Thousands have continued to march in Ukraine for the past couple of weeks while President Viktor Yanukovich and protestor organizers have began talks but there is no end in sight.
A Canadian born protestor Krystina Waler said nobody believes the words out of the President’s mouth anymore – this statement came after a trip to Kiev (from Toronto) from Nov 18 to Dec 10 where she actively protested on the ground.
“Nobody believes a word he says and nobody can understand his chain of thought,” she said once back in Toronto.
Reports confirmed that the President may sign the EU deal but not everyone believes that would be the case.
“On Nov 29 he wasn’t going to sign the association deal but he was going to do so before 2015 elections. Later we heard talks were to be resumed at New Years. Now he may sign right away. I think it’s a diversionary tactic. I think he should be judged on his actions and not his words,” said Taras Zalusky, Executive Director at Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC).
Waler, who is pursuing her Masters at the University of Toronto, said the protests started because the President enraged people on Nov 28 when the youth were attacked and arrested by the riot police during peaceful demonstrations.
She said she received a phone call from a friend in Toronto while on the ground as they heard on the news that the riot police had attacked 300 to 500 protestors and arrested them.
“They’ve been sent to jail for two months but they’re looking at up to eight years, depending what the government wants to do,” said Waler.
“The people that are there right now are not scared anymore. They’re ready to fight for their freedom. Because, the population protesting is 40 plus. At that point they feel all we have to live for is children and if they’re going to treat our children like that then we’re prepared to lay our life down,” said the 28-year-old who lived in Kiev for four years in the past.
She said Yanukovich outraged people by the attacks and arrests made on Nov 28 and the fight isn’t just about the EU deal anymore.
“It’s not as much of the EU association as it was about the fact that they didn’t want a government that was capable of behaving this way towards the youth of the country,” she said.
“If he hadn’t ordered the riot attack against students I don’t believe they would’ve been there in the (next) few days. They still would’ve still been doing something actively to try to make sure he signs a treaty in March 2014 but they were ready to start thinking of different means. If he hadn’t done that (attacked and arrested the youth), there’s a 90 per cent chance that nobody would be out there protesting right now,” she said.
“All of a sudden people were rebelling against a corrupt government that they were complacent with until now.”
“It is about the EU deal, don’t get me wrong. But they want this government out first and they want EU integration,” she said.
Zalusky said the protestors were initially protesting for European future for them, but they were supporting “normal life” as they call it with less corruption and better opportunities and westernised and European values.
They’re also opposing against the violence against peaceful protestors and meddling of Russia.
He said there is a spectacular amount of corruption in Ukrainian society and gave an example of President’s son who is a dentist.
“The President’s son who is a dentist, became a billionaire – not a millionaire but a billionaire – the first year his father became the President,” he said.
He said Ukraine has been struggling financially as the country has to repay financial loans to the IMF.
He confirmed that the potential of the European market is 12 times the size of Russian market so it’s a tremendous opportunity to have access to that market.
Yanukovich needs financial sources said Danylo Spolsky, a MBA student in Toronto and a former journalist for Kiev Post.
“Russia’s one source, China is another, EU is also an option. But essentially Yanukovich is looking to fix the economy in the short term,” he said.
Problem is if Ukraine doesn’t find a way to do something, it’ll go bankrupt said Waler.
“So he needs to find money from somewhere. So whther its Russia, China or the EU. He has gotto do something. And I guess Russia, being the powerhouse that it is, he is sticking to it,” she confirmed.
Spolsky said Russia is a great influence on Ukraine although Yanukovich and Putin personally don’t get along very well.
“President Putin considers Yanukovich a backwater political leader, but for Russia if Ukraine signs an association agreement which is a first step towards potential EU membership in the future, that would be a huge blow to their geo-political aspirations,” he said.
“Because Ukraine is a country of 45 million people, a fairly large economy with significant unrealised potential for the time being and for them it would be a huge blow to lose Ukraine to an EU path.”
He said there are speculations that pressure and or rewards were promised to Yanukovich in return for him to not sign the association agreement who desires to be re-elected in 2015.
“Which is strange because if would’ve signed the agreement he would’ve had pretty strong support,” said Spolsky.
Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird concluded a two-day visit to Ukraine and made Canada’s viewpoint clear.
“…It is clear we all view this as a lost opportunity. I remain hopeful that preparations for a Ukraine-EU agreement can resume in the near future, but we are not naive about the challenges that lie ahead,” he said.