Flag Parade Review – War in Ukraine

Today I was part of the Flag Parade, and it was a really amazing experience. We met and prepared our flags in Shevchenko park where I met a lot of interesting international people, some who even spoke Russian or Ukrainian. Everyone was mingling, having a great time and most importantly supporting Ukraine. Everyone in the world speaks about the “American Dream”, yet there were Americans who live in Kiev praising Ukraine and its people; saying that they were inspired by Ukrainians. There were short speeches in Ukrainian, Russian, English, German and French. Every speech ended in loud applause. The speaker who welcomed us on stage said, “we might not understand all the words, but support speaks for itself.”

Flag Parade was made possible thanks to the grant I received from the Prague Freedom Foundation to report on the Ukrainian Euromaidan Revolution in March 2014.

Today I was part of the Flag Parade, and it was a really amazing experience. We met and prepared our flags in Shevchenko park where I met a lot of interesting international people, some who even spoke Russian or Ukrainian. Everyone was mingling, having a great time and most importantly supporting Ukraine.

I spoke with Chris Taylor, one of the organizers from England. He had an English flag with yellow-and-blue ribbons tied to it. He explained that he helped organize the event “to show unity, to show that the international community here does support the new government.”

Taylor has lived in Kiev for four years and he wants “to show that Kiev is not in flames like the Russian media portrays.” He believes that an event like this “is a very visible thing that the international community can do to show support.”

Taylor has supported Ukraine from the beginning of the conflict, and he wants this event to show continued support for Maidan. “Even if Crimea and Russian aggression wasn’t happening, we’d still be supporting Ukraine.”

As we walked through the streets, Ukrainians cheered and thanked everyone for the support. I was pleasantly surprised when someone yelled “Slava Ukrajni” and all around me, expats from at least 20 different countries replied “Herojam Slava”. There was a strong feeling of unity between all of us in the parade and the Ukrainians around us.

When we got to Maidan, some of us got to go on stage and say something to the people. Everyone had really beautiful and supporting things to say. Everyone in the world speaks about the “American Dream”, yet there were Americans who live in Kiev praising Ukraine and its people; saying that they were inspired by Ukrainians. There were short speeches in Ukrainian, Russian, English, German and French. Every speech ended in loud applause. The speaker who welcomed us on stage said, “we might not understand all the words, but support speaks for itself.” Once everyone who wished to had spoken, they played the Ukrainian national anthem, and everyone joined in to sign it. I had never witnessed something so amazing.

I would like to thank Christ Taylor, Anders Östlund and everyone who organized and participated in this event. Since November 21st Ukrainians have been showing the world what they are capable of – having the international community acknowledge and support Ukraine is extremely gratifying. It gives the Ukrainian nation even more strength and hope.

Originally published here: https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/flag-parade/

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

Women at Maidan – War in Ukraine

Women have always played important roles in Ukrainian history. Whenever there was a conflict, women took up arms or found other ways to help their country. One of the active groups at Maidan were the Cossacks. They were mostly men but had a female Cossack group as well. There is only one woman in the picture and it’s not Irina, a lot of people don’t like to be photographed at Maidan because as they keep telling me, “we are not doing this for fame.”

Women at Maidan was made possible thanks to the grant I received from the Prague Freedom Foundation to report on the Ukrainian Euromaidan Revolution in March 2014.

Women have always played important roles in Ukrainian history. Whenever there was a conflict, women took up arms or found other ways to help their country. One of the active groups at Maidan were the Cossacks. They were mostly men but had a female Cossack group as well.

Women who wanted to help but couldn’t or didn’t want to fight helped in other ways. “We are women but we can still help, at least morally,” said Irina, who’s been working in the Cossack kitchen for three months. She is a student in Kiev and when I asked her why she came, she looked at me like it was a crazy question, “all my people are here… I live here so I’m going to stand here until the end.”

I asked her if she was scared. “Sometimes,” she said, “especially that night.” She referred to the night when Berkut stormed Maidan. But she didn’t let her fear stop her from doing what she believed was right. She found a way to help her people, like everyone else at Maidan. Politicians and their parties are often mentioned when people speak about Maidan, but they usually have a hidden (or a not so hidden) agenda, it is ordinary people like Irina who are the true heroes of Ukraine.

