Thursday, December 26, 2013

Focused emotions: In response to the assaults on Ukraine

By Michael

I am feeling restless. I have contradictory feelings--saddened by what the government is doing to Ukraine, but inspired by the people who are standing up to this destruction.

Here's what I am thinking about:

The government dispersed Euromaidan on November 30th, the day after the EU Vilnius Summit, by siccing Berkut on a couple of hundred protesters. Berkut beat the protesters and everybody saw what they did. People responded by coming out in droves that weekend, and they took back the Maidan.

On December 11th police tried to take back the Maidan and Kyiv City Hall from the protesters who had claimed the building as the "Headquarters of National Resistance." The police used relatively clean tactics (and even this is disputed) and they failed to achieve their goal.

It seems that now the Ukrainian government is trying to terrorize the Ukrainian people by
assaulting individuals instead of confronting the entire Maidan at once.

The government is trying to strike fear into the people of Ukraine. But nobody I know is scared. They are past being angry. They are fuming. But you wouldn't know this from just a superficial glance at the protesters.

Their self discipline and self organization is extraordinary. The protesters have forbidden drinking alcohol on the Maidan, for example. They have their own security and their own electricity. These are smart, coordinated, and focused people. Don't expect blind rage from them.

Here's how Kateryna Kruk responded to the Christmas Eve beatings in what I will call a "Twitter essay" (written on December 25th):

today was my worst day of .regime beaten not only Chornovol.they've beaten friend.everyone.1/4
every living person in Ukraine,'cause to live means to say truth and fight for better.regime hasn't attacked Chornovol.they attacked 2/4
our dignity and basic rights.from today I don't have pres.,gov.,I have bloody regime,from whom I,we,Ukrainians,need protection.3/4
democratic prodecures and rules of int.relations are important,but could they be more important than people,right to talk,right to live?4/4
This is probably the most poignant piece of writing I have read on Twitter yet. The Maidan movement is not about pure logic. It is about channeling intense feelings into a cause. This is deep and this is emotional. This is about everyday life and the rest of our lives. And that is more real than logic. The change that is happening in Ukraine can be called hyper reality.

That is why I'm writing to say that Yanukovych's regime literally beat my wife, Yulia, too, and I am pissed. As Kateryna says, "they've beaten me, my mother, my friend, everyone, every living person in Ukraine." She is absolutely right.

But her essay isn't only about the Yanukovych regime. Kateryna later writes, "democtratic procedure and rules of international relations are important, but could they be more important than people, right to talk, right to live?" Here she is referring to the response of the international community to the Maidan movement. The EU and the US have been following the situation here closely, but their responses have been merely rhetorical. The EU wrote a letter expressing their concern about the situation. US Secretary of State John Kerry said that attacks on protesters are "disgusting." But violence has been going on for quite some time now. The US has made conditional threats, but has not followed through with those threats when conditions are met. I have been documenting it myself here on this blog. On November 25th I wrote:
About two hours ago, there was a spike in tweets. I watched in real time as people called for help in a clash against riot police. They sent pictures and videos from Kyiv. Here is avideo that shows the scuffle unfold (fast forward to minute 43 for the fight). Police hit protesters with billy clubs and used tear gas to try and disperse the crowd
 November 30th:
The US government has vowed that the Ukrainian government will face serious repercussions if they use force against the protesters. Well, they already have as of four o'clock this morning. 
December 2nd:
Yesterday, however, the protests became violent at one point. There were clashes on Bankova Street as protesters attempted to storm the presidential residence. Using a bulldozer, protesters attacked riot police. The majority of protesters reacted valiantly, actually coming to the aid of the Berkut special forces police.
 And now Ukrainians are dealing with what happened on Christmas Eve. The EU wants the Ukrainian government to look into the stabbing, shooting, and beating, but they have missed one very big point--the Ukrainian government is one of the suspects!

It seems that the entire architecture of the political system on all sides in dysfunctional. No one doubts this architecture is important. As Kateryna says, "democratic procedures and rules of international relations are important." But something's obviously not working.

That is why the Maidan movement needs to be big. Ordinary Ukrainians must take on the problems they face themselves because nobody is going to do it for them. They need to re-form the system. That is why I am getting involved. This will be tough, with a steep learning curve, but at least it will be truly democratic with the people themselves forming a new kind of system and a new kind of country.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eve assaults in Ukraine

By Michael

Yulia often teases me about my listening to my iPod so often. I have become accustomed to wearing headphones as I work. I wear them while doing the dishes and while gardening. I was wearing them yesterday while I was installing wood paneling on our veranda. I do not listen to music, but get my news through podcasts from sources like Milwaukee Public Radio or NPR. When we first moved to Ukraine, listening to the news really helped me bridge life in America to life in Ukraine.

