t that be normal in a civilized country? Ukrainians certainly think so. And since many of these steps have yet to be implemented, the people stay.