There is only one woman in the picture and it’s not Irina, a lot of people don’t like to be photographed at Maidan because as they keep telling me, “we are not doing this for fame.”

Originally published here: https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/women-at-maidan/

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

Afghan War Veterans – War in Ukraine

Oleh Michney told me that protests started with students who were living below normal standards. When they were beaten for protesting, their parents and grandparents were angered and joined the protests. “We don’t support any political party,” Michnev said, “we stand between protesters and aggressors to avoid the spilling of blood, and we of all people understand the value of blood.”

Afghan War Veterans was made possible thanks to the grant I received from the Prague Freedom Foundation to report on the Ukrainian Euromaidan Revolution in March 2014.

I spoke to Oleh Michnev, the head of the Afghan war veterans. He was very busy and was holding an important meeting, but Eduard who I wrote about in a previous article got me a few minutes with him.

When I asked him what role the Afghan war veterans played at Maidan he said, “Roles are for actors in theaters, we are Ukrainians and our most important function is to protect Ukraine.” He said that an unjust was done to Ukraine and the veterans want “European standards, not Yanukovych’s standards.” He went on to explain that under Yanukovych there were six different living standards depending on who you were, and those who have the least would get the least governmental support, and this is not the European way.

He told me that protests started with students who were living below normal standards. When they were beaten for protesting, their parents and grandparents were angered and joined the protests. “We don’t support any political party,” Michnev said, “we stand between protestors and aggressors to avoid the spilling of blood, and we of all people understand the value of blood.”

I asked him when they will leave Maidan. “We will leave last,” he said, “we are used to fighting for life.” He explained that Ukrainians can’t trust anyone; some of the politicians could be “wolves hiding in sheepskin.” They won’t leave “until the promises of new politicians are fulfilled.” They believe that it’s necessary not only to change the government but the entire system. They want a “birth of a new system,” he says, adding, “we will stand until then.”

Originally published here: https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/afghan-war-veterans/

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

Beagles for Peace: Puppy Protest

Today was a long and emotional day for me at Maidan so my first post about it will be a happy one. One of the first things I saw when I arrived in the square was a group of beagles with yellow-and-blue ribbons on their collars. Their owners were holding signs that read “Beagles for Peace” standing on the steps by the ‘Christmas tree’. Other beagle owners were coming from every direction and the cuteness was attracting a lot of attention from those passing by…

Beagles for Peace was made possible thanks to the grant I received from the Prague Freedom Foundation to report on the Ukrainian Euromaidan Revolution in March 2014.

Today was a long and emotional day for me at Maidan so my first post about it will be a happy one. One of the first things I saw when I arrived in the square was a group of beagles with yellow-and-blue ribbons on their collars. Their owners were holding signs that read “Beagles for Peace” standing on the steps by the ‘Christmas tree’. Other beagle owners were coming from every direction and the cuteness was attracting a lot of attention from those passing by.

After it calmed down a bit I went up to one of them, Andrij Bovkun and asked what was going on. He smiled at me and said it was quite a funny story. His daughter was watching a children’s show on a Russian channel, and the show has a dog called Phil. In this particular episode, Phil was preparing to go to war and had a little backpack and was all dressed up. A Russian woman on the show explained to the children that Phil is going to defend his borders because it is very important. This was all propaganda directed at children about the situation in Crimea.

Bovkun’s dog was incidentally also named Phil, so he gathered several other beagle owners initiated this unofficial event. This event was made as a response to the Russian TV show – Russian dog Phil is preparing to go to war, while this Ukrainian Phil is promoting peace. It was a really nice and original way to spread a message of peace, especially to the children who had watched the show.

But before you are overwhelmed by the cute pictures and the sweet message, think about why the father did this. He saw that propaganda was being spread to the most susceptible members of society, children. Worst of all, it was being spread through a seemingly harmless TV show. If a person is brainwashed like this from a young age, what sort of person do they grow up to be? Maybe Putin was brought up on similar propaganda. There are a lot of serious problems going on in Ukraine right now, but something like this shouldn’t be overlooked. Some Russian news channels have been banned in Ukraine for skewing the truth. Russian children’s channels should definitely be monitored and reviewed – and if other cases of such propaganda are discovered, then there is no question about them needing to be banned from public television immediately.

