Slava Ukraini! How I Became an Accidental Protester in Ukraine
I never intended to go to Ukraine. In fact the main reason I ended up in the beautiful country was simply because the staff at the Ukrainian Embassy were much nicer than the staff at the Belarus Embassy. (Sorry Belarus, I promise I will visit soon!)
Anyway. I did end up in Ukraine. I filled in the visa validity dates for early December, thinking it would be the perfect relaxing winter destination before heading home to Bucharest to spend Christmas with some of my favourite people.
But relaxing isn’t the term I would use to describe Ukraine in December 2013. Far from it. Exhilarating, powerful, and at times a little bit scary is probably a better way to describe the mood across the country whilst I was there.
But a few
little protests weren’t enough to ruin my trip. In fact, Ukraine remains as one of my favourite countries to have travelled through, even with the constant calls of ‘Slava Ukraini!’ keeping me up at night…
I arrived in Ukraine after a few weeks in Iceland, where the population of the country equalled the number of Ukrainian protesters. My friends and family bombarded me with worried messages, thinking I must have had a death wish by visiting during this time. I would by lying if I said I wasn’t slightly nervous about what to expect.
For those of you who were living under a rock (or addicted to Game of Thrones) and didn’t read the news at the end of 2013, you may be reminded of what I am referring to. Basically, Russia was being a bully as per usual, and Ukraine was sick of it.
Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were braving freezing temperatures and aggressive policing to demand political change. More specifically, for the Ukrainian government to cut the close ties with Russia and join the European Union.
Lennon’s statue was toppled, over 300,000 people filled the main square in Kiev, the city’s Christmas tress transformed into a frame for posters and flags, the crowd sang and food and hot chocolate was given out to fuel the people. I must admit, it was actually a lot of fun…
It had the feeling of a rock concert. The kind of rock concert which makes the adrenalin pump through your veins, because you know that something could go terribly wrong in the square at any moment. There was a feeling of unity within the crowd, but the rows of armed police surrounding the square cast a dark shadow.
I did not have any strong opinions of the situation, and quite frankly I was so naive to the political issues affecting Ukraine at the time that I really had no place to have an opinion yet. Of course, the enthusiasm of the crowd was electrifying and I found myself seduced by the drama, desperate to be a part of the action and support Ukraine’s desperation to change the political situation.
With Ukrainian Flags and EU ribbons in my hair I would loyally make my way to the square. I would eat the warm slop that came out of the communal pots and I would listen to people’s opinions on the situation. The constant reminder of bomb threats and violence were always pushed to the back of my mind.
The situation was serious. Even though I come from a country which has many of our own issues with our government, I can’t imagine Australians standing out in -10 degrees to make a political change. The pure passion and spirit of the Ukrainians I encountered inspired me.
It wasn’t the relaxing winter break I had imagined, but it was one of the most exhilarating and electrifying experiences in my life.