Maidan anniversary: Ukraine
workers discuss road forward
BY JOHN STUDER
Thousands rallied Nov. 21 in Kiev’s central square — known as Maidan — marking the one-year anniversary of the first demonstration that touched off three months of mobilizations and pitched street battles that led to the overthrow of hated President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22. The powerful movement brought millions into political struggle and had a deep impact on the confidence and fighting spirit of working people throughout the country.
The ouster of Yanukovych upset the Russian government’s plans to deepen its economic and political domination of Ukraine. The Russian regime of President Vladimir Putin responded with a military occupation and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and a proxy separatist war in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.
“Many ask me: if there hadn’t been Maidan, maybe the annexation of the Crimea would not have happened? And so many people would not have died,” said Mustafa Dzhemilev, a long-time leader of the Crimean Tatar people, reported Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group the day after the anniversary action. “If dignity and the longing for freedom have meaning for a person, they should not accept totalitarianism or authoritarian rule.”
Since the Russian annexation the Crimean Tatar people have faced raids of mosques, exile and disappearances of Tatar activists, and closing down of their political council — the Mejlis — which Dzhemilev, 71, headed for decades.
As a result of the Maidan struggle, which took the lives of some 100 fighters for Ukrainian sovereignty, Dzhemilev said, “Ukraine took a step forward. Thanks to such acts society consolidates and a nation emerges. Please note how we have united, regardless of origin or faith. We all say that we are Ukrainians. I can’t therefore have regrets, the sacrifice was not in vain,”
“Not one dictator who spilled blood has escaped punishment,” Dzhemilev said from the stage in Maidan Feb. 18, as the regime’s snipers began to pick off demonstrators four days before Yanukovych was forced to flee to Russia. “They will answer for the blood of each patriot. I call on my fellow citizens everywhere to create centers of resistance. I am proud of you, my dear fellow Ukrainians.”
Officials of the government that replaced the Yanukovych regime took part in the Nov. 21 anniversary action, including President Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire with interests in chocolate, cars, television and boats. But officials were confronted by shouts led by relatives of the “heavenly hundred” who were killed by the regime’s forces during the Maidan battles. “Where are the killers?” they asked, demanding to know why virtually no one has been charged with the murders.
Leaders of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine and the Confederation of Free Trade Unions also took the occasion to express their opinions on the accomplishments of the Maidan and the challenges facing working people in Ukraine today, which appeared in a center-spread feature in Aspect, the confederation’s weekly newspaper.
“We accomplished some big things through Maidan. We ousted a corrupt president and his government,” Sergey Sokolovsky, a member of the miners’ union at the Evraz iron ore mine in Kryvyi Rih said. “But those who became the new government on a wave of popular protests, unfortunately, do not always justify the confidence of the people. And in local areas like Kryvyi Rih the authorities are still dominated by Yanukovych’s party, the Party of Regions.”
The Poroshenko government is moving to implement tax increases and cuts to jobs, wages and social services as part of conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund for loans. This includes the closure of dozens of state coal mines. In addition to rising prices, many working people face layoffs or unpaid wages.
“But Maidan was not in vain!” Sokolovsky said. “After the Maidan and Russian aggression, the Ukrainian people have changed a lot. We have become parties to the birth of a nation. Free people who are learning how not to be fooled.”
“Maidan was very important,” said Oleksandr Bondar, chair of the miners’ union at Evraz. “But the position of the working class has not changed. Why are wages and pensions so low? Why do the oligarchs and dishonest officials have so much power?”
“We, the working class, must have our say,” Bondar said.
“A year ago, along with other activists from our independent trade union, we were participants in the Maidan from the beginning,” said Vladimir Saputo, chair of the Association of Free Trade Unions of the Luhansk region, which is under occupation by Moscow-backed separatist paramilitaries. “We fought not only to overthrow the criminal regime, but primarily for freedom and human dignity.”
“The most important achievement of the Maidan was that people woke up and realized that together we are strong and able to change things. To do things ourselves, not look for someone else to do them.”
“At first we sought only to defend our honor and dignity,” said Mikhailo Volynets, chair of the union confederation. “But increasingly we took note of all the problems that accumulate every day in society.”
“We are concerned that the current government has not fully justified the hopes of ordinary people, of working people,” Volynets said. “Therefore we have to be persistent and fight to fulfill the aspirations of Maidan, and now another challenge — to end the war and win peace.”