Originally posted at: https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/beagles-for-peace/

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

Flag Parade for Ukraine – War in Ukraine

Tomorrow I will participate in a Flag Parade. This will be the 5th parade created by the international community living in Kiev and the goal of it is to “show support for ‘new’ Ukraine”. They wish to “draw media attention to disprove any lies regarding the make-up of the new legitimate government.” The Flag Parade shows support for “a united Ukraine, a complete Ukraine, including Crimea.”

Flag Parade for Ukraine was made possible thanks to the grant I received from the Prague Freedom Foundation to report on the Ukrainian Euromaidan Revolution in March 2014.

“We support a united Ukraine, a complete Ukraine, including Crimea.”

Tomorrow I will participate in a Flag Parade. This will be the 5th parade created by the international community living in Kiev and the goal of it is to “show support for ‘new’ Ukraine”. They wish to “draw media attention to disprove any lies regarding the make-up of the new legitimate government.”

The Flag Parade shows support for “a united Ukraine, a complete Ukraine, including Crimea.”

Last Sunday there were over 300 people and a total of 42 countries were represented. This time they are hoping to get more! 250 people have already confirmed their attendance on Facebook and there are many maybes.

I will be there too, waving a Czech flag and hopefully interviewing the expat community in Ukraine. If you are in Ukraine, you should join. It starts in Shevchenko Park at 11:30am, Sunday, March 16th.

Originally published here: https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/we-support-a-u/

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

Maidan Graffiti – War in Ukraine

It was painful looking at how many flowers and candles people had brought – you can feel the sorrow and imagine them holding back tears or breaking down and bawling as they bring those flowers. Everyone expresses grief differently, and what pulled at my heart strings the most wasn’t the number of flowers or even the poem that I found among the candles. Right at the end of the official memorial wall, I saw 3 words graffitied on the wall that made me stop and stare at them for the longest time. They translate to “Mom I will return.”

Maidan Graffiti was made possible thanks to the grant I received from the Prague Freedom Foundation to report on the Ukrainian Euromaidan Revolution in March 2014.

Right now there are two places in Kiev where you can see what remains of Maidan. It is mostly left for tourists to get a feel for what happened and as a memorial to those who died. Yesterday I saw the smaller one.

It was painful looking at how many flowers and candles people had brought – you can feel the sorrow and imagine them holding back tears or breaking down and bawling as they bring those flowers. Not everyone necessarily knew the protesters who died personally. Some people saw them die, or remember their face from attending a protest, some just cry at the unfairness of these people dying for a better future that they won’t get a chance to see.

Everyone expresses grief differently, and what pulled at my heart strings the most wasn’t the number of flowers or even the poem that I found among the candles. Right at the end of the official memorial wall, I saw 3 words graffitied on the wall that made me stop and stare at them for the longest time. They translate to “Mom I will return.”

Originally published here: https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/maidan-graffiti/

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

Yanukovich’s House – War in Ukraine

Today I attempted to enter Yanukovych’s house even though it is indefinitely closed by the government. They want to investigate what was found there and make preparations to turn it into more of a museum for those interested. It took an hour to drive there and I spent twenty minutes trying to get let in. Other people also came and argued with the guards – even when we tried together, the answer was still ‘no’… Under the old government, you could do and get almost anywhere even if it was against the law. The most common ways were name-dropping, bribing and threatening.

Access Denied was made possible thanks to the grant I received from the Prague Freedom Foundation to report on the Ukrainian Euromaidan Revolution in March 2014.

Today I attempted to enter Yanukovych’s house even though it is indefinitely closed by the government. They want to investigate what was found there and make preparations to turn it into more of a museum for those interested. It took an hour to drive there and I spent twenty minutes trying to get let in. Other people also came and argued with the guards – even when we tried together, the answer was still ‘no’.

I was very disappointed because I wanted to see the house I read so much about. But on my way home I realized that there is something very positive about what happened today. Under the old government, you could do and get almost anywhere even if it was against the law. The most common ways were name-dropping, bribing and threatening.

