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“Ukraine: Stop the Seeds of Violence now”. My interview to Le Monde

27 Jan

My interview to

By Sylvie Kauffmann (Davos, special correspondent). 26 January 2014 at 11:26 • Updated 26 January 2014 at 1:29 p.m. 

Ukraine: “It’s not a question of Russia, but of escaping injustice and corruption”

Nataliya Gumenyuk, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, said she would return to Ukraine to monitor the protest.

On Sunday, Nataliya Gumenyuk returned to Kiev. At the beginning of the week, when the protest movement on the Maidan recorded its first deaths, and she was at Davos she asked herself: “If she could be away from Ukraine during the critical time?” Finally, her friends, and especially the colleagues with whom she created the independent online television station Hromadske.TV last year, convinced her that at that moment she could also have some impact being shortly away and talking directly to those in power.


Small, thin, her eyes red from lack of sleep, Nataliya Gumenyuk (30) speaks quickly but accurately, as if every minute counts. She was invited to Davos as part of the Global Shapers group, young elites whom the World Economic Forum believes are already shaping the world of tomorrow.


On Thursday night, at one of those very ‘Davos’ dinners whose theme was the future of Europe, by chance she found herself sitting at the table of José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission. He listened to her carefully. “I don’t know if your life has changed since last Sunday,” she told him, “but mine has been turned upside down. The country that I will find after I get back from Davos is not the same as the one I left.”

Nataliya Gumenyuk was born in Birobidzhan in the Russian Far East, where her father, a Soviet military man, had been stationed. She was seven years old when Ukraine became independent. Another thing which changed her life, in 2005, was a grant from the Swedish government, which allowed her to do a Masters in Journalism at the University of Örebro, Sweden. When she returned to Ukraine, she was a European. Here is her story:  Continue reading


Ukraine’s #euromaidan. Nothing to do with the EU or Russia

27 Nov

Generally I don’t like using the flag of the European Union as a kind of protest symbol. Just as I don’t like the ‘Ode to Joy’, the phrase ‘European integration’ or the hashtag #euromaidan, despite the fact that I’ve already used it myself several hundred times. I don’t like them because they do not evoke any emotions, just as the official symbols of the IMF, UN, OSCE or the EBRD don’t. I don’t like them because, in contrast to the national flags and hand-painted posters, they were invented or chosen in offices. So that’s why I can’t force myself to use the symbol of the European currency as my profile picture. What does money have to do with anything here? Image

At the same time, I realise that talking about these symbols without context is pedantry. For us on the #euromaidan, the word ‘euro’ doesn’t mean the European Commission, or the cabinet meeting in Brussels, or the currency, or Baroness Ashton, or the bureaucrats. These days I do not have enough time to respond to the questions from Western journalists who, as they did in 2004, are asking about Ukraine’s choice between Russia and the EU.

In fact, if you don’t explain what is inherent in the concept of ‘euro’ from abroad, the protests about European integration might look strange. Nor did we understand why the Turks got so angry about the construction of a tiny park, or why millions of Brazilians are ready to crawl under batons and bayonets because of a rise in the prices of bus tickets. Image

It is popular to assume that it is not the European Union which the Ukrainian people support, but rather European values (including material values). However, I don’t believe that anything like specifically ‘European values’ exist, just as there is no such thing as ‘European’ human rights. They are just human rights, which should be universal from Tokyo to Rio, New York to New Delhi. And if you look not at the letter of #euromaidan but rather at its spirit, the euro itself is secondary. And that’s why it is so hard to find appropriate opponents to the protests. After all, it’s not a question of making a ‘geopolitical choice’ in a strictly literal sense, not supporting the EU or anti-Russian sentiments, but rather the right of citizens to take to the streets when their opinions are brazenly disregarded, even though supposedly “the people are the source of power”. They have to do the same as the citizens of Turkey, Brazil, Egypt and the USA did, speaking of values which are common to all people. Image

In fact, it means that abandoning the ‘Euro-choice’ in Ukraine means remaining in the territory of lawlessness and tyranny, ignorance and kleptocracy. Abandoning the ‘Euro-choice’ in Ukraine means being stuck in a grey zone where education and professionalism are empty words; where being different risks earning you a kick in the head. Abandoning it right now means doing it at a time when we find ourselves on the brink, and we risk falling into an abyss where every day would be like this: Vradiivka and Indylo – a village in the south of Ukraine where local policemen raped and beat up a girl, and a 20-year old student who died after being tortured at a police station. Where ‘education’ means Tabachnyk and Farion – a Minister of Education who denies that western Ukrainians are really Ukrainian and is trying to ‘Sovietise’ Ukrainian historiography; and a neo-Nazi MP, former communist party member and school teacher who claims those who does not speak Ukrainian ought to be jailed. Where ‘healthcare’ means Sliusarchuk and a drug called ‘Ukrain’ – a distinguished neurosurgeon who turned out to be a fake, and in the end was accused of forgery, fraud and illegal medical practice which led to the deaths and injuries of patients; and a fake anti-cancer drug sold by a political party which lead to the death of the patients. Where ‘art’ means Zabolotnaya’s black square – a mural critical of the church, which was painted black by the curator of a modern art exhibition in an act of censorship.  Continue reading

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