Dear Family and Friends,
Some of you have written and asked if we are OK, and for more information on what is happening in Ukraine. If you have no idea that something is happening in Ukraine, unfortunately I am not surprised as the U.S. media is doing a rather poor job reporting on it. Thus, I am writing to let you know that something phenomenal is happening here, and to ask you to please help spread the word in the U.S. about it! (And Igor and I safe and fine, please don't worry about us! :-)
The very, very condensed version is that the Government of Ukraine backed out of an association agreement with EU just one week before it was to be signed at the Vilnius Summit Nov. 27-28. Since the gov't announcement on Nov. 21, Ukrainians have been protesting, and demonstrating their support for the EU agreement. The demonstrations have been peaceful and non-violent. On Sunday, Nov. 24, 100,000 people gathered on Independence Square (in Ukrainian, Maidan Nezelezhnosti, or simply Maidan or Maydan) in central Kyiv; a week later, on Sunday, Dec. 1, around 750,000 people demonstrated in Kyiv, with hundreds of thousands protesting in cities all across the country, as well. Last Friday night, the special police force called Berkut attacked peaceful protestors, dozens were injured. Instead of being intimidated, Ukrainians are only further motivated to protect their rights. The next day, Saturday Dec 1, people started pouring into Kyiv from all over Ukraine to peacefully demonstrate. Planted provocateurs tried to instigate violence, presumably so the Berkut could crack down again on the demonstrators. The international media has widely reported that demonstrators tried to storm the President's administration building on Saturday. Independent journalists have since uncovered evidence that the violent "demonstrators" were paid provocateurs, but nonetheless 60 or so innocent demonstrators were arrested and several have been sentenced for up to 2 months imprisonment for "attacking" the police. On Sunday, the berkut tried to block access to Maidan, stating the city needed to set up the Christmas Tree on the square, an utterly ridiculous ploy that did not at all keep demonstrators away.
On Monday, Dec. 2, the opposition parties in Parliament (called the Verhovna Rada in Ukrainian) called a vote of no confidence against the government led by the Party of Regions (aka PoR). No one from the PoR cast a vote, they didn't even officially abstain, they simply refused to participate in the vote. Of those who voted, they overwhelmingly voted no confidence in the government. But unfortunately they did not pass the threshold of overall number of votes required to pass the bill, ie 50% of the total number of seats in parliament. Peaceful demonstrations continue throughout the capital and the country, and indeed now throughout the world. Ukrainians and supporters in other countries are gathering in support of EuroMaidan (as the movement has been dubbed) and are posting photos to show their solidarity.
If you want to read a better and more comprehensive history of what led up to the past 2 weeks of demonstrations, this is a pretty good (and not too long) article: http://int.acampadadebarcelona.org/en/2013/11/29/who-is-behind-the-ukrainian-protest-a-letter-from-kiev/ Please be patient with his non-native English.
A short glossary of terms to help you understand the lingo: http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-protest-glossary-euromaydan/25190085.html
My husband Igor has been out on Maidan several times, despite a bad cold, which eventually got the best of him and he's not been able to go back out into the near- and below-freezing temperatures since this past weekend. I was out of the country Friday-Wednesday, right when things got really interesting! But today I had my first opportunity to go out and see for myself. I delivered blankets, warm clothes and toiletries to St. Michael's Church, near Maidan, which has been opened up to protestors by the Bishop of Kyiv to provide food and shelter to the demonstrators, and out-of-towners can sleep in the church overnight. Ukraine is an officially Christian Orthodox country, as declared in the constitution. So, unlike in the U.S., where church and state are constitutionally separated and should not mix and mingle, in Ukraine the church and state go hand-in-hand. Thus, it is HUGE that the Bishop of Kyiv and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are actively supporting the anti-government demonstrators.
It is an exciting time in Ukraine, people are standing up against a very corrupt government and demanding accountability, responsibility and respect. We don't know what will come next.
If you are interested in learning more about what is happening, below are some links to English-language sites that I recommend you follow.
BBC has decent coverage of the events, and actually has a reporter in Kyiv (unlike many U.S. media outlets): http://www.bbc.co.uk/search/news/?q=ukraine&video=on&audio=on&text=on
Kyiv Post, reporting mostly in English, with an occasional article or link in Ukrainian or Russian: www.facebook.com/groups/kyivpost/
Radio Free Europe: http://www.rferl.org/search/?st=article&k=ukraine&df=21%2F11%2F2013&dt=05%2F12%2F2013&ob=rel#article
Maidan news in English - http://maidan.in.ua/
A friend and I (another American in Kyiv) started translating Facebook posts into English from the start of the protests, and eventually a page was set up specifically to get the word out to the English-speaking world: EuroMaidan in English, www.facebook.com/euromaidanEN. They are also linking to lots of relevant articles in the international press. My word of caution: please check the by-line when reading anything. If the article is published from Moscow, read with caution! Russia has a dog in this fight, and they are DEFINITELY fighting dirty. My personal pet peeve are the journalists who purport to write something informative but who are not on the ground. It took the New York Times over a week to send a reporter from Moscow to Kyiv (only a 90-minute flight) to report in person on the Kyiv demonstrations.
Please feel free to forward this to your friends, colleagues, and other family members and post the links on your social media. If you have any questions about anything you read, or just want to know more about EuroMaidan, please do not hesitate to write to me - I will do my best to help you be informed!
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