The fight for the heart of Ukraine.
(AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
It may not be a great leap to suggest that many Europeans woke up last week to a growing sense of anxiety and foreboding about the situation unfolding in Ukraine. Yet even with the painful memory of two world wars still raw in so many people’s minds, such fears must pale into insignificance when compared to the intense shock and nervousness felt by the Ukrainian people themselves, particularly those in the Eastern region of the country who blood was so brutally spilt on the streets of Kiev recently. For just a few short days, the citizens army, those self professed people’s liberation fighters, who had huddled together in sub zero temperatures for months refusing to be moved, lived a few moments of exhilaration. Jubilation and sheer relief shone through on the faces in the crowds of people I saw through my TV screen, proudly venturing through their cities streets as the government finally fell to the people.
Almost as tourists,hand in hand, arm in arm, they explored the government buildings and precincts that had been previously off limits for years to all but few.
A protester stands behind barricades during clashes with police that left around 100 dead, many from sniper and police gunshot wounds.(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic
So many Ukrainians stood in that square day after day, so many more became compelled to come out only weeks and months later, joining in solidarity and offering much needed practical support.
INPUD members can be proud to know that drug user/harm reduction activists had been part of that rising change, always pushing, fighting and challenging Ukraine to adopt progressive health and welfare policies for the drug and HIV/AIDS community. Always found at the forefront pushing back the tide of discrimination and abuse towards our peers and in under a decade, through the seeds of progressive change that seeped through from then Orange revolution, Ukraine became a role model in the east for tackling the growing HIVAIDS numbers that had come to redefine the modern picture of the epidemic. Shining examples of prevention treatment care and support for injecting drug users who were affected HIV/AIDS, inroads that would become chipped away at as Russian influence was felt ever stronger in day to day policy.
While the political script of Ukraine since around 2000 reads like the darkest political thriller imaginable, for the Ukrainian people, to have had the highest of hopes of finally changing the ‘ destructive processes that had become characteristic for Ukraine’ only to see them repeatedly collapse in yet more political intrigue, false imprisonments, political bullying and blindsiding, and even poisonings and murders of those in opposition, how hard has it been to keep hope alive? Not only alive but ready to fight again. A deep scepticism, disgust and despair seemed to set in with many Ukrainians, while watching the seeds of their countries modern civil liberties that had glowed in Orange, be crushed at every turn.
So to take to the streets yet again in Ukraine, clinging perhaps to an even more fragile hope, the kind that envelopes a people after a spark of revolution, the kind spun forth from the blood, sweat, tears and determination of the people, must mean everything to the people, for what strength or faith in the future must be left?
Like other communities around the world over the last few years, they fought to battle the stupendous unabashed corruption that had been growing almost unchecked since independence. What must that be like? Watching your government pillaging the economy, most colossoly the president himself to the tune of possible billions, all which has left Ukraine broke and in hock to its old patriarch, Russia itself.
Russia has already pledged to freeze the remaining $12billion of the $15billion loan to Ukraine for aid until an effectively Russian recognized government is restored, just to enforce the seriousness of turning ones back on mother.
Several days ago, I had seen a clip of the piles and piles of Russian soldiers bodies, frozen to death, half starved and brutalized beyond recognition during the 1st world war, and wondered how any country, especially Russia, could have any appetite left for a potential war with its neighbours or any precarious show of aggression. Yet Putin is paying the Piper here and no doubt has now dug himself and mother Russia, in for the long game.
When I was working on United Nations documents For INPUD and as such visited the UN in New York and UNODC in Vienna, Austria I was to discover just how Russia conducts itself on the international stage. It is in part the fault of the west. Its like a new kid at an exclusive school, who after the soviet republic collapsed, had turned up with flash new toys to tempt the rich kids to play. But the rich kids were snobs while others Secretly took an Interest in the new kids toys, often while no one was watching, but still wouldn’t sit with him at lunch. ..
OK I could go on with this metaphor, suffice to say Russia is now a big kid at the posh school, capable of outrageous bullying and rule breaking, calling everyone’s bluff because he knows he has the richest dad in the whole school and he will never be expelled!
The tragedy of course is, that multilateral agreements and United Nation protocols, treatises and conventions are the only way our globalized world has any hope of working together yet countries, like the USA and Britain, and following in our footsteps, Syria and Russia, repeatedly decide it is ok to ignore resolutions whenever things get really difficult. Do they realize the future jeapordy it places us all? Back in the days of the United Nations objection to the Iraq war, people said then how dangerous this would be, setting such a clear precedent that country’s could bow out of alignments and pursue an unpopular, unvoted for and illegal agenda – why it just made a mockery of what the UN stood for. Now we see what a mockery all those UN resolutions really are as Russia sends its armored vehicles through a whole bunch of them! And Putin, perhaps rightly says ‘ Don’t you lecture me America’!
So Europe and Eastern Ukraine awake yet again to face perhaps the coldest eastern wind they have felt in many years. This morning eastern Ukraine troops are being left without direction, some deciding to stand their ground and others backing down within the currently Russian occupied Crimea. All it may take is a misplaced gunshot to start an almighty international incident.
We wish our Ukrainian friends everything and more, if only we could give it. We hope peace, humanitarianism and community prevail and we salute you for your incredible courage and strength.
Udachy druzi (good luck friends)
I wil aim to speak with friends in Ukraine to ask them what this experience has been like and will report back very soon for part 2.