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Natasha Fissiak Headshot

Stop the Violence in Kiev

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We are at the computer drinking coffee, and there are people being killed all around the world in a search for freedom. My friend from Kiev, Ukraine, just sent me videos of the violence in her city and a photo of 60 more people killed. That is addition to the 26 people slain yesterday. I watched the videos, and it shook me to my core. Snipers are killing Ukrainian protesters like wild animals. These are fathers, brothers, and sons. They have families, children, who will be fatherless because they wanted their children to live in a free country.

Protesters have taken government buildings in Kiev and throughout the country. In some outlying areas, reports are coming in that police are laying down their guns and surrendering to the takeover. It is difficult to understand how the leaders of this country can kill the people who are asking for one major concession: To be aligned with the West rather than Russia. In a democratic society, the legislature would meet and respond to an overwhelming majority of the population who are seeking such a change in policy. It is doubtful that since 1991, the majority of Ukrainian people have changed their minds about Russia.

They spoke loud and clear in 1991 during a presidential election under a new Constitution when 90 percent of voters expressed support for the Act of Independence that separated the country from Russia http://www.ukrweekly.com/old/archive/1991/499101.shtml. Now they must again fight for their independence from what they see as a major shift back to Russia by the country's President Viktor F. Yanukovych who refused to sign a trade agreement with the European Union.

I am Russian and was born in Moscow, but my grandmother Varvara Gordienko is Ukrainian, so the people of the Ukraine are like relatives to me. Kiev, like Beirut before its civil wars, has long been a cultural center for the intelligentsia. The country itself has some of the most fertile land in the world and since the industrial revolution has been a center of manufacturing and technological advances, albeit interrupted by World War I and II.

It seemed finally in 1991 that the Ukraine had found its way to peaceful transition that befits its potential. And it is no surprise that Russia would like to keep the country under its influence. Its "bread basket" is third in production in the world, and Russia has raided its food stores before.

Although the Ukraine suffered a deep recession after the breakup of the Soviet Union and gaining its independence, by the end of the 1990s, the economy had stabilized. A new Constitution of Ukraine adopted in 1996 turned the country into a semi-presidential republic and established a stable political system, although the government was criticized for continued corruption, electoral fraud, discouraging free speech and concentrating too much power in the office of the president.

The people have spoken before in the Ukraine that they want more independence from Russia. That the government leaders now in power would ignore such a mandate tells the opposition that talk and votes mean nothing. Until the president listens to the people, the fear will continue to build that freedom and a bright future are fading hopes. That fear can only bred more opposition and the violence we see today with police killing their own citizens indiscriminately. That fear of being cut off from the world behind a wall of tyranny like North Korea is clear in the plea from the young woman in the video. She says it much better than I can ever do, although I must add my voice to this protest. Stop the killing, and listen to the people, President Yanukovych.

Please share this video with everyone you know so the people of the Ukraine will know there are those who support their desire for a more tolerant and democratic society. My heart is in pain for these "relatives" of mine. We cannot possibly be indifferent!

Update: It is with great relief and rising hope that I learned today of a respite in the killing. Opposition leaders and the Ukraine president signed a political deal to end the violence. Mediated by European Union leaders and Russia, the agreement calls for early elections and a reduction in presidential powers. However, Russia has refused to sign the accords. And without the resignation of President Yanukovych, fears are that many in the opposition will not be satisfied, and the agreement will not hold. Earlier truces and settlements have broken down and violence escalated from earlier levels.