KIEV, Ukraine â€” Yulia Sidorenko, 25, traveled three and half hours from Vinnytsya to Kiev on Sunday. She came to pay respects to Maxime Shymko, an artist from her hometown who died fighting in Maidan, the Ukrainian term for the central square here. She laid flowers and lit a candle at a shrine to him and dozens of other men and women posted on a blue and yellow banner, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
“What happened here showed the people have power and they can make change,” Sidorenko said.
But Sidorenko and many other Ukrainians here on a bright and balmy Sunday had no illusions that the sacrifices are behind them. Russia, which supported the government they fought so hard to remove, is now a bigger threat than ever, threatening takeovers of some of the country’s most valuable territory, or more.
That’s why the many groups that coalesced to fight their corrupt government remain encamped behind barricades of tires, wood and scrap metal. Men in flak jackets bearing clubs, who two weeks ago battled Ukraine’s security services until their former president was ousted, have pledged not to leave. Not yet.
Ukraine’s national leaders seek to join a trade alliance with the European Union, which will require a potentially painful removal of economic subsidies. And they have yet to resolve a conflict with Russia, which has seized Ukraine’s Crimean province and threatened economic warfare on Ukraine.
Sidorenko and others said they hope the Maidan revolution will empower the public to seize its government and the nation’s assets back from the wealthy oligarchs who dominated its politics since Ukraine gained its independence in the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Like Russia, Ukraine’s corrupt economy is dominated by wealthy men and women who acquired state industries during the breakup and used them to build personal fiefdoms of fortune and power.
“All these people in government should be taken away,” Sidorenko said.
She hopes to see improvements in a few years. Others think it might take a while longer.
“We all have high hopes, but nothing comes easy,” says Luba Boychuk, 49, of Zhydachiv in Lviv province, who’s been traveling to Maidan for months with her daughters and other women to staff a makeshift kitchen that provides hot ramen noodles, plates of red cabbage, sandwiches of sausage, pickles and cheese, and homemade pastries stuffed with berry jam.
Boychuk works at a paper plant near Ukraine’s border with Poland that has been almost decimated by government officials “who keep taking different parts of the plant,” she said.
But now that Ukraine is getting ready to sign a trade agreement with the European Union, the country is on the road to greater transparency in government, greater accountability by officials and greater prosperity, Boychuk said, though she’s not sure she’ll see the benefits.
“People will be free, and no one will be silent,” she said. “Our children and our grandchildren will have good education and be able to talk to anyone.”
The road ahead will require building new political institutions and possibly a complete replacement of parliament, says Pavlo Rizanenko, a member of parliament in the Udar Party led by former boxer Vitaliy Klitchko. It may take 10 or 20 years, but historically speaking that’s nothing, Rizanenko said.
Unlike during the 2004 Orange Revolution, which overturned another pro-Russian government but resulted in reformist administration that lacked unity and failed to produce expected changes, Ukrainians now understand new leaders “will not make them happy overnight,” Rizanenko said.
It’s going to take an evolution that introduces rule of law, independent courts and complete privatization of state assets to quickly remove politicians’ and authorities’ ability to engage in corruption, he said.
Rizanenko said Ukrainian leaders also need to stick to the path of reform from administration to administration, like leaders did in Poland, which in 2014 is forecast to have the fastest-growing economy in Eastern Europe, according to the European Commission.
Poland’s economy after the fall of the Iron Curtain was plagued with an inefficient economy dominated by heavy industry and a mountain of debt. Its leaders pushed through painful but effective reforms, referred to at the time as “shock therapy.” Aided by U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs, they sold off state enterprises, created a stock exchange and a new currency that could be traded and eliminated price controls and cut subsidies and budgets.
The approach came at a high price in the short term, including a 30% reduction in industrial output and rising unemployment, which author Naomi Klein described as a “full-blown depression.” But it also had results: The Polish economy quickly matched the capitalist institutions of Western Europe and two decades later was in position to make use of a cash infusion that helped it pull ahead of the economic pack.
Some people in the square were more concerned about Ukraine’s political independence than economics. Yuriy Boykov, 45, stood guard at the Maidan security headquarters, smoke wafting by from an open fire.
The Russian seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region, under the pretext that ethnic Russians there need protection from radicals who had seized power in Kiev, will lead to a people’s war, Boykov said.
“I don’t know about Ukraine going to war, but the people will,” he said. “People will not agree to go to the other side.”
Mykola Bondar, a Ukrainian Cossack, marched at the head of a platoon of militiamen wearing green camouflaged uniforms, daggers in their leather belts.
Bondar, who commands a unit of Cossacks, said prosperity will come from restructuring Ukrainian society so that civil society manages political power instead of the opposite. And when it does, Ukraine will seek to be a European power that will block the kind of aggression it has been exposed to this week from its powerful neighbor, Russia.
Bondar insisted military action should be considered if U.S. and European powers cannot persuade Russia to back off. And if they don’t, Ukraine should redevelop the nuclear weapons program it had in Soviet times to protect its borders in the future, he said.
“It’s better to attack than protect,” Bondar said.