KYIV – Dmytro Zhytniy can’t lift anything heavy, and is unable to run or jump.
On January 23, 2014, when authorities started kidnapping members of the so-called Auto-Maidan – the roving protest on wheels – riot police ambushed and abducted Mr. Zhytniy on a Kyiv side street called Kriposny Provulok while the trained heavyweight boxer was rushing to the protesters’ aid.
He was called to action near the city’s central Trade Union building, where he provided security as a Maidan self-defense unit member during his two days off from work at a local do-it-yourself store. Police put Mr. Zhytniy, 47, and several others into a paddy wagon. They beat their captives en route to a nearby forest, where they were forced to kneel for about one and a half hours in sub-zero temperatures.
There, they were beaten more severely. One protester was scalped, another lost five front teeth, according to Mr. Zhytniy.
Then Mr. Zhytniy’s memory goes blurry. When he regained consciousness, he discovered that his neck had been broken and he couldn’t feel parts of the left side of his body. Eventually, he was given a 15-year prison sentence based on trumped-up charges of inciting a riot based on false police testimony.
He would only see freedom once then-President Viktor Yanukovych fled office after the Euro-Maidan Revolution prevailed and after 105 people had been killed, mostly protesters from sniper fire.
“We overthrew that criminal; he was a traitor and was taking us back under Russia’s fold,” Mr. Zhytniy recalled.
He joined the popular uprising in early December 2013 because “bandits” had usurped power. “It wasn’t about joining the European Union for me,” Mr. Zhytniy told The Ukrainian Weekly. “It came to a point that I was ashamed to look at the Ukrainian flag.”
Mr. Zhytniy, a native of Kyiv born to a father from Luhansk and a Muscovite mother, said he still is waiting for justice. He wants to see the police, prosecutor and judge who sentenced him prosecuted for beating him and falsely accusing him of wrongdoing.
In fact, three years after the fact and with four subsequent prosecutor generals in office, authorities have secured only one conviction related to crimes during the popular uprising.
Official figures state that 91 people were killed, of whom 78 were protesters and 13 law enforcement officers. Mr. Zhytniy is one of 1,973 beaten victims. It took him three months to recover from surgery during which he had one vertebra replaced with a metal one.
Civic activists contend the death toll is higher, at 105, and that’s why that many beams of light shone on Independence Square – the epicenter of the Euro-Maidan – on November 21, the uprising’s third anniversary, to honor the fallen.
People laid flowers to the monuments of the murdered – collectively known as the Heavenly Brigade – along Instytutska Street. There was an art show and President Petro Poroshenko presided over the official ceremony at the Mystetskyi Arsenal art museum.
“In November 2013, nobody could have imagined [the] difficult challenges [that] fate has prepared for us… And the high price we’ve had to pay for such values like freedom, dignity and independence,” Mr. Poroshenko said of Russia’s subsequent invasion and undeclared war after the revolution.
He maintained that Ukraine is making progress to deliver on the revolution’s call for a democratic society free of graft and pay-to-play politics.
“[Former Czech dissident and President] Vaclav Havel once said that governments, parliaments, presidents, even the best in the world, were unable to do anything by themselves, because freedom and democracy provided for participation of all,” Mr. Poroshenko said. “So, thank you, dear Ukrainians, that we are building together our European country!”
Protesters first came to the streets when Mr. Yanukovych had rejected a far-reaching political and free-trade deal with the EU in November 2013 in favor of closer ties with Russia, from which he secured a $3 billion loan a month later.
The day the Association Agreement was spurned, investigative journalist Mustafa Nayyem triggered the peaceful demonstration with a Tweet: “We’re meeting at 22:30 by the Independence monument. Make sure to dress warmly, bring umbrellas, tea, coffee, a good mood and friends with you. Repost is welcome!”
Nine days later, riot police sparked the ire of Kyiv and the nation, when they brutally dispersed the small tent city of protesters at 4 a.m. on November 30, 2013. That weekend, Independence Square – the Maidan – swelled to as many as 800,000 protesters demanding Mr. Yanukovych’s resignation. Clashes with police ensued.
At times more than a million appeared on the Maidan. And the more authorities cracked down more – a set of draconian laws was passed on January 16, 2014, that severely curbed civic liberties – the more demands protesters made.
“The Ukrainians who came to the Maidan conquered their fears,” Andriy Skipalskyi, a former Euro-Maidan activist and head of an anti-tobacco non-profit group, said on Facebook. “With every escalation of the conflict and aggression, we became more confident in our invulnerability and firmness.”
Although the revolution was successful – it overthrew a brutal and corrupt regime – it’s not complete in terms of fighting corruption, installing rule-of-law and making pro-democratic changes, noted Mr. Nayyem, now a member of Parliament with the presidential Petro Poroshenko Bloc.
A “counterrevolution” awaits the nation if “we keep everything as is… and conduct business as usual with those who three years ago, whether directly or indirectly, were driving the country toward a historical dead end,” Mr. Nayyem wrote on Facebook.
More needs to be done to safeguard the democratic gains Ukraine has made and to accelerate progress, according to Reanimation Package of Reforms, a coalition of Western-educated Ukrainians dedicated to change. “Civil society and activists once again face the danger of revenge from powers that be,” the group warned in a joint statement on its website this week.
To prevent this, the non-profit group said the following should be done: ensure more independence for the nation’s graft-fighting agencies, make the judicial system autonomous, implement a proportional voting system with open party lists, continue reforming the public administration system, accelerate the adoption of laws on decentralization and provide ample financing to reform-minded institutions.
After concluding its latest mission to Ukraine on November 18, the International Monetary Fund noted in a statement that Ukraine has achieved macroeconomic stability and that economic growth is expected to reach 1.5 percent this year and “pick up to about 2.5 percent in 2017.”
The IMF statement also pointed out: “While there has been progress in setting up new institutions, including the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, and the publication of high-level officials’ asset declarations was a major step, tangible results in prosecuting and convicting corrupt high-level officials and recovering proceeds from corruption have yet to be achieved.”
Another face of the Euro-Maidan, Yulia Marushevska, who appeared on a popular YouTube video during the revolution, also noted that the promises of the movement are incomplete.
“Today, we don’t have the results that we wanted three years after the Maidan,” she said on Facebook. Ms. Marushevska quit earlier this month as Odesa customs chief over disgust with the government in Kyiv. “But this isn’t a reason for disappointment, this is cause to become stronger, wiser and continue the movement ahead. Then [in 2013] we managed to cut the dragon’s head off… and now when a new head grew in its place, we must defeat the dragon itself.”