But my beloved podcasts are breaking my heart. With a few exceptions (like "On Point," "Radio Times," "University of the Air," and "Here and Now") there has been silence about the Euromaidans in Ukraine. I feel like American news media are basically telling me, "We don't care about you, Ukraine, or your Ukrainian family." I realize this is hyperbole, and I am being a bit histrionic. American coverage of the situation has been OK.

But here is the stark contrast in the news that I woke up to this morning:

My favorite state public radio station (I'll be nice and not name names) is debating whether or not "whatever" is the most annoying word in the English language. Another show is pondering the future of shopping malls in America.

Here is what is happening in Ukraine:

Late last night the organizer of Euromaidan Kharkiv was stabbed.

Almost simultaneously, in Kyiv, Journalist Tatiana Chornovol was driving her car when she was cut off and then beaten severely. Article here.Video here.

And this is not all. Several days ago a journalist from "Road Control" was attacked in his car and shot. His car was burned. Luckily, he survived.

These attacks are not random. All three of these people have been critical of the Ukrainian government.

I fear that because of the big Christmas holiday these tragedies will get no attention. American journalists (again, I won't name names) have already fallen into the groove of pronouncing the dwindling of Euromaidan because of the holidays. One Washington based newspaper keeps insisting that Ukraine doesn't need another revolution. They ask: Why doesn't the political opposition just sit at a roundtable with the government (who just had men armed with machine guns storm opposition party offices) and work everything out?

As Kurt Vonnegut once said, "So it goes."


Merry Christmas to everyone. Our hearts are with all of our friends, family, and readers of this blog. Let's not let the holiday make us forget about all those who are fighting for freedom right now. It's not a cliche. It's a real fight.


Let us know when Fox News finds out if Santa Claus is white or African American.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Support "Permaculture in Ukraine!"

Last summer Yulia and I took a permaculture certification course and made friends with Pavlo Ardanov, one of the organizers. He is a very smart man and full of positive energy.

Pavlo is looking for financial support for "Permaculture in Ukraine," an NGO that he established. Please read his message below (in Ukrainian and English):

Шановний Пане / Шановна Пані,

Буду вам дуже вдячний за підтримку та поширення цієї інформації.
Мене звуть Павло, я голова Громадської спілки "Пермакультура в Україні". Ми ведемо інформаційно-освітню діяльність в галузях екології, сталого господарювання, органічного землеробства та інших пов'язаних з пермакультурою напрямах.
Пермакультурне планування є зручною схемою переходу українського села до органічного виробництва, підтримки дрібних та середніх господарств, досягнення сталості на регіональному рівні, а, отже, відродження українського села. Використання пермакультурного дизайну в містах дозволяє вирішувати актуальні екологічні проблеми на рівні місцевих громад та створювати екологічно стійкі перехідні міста, що є надзвичайно популярним в Європі та у світі. Я вважаю, що поширення знань про пермакультуру є одним з компонентом перебудови економіки України в бік меншої залежності від викопних енергоресурсів, економічної та культурної інтеграції з європейською спільнотою та виживання в умовах економічної кризи.
Тому нагальною місією нашої організації ми бачимо побудову вітчизняної школи пермакультури. Після проведення трьох сертифікаційних курсів пермакультурного дизайну в Україні, ми організуємо курс для першої генерації викладачів пермакультури. На цьому курсі ми планували пільгову ціну для українців за рахунок набору учасників з-за кордону за вищу платню. Нажаль, нам не вдалося знайти достатньо іноземців, частково через залученість до подій Євромайдану і частково через небажання іноземців відвідувати нашу країну в умовах політичної нестабільності.
Тому ми було б вам дуже вдячні за посильну допомогу в проведенні цього курсу. Закінчивши аспірантуру в Фінляндії, я повернувся в Україну щоб використати свої знання та досвід для розбудови громадянського суспільства. У вересні 2013 ми зареєстрували нашу неприбуткову організацію. Згуртованість українців по всьому світу допоможе нашій країні пережити ці важкі часи. І навіть невеликі внески сприятимуть продовженню нашої діяльності. Реквізити банківських рахунків нашої організації наведені нижче.

