A Sister City in turmoil

(By Tarney Baldinger | Special to The Sun). What is going on right now in Ukraine is of great import, even to many of us here in the Somoma Valley concerned with our beautiful Sister City of Kaniv. Today, Kaniv has no mayor — he was removed from office, and his vice mayor resigned, because they were not willing to take direct orders from the ruling party. When President Yanukovych, was elected in 2010, in one day he changed the constitution to consolidate powers in the presidency so that all heads of regions are appointed by him. He controls the executive, legislative, and judicial branches both by law and by methods we would consider entirely unacceptable. So do Ukrainians.

Last year in Kaniv, an opposition candidate for parliament was elected, but the Yanukovych candidate was sworn in. The only people who dared protest were retired or students; the rest were afraid to lose their jobs. But after police attacks on peaceful protesters in Kyiv in December, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been protesting in the capital despite all risks.

A teacher who has visited Sonoma twice says that in Kaniv there is a feeling of great hope, and uncertainty. There have been protests in front of City Hall and in Cherkasy, Kaniv’s oblast (province) capital. Support for the protest movement is widespread, and people travel from Kaniv to Kyiv to demonstrate for a new system of government.

My contact asked that I not use her name. “I am afraid,” she said. Support is not universal. One friend feels this is just a venting of frustration that cannot lead to any real change, only perhaps a change of players in the same game.

My Sister Cities exchange daughter tells me the atmosphere is very peaceful on Maidan, the large central square in Kyiv where demonstrators have gathered for over two months. People are kind and open, together “like one hand” and “like one big family.” It is organized, orderly, and clean. There is a free clinic, church services, even a free university. And of course they are singing. At one point there were 1,200 volunteers preparing 63,000 hot meals a day!

To quote a Ukrainian journalist, “We are typically a passive nation that shies away from confrontation and would rather sleep in…than rally in the freezing streets. (But) now it’s a fight against state-sanctioned intimidation, torture and murder. It’s about fighting for basic civil liberties and human rights.”

Tatiana Chornovil, the young journalist who was beaten and left for dead in December, writes, “We have a maniac running our country, and he is served by a repressive state machine…This country needs those people who are out on Maidan alive, because these are the best people in the country. Whoever has been on Maidan knows that, there, are concentrated the most moral, responsible, intelligent, and brave.”

Another Ukrainian journalist commented: “Maidan is not just a place, it is a state of mind… people have reached the end of their tether with all the corruption, injustice and poverty experienced across the whole territory of Ukraine. They understand that if the current government continues to hold on to power, it will prove to be the ultimate downfall of our country.”

How can we help? Sister Cities connections can be for more than sharing a glass of wine or a cultural tradition. Urge the U.S. to offer aid to Ukraine and impose sanctions for violations of human rights. Know people in Kaniv? Telephone with encouragement (not with cell phones), but be careful what you say in an email. Stick a $20 bill in a letter: the economy is in turmoil, and dollars are worth a lot. For continuous coverage, Kyiv Post is online in English with links to international analysis.


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