After three months of generally peaceful protests in Kyiv’s Independence Square, Ukraine is in crisis. On February 22, Parliament voted to oust President Yanukovych and hold new elections. Yanukovych subsequently fled the country. The deep mistrust in government that originally ignited the protests was then fueled by pictures and video of Yanukovych’s lavish estate.
The interim government faces immense challenges. In addition to the social and cultural fissures dividing the country and the disastrous economic situation, Russia now has de-facto control of Crimea.
The International Renaissance Foundation, part of the Open Society family of foundations and active in the country since 1990, is vigorously monitoring events on the ground. The foundation and its partners were at the epicenter of these extraordinary events. The local foundation ensured that legal aid was made available throughout the crisis to civic activists, protesters, and journalists; supplied victims with medical care; while its human rights partners documented cases of torture, beatings, and police abuse.
The disinformation campaign waged by Russia has been extraordinary, with faux photos purporting to show hundreds of thousands of citizens in Ukraine fleeing to Russia. The local foundation is providing space and access to journalists to provide more objective coverage. Where feasible, the foundation is using video coverage to document the situation on the ground.
Events are unfolding with such speed that it’s impossible to predict what will happen. What is certain, however, is that so much is at stake for the citizens of Ukraine.