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The Ukrainian way — three revolutions in 31 years

The Ukrainian way — three revolutions in 31 years

Throughout its 31 years of independence, Ukraine has undergone three revolutions an unprecedented amount of societal transformations within such a short period of time for any country. 

Such a frequent use of revolutions as an instrument of expressing the will of the people and a tool for upholding democratic processes has induced both curiosity and a sense of wonder from audiences abroad. What is it about Ukrainian civil society that brings us back to Kyiv’s Independence Square every time we want political change? Although each revolution was different in character and context, the simple answer that unites all of them is: we love our freedom too much. When our rights are infringed upon, we fight back. 

Learn more about the Ukrainian history of resistance and fighting for our rights during our independence in our new material about Ukraine’s three revolutions.

The Revolution on Granite was a student-led protest campaign that took place primarily in Kyiv and the west of Ukraine in October 1990. Despite the fact that this revolution took place in Ukraine, which was at that time a part of the Soviet Union, it served as one of the factors that accelerated the collapse of the USSR. It was caused by dissatisfaction with the results of the March 1990 Ukrainian parliamentary election. The name of this revolution comes from the location of the protesters’ camp – granite slabs on the Maidan (Independence Square) in the center of Kyiv. The hunger striking students aimed to put an end to the totalitarian system and called for the establishment of a mechanism of transparent elections. In the end, the protesters won and the revolution ended peacefully. 

“Today I remember those days as some of the happiest days of my life. It was so emotionally uplifting, such solidarity, such support of the society. Kyivans, and not only Kyivans, brought there mountains of flowers.

So I understand that it was really not in vain. And I believe that every generation should live through something like that. Then they will have something to remember and to tell their descendants – so that they will not be ashamed to look them in the eye,” — one of the protesters Viktor Roh.

“The hunger strike accelerated the collapse of the Communist Party and the Komsomol, people began to leave the party en masse, the writer Oles Honchar demonstratively burned his party card on the Maidan. He was a certain moral authority, he was studied at school. And this act significantly added fuel to the fire,” — one of the protesters Mykhailo Svystovych.

The Orange Revolution was a protest action of Ukrainian citizens that errupted as result of massive falsification of the 2004 presidential election in favor of the pro-government candidate Viktor Yanukovych. These events were named after the color used by the supporters of the presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko and his opposition party “Our Ukraine” (‘Nasha Ukrayina’). The revolution came also as result of the citizens’ dissatisfaction with the way of social life that had prevailed for more than a decade. The revolution resulted in presidential re-elections, as a result of which Viktor Yushchenko became the President of Ukraine.

The Orange Revolution had a profound effect on the way Ukrainians perceived themselves and their national identity. For the first thirteen years of independence, the political, cultural, social, and economic boundaries between Ukraine and Russia had remained blurred. This changed dramatically in 2004 when millions of Ukrainians mobilized in defense of free elections.

The protests served as a national awakening, establishing Ukraine’s democratic credentials and setting the country on a path that diverged sharply from the increasing authoritarianism of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In the sixteen years since the Orange Revolution, Ukraine has held eight national elections  without ever witnessing a return to the kind of political oppression and rampant vote-rigging.

Thanks to the Orange Revolution, Ukraine’s media landscape was no longer subject to the kind of smothering government censorship that had existed prior to 2004.

Yuri Andrukhovych, Ukrainian writer and essayist, said in a speech to the European Parliament in December 2004 that Yushchenko’s ultimate victory was “also a victory of Europe as an ethical system of value.”

This has found practical confirmation in the fact that the revolution had demonstrated to the world Ukraine’s readiness for democratic transformation. This did not go unnoticed by the international community. For example, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in an interview with the Financial Times that “membership standards can be much more easily met by the Yushchenko government than by the former Kuchma government.” Ukraine can be explained by the change in the image of the state in the eyes of the Alliance. Since the first days of his presidency, Yushchenko has repeatedly stated that the only option for Ukraine’s development is full economic and political integration into the EU and NATO.

The majority of the world perceived the Orange Revolution as a unique phenomenon in modern European history. As Europeans themselves said, “the heart of Europe was beating in Kyiv during the Orange Revolution.”

The Russian authorities also reacted to the events of the Orange Revolution, and it consisted primarily in increasing domestic propaganda and spreading messages that discredited the newly elected Ukrainian government, which was not focused on deepening ties with Russia. In addition, the Russian authorities, out of fear of a possible repetition of the Ukrainian scenario on the territory of Russia which could lead to their loss of usurped power, decided to start a political and information campaign against any opposition forces in the country. 

The Revolution of Dignity – also known as Euromaidan and the early phase of the Russian-Ukrainian War – the largest event in the modern history of Ukraine and a logical continuation of the defense of human and civil rights. The Revolution of Dignity found its beginning following then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an association agreement between Ukraine and the EU against the people’s wishes. The revolution first began as a protest, and later turned into a movement changing the course of Ukrainian history forever. Unlike the two previous revolutions, this one turned bloody, as pro-government security forces killed more than a hundred people in protest clashes who later became known as the “Heavenly Hundred.” Despite the high and bloody price, the revolution won, the Yanukovych government was ousted, and the strategic European integration vector of development was restored. The Revolution of Dignity was a transformational, heroic and dramatic phenomenon for Ukraine. 

“Even those who deny the Revolution of Dignity cannot and do not want to question the value of human life and the fact of death of people who went with shields against those armed with firearms,” — Head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory Anton Drobovych.

Despite the difference in time and circumstances, all three revolutions have something in common. All three revolutions were victorious and achieved some of  their goals. All three revolutions became points of growth for the Ukrainian civil society. 

As noted by Ukrainian public figure and former political prisoner of the Soviet regime Myroslav Marynovych: “All these three revolutions, including the Revolution on Granite, prevented the implementation of the Russian scenario — Russian plans, Russian attempts to regain Ukraine. This is their fantastic victory.”

Philosophy and religious studies professor Dr. Taras Liutyi voiced similar thoughts: “Back then, our Maidans began as a kind of attempt to separate from the Soviet empire. The Russian Empire is another hybrid that we are dealing with now. First we drifted from the Soviet Empire, now from the Russian Empire.”

Prepared by: Anastasiia Murzak

Designed by: Vladyslav Rybalko

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