More than 100,000 Ukrainians – among them many members of several AEGEE antennae – are on the street every day. Thea are protesting against the decision of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych to stop the EU integration process of his country. Yanukovych was supposed to sign the EU Association Agreement this weekend. AEGEE-Lviv prepared a joined statement of Ukrainian antennae, in which the members express their concern of the direction of their country and urge the president to continue the EU integration process. The Golden Times asked Maryana Semenyak, former President of AEGEE-Lviv, about the protests in general and of the AEGEE antennae.

AEGEE-Lviv members protesting

Golden Times: Maryana, you were on the streets in Lviv all day. How is the atmosphere?
Maryana Semenyak: Lviv was always very active city, fighting for independence of Ukraine, for rights of Ukrainian people, for Ukrainian language, history and future. You can feel the spirit of protest of EuroMaidan around the city. The atmosphere is very emotional, sublime and combative. But there is a huge difference between Lviv and other cities of Ukraine: the Lviv government supports the protests. Professors are standing next to their students, people are helping each other, only few police officers are on the streets, and just to control order.

Golden Times: Did you actually expect Yanukovych to turn down the EU Association Agreement and turn to Russia instead?
Maryana: Of course not. We were preparing for this agreement during the last years. Yanukovych reacted for the first time after the beginning of EuroMaidan only on Monday, the fifth day. According to the latest news he said again that Ukraine won’t sign the Association Agreement. Actually we should have expected this from him. He was always just a marionette in other politicians’ or businessmen’s hands.

Maryana Semenyak
Maryana Semenyak

Golden Times: Do you think the protests can change something?
Maryana: People believe in this for sure, otherwise they wouldn’t stay at EuroMaidan in their cities or going to Kyiv. Moreover, once protests has already changed the official elections results: during the Orange Revolution in 2004.

Golden Times: How is AEGEE-Lviv dealing with the current political situation in Ukraine? Are you demonstrating together on the streets?
Maryana: Many AEGEE-Lviv members have been on the streets all day long. Some members went to Kyiv to support EuroMaidan there. The rest are gathering in Lviv, with their groupmates, coworkers, friends or other AEGEE-Lviv or NGOs friends. By the way, yesterday we met also with BEST Lviv.

Golden Times: Do you have controversial discussions among your members?
Maryana: In general we don’t have very controversial opinions about the situation, we support EuroMaidan and we support the EU Association Agreement. The discussion is about: how many positive or negative aspects does an EU association have? Is EuroMaidan a good excuse for Yanukovych to not sign the agreement? What can we do more? How can the media from Europe and the rest of the world can show the whole truth about our situation.

Golden Times: I heard that the Ukrainian AEGEE antennae are planning a joined statement?
Maryana: Yes, AEGEE-Lviv wrote a statement in favour of continuing the EU integration process. It was the idea of one of our honorary members, Christina Potocka. We finished this letter today, AEGEE-Lviv President Oleksandra Okhrimenko was editing it all day long. All eight antennae in Ukraine support this letter, so we will publish it very soon. We were also thinking about asking the rest of the network for support, but time is of the essence. Nevertheless, any kind of support is very welcome! After all, the goals of AEGEE, what we are standing for, are exactly the same idea of EuroMaidan – the European integration.

Protest logo Maryana
Inofficial protest logo

Golden Times: How can other antennae help?
Maryana: We will make a PDF and JPG file of the letter, and suggest to other antenna of the AEGEE network to publish it. Our president Oleksandra Okhrimenko is preparing that.

Golden Times: How many people are out there in Lviv and other cities?
Maryana: Already the next day after the suspension of Ukraine’s European Integration people started to gather at Maidan in Kyiv and at the main squares in other cities. On Sunday, 24 November, there was the biggest protest in Kyiv since 2004, more than 100,000 people at EuroMaidan. Also the Western part of Ukraine is taking part very actively. For example, students and young people have organized by themselves all protests in Lviv. Every day we have been between 30,000 and 40,000 people.

Protesters in Lviv are supported by the city government

Golden Times: How is the situation in the traditionally much more Russian-orientated East of Ukraine?
Maryana: The situation in the East is very different. Usually there are not so many protesters, between 100 and 1000, or unfortunately less – for example, in Odessa, Chernigiv, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk. Local governments don’t let them protest at the main squares. Moreover, in Crimea they are organizing protests against the EU, and in favour of a Customs Union with Russia – around 100 people took part there, mostly old people.

