These last days, the main square in my home city resembles a cemetery. Kiev Maidan is covered with flowers, memorial wreaths and candles. Beautiful, but incredibly sad music plays amid teary eyes and exhausted faces. Portraits are placed with black corner ribbons. This is what a victorious revolution looks like in the 21st century.
Three months ago, on November 21, a couple of hundred thousand people, predominantly students and young professionals from Kiev, went out on Maidan to protest President Viktor Yanukovych after his unexpected refusal to sign an Association Agreement with the EU. The protest was remarkably peaceful, expressed mostly by the singing of Ukrainian songs. Though a slim majority of Ukrainians supported the EU agreement, only a minority felt strongly enough to take part in the demonstration. This minority, however, was determined enough to stay on the Maidan - day and night, in cold winter weather - for almost a week, until Yanukovych decided it was enough.
On the night of November 30, his subordinates ordered the special forces to “clean up” Maidan. The troopers obeyed, seriously beating and humiliating the protesters. This attack marked a fundamental turning point in the anti-government movement. From that night on, it stopped being about the EU, and it became a stand against tolerating a regime intent on beating and torturing innocent people as it pleases. This new cause resonated deeply with people from all over the country, significantly broadening the support for the protests.
Over the next several months until February 18, at least three activists were killed in clashes with the police, two of whom were shot dead in the city center. Hundreds were wounded. Unknown men kidnapped several leaders of the protest movement; they were tortured in the woods around the capital, at least one of them did not survive. No one has been held accountable for any of these deaths. Most outrageously, the Ukrainian police even suggested the dead man, who was found with a plastic bag on his head and bound at his hands and legs, had died as the result of an accident.
These atrocities served to strengthen the protest movement even further to other regions within Ukraine. The regime’s solution was to start using firearms on a larger scale. On February 18-20 at least 88 protesters died, many shot by snipers; hundreds of people were wounded. The shooting finally stopped not because the regime ran out of Kalashnikovs or special force policemen to fire them, but because the guns proved to be ineffective: for one person killed, many more came out to Maidan. On Sunday ending the bloody week ended and Yanukovych fled the capital. The regime fell, and the revolution prevailed. But the important thing the people in Ukraine have won at this high price is the mere chance to now build up a new country where human dignity and freedom also prevail.