EuroMaidan, World War II Parallels, and “Feelings from the Past”

This is a re-posting of a blog post by Illinois alumna Areta Kovalsky. To view the original post, please see http://shadowsofaforgottenworld.blogspot.com/2014/04/euromaidan-wwii-parallels-and-feelings.html.

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This post is dedicated to EuroMaidan and the Ukrainians’ never-ending struggle to be free. These past few months, as I experienced a revolution and war for Ukraine’s freedom and integrity, I have often thought of my ancestors and how they must have felt during WWII (and earlier liberation movements) and the partisan struggle to liberate Ukraine from totalitarian powers. I’ve always been fascinated by WWII and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), but never in my life did I think I would feel what they felt, get a taste of war, death, and the fight for freedom, such uncertainty, and love for Ukraine in a context similar to theirs. Tying into the theme of my blog, this particular “shadow of the past” is one that I have felt rather than seen. I have encountered what I will call “feelings from the past.” These sentiments which were felt by Ukrainians in WWII have been transferred to a new generation of Ukrainians who are reliving the liberation movement, re-struggling for a free, prosperous, and democratic Ukraine. Of course, EuroMaidan and Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine in no ways compares to the scale and consequences of WWII, and I don’t pretend to believe I understand the extent of the suffering that the people felt at that time (especially as I wasn’t in Kyiv during the bloodiest days), but nonetheless, I can’t help but draw certain parallels.

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I remember one day in late February I was walking toward the Old Town from work. It was dusk and as I walked along the cobblestone streets, in the distance between the Austrian-era buildings I saw on the city hall tower’s the Ukrainian flag flapping in the wind. I immediately thought about how much Ukrainian blood had been spilled for it to be there. I couldn’t believe that in the year 2014 Ukrainians yet again had to fight for their freedom, fight against a new type of feudalism, new type of Russian imperialism, a new totalitarian power. Ukraine had been independent for just over two decades – the longest it has been a free country since the Middle Ages, the longest a blue and yellow flag had been able to fly safely on Ukrainian land – when again its sovereignty was being threatened.

The flag flies proudly in Lviv, but during the revolution, displaying the yellow and blue banner was an anti-government act, and my mother was even worried for my safety in Lviv because I had a yellow-blue ribbon on my purse and she told me to be careful at night in case some gave me trouble for it…

Kovalsky 2 - Ukrainian FlagLooking at the flag, I thought about all the people who had fought for a free Ukraine throughout the ages, but in particular about the heroes of the Heavenly Hundred who had just been shot down in the center of Kyiv. The heroes, mostly young men, couldn’t sit home while their future was being robbed. I heard so many stories from WWII about families being torn apart, about lost husbands, fathers, brothers. Was it really happening again, in the twenty-first century? Never in my life did I think I would be re-feeling some of what my grandparents felt when they were close to my age, re-living a similar struggle. It all felt so surreal.

I sometimes think that the main reason I moved to Ukraine, the reason I am so drawn here, pulled here by some forces, is because I needed to return to Ukraine in place of my grandparents who were forced to leave their beloved country, and who themselves were never able to return. I feel that I was guided to Ukraine because the love for and attachment to Ukraine was passed down from my grandparents, and as they couldn’t return, I am doing it for them. To me it really does feel like I returned home even though I was born and grew up in a completely different country and culture.

However, within a few months of obtaining my permanent residency, settling into a promising new job, feeling ready to settle down, Ukraine was caught it yet another war for its independence. It started as a peaceful revolution, first for closer ties with the EU, then against corruption, lack of rule of law, and a totalitarian government. Eventually the center of Kyiv became a real battlefield, a frontline between Ukrainians who just wanted a better a future and the paid government police and hired thugs defending the money and opulence of the government.

Barricades at Maidan in Kyiv (December 2013)

Barricades at Maidan in Kyiv (December 2013)

My grandparents’ generation fight for freedom didn’t succeed, there was no independent Ukraine after the war, and so being intelligentsia and having taken part in the liberation struggle, my relatives would have been persecuted under the Soviets. Thus in 1944 when the Soviets were again approaching western Ukraine, my grandparents had to flee west. During EuroMaidan, I remember thinking that one of the reasons that EuroMaidan had to succeed was so that the active members would not be persecuted. Many people took risks by defying the government, like the mayor of Lviv, the administration and many of students of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, etc, and they would have all have been punished for it in one way or another…

A Sunday national assembly on Maidan in Kyiv in December

A Sunday national assembly on Maidan in Kyiv in December

I remember even when the revolution was just beginning, and all the organizing that was taking place, when people were finding food and shelter for people who wanted to go to Kyiv and protest, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the way families in the villages sheltered and fed the partisans during WWII. Eventually sotnias (defense/military units) were formed during EuroMaidan and I couldn’t help but think that the last time sotnias were formed was during the war by the UPA.