З повагою, Павло.

Dear Sir / Madam,

I should be very grateful for your support and spreading this information.
My name is Pavlo, I am the Head of Non-governmental organization "Permaculture in Ukraine". We conduct informational and educational activities in the fields of ecology, sustainable development, organic farming and other areas related to permaculture.
Permaculture design is a convenient way for transition of Ukrainian villages towards organic production, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, achieving sustainability at the regional level and, consequently, the revival of the Ukrainian villages. In urban areas permaculture design allows solving existing environmental problems by the local communities and to increase resilience by initiating transition movement that is very popular in Europe and worldwide. I believe that spreading the knowledge of permaculture is an important component of transforming Ukrainian economy toward less dependence on fossil fuels, for economic and cultural integration with the European Community and survival amid the economic crisis.
Therefore we see the current mission of our organization in creation the national school of permaculture. After conducting three certified Permaculture Design Courses in Ukraine we are organizing the Permaculture Teacher's Training Course for the first generation of Ukrainian permaculture trainers. For this course we have offered a reduced price for Ukrainian participants which should be balanced by the higher registration fee payed by participants from abroad. Unfortunately, we were unable to attract enough foreigners to this course, partly because our involvement in Euromaidan protest movement and partly because many foreigners avoid visiting Ukraine during this time of political instability.
We would be very grateful for any help that allow us to conduct this course. After obtaining a PhD in Finland, I returned back to Ukraine to use my knowledge and experience for the development of civil society. In September 2013 we have registered our non-for-profit organization. Consolidation of Ukrainians around the World will help our country to outlive this difficult time. Even small contributions will help us to maintain our activities. Please, see our account requisites below.

Yours Sincerely, Pavlo.

The name of legal person: NGO "Permaculture in Ukraine"
Legal address: 11-а Petra Pancha str., appt. 23, Kyiv 04201, Ukraine
Identification number (EDRPOU): 38885682
Currency of account: EUR
Account number: 26006468364400
Bank name: Public Joint Stock Company "UkrSibbank"
Bank code (MFO): 351005
Beneficiary bank (JSK "UkrSibbank")
Moskovsky ave 60
Kharkiv, Ukraine
Intermediary bank (BNP Paribas SA)
Paris, France
Purpose of payment: "Irretrievable financial aid for statutory activities of NGO “Permaculture in Ukraine".


The name of legal person: NGO "Permaculture in Ukraine"
Legal address: 11-а Petra Pancha str., appt. 23, Kyiv 04201, Ukraine
Identification number (EDRPOU): 38885682
Currency of account: USD
Account number: 26006468364400
Bank name: Public Joint Stock Company "UkrSibbank"
Bank code (MFO): 351005
Beneficiary bank (JSK "UkrSibbank")
Moskovsky ave 60
Kharkiv, Ukraine
Intermediary bank (BNP Paribas U.S.A. - New York Branch)
New York, USA
Purpose of payment: "Irretrievable financial aid for statutory activity of NGO “Permaculture in Ukraine".


The name of legal person: NGO "Permaculture in Ukraine"
Legal address: 11-а Petra Pancha str., appt. 23, Kyiv 04201, Ukraine
Identification number (EDRPOU): 38885682
Currency of account: GBP
Account number: 26006468364400
Bank name: Public Joint Stock Company "UkrSibbank"
Bank code (MFO): 351005
Beneficiary bank (JSK "UkrSibbank")
Moskovsky ave 60
Kharkiv, Ukraine
Intermediary bank (Citibank NA)
London, Great Britain
SWIFT-code: CITIGB2L Purpose of payment: "Irretrievable financial aid for statutory activity of NGO “Permaculture in Ukraine".

Павло Арданов,, +380-96-947-1612, голова Громадської спілки "Пермакультура в Україні": Гугл група (новини): Вісник Спілки:!topic/permaukr/wGNZencpiCA

Pavlo Ardanov,, +380-96-947-1612, The head of the NGO "Permaculture in Ukraine": Google group (news): Information bulletin:!topic/permaukr/wGNZencpiCA

A Simple Desultory Update

By Michael

Our camera has been broken for a couple weeks now, but we should be getting a new one shortly. That explains why we have not been posting many pictures lately.

We've been working on many different projects here at our home. Several weeks ago, Yulia's dad helped us install a new floor on our veranda.

