Opinion: Open wounds in Ukraine

One year on, the crimes that took place on the Maidan are still unpunished. Last February, Ukrainians won against a corrupt regime but their desire for a better life remains unfulfilled, says DW's Bernd Johann.

In February 2014, Ukrainians defeated an autocratic and corrupt regime. They chose democracy and a European future for their country. But in the year since, their struggle for dignity and self-determination has found a new, much more powerful enemy: Russia.

Fearing a democratic Ukraine, the Kremlin has instigated a war in Europe. Moscow wants to avoid, at all costs, a future in which Ukraine becomes a European country, where its citizens can live in democracy, prosperity and above all, peace.

For months, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians demonstrated against the authoritarian system of former President Viktor Yanukovych. They braved the icy cold of winter and a state that resorted to brutal violence. But in the end, change came. The authorities capitulated and fled to Russia, which to this day has falsely called the protests as a coup.

But in truth, the system fell apart from the inside. In the end, even Yanukovych's security forces refused to obey, leading the cowardly autocrat to take flight. It was not a coup; only when Yanukovych was long gone did parliament declared him deposed.

Sadness and anger, war and violence

Moscow reacted to the events in Ukraine with aggression and violence. Flouting international law, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula last March and then unleashed war in eastern Ukraine.

After Yanukovych, now Russia is trying to take from Ukrainians their right to self-determination and dignity. Against this background, Ukrainians and international leaders on Sunday proudly remembered the Maidan protests of a year ago when the door to freedom was pushed open.

In particular, Ukrainians remembered the more than 100 people who were killed during the Maidan protests by snipers. But in their sadness, there is anger. And that anger is aimed primarily against their own government.

To this day, it's still not clear who fired on the protesters and police. Who were the perpetrators? And who gave them the order to unleash carnage on the Maidan? The families of the victims are still waiting for answers. The Ukrainian justice system has failed in its investigations, and left open wounds.

Struggle for dignity not yet won

Since last year's protests, the country is now also mourning the thousands of people killed in the war in eastern Ukraine. More than a million people have become refugees and are now living in temporary accommodations. Their homeland has become a wasteland.

The Ukrainian government and President Petro Poroshenko are under increasing public pressure; in the war against the separatists, controlled by Moscow, the Ukrainian army has suffered defeat after defeat. And no one knows if the most recent ceasefire, and the agreement to withdraw heavy weapons, will actually find success.

Many Ukrainians are still expecting a victory from Poroshenko and his government. But the sad truth is that Russia is a superior opponent, one which Ukraine's military cannot hope to defeat. Ukraine's strength, displayed on the Maidan, is that its people can organize and stand up against political lies. Russia should fear this courage of the people. Civil society is a powerful force, one that will one day succeed not only in Ukraine but also in Russia.

In Ukraine, many of the demands of the Maidan protesters have not yet been implemented. In addition to economic reforms, those include the creation of an independent judiciary and an end to corruption. Ukrainian oligarchs still have their hands in the country's politics and economics. A year ago, the people on the Maidan stood up against such abuses - but Ukrainians have not yet won the battle.

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