Ukrainian students protested last Saturday near the Bodleian library to show solidarity for anti-government demonstrations at home.
Olena Seminog, a second year DPhil student in Population Health, coordinated the action and explained what prompted the demonstration. She told Cherwell, “On Wednesday 22nd of January, the Ukrainian police killed three people and about 100 people have been kidnapped since. We are witnessing severe human rights violations and want Oxford students to be aware of this”.
As well as raising awareness, the protests were meant to show moral support for students back home. “Our aim is to show our indignation against the anti-constitutional laws that have permitted such violence,” Seminog said, adding that the protest was “most of all, a clear sign that we want those responsible for these laws, President Yanukovych and the interior minister Zaharchenko, to resign”.
However Seminog expressed disappointment at the number of attendees given the seriousness of the issue. Only about 25 students, some research staff, and a few locals joined in the protesting ranks. Seminog suggested the turn-out “reflects how little is known about the events in Ukraine”.
“The fact that not even representatives from Amnesty International attended is somewhat disappointing,” she said.
To the protestors, the world in general has been silent about the events in Ukraine. “It is as if Ukraine is too far for the Europeans to really care about,” Seminog commented.
Rostyslav Averchuk, a PPE finalist and fellow protester, added “It seems that, in the UK, distant African or Asian countries are better-known. Ukraine, due to its Soviet past, is seen as unknown and probably dangerous”. The lack of knowledge was, in his opinion, reflected in questions of passers-by at the Saturday protest. “I particularly remember one girl asking whether it’s true that many protesters are Neo-Nazis”, he said. While some protesters in Ukraine indeed belong to far-right parties, Averchuk clarified that their share is minimal.
However, Averchuk also underlined that “this protest in Oxford is a way to do something for those on the barricades back home. I don’t want to stay idle in my complete security while they’re risking everything. I’m amazed by the Ukrainian people because they literally risk their lives.”
Pavlo Smytsnyuk, who also protested echoed Averchuk’s sentiments. “My first feeling is that of big frustration about being far from home. What is happening is decisive and it’s a shame I can’t participate”. While he said he did not know how effective the Oxford protest was, the first year DPhil student in Theology commented that, “explaining ten times a day what is happening in Ukraine might be helpful in the long-term”.
Civil unrest began in earnest in Ukraine two months ago when President Yanukovych rejected an EU trade deal at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius. The situation has since developed into a social revolt.
Seminog told Cherwell her commitment to activism on behalf of her country has had a significant impact on her work at Oxford. “I haven’t been very effective in my academic work recently. Which is why I’m very grateful for my supervisor’s support and understanding”, she said. The opposite has been the case for Averchuk, who commented, “The events prompt me to take my studies of politics and economics more seriously”.
Since last Saturday’s protest, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has resigned, and President Viktor Yanukovych is now on sick leave. Oxford Ukranian Society President, Helen Morozovska, responded to the development: “I, personally, welcome any development that brings Ukraine closer to solving the current crisis. However, the recent resignations are, at this point, not significant enough to appease the protesters, nor are the terms laid out in the amnesty law. It’s quite likely that the only thing that will end the protests is the resignation of Yanukovych himself.”
Another protest is due to take place on Saturday 1st February at noon outside the Bodleian.