On November 21, 2023, Ukraine marks the 10th anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity. A decade now has been largely defined by those events, 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.”
After several years of power usurpation and abuse by the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych and his associates, including Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, the rejection of European integration turned out to be the last straw for many Ukrainians.
“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.
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”. Day after day, people stood at the Independence Square, and the peaceful protest became known as Euromaidan. Ukrainians demanded the government’s resignation and the resumption of Ukraine’s European integration.
The Revolution of Dignity
On the night of November 30, only about 300-400 people, mostly students, remained on Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Berkut special police units brutally beat them up and dispersed the protest: the “official reason” was the need to set up a Christmas tree on the square.
The next day, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians came to the protest in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, not just for European integration now, but against the abuse of power and police violence. Euromaidan turned into the Revolution of Dignity, and the half-put Christmas covered in flags and posters became one of its many symbols.
On December 8, the “Million March” took place – on that day, according to the estimates, a million Ukrainians joined the protests. 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 that were later called “dictatorial”. They violated the rights and freedoms of Ukrainians and were adopted in disregard of 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 temperatures were below freezing.
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.
Killings during the Maidan
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 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. More than 100 people were killed on the Maidan between February 18 and 21.
107 Ukrainians who gave their life for free and democratic Ukraine during the Revolution would later be known as the “Heavenly Hundred”.
On February 21, President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition leaders signed the agreement to organize early re-elections and withdrew security forces from the city center. By the next morning, Yanukovych fled to Russia.
Russia invades Ukraine
On February 20, while the fight in the center of Kyiv was still ongoing, Russian troops had already illegally crossed the Ukrainian border. Russia started with the planned occupation of Crimea. 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.
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.