Realizing Revolution: Student witnesses protests in Ukraine

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Imagine Washington, D.C., engulfed in smoke and fire, with bodies piling up on the National Mall and people barricading the White House and the Capitol. Imagine squadrons of riot police opening fire into crowds of protesters, who are throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.

That is what the capital of Ukraine looks like right now.

I was fortunate enough to visit Kiev three weeks ago, from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, during a period of relative stability. Luckily, when I arrived with my colleagues at Boryspil International Airport, the embattled President Viktor Yanukovych had just taken a “sick day,” leaving scores of protesters in the main square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, waiting for an absolution from a corrupt government that they had been opposing for more than two months.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 1.00.13 AMI traveled to Kiev with my colleagues Dr. Marc Greenberg and Dr. Irina Six, from the Slavic Languages and Literatures department, to make contact with foreign firms so that we may develop internships and study abroad programs for students studying Russian or Ukrainian.

Walking around Kiev, there was a strange tension in the air between my perception of the city — beautiful, stately, populated with people who were incredibly warm-hearted and hospitable — and the masses of protesters gathered in Maidan, outfitted with armor and pillaged riot gear and busy building barricades out of fallen Christmas trees and razor wire.

We attended a conference for business consultants, sponsored by the Gabriel Al-Salem Foundation. Gabriel Al-Salem was a KU alumnus who went on to work as a consultant in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. His commitment to integrity, his sense of adventure and his endless perseverance and admirable work-ethic made him a model Jayhawk. At the conference, we listened carefully and watched the situation unfold, revealing the new realities of business in the region.
I took away more than a few lessons in networking: I realized I had come face to face with a revolution. These people aren’t simply protesting a corrupt government, they’re fighting for their lives and the integrity of their independence.

We, as students at the University of Kansas, should be committed to global understanding and communication, and must not remain ignorant about the situation in Ukraine. This could threaten to upset the balance of the EU as Ukraine appears to disintegrate into civil war.

As we walked around Maidan, casually snapping photos and gaping at the immensity of the small city that had occupied downtown Kiev, a woman approached Dr. Greenberg and offered him a sandwich from a tray. In the midst of all the chaos, there remains kindness and human dignity that we all share at our core.

Comparing the photos of the reality in Ukraine now from my own three weeks ago, I can only feel sadness and confusion. My best wishes go out to the people of Ukraine, and I pray that, someday, they will have peace.

Editor’s note: Broadfoot is a guest columnist and a senior majoring in Russian language from Wichita. Please contact news@kansan.com with comments.

  • Updated Feb. 24, 2014 at 1:02 am