The protests in EuroMaidan in the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, in 2013-14 lasted for 6 months. These protests led to the then President absconding and a subsequent change in regime. The following regime led to the emergence of a Ukraine with different but not necessarily better politics, accompanied with a clique of young leaders. One such newcomer is Mustafa Nayyem, now a parliamentarian who interestingly belongs to Afghani ethnicity. He is also an ally to the President Petro Peroshenko’s bloc. Before being elected as a parliamentarian, Mustafa worked as a journalist; he is also the founder of the Global Office, an organisation which brings volunteers from around the world to teach English and other European languages to children in Ukraine. He believes this is an important step towards integration into the EU. For this initiative, his organisation has amassed a large support base from the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine to the UNV.
This summer, I volunteered to teach the English language to school going children in Ukraine. My school was situated in the Eastern city of Kryvyi Rih, a city known to be 126 km long and for its steel plant byArcellor Mittal which employs around 50,000 people from the city. This also got me a lot of recognition for sharing the same ethnicity as the largest employer of the city. However, my intention was also to understand the post-protest sentiment of the people, which led me to travel to 4 cities in Ukraine, covering all directions. Surprisingly, the people of Ukraine are quick to share their thoughts about the protests, the incumbent government, annexation of Crimea, regional demands for autonomy, Russia and most importantly the divide between the East and the West in Ukraine.
There is a common angst amongst the people relating to the wearing down of its economy after the protests. Although all the people I met had a strong bitterness towards the corrupt actions of the previous president, they are unsatisfied with the incumbent as well. Mr. Porshenko has been a close associate of the ‘president on the run’, and shows similar traits. For instance, he owns the widely popular and omnipresent candies and chocolate brand in Ukraine called Roshen (India= spices, Ukraine = sweets). Interestingly, Roshen had one of its production plants in Lipetsk, Russia, which is a widely known fact in the enlightened quarters of Ukraine.
Ukraine is also dealing with a fight with its history, where renaming of roads, universities and public places is commonplace. Soviet structures have been raised down in most cases, inscriptions about Lenin have been erased and statues removed. Regardless of this rewriting of its Soviet past, there are also people who still romanticise with their Soviet past, where the economy was stable and borders were unthreatened. These people can be more commonly found in the eastern part, which is also a predominantly Russian-speaking region. The eastern part is also where the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk are located. Donetsk has declared itself an autonomous region. A person from the region I met claimed that they wish to secede from Ukraine and have independent control over their affairs. The majority of Ukrainians believe that this is due to cultural alignments towards Russia.
Ukraine is clearly a State dealing with several challenges, from its identity to border threats. The Crimean region now under Russian control was once the getaway destination for the people of Ukraine, and the appropriation of their relaxing sanctuary has left them angry. More than 10,000 people have lost their lives in the conflict and the relentlessness of the people can be best showcased by their contribution towards the resistance against the rebels occupying part of their eastern region. I was astounded to see civilian SUVs and ambulances camouflaged for military use. There is also a high rate of people volunteering to serve in the military and participate in the anti-terrorist operation (that’s how they call it). Young Ukrainians are fighting a battle on one more front, which is the battle for a stable future. After the complete shutdown of Russian-owned businesses, there are more people without jobs. Ukraine’s previously corrupt regime didn’t build a strong economic foundation to function independently, this, in turn, has caused the maximum damage to the civilian population. The sense of frustration amongst the younger population is visible, there is a high rate of immigration and increasing cases of drug abuse. Nonetheless, like the effervescent human spirit which is central to everyone’s nature, people in Ukraine are initiating discourses on drug policy and employment opportunities in the hope for a better and independent future.