We lacquered it ourselves using Kreidezeit "hard wax oil." Kreidezeit is a German company that makes ecologically friendly paints.

Yulia lacquering our floor
We also just lacquered our wooden windows that we had custom made. Our friend, Yura, made them for us. The lacquer we used has a rich, honey color to it. They are beautiful! (Sorry for not having any photos of them!) We just ordered double paned glass for them at the Lviv Window Factory. They should be ready by midweek or so. Then Yura will come by to install them.

We're slowly getting used to our new dog, Тома. That's right, her name is now Toma! We had to change it when we learned that Тюльпан (Tulip) is a male name in Ukrainian!

Toma prancing through some morning frost

On a walk with Toma in the fields behind our house
We're still bathing outside, even in the below freezing temperatures! It's kind of nice, actually. Yulia described it well when she said that it makes your skin feel like a sponge because the warm water opens it up while the cold air shrinks it back down. I think it's like a spa treatment. No kidding! Try it!

I even have reflective moments when I am outside watching the steam from the water waft up to the stars. It's not too cold for me to look up at the sky and think about the ancient light which was created long before any of us were alive. The stars are at once so complicated and so simple. They are more fantastic than any machine people have created. Yet they are just dots of light to the naked eye. They stare down at us almost every night, but they also feel so separate from the darkened houses of our village. The built environment simply looks primitive below the perfection of celestial vastness. A gable here, a dutch hip with TV antenna there. It's all moot to the stars. They know they have existed long before us and will continue to exist. They ask us why we like such funny styles and why we believe such strange beliefs. 

I can't answer why us people like such funny styles and have such strange beliefs. But I know the stars have some kind of wisdom. It probably exists outside of language, so maybe I shouldn't try to put it into words. 

Post Script:

I stole the title for this post from the Simon and Garfunkel song, "A Simple Desultory Philippic."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Help us win the Expats Blog writing contest!

Yulia and I are part of the Expats Blog writing community. Expats Blog is a website that has a list of many different blogs written by expats all over the world.

Right now they are holding a writing contest, and Yulia and I are participating! To see our entry, please click on this link. It is a top ten list of why Ukraine is more environmentally friendly than the United States.

At the bottom of that page you can vote for our entry to win the contest. If you wouldn't mind, dear readers, we would be delighted if you took two minutes to vote for our entry by leaving a comment on that page and liking it on Facebook, Tweeting it, et cetera.

Thanks so much for reading our blog and voting for our entry!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The kind of revolution we want to see in Ukraine

By Michael

I woke up to beautiful, warm singing by honey voiced men several days ago. It was a funeral procession. Another one of our neighbors in our small village had died. This is the second death that Yulia and I have been present for since we moved into our house five months ago. This trend, unfortunately, will continue. Residents of our village are slowly dying off, and no one is replacing them. The houses and gardens left behind by the deceased are usually not tended by surviving family members. The houses slowly rot without anyone heating them in the winter and the gardens become overgrown.

There is no plan for the moldering villages of Ukraine. The Soviet era farms that dot the countryside are already in an advanced state of decay. They look like ancient Greek ruins--a column here, a doorway with nothing around it there. However, these ruins have only been around for 22 years. There are modern aspects to these ruins as well. I found an old weigh station and guard shack for vehicles leaving one of these farms. I imagined what the Ukrainian countryside was once like. My god, things happened here, I realized! There were farm hands, truck drivers, mechanics, guards, store clerks, and teachers working here.

Those people are still living in these rural villages. Their adult children are in the cities where the jobs are. The Ukrainian countryside is therefore a sort of vast retirement community. And they are in danger of becoming ghost towns. Yulia and I think they deserve a better future than this. That is why we are trying to keep our village strong. We want it to be a place where things happen.We want other young people to join us, and it does seem that there is a desire from others to do so. We also want to defend this land from being bought up by oligarch controlled agribusinesses who will exploit this land and eventually ruin it. This is a dramatic change from the status quo, but it is the kind of future we want to see for the Ukrainian countryside.

Yulia and I have been interested in the idea of dramatic change in Ukraine for quite some time now. When we first moved to Ukraine, Yulia made it clear to me that we were not moving here in order to assimilate. We were coming to create the kind of world we want to see. We view what we are doing as part of the greater change we see unfolding on the Maidan in Kyiv and, indeed, all over Ukraine right now.

