Imagine you are a Ukrainian

anna-colin-lebedevBy Anna Colin Lebedev

Imagine an absolutely ordinary life in a country whose people have endured deep crises for many generations. These crises happen so often that the people have somehow learned to live with them. Crisis or not, life is for living.

Imagine a beautiful country with mountains, forests, fields, a warm sea, a mild climate, and particularly fertile land that you can plant a stick in and it will blossom. At least that’s what your grandmother said.

It is very easy to be proud of your country if you are a Ukrainian. It is easy to be proud while at the same time feeling the pain of those who have been persecuted and insulted for generations. Constant changes in borders, annexations, occupations, all of these have been shifting the people from one regime to another, from one language to another. Millions of Ukrainians suffered from a famine artificially induced by Soviet rule.

During World War II there was an unbearably ambiguous moment when you had to choose between two disasters, and some had to choose between two monsters. Then there was the Chernobyl catastrophe a couple of miles away from the Ukrainian capital, the lies of the powerful, whose priorities were anything but the protection of the people. Then came the economic collapse of 1990s, which pushed many people below the poverty line while enriching a handful of others. Then there was the lost opportunity of the Orange Revolution, whose leaders turned out to be no better than their predecessors.

If you are a Ukrainian you carry all this history and, above all, you are proud that you have survived. Sometimes, it’s a cruel pride accompanied by a hunt for those responsible for all the misery in this country. The ultra-nationalists in Ukraine are obsessed with digging in the past looking for the responsible parties; they are hostile to their Russian neighbor, as they are not expecting anything but disaster to come from it. It’s worth noting that the neighbor is doing its best to confirm all the allegations of its own hostility. This kind of nationalism couldn’t care less about the challenges of modern society, globalization, and immigration; these people are just sick of their country’s past.

For Ukrainians who grew up in the eastern regions of the country, Soviet history is their history, and they are not ready to give it up despite all of the hurtful memories, like the Stalin repressions that were especially cruel in Eastern Ukraine. For them, Russia is a neighbor and a cousin that doesn’t really have such a fearsome face. The choice is difficult to make.

However, whether you live in the East or West, if you are a Ukrainian you don’t trust the politicians. Elections, authorities, political tensions and splits, none of this concerns you. It didn’t concern your parents or your grandparents, either.

It’s similar in France, you would say. Not really. In France we complain about the diseases of the political system, at the same time assuming that theoretically there exists a working political system somewhere. For a Ukrainian (and for a Russian in the same way), politics cannot serve society. The best politician is the one who cause the least trouble and does not interfere in the lives of the people too much.

This is because you, I would like to remind you, have to live your own life, do your work, build your house, take care of your family, and also have your moments of joy. Most of all, you want to be left alone, to be able to live your life and hope that the insanity of the next politicians won’t turn your world upside down.

You have travelled extensively throughout Europe. Even if you haven’t travelled, you definitely have a TV that tells you there is a different life out there. You see how in detective movies policemen help ordinary people and, unwillingly, you compare them to the police demanding bribes on every mile of road.

Your child is watching a TV show where a student can say, “Yes, I’ve done it! I’ve got my diploma,” while you count the money in the envelopes you’re preparing for the deans. Your old mother does not receive the medical help she needs simply because you don’t have the money. You have to pay everyone to open your own business.

You are given hints that this is not something you want to write about if you are a journalist. You know the exact price list for the bribes if you work as an MP. You see how cities are filled with Lexus, Porsches, and BMWs, and you also see the people in them. The general atmosphere is becoming stifling and everyday life unbearable because it’s being bound by the ropes of corruption and cynicism.

One day the last drop falls. It’s no coincidence that it is the day when the president refuses to sign the EU association deal. Of course, this signature would not have changed anything in your life, but this refusal means that nobody will do anything to help your life become more like the lives of Europeans. That day, everyone who understood it went out to Maidan. The next day, everyone who had had enough but who had lacked a spark.

Workers and intellectuals, liberals and ultra-nationalists, entrepreneurs and politicians have united and are coexisting on Maidan. They are held together by a very simple idea: we live in a beautiful country, we love it, we are its citizens, and our demands must be met because those in power have crossed the line and must resign.

Resign? How? Who will replace them? With which project? Maidan does not have the answers; these answers cannot be given, as faith in politicians is nonexistent. Maidan lets some people represent themselves but they do so without much enthusiasm, so some leave and delegate their representation to others.

Imagine that you are a Ukrainian and you have been living in a tent city in the center of Kyiv for several weeks. You sleep in a tent and take shifts at the barricades. You share meals with your neighbor, you listen to the protests all nights long, you sing, you stand guard, you answer journalists’ questions. You are ever more confident in the fact that you represent the Ukrainian nation and ever more confident in your main objective: those in power must resign. The people whom you represent, the time that you have spent here, everything ensures you that your protest must be heard.

However, the only answer is radio silence.

The strangest and least talked about aspect of the Ukrainian protests is the unbelievable silence of those in power, who have been pretending for over two months that nothing is happening in Kyiv, and if there is something happening, it is beneath notice. Yanukovych is impressed by neither the strength of the people’s will nor the severity of the social trouble the protesters have been decrying.

Maidan has been waiting patiently for a long time. The government has been waiting a long time for the protesters to get tired and go home, because it’s winter and everyone wants to go back home and back to work.

Instead of going home, the people were overtaken by anger and impatience. During the last weeks, it has been clear that Maidan was militarizing. First, some groups marched in columns, then they divided into sotnias, then the women’s sotnia was organized, and then uniforms and basic equipment appeared. The commander of the tent city gradually became a commander of an armed force, trying to hold back the wave of violence and channel the energy into training. Officially, the army of Maidan is a defensive army, and it has stayed a defensive army as long as it could.

