Opinion: Ukraine′s stalled revolution | Opinion | DW | 21.11.2018
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Opinion: Ukraine's stalled revolution

Five years ago, Ukraine's Euromaidan protests kicked off, driving its autocratic leaders out of the country. But the revolution's promise has never come to pass because it lacks real leadership, writes Bernd Johann.

A memorial to the victims of the Maidan protests (DW/L. Rzheutska)

For many Ukrainians, the victims of Maidan will never be forgotten

When Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected the comprehensive Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement on November 21, 2013, a number of citizens spontaneously gathered on Kyiv's Independence Square that same night in protest. The impromptu rally sparked a wave of large-scale protests against Ukraine's corrupt, oppressive and pro-Russian rulers, who were eventually driven out of the country several months later.

The Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement took years to negotiate, was designed to enshrine European values in Ukraine and help bring an end to the country's endemic corruption. Ukrainians had also looked forward to traveling to the EU without needing a visa.

Read more: Poroshenko's promises, Merkel's disappointment

Ukrainians tired of Russian dominance

But instead of endorsing the treaty, Yanukovych spoke out in favor a customs union with Russia — and shortly thereafter officially declined to sign the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement at the EU's Vilnius Eastern Partnership summit. Ukrainians were aghast at what they saw as a rejection of a better life.

DW's Bernd Johann

Bernd Johann leads DW's Ukrainian department

Russia had exerted tremendous pressure on Ukraine ahead of the summit and had threatened a trade war. Many Ukrainians disliked the idea of a customs union with Russia, as this would have increased Moscow's influence over Ukraine. At this time, nobody would have dared to imagine Russia would later start a war in Ukraine's Donbass region, and annex Crimea.

Ukrainians take to the streets

It soon became clear that President Yanukovych had no qualms about brutally suppressing the anti-government protests. On the night of November 30, Ukrainian Berkut riot police used excessive force to disperse peaceful protesters. In response, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered the following day in Kyiv, thus setting off a massive wave of protest that brought together Ukrainians from all walks of life. It became known as the Revolution of Dignity as Ukrainians had become fed up with their violent rulers humiliating and stealing from them.

On February 22, 2014, Yanukovych fled to Russia. The protests had been successful, although more than 100 activists had lost their lives. Until this day, Russia has refused to extradite the former president, who is being tried in absentia for treason.

Today, Ukrainians can travel to the EU without needing a visa. Many have made use of this new liberty. The Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement was signed, and Ukraine's economy is growing. Much progress had been made, but more work still lies ahead; Ukraine's political revolution has stalled because there is nobody to take the lead.

Read more: 'Glory to Ukraine' army chant invokes nationalist past

Ukraine's incomplete revolution

Corruption is still endemic in Ukraine, and there is no rule of law. Oligarchs still dominate the political decision-making process, as backroom deals remain common. President Petro Poroshenko, elected in 2014, is one of these very oligarchs and many Ukrainians see him as part of the problem. But no viable political alternatives are in sight.

While the Euromaidan protests invigorated the country's civil society, it lacks actual political power. Some anti-corruption activists and journalists have paid with their lives for asking too many questions, and not one of these murders has so far been investigated. Ukraine's revolution — once so full of promise — is incomplete, and long overdue.

Watch video 42:31

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