A lot of people have been critical of the Euromaidan protests, claiming that they are not a real revolution. Sergei Mikheev, for example, has this to say about the current situation in Ukraine:
Calling the events “a revolution” is an exaggeration. There is no revolution, just like there was no revolution in 2004. Revolution is a change of the social and political system. There was no change of the social and political system in 2004; and it is not happening at the moment. Thus, the events are mostly “fake” and manipulations, even though many people sincerely believe that they protest against everything bad and for everything good.
His definition of "revolution" is appropriate, and it is the definition I will use here. He is also right in saying that the 2004 Orange Revolution was not a revolution. However, he is wrong in coming to the conclusion that there is no revolution happening at the moment.

The Orange Revolution was not a revolution because a new party was simply voted into office without the dramatic changes that are needed in order to make an actual revolution. There was a clear aim to the Orange Revolution, the overturning of a fraudulent election. When that happened, people concluded "mission accomplished." The political and social systems, as Mikheev states, were not changed (enough).

What is happening now is a revolution because protesters are demanding and creating political and social change. Their demands for political change are clear: the resignation of the president, prime minister, and others. They also want the Association Agreement signed with the EU. These are the political and economic aspects of the revolution. They have not happened yet, and it may take some time for these things to happen. The protesters are being peaceful, and, unfortunately, it takes time to create change in this way. People ask for evidence or examples of what, precisely should happen if the protesters are successful. They want a road map for the future. Those asking this have good questions, but they need to be patient. Events can unfold in a number of ways, and it is impossible to predict how. Ukraine will just need to deal with political change as it comes.

For those that want examples of a post revolution Ukraine, here is one that addresses a particular aspect of society: journalism. As far as I can tell, Euromaidan is about ordinary people taking control of the destiny of their country. Hromadske TV has emerged as a living example of this. Hromadske TV is an internet television station that has been broadcasting news about Euromaidan on the internet. They have a no frills sort of an approach. Their studio appears to be located in an attic in Kyiv. Their small newsroom is visible behind the news desk, while the anchors sit with laptops in front of them. The anchors have a flat screen monitor and "Hromadske TV banner behind them. They often have audio, video, and internet speed problems. But these superficial problems are made up for by substance. The quality of journalism they put out is professional and superb. These (mostly young) journalists have a bright future, and I certainly hope this will become the model to replace oligarch owned news companies in Ukraine.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Vladimir Lenin statue falls in Kyiv

By Michael

As I was publishing my last blog post yesterday, I heard the news that the Vladimir Lenin statue in Kyiv was taken down.

My initial reaction was similar to that of Brian Bonner, editor of the Kyiv Post:
Finally, the statue of Vladimir Lenin is gone from central Kyiv. It should have been taken down years ago, tucked away in a museum of Soviet-era relics. 
I was wondering why Kyiv didn't do what Lviv did with its statue in 1991. Upon gaining independence from the USSR, the city of Lviv took down Lenin and put him in a warehouse. The statue was not damaged and ordinary people didn't have to take it down, risking injury to themselves or the statue.

If other cities in Ukraine want to keep their Lenin statues, that is fine if a majority of people want it there. I personally don't understand why (they just seem creepy to me), but I'll do my best to remain open minded.

My family and Yulia's family directly suffered because of the Soviets. My great grandfather was shot at his doorstep by the NKVD while Yulia's great grandmother spent several years in a Gulag in Siberia. Her crime? Taking a loaf of bread from the bread factory she worked at to feed her hungry family. My grandmother's kid brother was blown up. He found an interesting device by the roadside, so, as any child might do, he examined it. It turned out to be a Soviet booby trap.

But I'll put aside my sour feelings for a moment. Here are my thoughts for the Soviet sympathizers of Ukraine and those who just want to remember Ukraine's Soviet history:

  • I would be much more sympathetic with the communist party if they showed a little more imagination. Instead of trying to resurrect the Soviet Union, maybe the communists could work at the level of city governments and try to get their party into the mayor's office. The city of Milwaukee in the US, for example, had socialist mayors for fifty years. Although I do not like the Soviets, I do respect Frank Zeidler and the other socialist mayors of Milwaukee. They genuinely cleaned up the corruption that plagued city hall  and helped stop the exploitation of and violence against immigrant factory workers. They allied with the blue collar workers of the city and helped them form successful labor unions.