But the new government made bribes strictly illegal. This new law is constantly mentioned on news and radio stations. People are doing what they can to be as different as possible from the old government. Even less important laws are being taken extremely seriously. People finally want change and are actively making it a reality.

I still have a hard time imagining Ukraine functioning completely without bribes. In the past even going to the doctor used to require it. Healthcare stayed free even after Communism ended, but if you wanted a guarantee that the doctor would examine you properly you needed to bring: chocolates, alcohol and money as “a friendly gesture”.

I will still try to make phone calls to see if there’s any legal way for me to get into the house, but what I witnessed today showed me that Ukraine really is changing.

Here’s an article with pictures and a video of his house: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2568468/The-spoils-corruption-The-opulent-valuable-downright-gaudy-artefacts-former-home-ousted-Ukrainian-president-Viktor-Yanukovich.html

Originally published here: https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/access-denied/

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

The Right Sector – War in Ukraine

“We need unity of the Ukrainian nation,” he answered when I asked him about what the next step should be for Ukraine. He said that the propaganda spread by Russian Television has caused people living in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Crimea to hate Ukraine, Ukrainians and Ukrainian. The Right Sector doesn’t see Ukraine divided into 1st class Ukrainians and 2nd class Ukrainians, “to us they are all the same,” he says. The party has been accused of igniting violence at the protests and its members have been called neo-Nazis.

The Right Sector was made possible thanks to the grant I received from the Prague Freedom Foundation to report on the Ukrainian Euromaidan Revolution in March 2014.

Today I spoke on the phone with Artem Skoropadsky, the spokesperson for the Right Sector in Ukraine. The party has been accused of igniting violence at the protests and its members have been called neo-Nazis. I was not present at the protests so I am in no position to agree or disagree with these accusations. What I can do is state a few solid facts about the paramilitary party and summarize my interview with Skoropadsky.

The Right Sector was founded by Dmytro Yarosh after the protests began in late November 2013. The right-wing coalition uses the same red and black flag originally belonging to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army or UPA. UPA was also accused of being fascist when they fought Nazis and Communists during World War II and after. The Right Sector is definitely nationalistic and has publically announced that they believe that the Regional and Communist parties should be banned – but so have ordinary people with no affiliation to the party.

The Right Sector is also commonly accused of being against speaking Russian in Ukraine, but that was the language that Skoropadsky answered his phone in. He also answered my first question in Russian, and only switched to Ukrainian once he realized that I understand it better.

“It is incorrect to say that the Right Sector created a revolution, it was ordinary people who created the revolution,” explained Skoropadsky when I asked him about the role of the Right Sector at Maidan. But he went on to say that “the Right Sector was the main driving force of the revolution” and they were not afraid to take responsibility for what occurred at Maidan.

“We need unity of the Ukrainian nation,” he answered when I asked him about what the next step should be for Ukraine. He said that the propaganda spread by Russian Television has caused people living in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Crimea to hate Ukraine, Ukrainians and Ukrainian. The Right Sector doesn’t see Ukraine divided into 1st class Ukrainians and 2nd class Ukrainians, “to us they are all the same,” he says.

Talking to one person, especially a politician isn’t enough to get the full picture. However I agree with his emphasis on the importance of unity, and what he said about seeing all Ukrainians as being the same didn’t sound fascist to me at all. I am hoping to speak with some of these ordinary people who according to Skoropadsky created the revolution to get more opinions on the Right Sector.

This was originally published here: https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/the-right-sector/

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

Parliamentary Frustration – War in Ukraine

The deputies were all dressed professionally but not everyone acted the way they looked. Voices were raised, speeches were booed and disrespected and people talked over each other. This can be excused because we are all human and our emotions take over sometimes. But what really surprised me was the lack of initiative that spread through the room as time passed like a common cold…

Parliamentary Frustration was made possible thanks to the grant I received from the Prague Freedom Foundation to report on the Ukrainian Euromaidan Revolution in March 2014.

I had never been to a parliamentary session before, and I had certain expectations. I imagined everyone being very professional and calm, working together at a brisk pace to get bills and laws passed (especially in an urgent situation like this). This was not what happened.

