Ukraine’s Facebook revolution, 1 year later
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s revolution began with a status update on Facebook.
Angered by another high-handed move by an increasingly unpopular government, activist reporter Mustafa Nayyem called for a rally on the country’s most famous square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti — Independence Square.
“As soon as there are more than 1,000 of us, we will start organizing,” Nayyem wrote.
He got hundreds on that damp evening of Nov. 21, 2013, the start of a protest movement that eventually would draw hundreds of thousands into the square, topple the government and propel the world into a dangerous new diplomatic phase.
One year after that status update, Ukraine formed a coalition government Friday with a mission to overhaul the economy, combat corruption and steer the country toward integration with Europe.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke welcomed the coalition agreement as “an important and transparent step.”
He said Ukraine is welcome to apply for ascension to NATO: “Our policy is that the door remains open.”
Yet despite that apparent success, the dreams that brought Nayyem and his followers into the square seem fainter than ever. Ukraine is battling to stave off economic collapse and waging an exhausting war against Russian-backed separatists in the east.
Ukrainians marked Friday’s anniversary with elegies to those who died during the political upheaval that drove out disgraced President Viktor Yanukovych in February. His successor, Petro Poroshenko, laid a wreath at a memorial on the Kiev street where many were shot dead.
But when thoughts turn to what has been achieved since those lives were lost, sorrow often turns to bitterness.
Political party “Power of the People” published a statement arguing that less than half the demands articulated during the protests, sparked when Ukraine lurched toward closer ties with Russia, have been enacted. “Have the people truly won?” the statement asked.
That kind of testy criticism at the pace of measures to uproot corruption and cast out remnants of the Yanukovych regime reflects a widely shared mood of impatience.
And there is a lot to be unhappy about.
The national currency has lost more than half its value since the revolution, leading to a drop in the value of salaries. Industrial output is stagnant and investors have fled.
“Because of the general rise in prices, the spending power of Ukrainians is just melting before their eyes,” Anatoly Kinakh, head of the Ukrainian League of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, said in a speech last week.
Critics of the protest movement suggest the upheaval led directly to the Ukraine’s loss of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in March, and then war in the east.
“The results of this year have been catastrophic for the history and prospects of Ukraine,” former Yanukovych loyalist Anna German told Novoe Vremya magazine. “All revolutions, as we see, lead to catastrophe.”
More than 4,300 people have died in fighting in eastern Ukraine over the past half year, according to U.N. estimates.
The conflict in the east began in reaction to perceptions that the new order in Kiev was aggressively nationalistic and that it would trample on the rights of Russian speakers.
Russian state media eagerly fanned anxieties. Ukraine and Western countries say Moscow supplied most of the weapons in the uprising that has since devastated the region. Moscow denies that it has supplied either weapons or manpower to rebels.
Either way, the Maidan revolution was nowhere on people’s thoughts Friday in the rebel-controlled areas.
Pensions have not been paid for months. Fighting continues daily across the region, albeit less intensely than in the summer. Hundreds of homes lie in charred ruins.
The pressing concern now is how to deal with the imminent halt to banking services in separatist areas announced by Poroshenko last week. Cash is already in short supply; payment with cards in supermarkets may soon also be cut.
The rebel leader in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk, Alexander Zakharchenko, said last week that the Ukrainian government’s economic blockade has in effect long been in place, so nothing will change.
Between economic woes and war, it has been a long and painful year for Ukraine. Idealism has wilted, but hopes remain that the country will yet turn a corner.
In the early hours of anniversary, Nayyem again updated his Facebook status, writing that he could not get to sleep.
“How we’ve grown,” he wrote, “and maybe we’ve become a little bit sad, too.”
Leonard contributed from Donetsk, Ukraine. Lara Jakes in Washington contributed to this report.