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Ukrainian students keep watch on developments in Kiev from Oxford

On February 25, 2014

By Kaila Frisone Senior Staff Writer

Ukraine experienced the deadliest violence the country has seen in decades this past week, with at least 88 people killed since the violence began Feb. 18. The protests turned violent when anti-government protesters clashed with riot police in Independence Square of the capital Kiev.

Miami University sophomore Anna Tumenok moved to the United States from Kiev in 2004 with her parents. The rest of her family still lives in Kiev, and she returns every summer to visit. Tumenok said her family and friends support the protesters but are not getting involved. At this point, she said she might not return to Kiev this summer.

The protests began in November 2013 after President Viktor Yanukovych's government rejected the European Union Association Agreement in favor of stronger ties with Russia. To many Ukrainians, the EU Association Agreement was a step towards economic progress and ensuring Ukraine remain independent of Russia. The crisis escalated Dec. 17 when Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to loan Ukraine $15 billion and provided cheaper gas supplies.

The Ukrainian Parliament passed anti-protest laws Jan. 16. The laws, which the opposition considered "draconian," did not stop the protesters from occupying the streets of Kiev. The first fatalities occurred Jan. 22, and prosecutors confirmed the two protesters died from bullet wounds. In the following weeks, protesters occupied government buildings in western Ukrainian cities and protests also expanded east.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his cabinet resigned January 28. The opposition, which supports developing stronger ties with the EU and remaining independent of Russia, strongly disliked Azarov, whom they accused of mishandling the economy and not stopping corruption.

Sophomore Nester Semenyuk lived in Lviv, Ukraine until 2000 when he moved to the United States. Semenyuk said he was not surprised by the violent outbreak on Feb. 18.

"That's what happens when people are mad at the government," Semenyuk said.

His family, similar to Tumenok's, wants Ukraine to continue to be independent from Russia and align itself with the European Union. He said some family members have ventured to check out the protests, but no one has been injured or killed to his knowledge.

"[My family] is worried the government will continue working as it does now," Semenyuk said.

Ivan Ninenko, a political science instructor from Moscow, said nationalism is the backbone of these protests. He was not expecting the situation to come to this quite so soon.

Senior Keary Iarussi said he was very surprised by the events on Feb. 18. As a Diplomacy and Global Politics major with a focus in Russian, Eastern Europe and Eurasian studies, Iarussi had his own predictions as to how the crisis in Ukraine would turn out.

"Yanukovych is just a thug," Iarussi said. "He doesn't care about governing, the economy or people's lives. I was really surprised because his MO [modus operandum] has always been to wait everything out. I thought he'd just let the protest dissipate and that would be it."

Since the violence broke out, Yanukovych was dismissed as president and parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Turchynov was named interim president. According to the new acting interior minister of Ukraine, Yanukovych disappeared Friday.

"By now, there are no supporters of Yanukovych," Ninenko said. "Even those who were against the opposition would see Yanukovych as weak for running away and not being a good leader."

Yanukovych's lack of support in regions like Crimea, a historically Russian city, does not mean the people are fond of the new government in Kiev.

Ukraine now faces a deepening political divide across the country as it heads into a crucial time of transition.

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