Ukrainians disappointed by distancing from Europe

On Friday, hundreds braved the rain in Maidan Nezalezhnosti square, the rallying point of the 2004 Orange Revolution. Demonstrators brandishing Ukrainian or European Union flags listened to successive speakers on the improvised podium, who each called in turn for “a true Ukrainian democracy” or for the release of the former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in 2011. Slogans such as “Yanukovych [Editor’s note: the Ukrainian president], enemy of the country!” or “Ukraine is Europe” echoed across the square.

As soon as the news of the abandonment of the European Union association agreement, which was supposed to be signed next week in Vilnius (see Friday’s Le Soir), became public on Thursday, several thousand Kiev residents poured into the city’s main square. The leaders from the three main opposition parties joined them later that night. “The future of Ukraine rests with the Ukrainians. We need to rally all those who want to live in a European country!” exclaimed Vitali Klitschko, the highly popular world boxing champion who was elected to parliament in 2012. According to the daily Ukrayinska Pravda news outlet, similar demonstrations have broken out in several cities throughout the country including Donetsk, the largest city in the eastern part of the country, which is traditionally pro-Russian.

The government’s decision to abandon the association agreement with the EU may have seemed more and more likely over the past few days, but most Ukrainians still view it as a devastating step backward. A recent survey by the Ukrainian GFK institute showed that 45% of Ukrainians were in favor of the rapprochement versus 14% who preferred an agreement with the customs union promoted by Moscow that includes – as well as Russia – Belarus and Kazakhstan.

“This golden opportunity to join Europe is fleeting. We will not have another one for a long time to come!” lamented Pavel, a computer engineer. He came to express his discontentment and insisted, along with numerous other protestors, on his “independence” from the opposition parties, who had kept a low profile all day long.

As the day wore on, especially after office hours, the flow of protesters on Maidan Nezalezhnosti square increased. Many planned to spend the night, while the riot police were mobilized en masse, as they had been the previous day. Even so, while Yuriy Lutsenko, Yulia Tymoshenko’s former minister of the interior, expressed hope of seeing Maidan Nezalezhnosti square occupied by 10,000 demonstrators until November 28, the Vilnius summit start date, Ukraine still seems far away from another Orange Revolution.

It is, however, playing on everybody’s minds. This all began on November 23, 2004, nine years ago to the day. Half a million demonstrators gathered in the same square to protest the presidential election results which handed victory to Viktor Yanukovych. This Sunday, in a demonstration that was planned some time ago, the Ukrainian opposition is expecting only 50,000 to 100,000 participants from all over Ukraine to support the European Union association agreement. They will do so without holding out much hope, given that Yanukovych’s decision appears to be inevitable.


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