Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Euromaidan protests powered by social media

This piece was written by Notre Dame freshman Alexa Fedynsky and originally published as an article in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

Back in November, I remember liking the Facebook page “Euromaidan” after student protests broke out in Kyiv, Ukraine in response to the president’s failure to sign a trade agreement with the European Union.

At that time, I was one of about 200 people to like the page, half of whom were my friends in Ukraine, but mostly the diaspora.

Checking now, there are over 285,000 people liking the page, and the number increases each time I look. Flooding my news feed, many of the statuses and articles I read were posted by Ruslana, Ukraine’s most popular and successful singer.

This dramatic increase in likes and importance within a matter of months shows the significance of protests to the world. In modern day revolutions, social media, the international community, and high profile figures truly change the course of a fight.

In 2004, Ukraine went through a similar situation in the Orange Revolution. Fighting against voter fraud, people gathered at Independence Square—the same place as this new revolution—to try and leave the corruption of the Soviet Union behind. It was similar to today’s Euromaidan protests, except no one had any social media accounts, since many programs did not yet exist.

The course of these Euromaidan protests, therefore, differed dramatically from those a mere ten years ago. Besides spreading information to the Western world, Facebook and Vkontakte—an Eastern European Facebook—are used to help gather supplies. Since Independence Square has become its own city, of sorts, the Euromaidan Facebook page has become a place where people post what is needed in this new city, whether it be food, bandages, or more people.

With this flow of information come thousands of people, from all over Ukraine—and not only the Western regions as some Russians would like to believe—bringing all the necessary supplies to sustain a revolution.

Through social media, information regarding the protests has been able to reach many parts of the world, updating them about what is going on. Last month it seemed that Euromaidan was the only thing really happening in the world, overshadowing many domestic stories and other international crises.

Yet, these protests began in late November and finding coverage from reputable, international news sources of the Euromaidan crisis back in late November or early December is quite a challenge. One finds Reddit posts, as well as articles from newspapers such as Kyiv Post, but not much else. This left many people uninformed and ignorant when the protests began.

This changed one weekend in late February, when the now ousted-president, Yanukovych, ordered an attack on the protesters, causing the death of around 100 people. With this new tragedy, the world began following the saga of Ukraine, from the mourning of the “Heavenly brigade” to the take-over of Yanukovych’s dacha. And as support grows for the protesters in places such as the US and Western Europe, people feel that the West is finally following and supporting what is happening, and thus they are not fighting in vain.

Attention has also come from the involvement of famous individuals. Ruslana, winner of the 2004 Eurovision Contest and Ukraine’s most popular pop star, has been a driving force of the movement. She stood on Maidan, day in and day out for months, rallying everyone together with songs and speeches.

Now with more followers than ever, she constantly updates her Facebook page with information regarding the struggle, what can be done to help, and news of her travels internationally to try and garner support for the protesters. Michelle Obama even gave her the Women of Courage award for her role in the Euromaidan revolution.

Besides Ruslana, internationally-recognized artists and politicians have shown their support. Both Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator John McCain have traveled to Kyiv and spoken to the Ukrainian people. Hayden Panettiere, fiancée of Euromaidan supporter Wladimir Klitschko, spoke on stage to commend the Ukrainian people. George Clooney has worn pro-Ukraine shirts in interviews and has made videos about his thoughts. Jared Leto brought up Ukraine in his Oscars acceptance speech. The list continues, and with it continues support for the Ukrainian protesters from all around the world.

The spread of technology plays a major role in this change, as these protests are visible on the global stage. Technology and high profile figures aid in the spread of support, however, the West must also take action
In ten short years, two different revolutions have occurred in Ukraine and both sought to make Ukraine a free nation. Ukraine desires more connections with the West in order to continue severing itself from the Soviet Union. With support, both through governmental sanctions and popular support, one day Ukraine may be truly free and sovereign.        

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