topple Ukrainian gov’t
Seek political rights, break from Moscow’s grip
Protesters in Kiev, Ukraine, rally by national parliament building Feb. 22. Popular demonstrations and street actions since November led to overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych.
BY JOHN STUDER
The regime of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has been overthrown following three months of mass mobilizations and clashes with government forces. The tyrant fled Feb. 22 as hundreds of thousands took to the streets, made more determined by a bloody crackdown days earlier.
“People really changed their mind-set because of these events,” Roman Dakus, who had participated in protests against the regime for three months, told the New York Times. “Before, people thought, ‘Nothing really depends on me.’ … But after this situation, they think differently. They believe in their struggle when they are all together.”
At the heart of the struggle against Yanukovych by workers, youth and others are the aspirations of the Ukrainian people to break free from Russian domination that has lasted for centuries, with the exception of the early years of the 1917 Russian Revolution under the leadership of V. I. Lenin. Yanukovych, hated for his corruption and repression of political rights, bowed at every turn to pressure from Russian President Vladimir Putin to maintain Moscow’s economic and political stranglehold on Ukraine.
On advice from Putin, Yanukovych mobilized Berkut riot police Feb. 18 to push thousands of protesters out of Independence Square, known as the Maidan, as demonstrators took over some government buildings in Lviv.
The riot squad detachments were able to make it deep into the square before they were halted by giant barricades set on fire by the retreating demonstrators. Around 28 people were killed in clashes, including 10 cops.
Riot cops then opened fire on demonstrators Feb. 20, killing more than 60.
The bloodshed emboldened opposition protesters and sapped the will of the regime’s forces. Berkut troops began to break ranks and leave the square.
As events unfolded, many Ukrainian capitalists broke with Yanukovych and urged him to compromise.
On Feb. 21 Yanukovych agreed to meet with representatives from Russia, France, Germany and Poland, along with leaders of the three main bourgeois opposition parties — Fatherland, the ruling party before Yanukovych was elected in 2010; Punch, led by former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko; and Svoboda, a rightist party. Yanukovych agreed to give up some powers and set a new election for December.
Parliament began passing a series of measures stripping the regime of its power.
When opposition leaders took the agreement to the square, they faced boos and rebellion. Volodymyr Parasiuk, a captain of one of the defense units that held the square, took the mike and denounced the opposition for “shaking hands with this killer.”
“We ordinary people are saying this to the politicians who stand behind us: ‘No Yanukovych is going to be a president for a whole year,’” Parasiuk, who told the press he is not a member of any party, said to a roaring crowd. “Tomorrow, by 10 o’clock, he has to be gone.”
Opposition politicians scurried off the stage. Klitschko later returned and tried to apologize.
Asked by a Reuters reporter when the protesters would take their barricades down, Parasiuk said, “If the Maidan disperses, politicians will stop being afraid. We are not going away.”
Yanukovych fled under cover of darkness that night. Organized forces from the Maidan deployed outside the square. They set up guards at the parliament building and other government offices. They entered and secured the presidential palace.
In Yanukovych compound opposition forces found a private petting zoo, a collection of vintage automobiles and other treasures, along with files that the ex-president clumsily attempted to destroy by submerging them in the Dnieper River.
The heads of the country’s paratroop unit, the Berkut, Alfa special operations forces and military intelligence went before parliament to declare their adherence to the opposition. On Feb. 26 Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced the Berkut were disbanded.
Parliament voted to charge Yanukovych with mass murder and bar him from leaving the country. As of Feb. 26 he is at large.
While Putin has made no public comment, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he wouldn’t recognize any government that comes to power through revolutionary action by “Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks.” He also announced previously promised financial aid was now on hold. Putin put Russian combat troops on high alert Feb. 26 near the Ukraine border.
Crowds of ethnic Russians mobilized in Crimea, calling for breaking from Ukraine. They scuffled with Crimean Tatars supporting the overthrow of Yanukovych. Like the Ukrainians, the Tatars, who are native to Crimea, have faced national oppression under the Russian czarist empire and later the reactionary government of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union.
Parliament appointed Oleksandr Turchinov, a deputy from the Fatherland party, as interim president. Politicians in Kiev are now wrangling over ministries and powers behind closed doors. Parliament voted to set new presidential elections for May 25.
Sharp economic crisis
Turchinov immediately appealed to the European Union and Washington for immediate and substantial economic aid. He said Ukraine is “sliding into the abyss.”
The value of the currency, the hryvnia, has fallen sharply. Ukraine’s bond rating has been downgraded so steeply that the country can no longer borrow on international markets.
“The Ukraine government will soon be unable to pay public salaries or pensions,” the Times said.
Yuriy Kolobov, the acting finance minister, said Ukraine would need some $35 billion by the end of next year.
“Though the West is claiming victory in the tug of war with Russia over Ukraine,” the Feb. 25 Times wrote, “neither the European Union nor the United States has done anything more than make promises.”
Lack of enthusiasm among U.S. and European capitalists betray their doubts that drawing Ukraine from Moscow toward European integration would be worth the expense.
The International Monetary Fund has told Ukrainian officials it won’t do anything “without a commitment from the country to undertake painful austerity measures,” the Times reported, “tough reforms and a near-certain recession as a result.”
Given the blatant corruption and graft by politicians tied to newly minted millionaires since Ukraine’s independence, the Times said, aspirants for office are “regarded with suspicion by most Ukrainians, who would rather have a new face in the presidency.”
“We need new people who can say no to the oligarchs, not just the old faces,” Irina Nikanchuk, 25, told the Times while demonstrating outside the parliament building Feb. 24, watching legislators drive up in BMWs and Mercedes.
Calls for new political faces, the Times said, were “peppered with angry demands that the Parliament raise pensions, reopen closed hospitals and find work for the jobless.”
Protests in US, Canada back Ukraine struggle