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The Heavenly Hundred: How EU Membership is at the Heart of Ukraine’s Struggle

Ten years on from the Euromaidan uprising, Ukrainians are still fighting for freedom and to be part of the European Union

Participants in a procession in memory of the first perished Heavenly Hundred Heroes gather at the memorial on Hrushevskoho Street, Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo:

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Last week , two days before the second anniversary of Putin’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine commemorated the ten-year anniversary of the Heavenly Hundred and the Revolution of Dignity. During the 2014 movement, Ukrainian citizens called on their government to strengthen ties with the European Union.

For three months, Ukrainians from across the country gathered in their nation’s capital, demanding a better future. They believed and understood that pursuing a path toward European integration would present better standards of living, new socioeconomic opportunities, and a greater future for Ukraine. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, however, wanted to maintain his relationship with Russia.

Yanukovych attempted to crack down on the peaceful demonstrators. Police dumped cold water on Ukrainian citizens in the brutal winter months and beat demonstrators who gathered in Kyiv’s central square, demanding they depart. They even used riot police to try and disperse the area.

Despite these tactics, Ukrainian citizens stood their ground in the city centre. The movement gained traction, and there were reports that around one million Ukrainians gathered in the city centre, demanding their Government strengthen its relationship with the European Union.

Fearing a loss of control, Yanukovych ordered special forces to fire on the Ukrainian protesters. The crowd quickly dispersed, and over one hundred peaceful demonstrators were killed by Yanukovych’s brutal act.

These citizens who lost their lives were posthumously named the “Heavenly Hundred.” They were recognized for their courage, and for giving their lives for democracy. These events caught the attention of the international community, and it was then that this Eastern European state began to pursue its goal of integrating with the West. Yanukovych would flee to Russia, the Ukrainian parliament impeached the president, and Ukrainian leaders vowed to reform the country so that it would become truly democratic.

A European Moment

Unfortunately, Ukraine’s sacrifices for freedom did not end there. Weeks later, soldiers without marked insignia appeared in the Crimean peninsula and places across the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. They claimed that the new Ukrainian government had become radicalized, and these militants demanded closer ties with Russia. What followed was the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the start of the first Russian invasion of the Donbas in April 2014. Over 14,000 citizens in eastern Ukraine would be killed between April 2014 and February 2022. Those who lost their lives were fighting for their freedom and democracy, and they were hoping that their government would strengthen ties with the West. They had done nothing wrong.

Now, Ukraine faces an even greater fight. 24 February will mark the two-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Aside from the 100 Ukrainians who were murdered during the Euromaidan movement, and the 14,000 Ukrainian citizens who were killed during the Donbas conflict, tens of thousands of additional Ukrainians have died since the February 2022 Russian invasion.

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One quarter of Ukraine’s total population remains displaced, and many have left the country. Dozens of Ukrainian cities, villages, and towns have been destroyed by Russia’s aerial bombardments, and no one is certain when the war will end.

Despite this devastation and destruction, the goals and desires of Ukrainians remain unchanged. According to a recent poll by the International Republican Institute, 81% of surveyed Ukrainians stated that they still want their country to join the European Union. Studies conducted by Gallup and the National Democratic Institute found similar results.

The Ukrainians are also working hard to ensure that these dreams and desires become a reality. Since the first Russian invasion in 2014, the Ukrainian government has met with European authorities to help it enhance its government.

The Ukrainians have also reformed their military and other institutions. This hard work was recognized by the Europeans, and Ukraine was granted visa-free travel to the EU in June 2017. Then, by June 2022, Ukraine was granted EU candidate status. This was a significant milestone, highlighting how far this Eastern European state had come in its anticorruption efforts (something which was also highlighted in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index).

Most recently, the EU agreed to hold accession talks with Ukraine. These reform efforts have been implemented while the country continues to defend itself from Russia’s ongoing invasion.

No one knows when Russia’s war will end, but one thing is certain. Ukraine’s fight for freedom has reminded the international community what people are willing to sacrifice to achieve a better future. Freedom is not free. Ukrainians are determined to implement a free and true democracy. They want a country that will provide economic opportunities and advancements for its citizens, and they want their country to succeed.

Ukrainians have shown the world what it means to stand up for democracy, and what it means to fight for one’s freedom. The brave men and women who lost their lives during the Revolution of Dignity, the Donbas conflict, and the Russian invasion will never be forgotten.

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