Ukraine: a voice from the barricades

2014-02-06 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) The international community is putting pressure on the Ukrainian Government to take immediate steps to resolve the nation’s political crisis.

The US Vice President has spoken, yet again, to Ukraine’ President, Viktor Yanukovych, urging him to remove riot police, release detainees and hold those responsible for attacking journalists and protesters accountable.

Over two months of intense protests have put Yanukovych under substantial pressure. But he has made no moves to work with the opposition since last week, when he pushed parliament to pass a measure providing amnesty to many arrested protesters.

Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni spoke to Bogdan Voron, creator of one of the Euromaidan art projects which gives voice to the ever more organized protesters in Kiev.

Voron says that Euromaidan (the wave of ongoing demonstrations and civil unrest in Ukraine) is very creative…

Listen to the interview…

Voron explains that Euromaidan is basically civil unrest, but it gathers groups of artists who produce movies, political posters, art work, music that express the message of Euromaidan.

Voron described a Christmas tree in the center of Kiev “that has become a symbol of post-modern art. It is covered with posters and Ukrainian flags with the names of cities across the nation where the protesters come from, as well as flags representing different nations where non Ukrainian Euromaidan protesters come from.

He says that in art “Kiev is showing its power of transformation and healing, when ‘fear becomes fun’.”

Voron says theirs is “a non-political message about freedom, about the struggle for justice, it’s an attempt to be heard and understood because in Ukraine the government doesn’t listen to the people”. So the Euromaiadan artists express their feelings with all the instruments of art.

Voron says that the unrest started as a protest against the Government that refused to sign an association agreement with the EU: “It began like a student protest”. But after students were beaten on 13 November, the protest expanded to become a more general protest against the violence, and hundreds of thousands of Kiev residents came out into the streets to join the protest. It is not a protest against the Government’s refusal to sign the agreement, but a protest against the Government and president’s violence” he said.

Voron illustrates the protesters’ organization, which he says, “is very good: they have a headquarters; they have kitchens, a real hospital, a cultural center, a free university and self-defense units”. He says “over 5000 people wear military helmets, they carry special equipment and metal shields to protect themselves from the metal bullets because – he says – two protesters were killed during the clashes with police. The protest territory is on the central square of the Ukrainian capital and it has increased”. Voron describes dozens of barricades with fortifications: “There is a road filled with water and ice, then barbed wire, and then bags of snow”. He says pavement stones and Molotov cocktails are readily available and there are even watchtowers to keep watch on the possible arrival of police.

Speaking about the expectations and hopes of those involved, Voron says there is a feeling amongst the protesters that they are “on the boat” of change and it is the moment to fight for welfare and for their future. He says “We stand for truth and democracy. We are fighting against corruption and injustice”. Voron describes the protesters as those with the higher education: “they have travelled, they have the capacity for critical thinking, they know foreign languages” he said.

“One of the problems in Ukraine – Voron points out – is that almost 80% of the people have never been abroad and they have not seen how the rest of Europe lives. He says many think that Europe is “evil”. However – Voron adds – “Ukrainian society is not divided: in Kiev protesters come from all over Ukraine and there are other nationalities as well – Ukrainians, Russians, Armenians…. He says that within the movement there is a high level of religious tolerance and the presence of all political parties from the liberals to the nationalists.

Regarding media freedom, Voron says journalists are divided into those who have embraced the protest and those who are spokespeople for the government and the oligarchs.

Voron says the Church plays an important part in the movement, with the presence of Catholic and Orthodox priests in Euromaiadan. He says they came to help and support their people as many as 90% of the protesters are Christians and while they are non-political they give spiritual support and encourage the protesters in difficult moments. He tells of instances in which the priests have interposed themselves between police and protesters, and have even been injured in the process.

Asked whether he is optimistic for the outcome of the protest, Voron says there is an expression that says: “Euromaiadan is everywhere and Euromaiadan is in every person who supports the movement”. “It’s not a one-day action – he says - it started in November and now people have embraced it as a broad concept. For example – he says - “there is a boycott of products made by companies owned by governing party members” He stressts tht the movement is also a protest against corruption, a movement to transform the country.

Voron underlines the fact that he believes that “Ukraine is not divided by language or religion or nationality: it’s divided by the belief in good, in democracy, in the rule of law, while on the other side there are the people who feel very comfortable in corrupted society, that are bound to corruption...”

(photograph by Bogdan Voron)