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On November 21, 2023, Ukraine marked the 10th anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity. Those events have largely defined the following decade, with Ukraine undergoing democratic transformation and reforms, getting closer to joining the European Union – and defending itself from the Russian invasion.

On November 21, 2013, the first protests for a pro-European path began in Kyiv after the government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov announced that Ukraine would not sign an association agreement with the European Union but instead continue “an active dialogue with the Russian Federation.”

Photo: Viacheslav Ratynskyi

Euromaidan: how it started

The Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union became one of the main drivers of decisive changes. It was supposed to be signed in the fall of 2013 and establish a new type of relationship between Ukraine and the EU. Focusing on political association and economic integration, it also served as a strategic roadmap for Ukraine’s significant social and economic reforms. In particular, those necessary to gradually integrate Ukraine’s economy into the EU’s common market.

This course of action was supported and awaited by Ukrainians. However, at the end of November 2013, the pro-Russian government of Mykola Azarov announced that Ukraine would not sign the agreement with the EU.

After several years of power usurpation and abuse by pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych and his party, including Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, this decision became the final straw for many.

“Meet at 22:30 at the Independence Monument. Dress warmly, take umbrellas, tea, coffee, good mood, and friends,” journalist (later turned politician) Mustafa Nayem made a call on social media – and approximately 1,500 Ukrainians gathered on Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) in Kyiv on that first evening.

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November 22, 2013. Ukrainians demand to sign the Association Agreement with the EU.
Photo: Viacheslav Ratynskyi

Journalists, civic activists, opposition politicians, and students came to Maidan to state: that is not the future Ukrainians agree with. 

Approximately 5,000 people gathered the next day, uttering the slogan “Ukraine is Europe”. From then on, protests were happening daily and became known as Euromaidan (from the words “European” and “Maidan”, the place where people were meeting). This turned into a struggle to return to the pro-European path with demands to sign the Agreement and dismiss Azarov’s government for betraying national interests.

And Kyiv’s Euromaidan was not the only one. For instance, the first demonstration in Donetsk took place on November 21, at the same time as in Kyiv. Initially, 4 people gathered near the monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko – and on November 22, 400 people turned out to protest for European integration.

People protested for Ukraine’s territorial integrity in Donetsk, before Russian troops brought Russian “world” to the region.
March 5, 2014. Photo: Anton Skyba

Larger rallies supporting Ukraine’s European integration also took place on the Crimean peninsula. On November 24, during one of these protests, Crimeans announced the formation of the Euromaidan-Crimea public movement.

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A protest by students demanding a European path for Ukraine.
Photo: Viacheslav Ratynskyi

The Revolution of Dignity

On the night of November 30, only about 300-400 people, mostly students, remained on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv. Authorities seized the opportunity to disperse the protest: at four in the morning, Berkut, the special police unit within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, brutally forced people out of the square. They beat people with batons and stomped them with their feet. 

Euromaidan protesters were allegedly pushed out to install a Christmas tree on Maidan. The violence of the special forces against peaceful demonstrators came as a shock.

The next day, on December 1, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians came to the protest in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, not just for European integration but against the abuse of power and police violence. Euromaidan protests turned into the Revolution of Dignity, and the half-put Christmas covered in flags and posters became one of its many symbols.

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Hundreds of Ukrainians joined the protesters every day.
Photo: Volodymyr Shuvaiev

That day, the largest protest after Kyiv was in Lviv with about 40 thousand people. More than 8,000 people protested in Lutsk, more than 5,000 in Ternopil, and about 5,000 in Chernivtsi. Demonstrations took place in Rivne, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Khmelnytsky, Odesa, Vinnytsia, Uzhhorod, Kirovohrad, Luhansk, and Zhytomyr.

On December 8, the “Million March” took place. According to estimates, a million Ukrainians joined the protests on that day. The Independence Square and central streets of the capital were filled with people to the brim. The same day, a Lenin monument, a symbol of the Soviet past, was dismantled in Kyiv.

Throughout December and January, the protest transformed: a tent city was set up on Independence Square and Khreshchatyk Street with the main stage, field kitchens, and burning barrels. Many protesters, especially from other cities, lived there despite the cold of the winter. Trade Unions Building and Kyiv City Hall were taken and turned for the revolution’s needs.

As the clashes with the special police units escalated, barricades grew around Maidan, and self-defense units called “сотня” (“Hundred”) were formed. Police assaulted the camps and blocked roads to restrict access to the city.

On January 16, 2014, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted a package of laws later called “dictatorial”. They violated the rights and freedoms of Ukrainians and were adopted, disregarding the procedure: the texts of the laws were made public only after the “voting”. The laws, among others, restricted freedom of speech, made tents put up without permission illegal, as well as protesting wearing a helmet and gathering a column of more than 5 cars.

On January 19, protesters and the Berkut units clashed on Hrushevskyi Street, the street leading from Maidan Nezalezhnosti to the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament). Сobblestones and Molotov cocktails were brought up, while police units used stun grenades, rubber bullets, as well as a water cannon against the protesters while the temperature was below zero.

On January 22, 2014, another illegal decision was made to extend the powers of the security forces that acted against Euromaidan participants. They were allowed to use stun and smoke grenades delivered from the Russian Federation.

According to the Euromaidan medical service, 1,400 people were injured on Hrushevskoho Street in the center of the capital on January 19-20. On January 22, the first Maidan activists were killed – Armenian Serhii Nihoian and Belarusian Mykhailo Zhyznevskyi. Roman Senyk, a participant in the protest, was seriously injured and died in hospital on January 25. 

