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Ukraine remembers popular uprising that foreshadowed war

Some of the thousands of Ukrainian flags symbolizing each Ukrainian soldier killed in the conflict with Russia were placed in a garden near Maidan Square in Kyiv.MAURICIO LIMA/NYT

KYIV — A war-battered Ukraine on Tuesday commemorated the 10th anniversary of the so-called Maidan revolution, the popular uprising that toppled a pro-Russia president, showcased the nation’s embrace of European values, and foreshadowed the current conflict with Moscow.

Across Ukraine, people laid flowers at monuments honoring those killed during the protests, and officials hailed the uprising that started in 2013 as a milestone on the road to achieving greater democracy and to standing up to Russia.

In a video address released Tuesday morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “Ten years ago, we began a new chapter in our struggle. Ten years ago, Ukrainians launched their first counteroffensive.” During the Maidan revolution, he added, “the first victory in today’s war took place.”


Flowers were placed at a memorial for protesters killed by police at Maidan Square in Kyiv.MAURICIO LIMA/NYT

The uprising, ignited by popular outrage at a decision by Ukraine’s president at the time, Viktor Yanukovych, to shelve a trade agreement with Brussels, was a powerful demonstration of the country’s commitment to Europe.

The current war has accelerated those aspirations, with Ukraine now officially a candidate to become a member of the European Union. Several top European officials visited Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, on Tuesday to reaffirm their support, including Charles Michel, president of the European Council, and Boris Pistorius, Germany’s defense minister.

The Maidan uprising “is also part of Europe’s history,” Kateryna Zarembo, an associate fellow at the Kyiv-based New Europe Center, said in an interview, adding that the visits Tuesday demonstrated Europe’s strong commitment to Ukraine.

The commemorations were shrouded in a particularly deep sense of sadness as Ukrainians reflected not only on the lives lost in the struggle for independence over the past decade but also on the prospect that many more will die as bloody fighting continues.

“These men are now watching us from the sky,” Rostyslav Karandieiev, Ukraine’s acting minister of culture, said during a memorial in Kyiv honoring the 100 or so participants of the Maidan uprising killed by police.


“They were the first, but unfortunately not the last,” he added.

Around him, mourners stood in the bitter morning cold holding bouquets of white and yellow chrysanthemums, next to marble portraits of the victims. They recited prayers, sang the Ukrainian anthem and shouted “Glory to Ukraine! Glory for the heroes!” — the slogan around which the nation has rallied since Russia invaded last year.

The Maidan protests erupted Nov. 21, 2013, hours after Yanukovych announced that he was rejecting the trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer economic ties with Russia. Many Ukrainians supported the deal with Brussels, seeing it as a way to lessen Moscow’s influence and improve living standards.

The protests were peaceful at first but escalated into violence as police started firing live ammunition into crowds of demonstrators, who armed themselves with makeshift shields and clubs. The fighting killed more than 100 people, including a dozen police officers.

Increasingly unpopular, Yanukovych fled to Russia and was removed from office by Ukraine’s parliament, a moment that the country celebrated as a historic democratic victory.

But Russia viewed the protests as a Western-backed coup intended to distance Moscow from a country that used to be in its sphere of influence. Shortly after, Russian troops seized Crimea and instigated a separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine.

At the memorial in Kyiv on Tuesday, Ohla Salo, a museum worker, said, “When Maidan won, Putin understood that it would not be possible to take control of Ukraine other than by military means.”


In his video address, Zelenskyy drew a straight link between the Maidan uprising and the current war.

“We fought, and we are still fighting,” he said. “Both in the center of the capital back then and on the outskirts of Bakhmut now,” he added, referring to an eastern city that has seen some of the most intense battles of the war.

Ukraine’s military said Tuesday that its forces were facing fierce assaults by Russian troops in the east around the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka.

Ukrainian tank crew members of the 21st Mechanized Brigade attempted to camouflage a snow-covered Leopard 2A5 tank near the front line in the Donetsk region.ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images

Serhii Tsekhotskyi, a Ukrainian officer fighting near Avdiivka, told national television that Russian forces had in the past few days sent driverless “kamikaze” vehicles packed with explosives toward Ukrainian positions.

Moscow said Tuesday that its forces had fended off attempts by Ukrainian troops to expand their control over a sliver of land they had secured on the Russian-occupied left bank of the Dnieper River, near the southern city of Kherson. Russia’s account could not be independently verified.

“It will be a long war,” Oleksandr Krykun, a 67-year-old Ukrainian sergeant, said at the memorial in Kyiv.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.