  • Instead of erecting Lenin statues, why not put up a memorial to the Kronstadt Rebellion? The Kronstadt Rebellion was a rebellion started by sailors of the Russian Baltic Sea fleet. These sailors happened to help initiate the Russian Revolution itself. They were for workers' rights and real socialism and helped overthrow the monarchy. When Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik party brutally took power of the government, the Baltic sailors, former Red Army soldiers, and the people of Kronstadt cried foul and started a rebellion, which was suppressed by Lenin's forces. It seems to me that the Kronstadt Rebellion embodies the true values of the Russian Revolution, while Lenin symbolizes violence and dictatorship. 
But I am much more interested in what is happening in Ukraine right now as I write this than to talk about statues. Lenin seems like a bit of a red herring. The opposition has itself barricaded inside city hall, and the police have been authorized to use violence to get them to disperse. So far the police have stayed put. 

Praying for the safety of everybody involved...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A lesson from the youth of Ukraine: How to be selfless

Since last week there has been a flood of analysis about the protests in Ukraine. What is emerging is an interesting new division in the country that makes the situation here even more complicated. It is not so much of an east-west divide anymore. The division is between the older and younger generations. 

@kashasaltsova wrote an absolutely brilliant message on Twitter this week, and it aptly sums up the generation gap: 
Старше покоління виявилось готове обміняти Незалежність на стабільно бідну,але передбачувану старість.Мафія і бабусі заодне.
If I may translate: "The older generation appears to be ready to exchange independence for stable poverty, but predictable old age. The mafia and grannies are for the same thing." That "same thing" is the old way of thinking, an idea I will get to later in this post.

At the core of the generation gap is how older and younger people get their information. Mustafa Nayem, an active internet journalist during these times, talks about this in an interview with Deutsche Welle:
There are two different realities in Ukraine: in one of them, journalists exercise their right to write about and critically discuss pressing issues. That's the Internet reality - people can write and speak openly there...Many people, especially older people - who play a decisive role in elections, do not use the Internet as a source of information. 
Nayem goes on to say where older people do get their information from--the television:
Those who are loyal to state authorities or who are part of that system control the television media, which have a major impact on people.
What Nayem says is true. Internet news is generally more independent, while television is controlled by stakeholders such as government and big business. What emerges from this is how those media shape our thinking.

Traditional television news in Ukraine has a top-down structure. There is a boss that calls the shots at the company. The news is made the way the boss wants, and that information is disseminated to a mass audience. 

Internet news is more horizontal. On Twitter, for example, Yulia and I follow several big wigs like Victor Yanukovych (the Ukrainian president), Arseniy Yatsenyiuk (a political opposition leader), and Brian Bonner (editor of the Kyiv Post). The first two are prominent politicians, while the latter is one of the bosses of a traditional media outlet--a newspaper. But along with their tweets, we get messages from ordinary people too--our friends and strangers protesting on the Maidan right now. We therefore get a different picture of what is going on, one that is arguably more well rounded. 

In my interactions with people, what I see emerging are two different approaches to problem solving, and they diverge according to age. The younger generation wants to take matters into its own hands. They want ordinary people to take on the problems that civil society faces. Gathering information via the internet is one way they propose to do this. They are not trying to kick out traditional media or the big wigs, but, rather, they want to work with them. What has been most encouraging about these protests is that the protesters do not hope for the European Union to swoop into Ukraine and save the day. Rather, they see the EU as a facilitator that will help create the necessary conditions for ordinary people to get involved in civic life. 

Older people prefer large, formal institutions to get the job done. This goes for the news media as well as agriculture and other aspects of creating a functional society. I've already discussed our opinions about the media, and you could probably guess for yourself our views on farming (We prefer small farms, if you are curious). 

Obviously, this is not a clean divide. There are many older people who use internet media and vice versa. Perhaps a better, more diplomatic way of putting this would be to say the old way of doing things and the new way of doing things. 

This brings me to my thesis. We all need to learn a big lesson from these protests. What makes the protests a true revolution is that they are not about personal comfort or money. That is the old way of doing things. They are about eliminating corruption and government ineffectiveness to create a better future for Ukraine. In order to do this, we need to stop thinking about ourselves and our petty needs and think about the greater good. Everybody--large institutions and ordinary people alike--need to get involved. This is the new way of doing things. Thinking like this is truly revolutionary for Ukraine.

