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Revolution of Dignity: a point of no return

Revolution of Dignity: a point of no return

The phrase “a point of no return” is often used in relation to the Revolution of Dignity. And it really was after the revolution took place, there was no returning to life as it used to be in Ukraine.  Having fought for its right to freedom and democracy in pursuit of EU membership, Ukraine underwent a change of consciousness that would go on to drive future political progress for years to come. 

The Revolution of Dignity became one of the most important events of the Ukrainian state-building process and shaping of the contemporary national identity during Ukraine’s independence. As a result of the revolution, the number of Ukrainians feeling proud of their nationality climbed from 50% to above 70%. In the latest survey conducted in 2022,  more than 90% of Ukrainians said they were proud to be citizens of Ukraine.

It was this revolution that consolidated Ukraine’s foreign policy course towards European integration and joining the Euro-Atlantic community. 

The Revolution of Dignity turned out to be an extremely transformational sequence of events that changed the course of Ukrainian history, culminating in the killing of h of 107 participants of the protest movement, who later became known as the “Heavenly Hundred”, and the ousting of the corrupt pro-Russian president and his government. Immediately following the revolution’s conclusion,  Russia launched an attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory by occupying Crimea and commencing the war in Donbas.

Despite the tragic loss of human life that came to be remembered with the revolution, the unity and the humanity of the Euromaidan movement in the most dire of circumstances are recalled on annual commemorations of the revolution’s beginning, too, for it is precisely those characteristics upon which democracy can be fully functional. It takes a people united in their cause to make changes happen – the Revolution of Dignity is a profound example of that. 

From peaceful protest to first blood shed for freedom 

On November 21, 2013, hundreds of Kyivites, called to action by public leaders and journalists, gathered in the city’s central square to show their desire for the country to look westwards and to embark on a long-term journey of gaining EU membership. Activists decided to stay on the square until the Vilnius Summit on November 28-29, 2013, to remind the country’s leadership of the people’s commitment to having Ukraine sign the Agreement on the Associated Membership of Ukraine in the European Union. Days earlier, the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the document to which Ukraine had been aspiring to sign in in an unexpected U-turn. 

On November 24, more than 100, 000 supporters of Ukraine’s European integration policy marched along the city’s streets. Similar marches and gatherings also took place in other cities around Ukraine. Despite widespread public pleas and hopeful demonstrations calling on the Ukrainian government to hear the wish of the Ukrainian people, they were ignored and the Association Agreement was not signed at the Vilnius Summit, prompting a response in Kyiv in the form of a peaceful protest. 

The protest was, in turn, answered by violence. On November 30, at night, the protestors were attacked and violently beaten by special units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs known as the Berkut police. That night marked the first time that the protests associated with the Revolution of Dignity became bloody. It was the start of a political crisis and at the same time, the beginning of a real fight for democracy.  The protest movement transformed into a lasting campaign of civil disobedience against the authoritarian regime, corruption, and the violation of human rights.

On December 1, in response to the authorities’ aggression, hundreds of thousands of Kyivans appeared on the streets of the city. All of them understood that they could not stand aside and embarked on a path of struggle for true democracy.

Government vs the people: How authorities fought against Maidan 

On 16 January 2014, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted a package of laws imposing an almost complete ban on peaceful assembly and limiting the right to free access to information. The package also included the outlawing of the few free mass media outlets and NGOs active in Ukraine. In response, Ukrainians went to gather in front of the government quarter, where a police corridor was installed. 

On January 19, 2022, radical youth broke out it. After this point, the protesters movement split into two groups: those wishing to maintain the peaceful nature of the protests which ignored provocations and those who lost faith in the prospects of peaceful protests, opting to go to Hrushevskoho street which is a part of the government quarter. 

The Hrushevsko street riots that ensued marked the beginning of real violent confrontations between protesters and the Berkut police. Protesters grew tired of being defenseless victims of tyranny. Their experience of the authorities’ violent behavior beating, kidnapping, murder affirmed the protesters’ right to self-defense.  It was during these clashes that people where first killed. 

As violent clashes began in mid-January, the authorities organised the anti-Maidan movement which served to start a number of pro-Russian demonstrations in response to the sustained Euromaidan movement. The initial participants were in favor of supporting the cabinet of the second Azarov government, President Viktor Yanukovych, and closer ties with Russia. In the aftermath of the overthrow of Yanukovych, the anti-Maidan movement too little to be classified as such   fractured into various other groups, which partially overlapped. These ranged from groups in support of a federalization of Ukraine to pro-Russian separatists and nationalists.

How “hundreds” united millions 

In the beginning of the Revolution of Dignity and once faced with violent response from the authorities, Ukrainians decided to revive a thousand-year-old trandition of sotnias, or “hundreds” as they would be translated in English:  a collective of free citizens who gathered to defend law and order, a people’s squadron. In the 11th century, during the time of the Kyivan Rus, the volunteer-based Kyiv sotnias came to assistance of the Prince’s Guard in times of need. This tradition was repeated between 16th and 18th centuries, when  the military republic of the Zaporizhzhia Sich was founded on the Dnipro River and united the groups of Cossack sotnias which guarded the border. 

During the Euromaidan, special communities of protesters, the Maidan hundreds  (“sotnias’) were formed in order to ensure the efficiency of the protests themselves and the protesters’ resilience in the face of violence: there were organized security sotnias, the medical sotnia, the volunteer hundreds, art hundred and information hundred. sotnia, and so forth. By the end of February 2014, there were a total of 42 Maidan self-defence companies or “hundreds”. People who were members of the self-defence “hundred” were primarily equipped with helmets, shields – often just wooden planks – and body armour – often made of household items. Special volunteer “hundreds” were assigned the role of peaceful picketing or providing supplies. The Maidan Medical Hundred saved many lives. 

In the end, the most symbolic of them all became ‘The Heavenly Hundred’ – the 107 people were killed by Berkut police during the revolution. This term is known and used by Ukrainians who have named streets and squares in dozens of cities in honour of the Heavenly Hundred. 

The power of the country is in the hands of the people

On 18-22 February, the revolution gained the momentum of a real battle, when people were attacked, shot, and beaten, ultimately leading to the ousting of the president and his government.  On the night of 22 February 2014, President Yanukovych escaped to Russia by jet. In the days that followed, Ukraine mourned the loss of 107 lives taken during the revolution. 

Campaigns of solidarity and support for Ukrainian protesters were held in more than 20 countries. The biggest were held in various cities of Canada, USA, Germany, Poland, Great Britain, Italy, and France. Local activists organized protest campaigns in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Georgia, Estonia, Spain, Portugal, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, Czech, and many other countries around the world.

The revolution achieved the ousting of a dictator-president and the resignation of his government. After elections for a new government took place, Ukraine chose the European vector for development and became an associated member of the EU. After the revoution’s conclusion, Russia launched an attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory by occupying Crimea and commencing the war in Donbas. . In 2022, the fight for values of freedom and democracy in Ukraine continues. 

This historical overview includes personal memories of the authors, historically recorded facts, materials and facts taken from the “Un Hundred” book about Maidan. 

Prepared by: 

Inga Vyshnevska

Kvitka Perehinets 

Designed: 

Vladyslav Rybako 

 

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