Russia-Ukraine War: Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Protests That Foreshadowed War

Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — Exactly nine years after the start of protests that led to the ouster of a pro-Russian president and set up a confrontation with Moscow, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine drew on the theme of freedom that drove those demonstrations to brace a war-weary public for what promises to be a bleak winter.

In a video address to the nation on Monday, Mr. Zelensky highlighted how Ukraine’s commitment to the principles that animated the so-called Maidan revolution have endured since Russia’s full-scale invasion.

“We can be left without money. Without gasoline. Without hot water. Without light,” he said. “But not without freedom. And it remains unchanged.”

Mr. Zelensky and his wife joined in subdued observances held around the country to commemorate the anniversary, with residents of the capital turning out with flowers despite winter weather and snow.

Ukrainians launched demonstrations on Nov. 21, 2013, after Kremlin ally President Viktor F. Yanukovych rejected, at the last minute, a trade deal with the European Union that he had been promising to sign for months. The protests in central Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square, went on until police cracked down violently in February 2014, killing scores. Mr. Yanukovych fled the capital and Russia swiftly seized Crimea — a move President Vladimir V. Putin justified as a response to what he said was an anti-Russia uprising aided by foreigners.

Mr. Putin’s response then signaled his willingness to use force to thwart what he saw as Ukraine’s shift from Russia’s orbit to a closer relationship with the West. Nine years later, his full-scale invasion has sought to cast Ukraine as an inextricable part of Russia, and the war as part of Russia’s battle with the West.

Mr. Zelensky on Monday took note of the many ways Ukraine has changed in the nine months since Mr. Putin ordered his full-scale invasion.

Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

“Craters appeared on our land,” he said. “There are roadblocks and anti-tank hedgehogs in our cities and villages,” he said. Attacks on energy infrastructure have left streets dark and homes cold. Cities have been destroyed. Millions have fled their homes.

But the desire for freedom remains unchanged, he said, “and that’s why we will hold out.”

He highlighted the resistance of Ukraine’s soldiers and civilians, all whom he said were committed to the same goals that inspired the Maidan protesters.  

Tamara Shvets, 68, was one of them.

She said her husband, Viktor Shvets, had watched in horror back in 2013 as largely peaceful protests descended into violence. Mr. Shvets could not just sit back and watch, she said, so he went to Maidan to “protect the young people.”

He was shot by government security forces on Feb. 18, 2014, and died the next day — one of the roughly 100 protesters killed during the uprising and now honored as the “heavenly hundred.” Later on Monday, a candlelight vigil was scheduled to take place just off the square to mark those killed.

Ms. Shvets, who attended a ceremony on Monday morning at a chapel above the square, has made it her mission to keep alive the memory of her husband and the ideals he believed in.

She said she does not know when the current war will end, but was sure of one thing.

“Our future is only possible if we remember our past,” she said.

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