DISCLAIMER first: This text has nothing to do with political analysis, nor is it intended to be opinionated. This is an attempt to look at one’s life as an “average citizen” of a country going through revolution—state of mind, emotional reactions, fears, thoughts and personal views.
It started as a relatively small-scale protest. I remember joking (rather pityfully) on Twitter that after oysters and prosecco, I’m off to support Euro integration for Ukraine. It was November, before the government’s first big mistake with kicking the students from Maidan (Independence Square) that provoked mass protest on December 1. The reaction, hence, was straightforward: yes, supportive, but more on the curious side. I was there one of the nights, not too many people, someone saying something from the improvised stage, but nothing huge.
Then it strikes big. December 2. Foggy day in Kiev. I was meeting up with friends for brunch, well aware of the planned “march of the million” — there it was, right by your side, in the street. First you discuss politics over coffee, then you go out and join the crowd for (what later was known as) the first big protest.
In those initial weeks, the temperature was rising, the issues were widely discussed. There was no way of having a conversation (any kind of conversation) without touching upon politics. The “us v them” feel was building up. The “it’s enough” feel. The “we can’t stand this anymore” feel. “We” thought “they” were waiting for the New Year, the time when everyone goes on holiday, waiting for all political heat to fade. It didn’t.
In Ukraine, people never cared too much about politics. We tolerated a lot of things—corruption, post-USSR approaches in everyday life. And it took (ex-president) Yanukovych and his regime a lot of overstepping to provoke such a reaction from the masses. A lot. That was why the protest didn’t end by New Year, but grew bigger and more violent in response to government sanctioned violence.
I won’t go into much detail here, the internet is abundant with reports, opinions, evidence from people who were more involved than I was. As an average citizen in Kiev, I didn’t spend all my free time at Maidan (like some people I’m proud to call my friends did)—I went there sometimes after work, but I mostly participated donating money or medicine. The fact is: there was a lot of self-organizing around Maydan. People knew where to bring what, what to do, how to help. I remember becoming increasingly angry every day. Also, I remember crying for the country, for the state of things, for uncertain future, for gratefulness to Ukrainian people.
Around the same time, it became obvious that there existed another version, delivered by the Russian media, and widely spread through the East of Ukraine. My family is from Donetsk region in the East, so I got to hear the views from that part of the country as well. A lot of people are surprised by disinformation of a big part of the population: “Don’t they have internet?”, “Can’t they switch to other TV channels at least?” But let’s not forget about the concept of priming. We are primed for a certain type of information because we originally saw it.
When we confront a situation, our mind looks for a precedent among past actions without regard to whether a decision was made in emotional or unemotional circumstances. Which means we end up repeating our mistakes, even after we’ve cooled off.
Here, psychologist Dan Ariely talks about a different type of problem, but the same applies to information consumption as well.
So, if you saw something, and especially repeatedly, you are more inclined to take in the information that you internalized first, and look for supporting evidence, ignoring what doesn’t fit the picture. Familiarity breeds contempt (pdf).
What happened within these past four months was my growing disbelief in any information that enters my space. I’m now more concerned than ever about any piece of news, opinion, and information that I come across. Especially opinion. I started to trust only facts, but there are no “only facts,” there are facts shown from the angle. Be that the angle that I support or that I distrust, I’m aware as I’ve never been before about the bias in the media.
No forgiveness though for the Russian media that completely distort the picture, in the manner of clear propaganda, something that I felt had been long gone with the USSR. Jaw-dropping, downright bullshit.
I have changed during this time. Grew more uncertain of the future (who isn’t, nowadays?), desperate for civil society, hopeless about the government change, hopeful about people, disappointed in people, mistrusting the words, trusting the picture, and then mistrusting the words+picture, thinking twice, disillusioned with the news, baffled by the politicians… The list goes on. In short, I grew worried and tired.
Today, the new Ukrainian government, unfortunately, is lacking substance. There are people like Pavlo Sheremeta, the minister of economics, people of the new formation, using Foursquare and taking the subway to work (at least occasionally). I trust him—for now, I feel that with people like him in the Cabinet, people like me get represented in the government. It’s an unusual, fresh feeling. But the government can’t change momentarily, and people who went through these four months of Maidan are out of patience.
Only one candidate for President have been registered, as of March 21, with a little more than a week left. No one wants to be the new leader of the new Ukraine. The country has fought, but it’s not the situation where the country deserves its leader—the country turned out to be far better than anyone who has ever been its leader.
Unbelievably, my heart is broken—not for an unfortunate love affair, but for the country I live in.
I have no recipe for the way out of this crisis—political, economical and emotional. Other than staying strong, and continuing being human and standing for what we believe in. For our rights and freedoms, for transparency, for honesty and humanity, every day, every step of the way. Only with persistence, can Ukraine truly change and not fall into the old habits of corruption and lack of care that have eaten most of this country’s vast resources.
But we are tired and worried by reality constantly colliding with our perception of how things should be. This contrast between how life is and how it should be (in our view) is terrifying. Also, we got used to this, that’s why we often keep quiet, we stop noticing.
How can something so wrong be so real?
The victories of the revolution sometimes get shattered against the state of things, against modus operandi, against business as usual. And “as usual” in Ukraine has been way too dishonest, too indecisive and wishy-washy. True victories, they say, are really in our hearts. But we don’t trust our politicians. We are not represented in the government. Too few people “like us” choose to go to that serpentarium that our political institutions have been.
I’ve been thinking of looking for employment outside of Ukraine. I’m ashamed of it, and sad. But I want to think about my work and my personal life more than I think about politics. I cannot live politics every day. I want to feel secure. I want to know that my care about the country is reciprocated. Ukraine is a difficult place to live in. Still, something is holding me back. I love the country, and not sure whether I want to care about another place on Earth instead of the one I was born in.
It’s not that something’s broken here, it’s that feeling that this is irreparable. And this is what worries the hell out of me.