Five years ago, on November 21, 2014, Ukrainians observed a new holiday – the anniversary of the start of the Euro-Maidan protests that led to the ouster of the country’s former Kremlin-backed regime.
The decree (No. 872/2014) marking November 13, 2013, as the “Day of Dignity and Freedom,” declared the holiday an annual commemoration. On that day, several hundred people – who were disappointed by then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a landmark deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia – met spontaneously on Independence Square in Kyiv.
Brutal police methods (including metal batons and teargas) were employed by the authorities after the first night in an effort to disperse the crowds, which quickly had swelled to tens of thousands of demonstrators.
But the tactic backfired for the authorities, as the crowd grew even larger, their voice calling for the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych and his administration became louder. Ukrainian society also woke to the reality that the country was rapidly moving toward authoritarianism, demonstrated by the Yanukovych administration’s disregard for fundamental human rights, total corruption, arbitrariness of law enforcement agencies, repression and terror.
Ukraine was scheduled to sign the Association Agreement with the EU at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on November 28-29, 2013. Ukraine’s government, under Mr. Yanukovych, on November 21, 2013, decided to stop the preparations for the signing of the Association Agreement, and it was this move and the brutal police methods used against demonstrators that prompted the crowds to gather and swell in numbers at Independence Square in Kyiv and in other city centers.
Mr. Yanukovych vacated his post in February 2014 when he secretly fled to Russia during the night. More than 100 people – known as the Heavenly Brigade or Heavenly Hundred – were killed in the clashes with police (more than 2,000 were reported injured).
The Day of Dignity and Freedom proclaimed in 2014 replaced “Freedom Day,” which had celebrated the 2004 Orange Revolution, which brought President Viktor Yushchenko to power after a re-run of the falsified election in which Mr. Yanukovych was declared the winner.
Following the failed attempt by the authorities, with the assistance of Russia, to crush the Euro-Maidan protests on 2013-2014 with live ammunition and sniper fire, Russia annexed Crimea and later invaded and seized government buildings in the Donetsk and Luhansk city centers. Five years later, Russia continues to occupy Crimea and the easternmost parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
Source: Kyiv remembers start of Euro-Maidan,” (RFE/RL), The Ukrainian Weekly, November 30, 2014.