Ukrainian spring?

It’s still winter in Ukraine, but a political spring may be on the way, thanks to a citizens’ uprising against the country’s former president and tyrant, Victor Yanukovych.

But the independent country’s move toward a truly democratic form of government could be derailed by any number of events, not the least of which is action by neighboring Russia.

On Monday, Russian authorities issued a strongly worded statement questioning the legitimacy of the changes in Ukraine, and claiming human rights violations against ethnic Russians and other groups. Ukrainian leaders dispute that.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s acting government has issued an arrest warrant for Yanukovych, accusing him of murder in the deaths of more than 80 protesters last week. Leaders have also scheduled new presidential elections for May, and are frantically working with Western officials to obtain financial assistance for their troubled economy.

Yanukovych is said to be in hiding in the country’s pro-Russian eastern region, possibly looking for a means to flee from Ukraine, even though he issued a statement on Saturday that he remains the country’s legal president.

Protests began in the capital city of Kiev and other parts of the country last November after Yanukovych rejected a financial agreement with the European Union and turned to closer ties with Russia.

Ukraine is a one-time Soviet Union republic that gained its independence in the late 1980s, but still has close economic and cultural ties with Russia. Its connections to that country go back many centuries, but many current residents fear being forcibly pulled back into Russia’s orbit.

Even so, the protests against Yanukovych weren’t only about Russia versus the European Union.

There has been a great deal of anger about the accumulation great wealth by Yanukovych and his cronies while the country’s economy stagnated and jobs became hard to find.

That anger was only reinforced over the weekend when protesters entered the grounds of Yanukovych’s former Kiev home, and found it adorned with a private zoo, an ostentatious private restaurant on a lake and much more. However, unlike protesters in other countries who have deposed a president, the Ukrainians didn’t loot the presidential palace. They simply gawked and peacefully expressed their frustration.

Protesters were also upset with Yanukovych’s growing accumulation of dictatorial power. He had ordered police and army troops to fire on protesters and jailed politicians who disagreed with him. He has kept his opponent from the 2010 election in prison since that time, even though she suffers from a deteriorating back problem and other health issues.

We hope this weekend’s events prove to be the beginning of Ukraine’s political spring, in which it successfully forms a democratic government. To that end, we hope Russia refrains from using the political situation as an excuse to use military force to assert its own control over Ukraine. And we hope Western powers can find the means to assist the struggling nation, economically and politicially.


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