The deputies were all dressed professionally but not everyone acted the way they looked. Voices were raised, speeches were booed and disrespected and people talked over each other. This can be excused because we are all human and our emotions take over sometimes. But what really surprised me was the lack of initiative that spread through the room as time passed like a common cold.

I was only there for the first 6 out of 10 hours, but I saw people’s energy begin deteriorating after the first hour. When I went down for lunch 3 hours into the session, there were at least 10 deputies eating, ignoring the repeated message over the speakers asking them to “return to the room to vote on a very important matter”.

It got worse after they voted for the main matter of the day. Electing the new judges for the Constitutional Court seemed to be a secondary issue on some deputies’ minds – many just seemed to be there to promote their political parties. An hour after they cast their votes, the session leader had to announce that a technical problem had occurred with the voting process. At first, I assumed that “technical” meant that the machine counting the votes was wrong… Turns out a large number of deputies didn’t mark their ballots correctly: twenty-five of them made incorrect check-marks, whatever that means.

This caused more yelling, finger pointing and accusing those who made mistakes of sabotage. As I was leaving, deputies were being summoned once again to return to their seats to vote – but it did not start over until an expert was called forward to explain to all the deputies how to properly check off boxes on the ballot.

One outraged deputy took the mike saying that even the most elderly village-folk know how to vote, and maybe one of them should be called in to teach the esteemed politicians how to do it. This followed with the leader of the session pointing out how embarrassing and damaging this is to Ukraine. Another vote was done and finally, four judges were elected.

It was a long day for everyone. Just look at those deputies. Jokes aside, Ukraine has 450 deputies so it’s no surprise that not everyone agrees and that coming to an agreement can take a very long time. Especially at times like this when they are stressed and under more pressure and scrutiny from the public than ever before.

Originally published: https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/parliamentary-frustration/

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

Hanna Herman – War in Ukraine

“It is clear that the deputies here today don’t want Ukraine to split apart, for half of Ukraine to fall away.” As I listened to the deputies in Verkhovna Rada, Hanna Mykolayivna Herman really stood out to me. She is a member of the Party of Regions and Vice Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and International Relations. Until recently she was also very close to Yanukovich and acted as his advisor since January 2013.

Hanna Herman was made possible thanks to the grant I received from the Prague Freedom Foundation to report on the Ukrainian Euromaidan Revolution in March 2014.

“It is clear that the deputies here today don’t want Ukraine to split apart, for half of Ukraine to fall away.” As I listened to the deputies in Verkhovna Rada, Hanna Mykolayivna Herman really stood out to me. She is a member of the Party of Regions and Vice Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and International Relations. Until recently she was also very close to Yanukovich and acted as his advisor since January 2013.

She had supported Yanukovich since she became his spokeswoman Prime Minister in 2004. But after he fled but still announced himself as the legitimate president, she ceased speaking to him and for him. She remains a member of the Regional Party but her ideals are shared by many deputies from a variety of political parties. She received a lot of supportive applause at the parliamentary session on March 13th and she got a lot of attention from the press.

She stressed that Ukraine must show the world that it is strong and must act on what is happening. “We need to look for protection within Ukraine instead of externally.” Herman believes that the international community will lose interests in helping Ukraine if they see that Ukraine isn’t trying to help itself and if it’s perceived as weak.

Her other important point was that the government must finally answer certain questions to prove to the people that the government can be trusted. These questions include:

Who really shot at the people at Maidan?
Who really poisoned Yushchenko?
Who really killed Georgiy Gongadze?

“If you as the new government won’t give answers to (these questions), then it means that they were staged. It means that all of this can’t be believed,” Herman says. She also believes that deputies in the parliament shouldn’t be allowed to work simultaneously in the executive branch of the government. Working for both leads to corruption and doubt about the legitimacy of the bills passed. “We must understand, that if we are building a law-abiding nation, we cannot begin building it by breaking the law.”

There is a really great English-language website that explains the backgrounds of deputies and other Ukrainian politicians and shows all the promises they made and whether they were or weren’t fulfilled. Here’s the link to her profile (please note that her name is spelled differently based on whether it is translated from Ukrainian or Russian) http://en.slovoidilo.ua/person/German-Anna-Nikolaevna.html

This was originally published here: https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/hanna-herman/

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.