Golden Times: There are also protests in other countries…
Maryana: Yes, people in other cities in more than 40 countries supported us by protesting and taking photos and videos for the Euro Process in Ukraine: London, Berlin, Paris, Budapest, Vienna, Milan, Roma, Eindhoven, Groningen, München and many more…

In Kyiv Ukrainian forces are more aggressive

Golden Times: You were already on the streets during the Orange Revolution in 2004. Do the current protests remind you of it?
Maryana: I participated at the Orange Revolution when I was 17 years old and just became a student. Of course, from the very beginning the atmosphere reminds a bit about previous protests. But they are not the same. Mostly students are participating today, the young generation that was already born in independent Ukraine. They are educated, intelligent, and they know clearly where they want to see their country in future. At some point Orange Revolution was better organized: one idea, one main goal, clear demands, information everywhere, as well as a very strong motivation to protest.

Golden Times: And how Is EuroMaidan in comparison?
Maryana: During EuroMaidan 2013 in Lviv we had the same slogans, but no political flags, just the symbols of Ukraine and EU. Everything was organized by one team at one main square. Till this night in Kyiv they had a bit of another situation: there were different places of protesting, organized by NGOs and political parties, with different slogans and different coordination. Last night they finally gathered at Maidan of Independence. Last night also the speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament, Loreta Grauziniene, arrived to EuroMaidan in order to support the Euro Process in Ukraine. Actually, many young people were disappointed some years after the Orange Revolution. In 2009 Yanukovych became a president. Therefore we could be more people at EuroMaidan right now.

Kiss Maryana
Wedding kiss at EuroMaidan in Lviv – this picture became famous all over Europe

Golden Times: Yanukovich is a more confrontative politician type as Kuchma… isn’t that a bad sign?
Maryana: Protesters should always be ready for the worst when they are protesting, especially when they have to deal with more confrontative politicians. But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t act! The special forces police unit Berkut is everywhere at EuroMaidan in Kyiv. They are using gas and other violent methods, are controlling everyone. But this was the same at the revolution in 2004. The point is to stay focused on our goal 24/7.

Golden Times: Who carries the hopes of the demonstrating people? In 2004 there were opposition pro-western politicians in the focus of the revolution. Is it the same today?
Maryana: One of the main idea of EuroMaidan is not to use political symbols at all. We are standing not for some political parties, but for the Euro Process, against the suspension of Ukraine’s European Integration. Of course there are some famous opposition politicians, such as Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Vitali Klitschko and Oleg Tyahnybok. Since Tuesday evening they all are staying together at the same square, the Maidan of Independence, only under UA and EU flags, with students, young people, NGOs and apolitical people. Few politicians also support the impeachment of this president and his government. Yulia Tymoshenko proclaimed a hunger strike until Viktor Yanukovych will sign the Association Agreement with the European Union.

Protests8 Maryana9
Protests all over Europe: Maryana’s sister Kristina with Valeria Fiordigiglio in Rome

Golden Times: Is it dangerous to be on the streets right now? And do you expect an escalation?
Maryana: It’s not dangerous on Lviv streets, since the local government supports us. But in Kyiv the situation is not the same. Even though Kyiv was the first city where EuroMaidan has started, not all people in Kyiv support EuroMaidan. A big part of the protesters is from the Western part of Ukraine, especially from Lviv. I spoke last night with students who just came back from Kyiv. They told me about the gas and other violent methods which Berkut is using. Nevertheless they were going back to Kyiv again. Lviv is organizing a few buses per day to EuroMaidan. The huge problem of protests in Lviv is that the police, which is responsible for the roads, is stopping buses with protesters inside and outside the city and don’t let them pass.

Golden Times: In 2004 the protests lasted quite a long time. Are the people ready to do the same now?
Maryana: It started actually also in November, with the same cold weather. But people were staying for weeks and fighting for their ideas. Today the people are ready to do it again. The protesters just need a good coordination.

Golden Times: Anything you would like to add?
Maryana: The decision of Yanukovych to suspend Ukraine’s European Integration was a drop in a full cup. People already don’t agree with a lot of things: with our tax system, prices for basic products, problems with salary, new reforms of education system and changing historic events in history books – for example, they just took it out the genocide of the Ukrainian people by the Soviets of the history books, as if it had never happened: the famine 1932-1933, during which ten million people were killed. But one of the worst matters for me is that they made Russian second official language. This decision is killing the Ukrainian language. Instead to protect our language, they decided to not even let people think about it.

Read the letter of the eight Ukrainian antennae here: Statement in Support of EUUA_AEGEE

Here is the official AEGEE-Europe statement: