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    Posted March 9, 2014 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Ukraine unrest

    MaiaKiev and 14 other iReporters contributed to Open Story: Ukraine crisis as it unfolds
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    Russians "join" Celebrations of 200th Shevchenko's Anniversary in Ukraine

    Today Ukraine is celebrating 200th Anniversary of Taras Shevchenko, a famous Ukrainian poet. He was a writer, artist, public and political figure, as well as folklorist and ethnographer. His literary heritage is regarded to be the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature and, to a large extent, the modern Ukrainian language. Shevchenko is also known for many masterpieces as a painter and an illustrator. Shevchenko is often called a voice of freedom or a prophet of freedom as many of his poems were filled with longing for freedom and calls to fight for freedom.

    Yesterday at the Georgian Ballet performing in Kiev a portrait of Shevchenko was displayed at the entrance. It was so appropriate that the portrait was made of small pictures taken on Maidan during the three months of revolution!

    Back in the fall ex-President Yanukovich and President Putin were discussing the plans of celebration events around this special date. Now many Ukrainians wonder if Russian military occupation of Crimea is one of those special gifts that Putin was preparing for Ukrainians even back then.

    I am calling my friends and colleagues around Ukraine almost daily to find out what is happening in their regions. No surprise, central and western regions of Ukraine had big celebrations around Shevchenko monuments. In Cherkassy (one of Central regions) bikers had a ride around the city with anti-war slogans (photo by Natalia Krasuk). An all day Shevchenko celebration took place on Maidan, Kiev. A large group of foreign guests of Kiev marched with their national flags to Shevchenko monument. In Odessa (South) over 3,000 people gathered on Potyomkin stairs (downtown) to sing Ukrainian Anthem and to protest against Russian invasion. In Kharkov (East) many thousands came to the streets to say that they don’t want Ukraine divided.

    In Sevastopol (Crimea) a group of anti-war protesters were attacked by Russian kozaks who beat people with whips.

    My friend, Natalia, in Donetsk (East) told me the following, “Today is a nightmare in Donetsk. About 3,000 pro-Russian radicals had a meeting on Lenin Square. A few hundred went to Donetsk Regional Administration building, trying to storm it, but failing. They blocked Artyoma street to stop those who were gathering for Undivided Ukraine. People were surrounded and threatened. The participants of pro-Russian meetings appeared to be not from Donetsk, their Russian accent is different from Russian accent of those who live in Ukraine. Busloads of young men were brought across the border from Russia to cause these problems in our city. Most people in Donetsk do not want Eastern regions to break away from Ukraine but we are scared to go to the streets to protest – it’s not safe.”

    A similar scenario played out in Lugansk where a meeting of people who gathered to celebrate Shevchenko’s anniversary (about 2,000 people) was viciously attacked by men who came out of several buses with Russian license plates. Tatiana shares that it was horrible to see families, women, children running in panic, falling and getting up, running again leaving behind balloons and flags as a crowd of drunk and crazed men with baseball bats followed them, yelling profanities and some pro-Russian slogans. “I felt fear, pain and shame”, says Tatiana.

    It appears that Putin now uses the same “technology” that ex-President Yanukovich used during revolution. Though now we understand that Yanukovich was not functioning out of his own “creativity”, rather Putin was using him as a marionette. So we shouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of the same strategies.

    The “technology” is to use database of police to gather young men with criminal past and hire them for a specific task of terrorizing those who dared to protest against Yanukovich then, against division of Ukraine and Russian invasion now. These men are organized in groups and equipped with baseball bats, sometimes guns. On the biggest scale this strategy was used right before Yanukovich fled the country when hundreds of buses were brought to Kiev and large groups of thugs were given various areas of Kiev to sow fear. In my bedroom community I saw with my own eyes about 20 buses like that. In response, men in all regions of Kiev self-organized to guard together their homes and cars. It really mobilized even those who had not been participating in Maidan protests, because everyone experienced a danger from a criminal government that mobilizes smaller criminals in its war against people of Ukraine.

    Right now this “mobilization” effort is taking place in Russia – a much larger country than Ukraine, with a lot more criminals willing to “serve” mother-Russia in such a shameful way. But once again it might bring just the opposite effect from what Putin wants. Instead of being scared, people are beginning to realize that if they stay home now, if they let Putin take over their part of Ukraine, they will be the ones who will have to live in a country that employs criminals to suffocate freedom, where people are arrested when they come to the streets with anti-war slogans (like it’s happening in Moscow and St. Petersburg these days.) Even those Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Eastern and Southern regions, who have been fed lies from Russian TV channels, who might not understand what is happened in Kiev and are concerned about changes taking place in Ukraine, even they are beginning to panic about Russian invasion that takes place under not so believable cover of “protection of Russian-speakers” with a help of hired thugs coming across the border to terrorize our cities.

    Taras Shevchenko was among the first who openly spoke of evils of Russian Empire and its desire to kill freedom of Ukraine and Ukrainians. Today his warnings are very relevant. People of Ukraine find inspiration in Shevchenko’s poems in their fight for freedom and independence.

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