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Keep the Spirit of the Maidan Alive

Ukraine youths by fire
Ukrainian youths sit near a fire late into the night in Kyiv’s Maidan on February 25, 2014. The day before Ukraine had issued an arrest warrant to oust President Viktor Yanukovych over the “mass murder” of protesters, and also appealed for $35 billion in Western aid to pull the crisis-hit country from the brink of economic collapse. The dramatic announcements by the ex-Soviet nation’s new Western-leaning team, approved by parliament—saw the pro-Russian leader, President Viktor Yanukovych, go into hiding—as a top EU envoy arrived in Kyiv. © Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine is something of a miracle. A group of unarmed citizens rose up and overwhelmed a police force with orders to shoot to kill them. We are witnessing the birth of a new nation, a new Ukraine—with a limitless future made possible by people willing to sacrifice their lives for their country.

In order for Ukrainians to realize that future, the spirit of the Maidan must be preserved. They will need international support. It won’t be easy. Europe can only provide so much help, since the EU itself is in crisis. Russia looms, with its dominant military might, and neither Europe nor the U.S. has shown any appetite for armed conflict in this part of the world. Putin believes in displays of force; he flexes his muscle, and expects people to fall in line. He will do what he can to thwart progress, to keep the country mired in its corrupt past.

But that doesn’t mean Russia can defeat the new Ukraine. I think people are willing to endure what hardships Putin deals out in order to build a better future here. And my foundation is working with experts in Ukraine to create a strategy for keeping the spirit of the Maidan alive.

We can help support free and fair elections in May, and encourage parliament to pass laws giving candidates equal time on television to make their case to the country. The people of Ukraine should choose their own representative. And they must seize the moment to reform the judiciary. This is vitally important, and you can’t do it piecemeal.

Ukrainians need the rule of law, with judges paid a proper salary to help prevent them from taking bribes. The EU has billions at its disposal; just a fraction of that could make a huge difference in cleaning up the court system. And that would have a huge ripple effect, making it so much easier to attract investment and put the country on the path to economic prosperity.

This will not happen overnight. We have been involved in judicial reform movements for more than 25 years, and it is hard work. What’s more, a lot of expenditures will have to be cut to bring the budget under control; as everybody knows, the Yanukovych family raided the treasury, leaving the country’s finances a mess.

But there is a unique opportunity here. Ukrainians have already seen one revolution fail, and they will need to pull together to help this one succeed. It is a long road, and a learning process. But focusing on these goals will put Ukraine on the right track—and honor the solidarity, the courage, and the dignity of the Maidan.

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