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.