Let Ukraine gain its own future

Pay attention to Ukraine for its struggles, not just because of foreign involvement

Protesters fill Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine to demonstrate against corruption in the country.
Protesters fill Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine to demonstrate against corruption in the country.

Stephen Gellner, ArtSci ’14

With Russia’s occupation of Crimea, Ukraine has become a hot topic of conversation worldwide for all the wrong reasons. Ukrainians have been battling against corruption and the current round of violence is the result of years of frustration.

This is what Ukrainians should be in the news for — the fight against corruption — not Russia’s unilateral takeover of Crimea.

Right now, more than 15,000 Russian troops have entered the Crimean Peninsula and, with the aid of pro-Russian militia, have taken over regional administrations of major cities and some military bases. There are tense standoffs between Ukrainian military forces and Russian troops across Crimea. On at least one occasion, Russian troops fired warning shots over the heads of Ukrainian troops on patrol.

With self-defense groups forming among Russians, pro-Ukrainian Tatars and local Ukrainians, these mounting tensions require just one incident to spark a civil war and potential Russian invasion into Ukraine.

It’s time to say enough to foreign interventions into their sovereign affairs. If we just let Ukrainians decide for themselves, then they’ll find their place in this world.

Ukrainians from all sides of the spectrum are angry and a brief look at history shows why. In 2004, millions of Ukrainians took to the streets to protest the fraudulent election of Viktor Yanukovych. After weeks of protest in what came to be called the “Orange Revolution,” a new election was called and Viktor Yuschenko was proclaimed President.

The 2008 global financial crisis hit Ukraine harder than most and the disillusioned public elected Yanukovych legitimately in 2010.

Corruption was rampant, with cases of money laundering, jailing opposition leaders, beating up journalists and intimidating judges. Yanukovych’s son accumulated $200 million in two years, and Yanukovych himself mysteriously acquired a massive palatial estate with a private yacht club, man-made lake, golf club and golden toilets.

In November of last year, Yanukovych refused to sign a free trade agreement with the European Union (EU), accepting a deal with Russia for $15 billion in bailouts instead.

After years of disappointment, this deal was the last straw for many Ukrainians, who once again took to the streets, numbering hundreds of thousands.

Joining the EU was never just about the economic potential from free trade. The EU would only let Ukraine join them if they were to overhaul their political and economic system.

These reforms would include liberalizing markets, forming an independent judiciary and an independent media, fighting corruption, ending oligarchies, writing strict financial policies and respecting human rights with freedom of speech and association — things we take for granted here in Canada.

The possibility of EU integration was seen as an inclusion into a community of nations and a chance at a normal life. Ukrainians don’t just need the economic advantages of the EU system, but also the changes to their everyday lives. Rejection of this deal and joining Russia will only mean more of the same problems.

The regime of Viktor Yanukovych offered none of these things and only sought to drive Ukraine closer to Russia, which doesn’t care about the corruption of Ukrainian society. It’s very telling that Ukrainians are so willing to stand outside and demand changes that they feel are due to them, even in the middle of winter. The protests symbolize the national will of the Ukrainian people, who seek a better life.

Where these people march, so to does Ukraine — and it has always been theirs to decide, to accept things as they are, or to push ahead to the future.

If Russia invades Ukraine, then it robs Ukrainians of a chance to mediate their own affairs. A Russian invasion will only galvanize the radical opposition, further polarizing society.

For months, Ukrainians have stood their ground and have paid for it with too many lives — but lives lost in a worthy fight.

Things began to unravel and Yanukovych fled the capital for Russia, while the Parliament deemed him unfit to carry out his duties and impeached him in a non-confidence vote. Constitutional reforms were implemented, political prisoners were freed and a new government was formed, with new elections set for May 25.

This polarized Ukrainian society, with rallies now being held in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, where many want closer ties with Russia. Yanukovych, who still believes he’s the legitimate president, calls the protests “a coup” and asked for Russia to intervene to stabilize the situation. The upper house of Russian Parliament gave Putin unanimous support to use military force to restore peace in Crimea.

The 2004 Orange Revolution was symbolic for breaking off from a past of corruption and stolen elections. Now, Ukraine’s protestors are seeking to build a bridge into the future, one where human rights are respected, individuals are valued and the rule of law is a reality.

Ukrainian youths have been most vocal in their support for European integration. They weren’t around to see the problems of the Soviet Union, but they’re aware of the consequences, one they seek to put aside forever.

It’s cliché, but Ukraine does stand at a crossroads in its history. It’s time to let Ukrainians decide their own future. Let democracy come to these people, let the people of Crimea and Kyiv, Western Ukraine and Eastern Ukraine determine their own fates.

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