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  • The Maidan and Beyond

During the past year, the most dramatic and significant events for the fate of democracy around the world have taken place in Ukraine. Although it was becoming increasingly authoritarian at home, Ukraine in late 2013 seemed on the verge of taking a historic step to move closer to the European Union. Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych was widely expected to sign at the Third European Partnership Summit in Vilnius an association agreement with the EU that would link his country economically with Europe and move it further from the orbit of Russia and its Eurasian Union. But Yanukovych reversed course on November 21, just a week before the Summit, stopping preparations to sign the agreement with the EU and instead strengthening ties with Russia.

As is described in the essays that follow, that same day a small number of demonstrators gathered at the Maidan, the square in the center of Kyiv that had also been the key site of the Orange Revolution in 2004, to protest against Yanukovych’s seeming decision to reject Ukraine’s “European choice.” Partly as a result of the heavy-handed and brutal tactics used by the authorities, the number of protesters swelled to the hundreds of thousands, barricades were erected in the square, and the Maidan and its immediate surroundings became a kind of independent and self-governing city within the city. In the space of three months, opposition to Yanukovych grew to the point where he lost the support even of his own Party of Regions and felt compelled to flee the country on February 21.

But the activities in the Maidan and the ouster of Yanukovych were only the first part of the story. Within a week after Yanukovych’s flight, unmarked soldiers took over the parliament and Council of Ministers in the Ukrainian province of Crimea, raised the Russian flag, and installed a pro-Russian prime minister. Under dubious conditions, a referendum on independence was approved by voters in Crimea on March 16, and was followed a few days later by Russian annexation of the province. This seizure of another country’s territory, unprecedented in recent decades, was only the beginning of Russian pressure on Ukraine. In subsequent weeks, Russian-backed separatists took over government buildings in eastern Ukraine, as Russian troops massed near the borders. The provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk each declared itself an independent “people’s republic,” and most citizens of these two provinces were unable to vote in the election on May 25 to choose a new president of Ukraine. In other respects, the election was carried out in relatively smooth fashion, with billionaire businessman and former cabinet minister Petro Poroshenko winning a decisive first-round victory. But Poroshenko’s election initially was accompanied by an increase in violent clashes in Donetsk and Luhansk. [End Page 17]

In a period of six months, then, Ukraine experienced a “people power” revolution, the ouster of an authoritarian (though freely elected) president, the annexation of part of its territory, a continuing military clash with separatists in two of its eastern regions, and the election of a new president. Moreover, amid the chaos of separatist unrest, its new president is faced with the task of making good on his promises to end corruption, restore a battered economy, and implement closer relations with the European Union. If all that were not difficult enough, Ukraine is caught in the midst of an intensified geopolitical struggle between East and West that some have likened to a revival of the Cold War.

To deal with this complex and still evolving set of developments, we sought to assemble a collection of essays addressing various aspects of the crisis in Ukraine. Our coverage begins with an essay by Serhiy Kudelia that analyzes the evolution of Ukraine’s political system during the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych (2010–14). It is followed by an essay by Lucan Way assessing the role that civil society played in bringing down Yanukovych and the challenges that it will now face with Ukraine’s future as a country under threat. Next, Olga Onuch explores in greater detail the composition and the motivations of the people who occupied the Maidan. Leading...