November 21, 2014 Friday
Ukrainians dig deep for another bitter winter;
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH Established 1855
SECTION: EDITORIAL; OPINION, LEADING ARTICLES; Pg. 25
LENGTH: 430 words
One year ago, as winter settled over Kiev, Viktor Yanukovych betrayed his people. Ukraine’s then president refused at the last moment to sign an association agreement with the European Union, which had been his central election pledge. Instead, he chose to pocket a $15 billion loan from Russia, infuriating the majority of Ukrainians who wanted nothing more than to break free of Moscow’s shadow. The people of Kiev immediately took to the streets, setting off a series of momentous events that would create the gravest European crisis for a generation and raise fears of a new Cold War.
Before reflecting on the current situation, it is worth dwelling on the resourcefulness, ingenuity and courage of the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Ukrainians who marched against Mr Yanukovych. Within eight weeks of these rallies beginning, three demonstrators had been killed by riot police. On January 16, Mr Yanukovych secured the passage of nine draconian security laws banning almost every form of public protest. Instead of being browbeaten into submission, his opponents sustained their rallies through a bone-chilling winter and in defiance of every form of intimidation and abuse.
Then, on February 20, snipers opened fire on the crowds in Independence Square, universally known as the Maidan. During one terrible morning, hidden marksmen shot down scores of protesters. If the aim was to clear the Maidan, the snipers failed: thousands stood their ground against a hail of live rounds. Within 24 hours, Mr Yanukovych had fled Kiev in ignominy. Infuriated, Vladimir Putin retaliated by dismembering Ukraine. First, he annexed Crimea, seizing 10,000 square miles of his neighbour’s territory. Then he triggered a pro-Russian rebellion in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. In the process, Mr Putin started a war that has now claimed at least 4,317 lives – including the 298 innocent people on board Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
Today, the situation in Ukraine remains deeply worrying. Even though a ceasefire was signed in September, the fighting has continued, with almost 1,000 people killed since it came into effect. Western governments, including Britain’s, have accused Russia of flouting the terms of the deal reached in Minsk, and continuing to deploy tanks and troops in Ukraine’s territory. The actions of those protesters in the Maidan have set off a chain of events that they neither predicted nor desired. But their cause – namely, preserving Ukraine’s right to decide its own destiny – remains no less noble, and no less important, than it was then.