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On Monday 3rd April the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Orysia Lutsevych, manager of Ukraine Forum at Chatham House, Roland Oliphant, Moscow correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, and Dr Rory Finnin, head of Department of Slavonic Studies at Cambridge University. The discussion revolved around the roots of the Euromaidan movement and its effects on Ukraine. During winter 2013-2014, Ukrainians engaged in heavily repressed pro-Western demonstrations which led to the collapse of Viktor Yanukovych’s government. This turning point in Ukrainian social and political landscape energised the long-ignored Ukrainian civil society, but the country is still facing a multitude of challenges.
Orysia Lutsevych opened the discussion by calling Euromaidan the black swan of Ukrainian history and argued that, although it could have been predicted, it could not have been avoided. In her view, the extent of Russia’s control over Ukraine and the exacerbated polarisation of the country’s society was inevitably leading to a crisis. Regardless, Maidan has truly changed the face of Ukraine, and it has put the country back into the hands of the young Western enthusiasts who are now facing major challenges in rebuilding a state, but also a nation. Indeed, the freshly-elected Ukrainian politicians have to achieve not only a truly representative democracy and an efficient open economic system, but they also need to redefine the very Ukrainian identity, breaking away from its communist past.
While reminiscing on his own experience in Kiev during the winter of 2014, Roland Oliphant agreed with Lutsevych on arguing that the Euromaidan revolution was a watershed event in Ukrainian history. He recalled conversations with demonstrators claiming they were ready to sacrifice their lives for this cause. As he then remembered the terrifying experience of the sniper massacre of February 20th, the moment when, according to him, everything changed, Oliphant confessed he had the strong feeling of living in history in the making. He concluded by pointing out that, at this time, no thorough investigation has been conducted and no one has been brought to justice for the Maidan massacre.
The audience was then addressed by Dr Rory Finnin, whose speech mainly dwelled on Ukrainian civil society and its relationship with political representatives. Before Maidan, this relationship was non-existent, and the civil society was ignored, which explains how the Ukrainian political class failed to foresee these aforementioned events. Echoing Roland Olipant’s words, Dr. Finnin also added that whilst Maidan was a spontaneous movement, Ukrainians were, and still are, largely willing to take part in civil society and risk their lives for their beliefs.
In the wake of this revolution, the Ukrainian civil society took an increasingly important role, and has now inspired many legislative reforms that Maidan protestors called for three years ago, even though some of them have yet to be implemented. Nonetheless, Dr Finnin concluded that in spite of this improvement, more focus should still be put on Ukraine’s civil society.