Barricades in the center of Lviv - probably the last time Lviv was barricaded was during WWII

Barricades in the center of Lviv – probably the last time Lviv was barricaded was during WWII

The UPA slogan “Glory to Ukraine” and response “Glory to the Heroes” as well as UPA songs sounded from maidan’s across the country, and the black and red UPA flags flew next to the yellow and blue ones. There are in fact a lot more parallels between WWII and EuroMaidan/the Russian invasion…

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And once we finally had a taste of victory, finally ousted the corrupt president, finally felt we had a chance to completely reboot the country, root out the Soviet mentality once and for all, put an end to corruption, we realized we were up against something potentially a lot more serious and even more unpredictable – the superpower to our north-east. Although our taste of victory was bittersweet, as it was tainted with the grief we felt for the heroes who lost their lives, we felt that the country had changed for the better, that more was accomplished in those few months than the 20 plus years of Ukrainain independence. After the Yanukovych government was disbanded, I felt as if I were living in a new country, it felt easier to breath, things were starting to look up, and I felt like the deaths were not in vain. But less than a week after the government was overthrown we were faced with war. Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and currently Russia’s attempts to destabilize Ukraine are only increasing. The situation in eastern Ukraine is very serious and it seems Putin has no intention to stop the aggression.

When the invasion first began, my foreigner friends and I were often asked if we planned to leave Ukraine. I never considered it for a moment. My mom told me I could stay with my parents’ friend’s parents in Poland if I did have to leave. And just the other day she said her friends in the States asked her if I have an exit strategy. I don’t think the conflict will ever physically reach this part of Ukraine, but it was and still is a scary time to be in Ukraine. If the conflict did spread, I, like my grandparents, would have to make the difficult decision of deciding whether to stay or leave. Of course my move wouldn’t be nearly as difficult as theirs was – I wouldn’t have to make a fresh start in a country where I don’t know the language, leaving behind close relatives and the only life I had – but it would still be heartbreaking for me.

Almost every time I talk to my mom she tells me to think about what I would take with me if I needed to make a quick escape from Ukraine. It made me think about what my grandparents took with them when they left Ukraine. Very few things of theirs from their lives in Ukraine have survived. They couldn’t take a lot with them and a lot was lost, stolen, or broken along the way. They took photos, documents, a china set (only one mug survived with a broken ear), some embroidery (pillow cases, portières), kilims, jewelry, wedding rings, a balsam wood cross from Jerusalem. My mom said to make sure I take my antique embroidered blouses.

Center of Lviv after the bloody events in Kyiv

Center of Lviv after the bloody events in Kyiv

Spring has arrived in Lviv, the summer terraces have been built, on the weekends the center is packed with tourists and locals – life goes on, but we are all still very worried about what is happening in the east of our country and no one has any idea how things will end…

And we have not forgotten about the fallen heroes – memorials, graffiti, shrines, billboards commemorating them are found all over the city. Now in addition to the Heroes of UPA Street, Lviv has a street named after the Heroes of EuroMaidan. Just as the heroes of WWII have not been forgotten, they live on in the people, memories, urban landscape, hearts, so to the heroes of EuroMaidan live on.

One of the first shrines in Lviv to the fallen heroes

One of the first shrines in Lviv to the fallen heroes

I hope one day these particular feelings from the past will stop being passed on to new generations, and instead only the feelings of love and pride will be passed on.

Areta Kovalsky graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a major in International Studies and an undergraduate minor in the REEEC degree program. She went on to get a master’s degree in Eastern European Studies from the University of Toronto. The last couple of years, she has been living in Lviv, Ukraine, working as a translator and for various IT companies.

 

EuroMaidan: Experiences of a Ukrainian-American

Areta Kovalsky holding the Ukrainian flag among a crowd of people also holding the Ukrainian flag

Areta Kovalsky holding the Ukrainian flag on the maidan

I remember how horrible I felt when I first saw on my Facebook feed the news that the Ukrainian government suspended work on the EU Agreement. As one of many Ukrainians who had hoped that the government would follow through with its promises, I not only felt deceived but was also very concerned about the future of Ukraine. Late that evening, my friends and I headed over to Lviv’s center, where about 50 people were already demonstrating with Ukrainian flags and posters. A little while later, a girl arrived with an EU flag, and we all applauded. I stayed for about half an hour, talking with the other people, most of whom were students, about further plans, including the picket that was being organized the next day outside the regional administration building. Some of my friends went even later to demonstrate and said that there were up to 100 people out.

