Uprising in Ukraine: How It All Began

It is difficult to do nothing as your future is being destroyed right before your eyes.

My name is Mustafa Nayem. I am a journalist. I was born in Afghanistan, but I have lived in Ukraine for the past 24 years. I am sometimes credited with sparking the protests that brought down President Viktor Yanukovych and triggered the crisis now roiling my adopted homeland. But no one person can claim credit for starting this uprising. It is a true people’s movement, fueled by Ukranian citizens’ desire for a better government.

Many factors contributed to Yanukovych’s downfall: his jailing of political opponents, pressure on independent journalists, and use of brutal force against peaceful protesters. But the final straw was his refusal to sign the agreement forming an alliance between Ukraine and the European Union.

The morning it happened, I was covering parliament in Kyiv. At first, I thought Yanukovych was just playing politics, holding out for more money or concessions from the EU. But soon it became clear that the agreement was truly dead. Facebook erupted with rage, people’s posts dripping with venom. They were so disappointed after all the buildup. They had so little faith in their own institutions, in their ability to make their voices heard; many had come to see the EU as their chance to change everything.

It was ironic that the defeat happened on November 21—10 years after the Orange Revolution that prevented Viktor Yanukovych from becoming president. It felt cruel that hope was being dashed on the very day that had come to symbolize freedom.

The outrage needed an outlet. Around 8:00 p.m., I posted on Facebook: “Come on guys, let’s be serious. If you really want to do something, don’t just ‘like’ this post. Write that you are ready, and we can try to start something.” Within an hour, there were more than 600 comments. I posted again: “Let’s meet at 10:30 p.m. near the monument to independence in the middle of the Maidan.” When I arrived, maybe 50 people had gathered. Soon the crowd had swelled to more than 1,000.

Eventually, I went home to write my story. My editor wanted me to focus on the politicians, and parliament’s failure to act. All the while, I was thinking: “Come on, it’s not about that!” I didn’t even mention the Maidan in that first piece, because I didn’t really believe that we’d started something huge. We hoped, but we didn’t yet believe.

Three acts unfolded on the Maidan. First came the citizen protests. Then, the brutal government crackdown. And finally, after the first guy was killed on Hrushevsky Street, what I call “the Maidan of dignity.” At that point, it had become obvious that the people would never accept Yanukovych again. It was the beginning of his end, and the start of this journey toward Russia that is still playing out.

Once, Ukraine looked at its leaders like Olympic Gods; they know what to do, and how to do it, and we’ll just follow them. But over these last three months, the people have seen that’s not true. Politicians are no better than the rest of us. People want to participate in politics now. They demand equality, the right to assembly, and a fair court system. And they see their leaders for what they are—really old. If you asked Yanukovych or some others about Facebook, they wouldn’t understand what it can do.

I understand that the moment I posted on Facebook, I was no longer acting as a journalist; I was an activist. As a journalist, one must remain independent. On the other hand, as a citizen, I had to act. It is difficult to do nothing as your future is being destroyed right before your eyes. As the crackdown began, I realized I could no longer stand by as an unbiased observer while the government was killing people. It has been a long time coming.

The press gained freedoms under Yanukovych. But it wasn’t until 2013 that a group of us left our jobs at companies owned by oligarchs or political partisans and began to create a truly independent media. In the first months of the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych we formed Stop Censorship! to protest persecution of the press.

Three years later, we founded the first Internet TV channel in the country that operates through donations from our viewers—Hromadske.tv, where I work now as editor in chief. The media showed everything that was happening—helping people to believe that if we all act together, we can accomplish great things.

But the Russian media are different. They are trying to create a parallel reality. They are under Putin’s control, and he is trying to convince Russians that evil has overtaken Kyiv. The Russian people don’t have access to a free Internet, like we do. Putin, as Angela Merkel said, is not living in the real world, and I don’t think he can change Ukraine.

But this struggle is about something much bigger than a battle for control between Kyiv and Moscow. The Maidan proved the power of the people. It was like a child who had been discouraged for so long finally discovering he could walk. We are not children anymore. People will not be satisfied with just another new government. They want real change.

10 Comments

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Dear Mustafa Naim, as in physics, for every action there is a reaction. On the bright side of the "Maidan" Viktor Yanukovych was ousted. Downside,100 lives were lost. Worse yet is now 300,000 Crimean Tatar lives are in jeopardy. just hanging on there by a thread at a precipice. Of course you are not responsible, but do you have to sound so gallant?

just make sure 'the real change (we called it reformation)' is on the track! otherwise - as many others countries experience - it is just 'change the person/politicians' not the life of it's people/citizens .............................Good luck guys!

Joining the EU, will be advantageous for a few months, but after, EU will take control of Ukranian industry economy and banks, then things will be worse for Ukrainian people, See the documentary movie - the weight of chains - available free on youtube.

The people rose up and voiced how they felt...ENOUGH! We want good government! We want honest leaders! We want a country that has a rule of law with a good justice department... Real loudly they voice this! Now they have to fight for it because Russia has been shocked at the courage of the people. May they also do the same!. This is why Putin is so desperate to get back his control over Ukraine and especially the Eastern part where all the industry is done. What we saw was brave and the world needs to give them support!

"Three years later, we founded the first Internet TV channel in the country that operates through donations from our viewers—Hromadske.tv, where I work now as editor in chief."

So you say you operate through donations from your viewers. Till February 2014, almost 70% of the financing of Hromadkse TV came from thre sources: the US Embassy in Kiev, the Netherlands Embassy in Kiev, and a George Soros foundation in Kiev. So so so, my dear and brave fearless journalist / brave activist, let's begin from the truth...

Mustafa: you are a true heroe of our time! I am proud that I was one of the many who were at the Maidan. May freedom and dignity prevail!

Poor Ukrainian people do not know why previous president said no to EuropeanUnion proposed agreement. They will know soon. WorldBank and InternationalMonetaryFund will take control of the CentralUkrainianBank thru the Bank for International Settlements and EU and American multinational corporations will privatize and control all manufacturing agricultural mining industries, most Ukrainians will lose their jobs thru foreclosing and will be mostly forbidden finding work in other EU countries. This is why the agreement was rejected ___ See the documentary movie - the weight of chains - available free on youtube.

A powerful piece - thank you.

We agree with you! The people of Ukraine have had enough of the old thinkers who at best are prehistoric in their zest for holding onto the past. Putin is a has-been and needs to get out before he is swallowed up by change and spat out. His own people, once they get hold of what has really been hidden from them and the direction he is taking them they will not support his type of tyranny. The future is one where the people expect participation and openness. Government is by the people for the people not the D..k-heads who think that they know what is best for all of us (such as Yanukovych). Corruption needs to be stamped out with brute force and not be handled with kit gloves. It needs to be on-going to bring those that break the law brought to justice (even the terrorists in Eastern Ukraine). So Putin get out of our lives and our country so that we can clean and rid our country of people as corrupt as you and your followers. Stop meddling in other countries internal affairs. We believed that Russia was a communist country and everything belonged to the State, so how is it that on the breakup of the Federation some 20 years ago, those that were closest to the party are so filthy rich?

Mustafa,

Thanks for sharing your experience. It is important to hear from those who were actually there on Maidan.

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