Ukraine and Its People Power Movement

In small and large group discussion, students explore recent developments in Ukraine and the people power movement EuroMaidan as well as other people power movements. 


(10 minutes)

Read the following opening quote from an article in the Economist last week: 
"SMOULDERING fires, streets covered in soot, a smell of burned tyres; young men in military rags wandering around purposelessly. A heavy atmosphere of apprehension, anger and disbelief still sits on Independence Square ..."
a) Ask students if they know what part of the world this quote might refer to.  Ask them to explain why. 
Read the next quote: 
"Independence square, ... has lent its name, Maidan, to the political protest born there, and thereby to the broader political sentiment that supports it.  Despite the toppling of [the] ... president, ... there is no sense of triumph among the quiet tears and loud words."  
b) If students did not guess after the first quote, that these refer to Ukraine's capital Kiev and the protest movement that started there in November, ask them again if they know what part of the world this quote might refer to.  Ask them to explain why.
c) If students did guess that the earlier quote referred to Ukraine, ask them to share what they know about the Ukrainian protest movement, Maidan. 
Elicit and explain that for months now Ukraine has been in the news because Independence Square in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, has been occupied by protestors opposing the government of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych.  

Background of a Conflict

Show a map of Europe, pointing out that Ukraine is on the eastern edge of Europe, bordering Russia.  Explain that Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991.  It has since oscillated between looking west to seek closer integration with the European Union and reconciliation with Russia, which supplies most of the Ukraine's energy. Most people in the eastern part of Ukraine speak Russian and tend to identify with Russia.  People in the Western part of the country, including the capital of Kiev, are more likely to identify with the European Union.  
The longstanding debate over Ukraine's allegiances has come to the fore in recent months because of the country's economic crisis.  Ukraine is facing a financial collapse, with billions of dollars in debt.  Russia, the European Union, and the U.S. have all put forward offers of aid, all with stings attached. 
Protests started back in November when the Yanukovych government rejected an accord with the European Union in favor of stronger ties with Russia.  Long time aspirations for integration with Europe were dashed overnight, which disappointed and outraged many in the Ukraine.  Thousands gathered at Kiev's central Independence Square for peaceful protests.   
With time, conditions in the square deteriorated as the government introduced severe anti protest laws, inviting the police to crack down on the protesters, arresting and beating them.  As a result, protests grew and intensified.  Whether interested in integration with Europe or not, protesters had a common desire to get rid of a presidency that was seen as corrupt, violating human rights and serving its own interests and that of its neighboring country of Russia, rather than the people of Ukraine.
On February 18 the situation in Kiev descended into chaos.  The Yunukovych government and the opposition had just brokered a deal when it became clear that the government was unwilling to concede to the demands of the protesters to enact constitutional reforms that would reduce presidential powers.  As news got out, angry protesters marched on parliament.  In the days that followed, stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown, shots were fired and on February 20, the situation hit rock bottom as 77 protesters were killed by police snipers and around 600 in the square were wounded. 
Protests have been strongest in the western Ukraine, where the capital of Kiev is located.  That is not to say, however, that there haven't been anti-government protests in the east of the country, where there tends to be a greater affinity with Russia than with the West.  
On February 22, while protests continued in Kiev and other parts of the country, President Yanukovych unexpectedly fled Kiev to the east of the country, near the border with Russia.  An interim government, made up of politicians opposing Yanukovych and representatives of the Maidan protest movement, has since taken office pledging to combat corruption and put the country back on course for European integration. 
The situation since then has been extremely unstable with new developments each day and constant shifts in the political landscape.  The interim government has called for relations with Russia on a "new, equal and good-neighborly footing that recognizes and takes into account Ukraine's European choice."  Russia for its part responded by sending troops into the Crimea, a part of Ukraine that used to belong to Russia.  And as if there wasn't enough concern about a rift and the possibility of civil war between the Russian speaking south-eastern parts of the country and the western parts of Ukraine, Russia has now added the possibility of an international war and further escalating tensions in the region as Ukraine has put its troops on high alert.
Both the European Union and U.S. have pledged support to Ukraine's interim regime.  Obama told Putin on Saturday that Russia's actions are a "clear violation of Ukrainian Sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law."  Other western leaders have backed him up in this and several have since threatened not to attend the G8 meeting that is to take place in the Russian city of Sochi this summer.  Economic sanctions are being considered against Russia, while several trips of Western government officials, about to attend the para-Olympics in Sochi, were cancelled this week. 

Check Agenda and Goals
Explain that today we'll be exploring the developments in Ukraine, the Ukranian people power movement EuroMaidan, and other people power movements. 


Small group activity: The EuroMaidan Movement

(20 minutes)

Read out one of our earlier quotes, now including more information about where these events took place:

"Independence square, the gathering place in Kiev that has lent its name, Maidan [also Euromaidan], to the political protest born there, and thereby to the broader political sentiment that supports it.  Despite the toppling of Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovych, there is no sense of triumph among the quiet tears and loud words."  
Ask students why they think there is no sense of triumph despite the fact that the main goal of the protest movement has been achieved - President Viktor Yanukovych has left Kiev, an interim government has been put in place, and new elections have been scheduled for May 25. 
Next, split your class into groups of around four.  Then share the next quote, by Euromaidan protester Anna Isaieva:
"Now the feeling is ... [that] it's a victory with salty tears. We paid terribly high price. We do not celebrate, we take a rest and remember our heroes: killed, tortured, disappeared, humiliated, mutilated. They represent different regions, social backgrounds, religions but were united by Maidan. It's not yet a finish line; it's a stage of a long way. The fight was not for surnames - one politician instead of another. It's for ... change in the system, for reloaded Ukraine." 25.02.2014
Ask students in their small groups: 
  • To share their thoughts and feelings about this quote.  
  • What does the quote tell us about the Euromaidan movement?   
  • What feelings does it express? 
  • Ask students what they think "reloaded Ukraine" means?  
Share another quote from the article The day Ukraine's "Maidan" lost control by Stephen Grey:
"Yuri Lutsenko, a former interior minister who had gone over to the protesters' side to topple their country's leader, said events in Ukraine had now moved beyond their control.
A week ... [ago Maidan's] nemesis, Viktor Yanukovych, had been deposed as president. And since then the Maidan had continued to play a central role; its approval was sought for a new government before its members were approved by parliament.
But now, Lutsenko said, there was "tragic news". Beneath the darkening evening sky above a soot-stained square lit by the thousands of candles left to remember the dead, he declared that a Russian invasion had begun.
"War has arrived," he said, urging calm. It was no longer the time for people to take an individual stand, as they had in the past weeks, but instead to support the government." 
Ask students in their small groups: 
  • To share their thoughts and feelings about this quote.
  • What does the quote tell us about the role of the EuroMaidan movement? 
  • How have things changed over the past week?
  • And what does Lutsenko feel needs to happen now?  
  • How does that relate to the reasons of Euromaidan going into the streets in the first place?
Ask volunteers from each group to share some of the things they discussed in their small groups.  Point to similarities and differences.  

Compare and Contrast

(7 minutes)

Ask students to think about the "people power" that fueled the protests these past months in not just Ukraine, but also in Venezuela, Thailand and Bosnia.  Explain that "people power" is defined by Oxford Dictionaries online as: 
Political pressure exercised through the public demonstration of popular opinion:
people power has forced the government into a complete surrender

Ask: what other countries have seen such popular uprisings in recent years?  
Touch on the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East, Occupy Wall Street in the US, and explain that "people power" is being used around the world to affect political change, with varying levels of success, on an almost daily basis.  
Peter Ackerman from the International Center of Nonviolent Conflict says "These protests suggest that ... [people power] is the vehicle that, if used correctly, can create real democratic reform.  ...  In Tunisia, the movement evolved in a very short amount of time, and is still considered to be successful. In Egypt the jury is still out. There is a new constitution, but the military is a large nondemocratic force inside Egypt. The battle goes on."

Mark Beissinger, Professor of Politics at Princeton adds that "In some ways, what these conflicts highlight is what occurs after protest is as critical as what occurs during protest. Steps that new governments take after power are very important. These movements are seen as great victories by people, but they are only won after they are over." 
Beissinger and Ackerman talk about how what happens during the protest is as important as what happens next.  The most effective democratic campaigns therefore are disciplined, strategic, flexible, collaborative across constituencies and always thinking ahead as different groups work together on the outcome they'd like to see for their country or community.  Overthrowing a dictator or unpopular regime in and by itself if not enough.  What we've seen throughout history is that the political void thus created can all too easily be occupied by another unpopular and possibly worse regime.  
In Egypt the battle goes on, the same is true in Venezuela, Bosnia, Syria, and other countries in North Africa and the Middle East.  And in Ukraine too, we won't know possibly for years what the outcome of these protests will ultimately be.


(3 minutes)

Famous leader, Stephen Biko, in the South African people power movement that fought the oppressive system of apartheid said, "The power of a movement lies in the fact that it can indeed change the habits of people. This change is not the result of force but of dedication, of moral persuasion."
Ask students to share one thing they learned in today's lesson.