This happened the night of November 21. During the next month that followed, my life was consumed by the revolution. I spent every free moment on the Lviv EuroMaidan or watching HromadskeTV (Ukraine’s first public TV channel, which was launched early to cover EuroMaidan). I translated articles about the situation and took two trips to Kyiv. I posted updates and pictures, and shared articles about EuroMaidan on Facebook. Many of my friends abroad were very grateful that I was keeping them updated as the events were not always well covered by international news outlets. In a way, everyone who was writing about their experiences on Facebook was acting as a journalist, and these individual efforts, as well as the EuroMaidan Facebook groups that were created, helped keep people in Ukraine and around the world informed.

As Facebook has been an important tool during EuroMaidan for sharing news and coordinating efforts, I thought that in describing some of my EuroMaidan experiences, I would include my Facebook statuses to capture the exact sentiments I was feeling as the revolution unfolded.

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The Sunday after the announcement that the government suspended talks on EU integration, thousands of people gathered in Lviv, in the snow. The following day, November 25, I wrote:

“So wonderful to see that still so many people from Lviv are going to Kyiv, to hear about all the people and organizations and restaurants who are allowing people to come use their facilities, drink some tea, warm up, organize, to see how people are helping each other, to see all the people out in the cold, to see that people are spending the nights outside, to see no party flags flying, and so much more…. it is really quite an amazing time to be in Lviv.”

On Wednesday, before I left for the overnight train to Kyiv, I took a walk to the Lviv EuroMaidan:

“Wow, the center of Lviv right now is amazing. Despite it being the coldest night yet, there are thousands of people on the EuroMaidan, Cherry Band is playing, there is a huge group of people waiting near the Grand Hotel for buses to take them to Kyiv, all the cars that drive by have Ukrainian flags attached to them and they are all honking their horns as they drive by, there is a screen next to the stage with contact information for help finding a place to stay or warm up in Kyiv, and other useful information about Kyiv and the movement in general. I’m about to leave for Kyiv, and know so many other people who are going there tonight or tomorrow night. These next two days will be historic and I am so happy that I can be part of it and right in the center of it.”

After spending Thursday in Kyiv, I wrote:

“It’s hard to believe that exactly one week ago I stood with about 50 Lvivians near the Shevchenko monument in Lviv in support of Euro integration and that a week later I am in Kyiv with thousands of other Ukrainians supporting Ukraine’s European choice and that there are people standing with us on EuroMaidans in cities all over the world. When we first got to the maidan today in Kyiv, we were disappointed at how few people were demonstrating, and most people were in fact from Lviv. Fortunately, thousands of Kyivan students joined us later as did thousands of other people. I witnessed a little scuffle and a little tear gas was sprayed but in general it was calm. However, we have been warned that tomorrow anti-European integration agitators will be on maidan (and being paid for it by the ruling party) but asked to stay peaceful and not be provoked into conflict. Tomorrow is the last day of the summit so it is likely to be the biggest and most important demonstration yet. Today ended on a great note for me to the performances of DakhaBrakha and Dakh Daughters, the musicians of which have been big supporters of EuroMaidan. We even sang the national hymn with the members of DakhBrakha. It was surreal to be listening to my favorite band live on the maidan in Kyiv with so many people who have a come to stand in the cold and fight for a better future for Ukraine.”

The next morning was the day when Ukraine was supposed to sign the agreement. We all knew what was going to happen, but nevertheless it was depressing to wake up to the news. That day there was a pretty big turn out in Kyiv. My Facebook post from the following morning:

“Woke up to calls and messages from concerned friends. I’m OK. We left EuroMaidan around midnight. After we left we heard that special police forces surrounded the maidan and that a few journalists were beaten. But then things calmed down and the demonstration continued so we went to bed. Woke up to the news that they attacked everyone who was there and that dozens of people were injured and arrested. This is unbelievable. This shows that our government does not care to be a democratic country as they beat and disperse peaceful demonstrators who just want a better a future.”

That brutal night changed everything. EuroMaidan was no longer just about European integration, but against police brutality, corruption, and the lack of democracy, rule of law, and human rights in Ukraine. The actions of the officials that night only released the pent-up anger and disappointment that so many Ukrainians had with the government. Now the demonstrators were demanding the resignation of the president and the government. Now people who had previously been indifferent or passive were prompted to take to the streets.

On Sunday, December 1, back in Lviv, I wrote:

“Lviv’s center is packed. In Kyiv there are now more than 700,000 people on the streets. Kyivans have taken back the EuroMaidan and have stormed the Kyiv city council building. Today I again have hope in this revolution…”

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A lot has happened since December 1. There have been more clashes and journalists and EuroMaidan supporters have been severely beaten. But it’s now the middle of January, and people are still occupying the Maidan. The number of demonstrators has decreased somewhat because some people have lost hope, feel that the chance to change something was lost, that more extreme measures should have been taken. However, even if people eventually leave the protest camp, EuroMaidan will not end because the movement will continue in other forms. People are getting organized, informed, are realizing that if they want the country to change they need to start with themselves, and that they can’t wait for the people in power to do it for them. EuroMaidan started a movement for a democratic, brighter future for Ukraine; as a consequence, I think Ukraine has changed more in the last few months than it has in the 20-plus years of its independence.

Areta Kovalsky graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a major in International Studies and an undergraduate minor in the REEEC degree program. She went on to get a master’s degree in Eastern European Studies from the University of Toronto. The last couple of years, she has been living in Lviv, Ukraine, working as a translator and for various IT companies.

REEEC Alumni Profile: Andrew Scoulas

“What kind of job can you get with that degree?” This is perhaps the most frequently asked question of students majoring in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.  It is an understandable concern of parents and other relatives, as well as of prospective students themselves.  And, it’s a question that is quite challenging to answer since career paths in the liberal arts and social sciences are often non-linear.  In the interest of providing a concrete answer to this question, we caught up with 1995 Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies alumnus Andrew Scoulas to find out how he put his bachelor’s degree to work in the real world.

Andrew Scoulas

Andrew Scoulas

As a new graduate in 1995, Andrew continued to deepen the professional experiences he had already initiated while being a full-time student.  In his sophomore year of college, he spent his summer breaks as an office assistant at the Institute for Real Estate Management.  By May of 1995, he had been promoted from this temporary position into a permanent office clerk where his responsibilities increased.  In October of 1996, he was hired at the National Association of REALTORS®, his current employer.  Within two years, Andrew had been promoted to Information Specialist within the National Association of REALTORS® and was responsible for serving its 800,000 members.  Seven months later he became the International Programs Coordinator.  In this position, he prepared briefs for National Association of REALTORS® staff, attended conferences of the Russian Guild of REALTORS® and the Russian Society of Appraisers in Moscow, and dealt with many of the administrative and pedagogical aspects of the courses offered leading to the Certified International Property Specialist designation.

Since June 2000 Andrew has been serving as a Policy Consultant with the National Association of REALTORS®, which now has more than one million members.  He manages the Organizational Standards Program database, analyzes state and local association governing documents to ensure compliance with NAR policies, as well as maintaining communication with members and the general public via phone, email, and the organization’s website.

Throughout his career Andrew has found multiple uses for his advanced Russian language skills, which he acquired through domestic study at the University of Illinois and abroad at St. Petersburg State University.  In his current position as a Policy Consultant, he often receives internal requests for consultation when dealing with Russian translations and participates in meetings with Russian delegations when they visit the office.  In nearly all the jobs he has held since graduation, he has put to use his research and writing skills honed through the interdisciplinary degree in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.

Besides earning an undergraduate degree, Andrew credits a specific relationship with one professor as having directly influenced his career.  During his time as a student, he says “…I was able to take 4 Russian history classes with Professor Andrew Verner.  In addition to having a commanding presence in the classroom, he had an excellent eye for detail in terms of content, and he was also attentive to students’ writing styles.  To this day, his constructive comments and observations have a positive influence on my professional writing.”

Additionally, the part-time job Andrew held during his time as a student has had a great impact on his career path.  He says “the benefits [of working at the Institute of Real Estate Management] were numerous because I made many professional friendships which I have maintained to this day.  At my first job, I befriended a manager…and I later worked for him.  That job later became a stepping stone to other jobs, including my current position.  Additionally, earning a part-time salary during summers helped me pay my tuition.”

In his spare time, Andrew enjoys photography and listening to music, keeping up with current events and traveling.  And, although he graduated from the University of Illinois in 1995, he continues to expand his language skills.  In addition to Russian, he has studied Ukrainian, French and Korean.  Since 2011 Andrew has studied German at the Goethe Institut in Chicago.  In April of this year he began B1 (Intermediate level) courses and in July earned his A2 (Advanced Beginner level) ranking. Andrew also recently started coursework for earning the Certified International Property Specialist designation.