For anyone that does not understand how such a bad government could be elected in the first place, here's how. Firstly, there's flat out election fraud. The vlada (Remember that word from last week? It means the party in power.) pays election commission members to destroy or lose opposition votes. If anyone catches them doing this and demands a revote (which happened is Mykolayiv and other parts of Ukraine last year), the vlada will stall the revote. By having so many undecided elections, they can ensure fewer victories in fewer districts for the opposition. The vlada also bribes the electorate. Last year there were stories of votes being bought with sacks of buckwheat. It's sad, but true. The Party of Regions (currently the vlada) also keeps its base, senior citizens, happy by raising pensions by 100 hryvnias or so. What the seniors don't realize is that the government then simply raises the price of staples like bread accordingly, so that the extra money they are getting in their pensions doesn't even help. When the Party of Regions needs people to protest or agitate protests, they will pay people to go to the streets. 

There is one common thread that the vlada uses to maintain control: greed. It counts on people's greed to get what it wants. What they don't realize about these protesters is that they are revolutionizing how "the system" works. They cannot be bought, and they cannot be intimidated. When Berkut police beat protesters on the morning of November 30th, Yanukovych was hoping that this move would strike fear into his opponents. It had the opposite effect, in fact. People flooded the streets that weekend. People were chanting that they were not afraid anymore. On December 5th, a Kyiv court decided to hold Andriy Dzyndzya, a journalist, in custody for two months. People were furious, and no one was frightened away. The protesters have even been bringing food to police officers who are standing ready to beat them upon order all this week. 

The vlada also threatens Ukraine that unless the masses start behaving, the country's economy will face a downturn. I happen to think this is a complete bluff, but it is an effective scare tactic. Regular people that do have a sincere interest in the well being of Ukraine would not risk such a problem. I think the vlada is speaking in code. What they are really saying is that they will lose lots of their own money if they give in to the protester's demands and start being responsible politicians. Ukraine has been in a recession for quite some time now, so obviously the status quo is not working for ordinary people. Only the vlada has become fabulously wealthy since it was elected. 

The protesters are willing to take short term pain for long term progress. They do not care if they are physically hurt, and they do not care if they have less money. The president and his cronies, because they cannot understand this, do not know how to counter this. They are being egged on by Vladimir Putin. They think the protests have been engineered by "the West." Because all they know is self preservation and their own greed, they do not understand what it is like to believe in something dearly and fight for it.

They have an old way of thinking, and it looks like it is going out the door.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Euro Revolution

By Michael

In my last post I discussed how the president and the "vlada" (Ukrainian for those who hold political power) was quickly losing its legitimacy. After the events of yesterday (December 1st), I think it is safe to say that they have lost their last remaining shreds of power.

The turnout to the protests yesterday was impressive. I heard that as many as 1.6 million people turned out on the streets of Kyiv. I was in downtown Lviv yesterday and it was quite large as well. People are still pouring into Kyiv. By the end of the day, 20 more buses had left from Lviv for the nation's capital. In the face of such numbers, it is hard to see how the vlada can still claim popular support.

Early yesterday morning I was going over various outcomes for Ukraine in my head. One of them involved a split of the country. It is well known that Ukraine is divided politically and linguistically. That was obvious after the Orange Revolution 9 years ago. Western and central Ukraine overwhelmingly voted for the opposition while the south and east voted for Yanukovych.

It does not look like the country is similarly divided this time around. The crowd in downtown Lviv was voicing its support for the rest of the country, especially eastern and southern Ukraine. The host of the rally read that Ukrainians came out to the streets in protest against the vlada in cities like Kharkiv and Donetsk (the president's home city). We watched video of similar protests in Luhansk and Crimea. Several days ago university students from Donetsk wrote a letter to the students of Lviv (some of the most fervent and active of the protesters) saying that they support them. So the country has not been split. It is actually united against the vlada.

However, the vlada may still have one very significant source of power: money. They have stolen great sums of cash from the Ukrainian people over the years through nepotism, corrupt business practices, and illegal seizures of capital. The president, for example, wrote a book that allegedly brought him an income of millions of dollars, though it is impossible to find on bookshelves anywhere. It appears that the book was just one big money laundering operation.

The United States government may soon be helping to put an end to the monetary power of the Ukrainian vlada. It has already made a list of those whose US banks accounts will be frozen (I wanted to include a video of a reading of that list, but I am having problems uploading it right now).

As of this writing, opposition politicians and other protesters are meeting to discuss further steps. They will be demanding resignations from the president, prime minister, and others in the vlada. They are also aware that a systematic change is needed in the government. Yuriy Lutsenko, one of the leaders of the opposition, has already called for a "reboot" of the entire criminal justice system. They will have to get down to the hard work of creating a new way of doing things, whatever that may be. Lastly, new elections will be held.

