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Godspeed to Ukraine's revolution

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KINGSTON, Ont. -- It was -10 C today in Kingston but it felt like -21 C.

In Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, it was -12 C but felt more like -20 C.

I'm writing from the comfort of my study. My good friends in the Euromaidan aren't anywhere near as snug. Yet they endure, not only cold but brutality because, for them, Ukraine always was, is, and shall forever must be, a European nation.

This is not simply a question of geopolitics. It's cultural. Most Ukrainians want to live like other Europeans, in a society where civil liberties and human rights are respected, where democracy and the rule of law prevail. They have had enough of the corruption and nepotism of Viktor Yanukovych's regime.

Overwhelmingly, in 1991, they voted for Ukraine's independence. And, in 2004, they came out in the millions for the Orange Revolution, protesting a fraudulent election, hoping democracy would take root in Ukraine. Their leaders betrayed them, proving to be only somewhat less debased, but certainly no less venal, than the man they removed, Viktor Yanukovych.

He returned in 2010. Since then, Yanukovych and "the Family" surrounding him have fattened off the riches of the land -- today Olexander, the president's eldest son, is a multimillionaire, the "king of coal," a remarkable achievement for a 40-year-old dentist. Think of this as the "Golden Calf" stage in modern Ukrainian history. It won't last much longer.

Indeed, what we are witnessing now is the first step in Ukraine's painful return to Europe. Colour this stage a cowardly yellow, for President Yanukovych is increasingly nervous about the masses occupying Ukraine's public spaces. Since fear is a poor counsellor, the Kremlin's man in Kyiv has deployed thugs and snipers to do his dirty work, beating journalists and murdering protesters.

It hasn't worked. Watch the YouTube video of Mikhailo Zhyznevsky's casket being carried through the Euromaidan. Yanukovych's hired hands shot him off the barricades. Yet the nation was not cowed. The crowds stand firm, shouting "Heroes Never Die!" There will be more heroes before all this ends.

My students have often asked why Ukraine is taking "so long" to return to Europe. For me, an answer, and solace too, can be found in the Good Book. Reading Exodus, one learns how Moses led his people out of Egyptian bondage, into the desert, where they wandered for 40 years before reaching the promised land of milk and honey. No one who began that odyssey made it, not even Moses, who only looked down from a mountain top to see that his people had arrived -- even as all those born and raised in captivity, and burdened with the doubting, fearful and indecisive mentality of slaves -- proved incapable of doing so. I fear Ukrainians will yet wander in an anarchical wilderness for another decade, perhaps longer, and may even be tested in the horror of a real revolution before they return to Europe. They will get there, eventually. Of that I have no doubt. But I do wish Ukraine had its own Moses, now.

As for my colleagues in the Euromaidan, it's evident they represent a new generation, men and women not reared as Soviet vassals. Being European is the only norm they aspire to. They have no intention of wearing the yoke of subservience. They leave that for Yanukovych and his ilk.

When they began their demonstrations, in late November 2013, Kyiv's protesters were shouting "Out With the Bandits!" Now they are calling for "Revolution!" Their movement has spread far beyond Kyiv's Euromaidan. Uprisings are taking place across Ukraine, including eastern Ukraine.

To understand what is coming next, recall a nursery rhyme from your childhood. Remember how Humpty Dumpty had a great fall? The next line is "and all the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty back together again." That's what's happening in Ukraine today. Viktor has fallen. He's cracked.

What my friends in the Euromaidan have sparked is now unstoppable. So I say Godspeed to them.


Lubomyr Luciuk is a professor of political geography at the Royal Military College of Canada.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 29, 2014 A9

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