Bittersweet Taste of Freedom – Ukrainian Revolution

After massive government corruption, abuse of power, and violations of human rights, many protesters seized the opportunity to change their lives in Ukraine. The demonstrations, which started in November 2013, have since grown to resemble a full-scale revolution. This movement, referred to as Euromaidan, has fed the violent desire for freedom as Ukrainians have taken a stand to protect their basic human rights. Mariana, a Sensa Nostra journalist from Ukraine, currently living in Berlin, offers her perspective of this revolution—one made no less passionate by her having left her homeland—and responds to those who have been quick to criticise its violent nature.

I am left-handed. Neuroscientists claim that the brains of left-handed people develop more freely in utero, allowing the organisation to stray more from the standard design. At the time my mother figured out I was left-handed, people in Ukraine still believed that left-handed kids should be trained to be right-handed. That’s what happened to my mother when she was young. She was left-handed, so at school they bound her left hand to her school desk. My grandmother thinks my mother made the wrong decision when she let my left arm develop freely and that as a result I am in some way handicapped for the rest of my life.

I grew up in the west of Ukraine. My family has never really had any patriotic values, but I was lucky to go to a school that passionately cherished national traditions and culture; that is quite common in the west. We were writing texts about Ukraine’s past glory and learning how heroic our country used to be and how as a nation it always stood up for itself. What we learned was that we should never lose hope and that hard times don’t last forever. Although it was important for us to think that way, the fact that we even had to have this mindset meant that we always knew that we were kind of fucked up.

I went to university in Kiev and it was a shame when I found out that the Ukrainian language is not very welcome there. People always had to kind of stand up for themselves if they were speaking Ukrainian, because otherwise they were automatically treated as poor peasants. People have a disgusting tendency to move to Kiev and start speaking Russian. The recent events have greatly changed this attitude and the Ukrainian language is an ‘it’ thing now. It is considered cute, but it is also what Russian mass media is using against us. They are showing some weird Russian-speaking people who are being hunted and suppressed by the aggressive Ukrainians. I personally don’t know anyone who is be suffering this horrible oppression. Ukraine is a country with a population of forty-six million. I imagine I would have met some by now if there were any victims.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union everything was suddenly allowed. Everything became a mess. Criminal businessmen entered into the government while our parents were stealing food to be able to feed us. Tough times for the Wild Wild East… yet the country was apparently extremely wealthy. Nowadays we have the most billionaires in all Europe—what a fun fact!

The country is now corrupt on every level: doctors, teachers, professors, local administration, tax inspectors—all are disreputable. A lot of people believe it is because of the state of the government. In my opinion, a country’s state of well-being starts with family, not with parliament. In the Ukraine, it is not uncommon to hear of someone whose daddy, after buying them a driving licence, is forced to buy a flat for a local judge as a bribe after they’ve drunkenly run over a four-year-old kid. What kind of message does it send when this kind of thing is the norm? Likewise, the widespread importance placed on material possessions—Swarovski dogs, crocodile leather Coach bags and fur coats—as indicators of wealth is most certainly a feature of a narrow-minded society. Unfortunately such skewed thinking will take a while to become ridiculous and extinct.

I believe that corruption is somehow the result of the perverted nature of communism. You have the feeling that nothing really belongs to you, that it is not yours, so when you see that something is not being policed you have an urgent need to either destroy it or steal it. Someone else will do it anyway, if you don’t. The feeling of not having personal property destroys the feeling of wanting to take care and show respect. It is neither in the Ukrainian nature nor in the Russian nature to be corrupt, but I think it is a very strong post-Soviet effect that will prevail until people learn to respect each other’s property, or cultural backgrounds.

What happened in the 90s after the fall of the Soviet Union was massive. Everybody was stealing in order to survive. Our parents did it as well. They had to. Stealing became normal; it became second nature. Now, the hungry times seem to be over, but a few days ago I went to the hospital to see my grandmother and had to bring two kilos of chocolate sweets for the nurses because otherwise they would refuse to take care of the patients. It is also necessary to put twenty euros into a doctor’s pocket. Normally I am a very loving and understanding person, but that day I sincerely wished some of the nurses would choke on the chocolate candy and die.

I thought for a very long time that we would need another two hundred years to make things change, that as long as people were stuck to Soviet values nothing would ever change. but apparently I was wrong. A new generation— having experienced another way of living from reading, watching, travelling, seeing others respecting each other’s personal space and property—is already out there. Knowing what is going on but still waiting for change passively makes you a slave, and slaves don’t make revolution. But the members of the new generation have grown up and are seeking new living standards in the land where they were born. Because they have the courage not to remain slaves.

A revolution like this didn’t happen earlier because the proactive, conscious generation needed time to grow up. I always considered myself to be one of the conscious people, but what I did in the end was move abroad. I have a lot of friends who live in Ukraine and care about the national identity. A lot of people think that if you can’t make yourself needed and important in your own country, then why would you be valuable somewhere else? I care about the national identity as well but I feel like I need more time before I go back.

What happened at Maidan is beautiful and authentic: thousands of people protesting for their human rights. Protesting is the first thing a person should do to break the slavery chains. People were killed and hurt, but they were united as never before. They were united by fury and pain but also by the understanding that a different, better life was possible. I think it is the most amazing thing that can happen to a young nation. There were students, writers, musicians, intellectuals, etc. It is the layer of the society that is supposed to form the national concept, and thus identity. There were a lot of people who never thought of themselves as belonging to the Ukrainian nation, and now, since the revolution started, they do feel Ukrainian. This feeling is beautiful. It seems like the renaissance of the glorious times. Even my mother told me she didn’t know the national anthem before she went to protest at our local Maidan. Now she does.

I am now living in Germany. I look from the outside and see people craving freedom and I feel sorry for not being there. It’s in this time that I am really proud to be Ukrainian, and I feel like throwing up when people lucky enough to be born in a country that gives them everything tell me that civilised people from civilized nations do not protest by beating each other to death. These people can shut the fuck up. Of course, a protest against gay marriage or killing cows can be carried out in a peaceful way. Our protest is to protect our basic human freedoms: the freedom of thought, the freedom of speech and the very basic freedom to be. The people who try to explain to me what civilised protests are do not realise that they are free to go into the streets and fight for the protection of their cows. Ukrainians were fighting to protect their right to protest. It is a basic human right to be able to fight, to show the world that they are not slaves.

When I hear people saying that it is a barbarian way to fight with violence I want to beat my head on a wall until it bleeds. But I don’t, because I am pro-European and civilised, and I have to show a good example of a conscious citizen—a bleeding citizen looks very scary and quite the opposite of conscious. People believe they are civilised and educated because they have an opinion about Third World problems, when the only thing they really care about is being in a safe place drinking bio-milk and talking about how much injustice is still left in the outside world. How hypocritical is that? I think some people don’t remember their history and what the cost of freedom is. There is no freedom without revolution, and there is no revolution without blood.

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