2013–14 Euromaidan protests

Late in 2013, Ukrainians began protesting en masse in Maidan Square, the central square of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. The trigger for the protests was when Ukraine’s government, led by Viktor Yanukovych, refused to sign a free trade deal with the EU after Russia made them an “offer they could not refuse” (a loan equal to the value of that offered by the IMF, but with no strings attached… while at the same time threatening to destroy Ukraine’s economy with a severe trade embargo if they refused). The protests grew massively once the government reacted with excessive force (an estimated 100 people were killed), and people’s anger at police brutality grew into a rebellion against their corrupt, authoritarian government in general.

The protest movement was always plagued by fascists and ultra-nationalists within its ranks. You could probably say this started because it was not, at its outset, a particularly progressive or radical movement: it wanted integration with the neoliberal EU. Leftists and feminists who tried to attend the pro­tests found themselves excluded, even beaten badly in some cases. Leftists only really found their way in after the protests became broader in response to police brutality. Another factor was that hardline nationalists are simply a powerful force in Ukrainian politics, and have been for a long time, with significant activist bases and influence. Two of the far-right organisations that were instrumental in the protests are Svoboda (a political party with members in parliament whose leader complained about a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” running Ukraine) and Right Sector (which actually traces its lineage to genocidal Nazi collaborators). Groups like these made fascist and other racist symbols, including the American Confederacy flag, frequent sights during the protests. These groups were also prone to instigating and escalating violence, including sneakily shooting at “their own side” (other protesters) in the late stages of the movement to try to ensure they would not be in a mood to consider compromise with the government.

The movement did succeed in toppling Ukraine’s pro-Russian government, and a new, Ukrainian nationalist government, led by Petro Poroshensky, was installed instead. This angered some ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s far east (the Donbas region) as well as, of course, Russia itself, and led directly into the 2014 Ukraine conflict. The new government signed the EU trade deal and took the IMF loan, and duly began implementing all the conditions: harsh austerity measures, privatising industry, eliminating gas subsidies, raising the pension age, and so on. Unsurprisingly Ukrainians hated this, so turfed out that government at polls in 2019 and elected a new one, led by Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

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