The special police units treated the participants of the protest brutally – illegally detained and even tortured them. Mykhailo Havryliuk is one of the most well-known cases: on January 22, he was stripped naked and paraded for photos in the freezing temperatures.

At the end of January, the protests were intensifying not just in Kyiv but in many regions of Ukraine. In several regional centers, protesters entered administrative buildings demanding the resignation of local pro-Russian officials, namely heads of the regional state administrations.

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Ukrainian riot policemen stand guard in Kyiv following clashes with pro-EU protesters on January 23, 2014.
Photo: Volodymyr Shuvaiev

Killings during the Maidan

By the end of January, part of the protesters’ demands were accepted: Mykola Azarov and the government resigned, 9 out of 11 “dictatorial laws” were abolished, and amnesty was promised to “peaceful” protesters if they were to retreat from administrative premises. On February 16, protesters vacated the Kyiv City Hall.

On February 18, the Ukrainian parliament was about to consider another demand: abolishing the changes to the Constitution made during Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency to counter the power usurpation. Protesters planned to meet near the parliament to support their demand but were attacked by the special police units. 

That turned into the most violent phase of the Maidan revolution. Police forces tried to take over the camp at Maidan Nezalezhnosti by force, the Trade Unions Building was burned down, and snipers were stationed on the roofs, targeting the protesters.

The events of February 20, 2014, on Instytutska Street in Kyiv became known in the history of Ukraine as “Bloody Thursday”. On this day, snipers killed 48 protesters. In total, more than 100 people were killed on Maidan between February 18 and 21.

107 Ukrainians who gave their life for free and democratic Ukraine during the Revolution of Dignity would later be known as the “Heavenly Hundred”.

On February 21, President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition leaders signed the agreement: it had clauses about abolishing controversial constitutional changes within 48 hours, refraining from using force, and setting presidential re-elections no later than the end of 2014. However, with more than a hundred killed and the center of the capital on fire, the protesters required Yanukovych’s immediate resignation.

Later that night, Victor Yanukovych fled Kyiv and eventually appeared in Russia with Mykola Azarov, former Prime Minister, and some of his other close partners.

A farewell for the fallen heroes was held on Maidan.
Photo: Oleksandr Homenko

Russia invades Ukraine

On February 20, while the fight in the center of Kyiv was still ongoing, Russia put its plan to invade Ukraine into motion.

Russia had been concentrating troops near the region beforehand, particularly under the pretext of military exercise and guarding the Winter Olympics in Sochi held on February 7-23, 2014. While Ukraine was going through the hardest days in its fight for democracy and a European future, Russia started with the planned occupation of Crimea. 

On February 25-27, Russia brought several thousand of its military to Crimea. Later, they would play the role of “little green men” (Russian military with weapons but no insignia) who seized state administrations on the peninsula. 

On the night of February 27, 2014, Russian soldiers without insignia seized the Crimean government building.
Photo: Virtual Museum of Russian Aggression

On March 16, 2014, the so-called “referendum” on the accession of the Crimean peninsula to Russia was held, which neither Ukraine nor democratic countries recognized. In two days, the Kremlin and self-proclaimed “leaders” of Crimea signed an agreement to join the Russian Federation.

In the following months, Russian occupation forces took over several cities in the East of Ukraine, and the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) and “Luhansk People’s Republic” were proclaimed.

The UN estimates that between mid-April 2014 and January 2015 alone, at least 5,244 people were killed and 11,862 injured in the fighting. There have been reports of human rights violations in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine, including killings, torture, abductions for ransom, and forced labor by armed groups.

After eight years of fighting and several attempts at ceasefire, a new phase of the war began. On February 24, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion, giving Ukraine “three days” to live. 

However, the Ukrainian people still continue to fight for their freedom, dignity, and the European path that they irrevocably chose back in 2013 at the Euromaidan revolution.

The significance of Euromaidan for Ukraine

“For Ukraine, the Revolution of Dignity marked a significant transformation. It helped society distance itself from the Soviet past and modern Russian influence, while crystallizing pro-European values and a vision for a European future. The Revolution propelled the active development of civil society, as well as reforms in various fields and the process of decommunization.”

The National Museum of the Revolution of Dignity was created to preserve the memory of the revolution and those who gave their life for it. The construction of the memorial and museum complex was supposed to start in the spring of 2022, but it was postponed due to the start of the full-scale Russian invasion. 

Instytutska Street, a place of the most violent сlashes, was renamed Heavenly Hundred Heroes Alley. It has been closed to traffic and photos of people killed during the Revolution of Dignity were placed alongside, with candles, cobblestones, and flowers brought by Ukrainians.

The events of the revolution on Maidan were documented through several films, including “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” by Yevgen Afineevskyi, “All Things Ablaze” by Oleksandr Techymskyi, Oleksii Sodunov and Dmytro Stoykov and “Euromaidan: Rough Cut” by Roman Bondarchuk, Volodymyr Tykhyi, Andriy Lytvynenko, and others.

Many books by Ukrainian authors also reflect upon the event of the Revolution of Dignity. For example, “Ukrainian Maidan, the Russian war. Chronicles and analysis of the Revolution of Dignity” by Mykahailo Vynnytskyi, “Maidan. An untold history” by Sonya Koshkina, “Maidan. Testimonies. Kyiv, 2013-2014” by Leonid Finberg.