This is a precarious situation, but things seem to be going well, considering the circumstances. Here is my take on the protests and Ukraine's future:

The protests must remain peaceful at all costs--this includes losing ground to the police. The beating and subsequent dispersal of protesters on Saturday morning was a terrible thing, but it mobilized people, and they came out in droves yesterday. It was clear who was right and who was wrong.

The peaceful protesters won a victory here. The vlada was embarrassed and the opposition was able to unite in support of the victims. If the protesters had turned violent, then the police have the right to declare a state of emergency and impose even more draconian measures.

Yesterday, however, the protests became violent at one point. There were clashes on Bankova Street as protesters attempted to storm the presidential residence. Using a bulldozer, protesters attacked riot police. The majority of protesters reacted valiantly, actually coming to the aid of the Berkut special forces police.

They confronted the unknown agitators using the bulldozers, thus showing that the protests are about peace and non-violence. It is still unclear who the agitators were, though there is speculation that they were paid provocateurs.

The protests at this point were enormous. There was no need to confront the police in such a fashion. Protesters were able to retake Independence Square and other strongholds peacefully, for example.

My prayers are for continued peace. I hope the vlada sees that their criminal ways are no longer tolerated by the Ukrainian people. They should resign their positions and be tried in an unbiased, apolitical court (a right they denied their enemies).

So far the vlada has remained quiet. They are either too frightened to raise their heads or thinking up a counter strategy (or both). The next few days and weeks are crucial. We all need to be sober, focused, and strong in order to follow through with the positive changes that the protesters have demanded.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


There is a LIVE broadcast of what is happening in Ukraine right now (Kyiv, Ukraine):

Heroes and Cowards

By Michael

In my last post I discussed how the peaceful protests in Kyiv yesterday were put to a stop by police brutality. "Berkut" (that is, special forces) police officers beat protesters to get them to disperse from Independence Square, the location of the protests up until that point. In some cases they chased down protesters who were fleeing in order to beat them.

I realized something while watching these videos. The police officers, all decked out in helmets, shields, and body armor, just look like cowards. They indiscriminately attack people without any defensive equipment or weapons.

The reason for the gratuitous violence? A Christmas tree was to be put up in Independence Square and the protesters were in the way!

This happened at four o'clock yesterday morning. It took Victor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine, all day to respond. When he finally made a statement, all he said was that he was outraged and that those responsible will be punished. Note that I did not say that he did something. He merely said that he might do something.

Yanukovych has clearly lost sense of what is actually happening in his country. He thinks he can continue business as usual, making statements that he has no intention of following through on. He did this for months with the EU Association Agreement, and he is doing it now. He is wrong.

I just came home from the Euro Maidan in downtown Lviv, and I've seen the situation that is unfolding. As far as I can tell, the Ukrainian government has lost all legitimacy. The leader of the protests in Kyiv, Ruslana, stated that she does not consider Yanukovich the president of Ukraine any longer. In Lviv, bands of teenagers and twenty-somethings are running around the streets, practicing how to defend the Maidan in case Berkut shows up. Essentially, they named themselves the de facto security force there.

The young men practicing anti riot police maneuvers eventually calmed down and dispersed.
At the main stage, the protesters urged the boys to stop, calling them provocateurs. But they too are demanding a complete change of the Ukrainian government.

Local Berkut in Lviv was ordered to be on stand by, but the police officers changed out of their uniforms and joined the protesters, completely disobeying direct orders.

After seeing this, I'm not sure why Yanukovych thinks he can continue doing nothing. Business as usual is not the answer to these problems. From children to elite police squads, everyone seems sick of business as usual. Most likely there is probably something that the president knows that I don't know, which guides him to make these decisions, so I won't act like I completely know better than he does. But knowing what I know, this is a really confusing response.

Even if Yanukovych did not order the beatings, his authoritarian style of governing over the past few years makes everybody think that he is behind every move the government makes. Since he controls parts of government that he shouldn't, like the judiciary and law enforcement, people just assume that he is responsible for everything they do. This is a problem of his own making.

It'll be interesting to see what happens in the near future. There are so many different people involved that there are many variables to account for. The one really positive and reassuring thing that I saw at the Maidan tonight is the sense of pride and optimism that the protesters have. Though angry, they have control of themselves and their emotions. Here's to hoping that they keep it up.