If you are a young Ukrainian who has been sleeping in a tent for over two months, then you want to do something the government will notice and thus make them understand that you have something to say. So you grab some makeshift weapon and go.

Armed criminals infiltrated by neo-nationalists?  Oh, come on. People of all stripes are bound to vent their anger after months of self-control, including ultra-nationalists. Afterwards, Small Ukrainians come, a bit older and a bit less trained, but ready to support the fight in any way they can. No protests have been violently dispersed in Ukraine since Soviet times. Maidan has changed stupor into rage.

If you are an ordinary Ukrainian you would love to go back to your normal life. But how is it possible?


Anna Colin Lebedev is a doctor of political sociology, co-founder of French-Belarussian Center for European Studies (Minsk), CERCEC (Rearch center for studies of Russia, Caucasus and Central Europe) researcher, author of books on the movements of ‘soldiers’ mothers’: “Le cœur politique des mères” (published by EHESS) and “Les petits soldats: le combat des mères russes” (with Valentina Melnikova, published by Bayard)

Originally posted in French at

Translated by Oksana Poliakova

Edited by Robin Rohrback

11 thoughts on “Imagine you are a Ukrainian

  1. Pingback: Blue Marble Times | Imagine you are a Ukrainian

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  3. “It’s worth noting that the neighbor is doing its best to confirm all the allegations of its own hostility.” – Yeah right… A 15 Billion loan and a very favorable gas deal (gas which, I might add, you have actually STOLEN for years, which is something I never heard of, a government actively stealing from another!) sounds extremely hostile to me. Also, if you’re so disappointed in politicians, i have shocking news for you: They’re the exact same here in the west: Corrupt elitist fucknuts who give a fuck about you unless you have your own lobbyist and would sell their own grandmother if it helped them maintain their position of power. Contrary to what you describe, corruption in the west is happening on the highest levels (there’s hundreds of lobbyists for every politician in Brussels!) so you don’t *see* it in your everyday life – but it’s there, and it’s worse than having to bribe some policeman, because they sell out their whole population to corporations and banks! And it does not matter at all which ones you elect: In the end their policies are *always* the same populace-ignoring warmongering neoliberal corporate sellout that has driven the planet to the brink of collapse… Yes, all those people you so happily invited to speak on the Maidan are NO better than Yanukovic & Co! And Klitschko was actively sponsored and coached by Merkel’s party…

  4. Also, I have one question for you: If you’re so much in favor of democracies, especially the ones in the west, why don’t you simply do what we do in our democracies if we don’t like our current elected leaders: Wait until their term is over and then elect the fuckers out! Cause if you don’t follow this, and if you not only don’t DISTANCE yourselves from democracy-hating fascist violent radicals (Svoboda, Pravy Sektor etc), but *actively* support and integrate them – *you* are the anti-democratic forces in Ukraine!….

    Violence is never an answer and definately not a basis for a sustainable revolution!… Anything that comes after a revolution based on violence (or military intervention, see e.g. Iraq) is WORSE than what was before….

  5. You had me at the ‘favourable gas deal…’ Yes, it’s just so good! These silly Ukrainians, they should take the cheap gas and shut up.. Ha!
    It’s wonderful that you understand things so clearly..
    Comparing corruption in Europe to that in former soviet countries is like comparing a pipe bursting to a river flooding.
    You are lucky you live in a country where you can vote out the old regime, it’s not the same in Ukraine or Russia.
    Yes people in the west also have corrupt politicians but Europe even compared t America is one of the more democratic. Perhaps there can never be true democarcary but there are definitely better ones.
    As for you a acusin the peaceful protesters of violence, well the didn’t exactly start it did they? Or is your news watching as subjective as your opinions?
    I’m also curious about your idea of fascists and radicals. All democracies have their right and left wing extremists, but in Ukraine we have seen less of this than in other countries. But I’m sure your sources are sound. After all you have been out in Ukraine interviewing said extremists, getting first hand information? Right?
    Although you are misguided in your opinions, you are of course entitled to them, after all you live in a democracy.
    It’s just a pity that you have no the slightest understanding what the Ukrainians are really fighting for, how desperate they are for change.
    Also you say that your country is the same, then why are you not doing some thing about it?
    Of course it’s easier to just sit there complaining & putting down people who actually are…

  6. Pingback: Lebedev: “Imagine Yourself Ukrainian” | UKR-TAZ

  7. Reblogged this on LisPugh in Ukraine and commented:
    I’m sure you are following press reports of the situation here in Ukraine; and rather than add another in adequately informed viewpoint, I’m going to add a couple of links that have added to my understanding of the context for the current crisis and bloodshed.

  8. Maidan began to militarize not because the government did not pat attention..but because there were awful things happening: people were kidnapped and tortured and killed…Did the author forget about the death squads? And how she could forget about the black Thursday – we had two black Thursdays – one was January the 16, when the budget was adopted and a number of outrageous laws who made all of us criminals and the authorities could easily put any of us to jail for 15 years. Then we realized that the peaceful – concert like period of Maidan is really over. I did not want to go to jail for any number of years only because some criminal did not like my activity on bringing him to justice. I also militarized. Then we had the first real clashes of Maidan sotnyas (centurias) with Berkut at Grushevskogo street, first paving stones, first Molotov cocktails…And first live ammunition used by the police against the people, and first deaths among the protesters. We paid our price for the right not to go to jail for 15 years on absurd charges…

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