The past couple of days have been truly exciting in Ukraine. Nationalists, anti-corruption activists and opposition leaders have ousted President Viktor Yanukovych from power and are now calling for new elections in May. As a Ukrainian-American, watching the revolution unfold has been both exhilarating and frustrating. It’s been an incredible experience to witness the everyday people of Ukraine rise up and demand their democratic and human rights from the government. But I wish I could be standing alongside my fellow Ukrainians, instead of watching the EuroMaidan protests from afar.
I am nervous about what lies ahead – will justice prevail? Will Ukraine finally break free of Russian subjugation, just as my grandparents have dreamed of for so long? Or will EuroMaidan transform into another failure, just as the 2004 Orange Revolution did? Will another Russia-lackey or avarice politician hijack this people’s revolution? Will the country dissolve into civil war? Or will Russian President Putin try to violently intervene by invading and reclaiming so-called “Russian-ethnic” portions of the country, such as Crimea?
Regardless the outcome, I think many international observers and commentators will agree that the determination of the Ukrainian people is awe inspiring, and many of the participants in the protests can be classified as heroes.
Among these heroes are women, who have played an extremely important and influential role in the EuroMaidan protests as leaders, activists, volunteer medics dodging bullets and even as members of self-defense brigades.
Check out this video from Al Jazeera English that shows how women in Ukraine have been willing to risk their lives for the cause:
Despite the inspiring way Ukrainian women have rallied to defend their country, not all are impressed. Ukraine still has a long-way to go to achieve gender equality, as this article makes clear. But what’s thrilling is that Euromaidan’s women activists couldn’t care less what their sexist counterparts seem to think:
“Our sotnya (unit) came about because women were not allowed to enter the scene of clashes at Hrushevskoho Street because they were women,” says EuroMaidan activist Ruslana Panukhnyk, organizer of one of the units. It has 30 core members, and up to 800 followers who would like to join.
The ban, which Panukhnyk said was introduced on Jan. 20, was the last straw for the woman, who decided to fight for both freedom and equality.
“These self-defense trainings will help women understand they can do the same things as men,” says Olena Shevchenko, a professional athlete and coach of the unit.
Head of the other female unit, Irma Krat, says she is deeply outraged with “men’s hypocrisy.” On Jan. 19, the day when clashes began, the woman was digging cobblestones out of the pavement on Hrushevskoho Street for other activists to hurl at the police.
“When Berkut was firing guns at protesters, the men from EuroMaidan self-defense did not even offer me a helmet,” Krat says. “And when the scuffles were over, the men prohibited me from even entering the street.”
Some are against women fighting. Oleksandr Dorykevych, a priest of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church serving at EuroMaidan, is one of them. He says women should not be warriors. The roles of mothers and a housewives are the most suitable for them, Dorykevych believes.
“Women on barricades will only confuse us,” says Anton Shevchuk, deputy head of the EuroMaidan’s first sotnya. “They’d better sit at home and cook food.”
But if the swelling numbers of female units are anything to go by, these attitudes are not popular with women. “We receive 30 calls a day with requests to join the unit. I barely have time to answer the calls,” Panukhnyk says.
Strong and determined revolutionary women are nothing new to Ukrainian history. Just take a look at the famous national poetess, Lesya Ukrainka, and the influential feminist writers and political activists, Natalia Kobrynksa and Olha Kobylianska. All are from the 1800s, and all three longed and fought for a free Ukraine.
I plan on writing a blog post about these incredible women later. For now, I eagerly wait to see what contemporary feminist heroines will emerge from the current unrest. For instance, will Yulia Tymoschekno emerge as the country’s new president in the coming months? This former Orange Revolution leader was imprisoned by Yanukovych in 2011 for alleged “abuse of power” and embezzlement involving a gas contract she signed with Russia in 2009. Her imprisonment was denounced by the international community as unjust and having been politically motivated. Thanks to the revolution and Yanukovych’s ouster from power she is now free. On Feb. 22, 2014, she delivered a powerful speech to Euromaidan activists. Nevertheless, she remains a controversial and divisive figure, also hounded by corruption charges and alleged ulterior motives. Some also accuse her of being too friendly with Putin.
So is she a safe middle ground for the country – a human bridge that can unite the country’s Russian and Ukrainian ethnic groups and placate both the EU and Russia? Or will she turn out to be just as bad and disastrous for the country as Yanukovych? Will she betray Ukraine to Russia just as most of her predecessors have?
The problem with Ukraine is that anything can happen. I guess we’re about to find out.