Pianos for peace: Unrest in Ukraine

By Natalia Galica | Managing Editor and Paul Gemperlein | Staff Writer

The Purdue Review recently spoke with local Ukrainian Student Society chapter members Nataliya Semchynska, Alex Misiats, Bogdan Pavlov, and Leo Moroz for an exclusive insight from the people most aware of this international injustice.

“I just looked at their beautiful young faces and cried,” Nataliya Semchynska, whose son was involved in the recent Ukrainian protests, said with emotion weighing down her words as she described seeing images of the victims who died as a result of the violence. “They were killed for nothing- for Ukraine, yes- but they were peaceful.”

It started like most major news stories do: with little or no attention from western media. Now, though, rising tensions in Ukraine have brought an onslaught of media attention, as innocent youths that once were peaceful protesters are now facing oppression and even sniper fire from the Berkut – the Ukrainian riot police – in the capital city of Kiev.

However, one source has been covering things from the start: the Russian propaganda machine, who turned the whole affair around. As it turns out, the Russian government has a lot of influence in Ukraine because of economic dependence and the Russian government’s justified fear that unrest across the Ukrainian states could spread east into Russia. In fact, in an attempt to distort truth and prevent others from joining in the protests, they rounded homeless people up from around Ukraine and filmed them in Kiev to deceive the Ukrainian population.

The Christmas tree that Ukrainian protesters donned in Ukrainian flags.

The Christmas tree that Ukrainian protesters donned in Ukrainian flags.

It all started when Ukraine, the second largest nation in Europe, attempted to join the European Union (EU), an economic and political union of 28 mostly European states. Everyone expected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to sign a piece of legislation that is a preliminary document to join the EU; however in an upset to the general public, Yanukovych declined to sign in November of 2013. The speculated reason for this is because Big Brother Russia would not allow Ukraine to remain in their union if they had joined the EU. This is what originally caused protestors to gather in Maidan, meaning “independence square,” in the center of Kiev and eventually led to mass amounts of people gathering in Kiev in what is now known as the March of Millions.

The protestors, mainly college-aged students, were initially peaceful but government officials wanted them to be evicted. Their solution was to clear the square by sending the police to attack the youths in a brutal show of force. There were numerous reports of officers bashing in protestors’ skulls and some victims that survived remain in the hospital to this day. To cover up their act of unjustified aggression, they put up a Christmas tree in the square – as much as two months before it usually is erected. In response, protesters used the tree to their advantage by putting pro-EU propaganda where there once were branches and decorations.

In the months that followed, more skull bashing occurred. This eventually led to protestors wearing colorful helmets. In

An example of the helmets protesters wore.

An example of the helmets protesters wore, provided by Nataliya Semchynska

response, the government banned all helmets. The protestors then began to wear colanders instead to show that they would not stop until Ukraine joined the EU, they were granted more freedom of speech, and more overall transparency was established within the government. As Nataliya Semchynska of the Ukrainian Student Society explained, a country in which you cannot freely sing your national anthem and wave your country’s flag is close to a police state.

What started as just putting up impromptu barriers to deter police abuse, quickly led to these same barriers being actively leveraged for protection with the exception of a piano, which instead became a symbol of peace. It was played in an effort to soothe tensions with the police. Within weeks, police began violating human rights by means of water cannons at below-freezing temperatures, aiming rubber bullets directly at faces rather than legs, using tear gas excessively, and even lobbing sound grenades with improvised shrapnel attached to cause more damage effects. Eventually, police also enlisted the help of convicted criminals in the effort of enforcing abusive crowd control. Worse still, recent outbreaks of violence have targeted not just protesters, but priests, press, and medics too. “There is no honor among anybody. They just do what they want to satisfy their hatred,” fumed Leo Moroz, a senior of the Aeronautical and Astronautically Engineering program here at Purdue and fellow member of the student society.

As of this writing, the worst appears to be over for the people of Kiev. The current president has fled his estate as the threat of arrest looms ever closer. Russian officials have called into question the legitimacy of the new parliament-controlled government that Ukraine has adopted for the time being. While the future is uncertain for the Ukrainian political structure, the Ukrainian people stand strong and united.

Become an active member at the Ukrainian Student Society Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/168353713262023/

Or show your support by liking the Virtual Maidan Facebook page: