Guest Column: Remember May 4th, Support Ukraine

Olena Kagui

“Shame and tragedy in America; the photographs accuse; the crime in Kent remains unpunished…” Originally published by Izvestia, a Soviet newspaper, I saw this quote at the May 4th memorial at Kent State. Being at the memorial and watching the video had a significant efect on me because my parents are currently in the middle of a controversial protest in which people are dying. I believe the above quote could be adopted by an American newspaper and replace “America” with “Ukraine,” and “Kent” with “Kiev”; it would make a perfect headline for the horrifying events of which my parents are part.  Kent State and the city of Maidan may be separated by over 5,000 miles, with different languages and cultures – but they are one in spirit. Every Kent State student has heard about the May 4th massacre, but few know Ukraine’s story.

For the past few years, Ukraine has been receiving money from the European Union in order to transform its government and economy to be more democratic. The post-USSR country was making progress and looking more and more like a country independent of Russia. In the fall of 2013, Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, was preparing to sign a trade and association agreement with the EU. Everything was looking hopeful, and the Ukrainian public was ready to separate from their Soviet-era relationship with Russia and tread the path toward the European Union.

On Nov. 21, Kiev announced it was suspending talks with the EU in order to maintain its relationship with Russia. Ukrainians took to the streets to protest, choosing Maidan, the Main Square and home to previously successful protests, as home base. The number of protestors rose from hundreds to more than 100,000 in the past two months, and they are still going strong. Violence and police interference rose with the number of protesters; Civilians and journalists alike are being been beaten, detained, announced missing and even killed. There have been five deaths recorded so far.

My father, Petro Kagui, who works at Radio Free Europe, had two of his colleagues detained Jan. 21. Dmytro Barkar said that he and his colleague, Igor Iskhakov, were taken because “either the police are unable to distinguish between a journalist and an extremist or because they were ordered to eliminate the threat of the press.” During their arrest, Barkar describes their treatment as being “as brutal as possible.”  They were beaten with batons, punched and kicked — mainly in the face — before being placed into 32-degree-Fahrenheit cells. Iskhakov said they were treated neutrally upon presenting their press passes but still held in the freezing cells for more than five hours.  Later, they were taken to a separate department to be processed and released “so that [they] wouldn’t be helped by the activists.”

The two protesting parties who were simply exercising their basic human rights — to free speech and to assembly — are also connected through the historic symbols of a bell. Before the student deaths in 1970, members of the Kent State community gathered by the victory bell as a symbol of their will and determination. After 1 a.m. on Dec. 11, the bells of Mikhailovsky Cathedral in Kiev that symbolized the siege of the city in medieval times began to ring. According to many, including Tetiana Kagui, an online activist and my mother, “the bells should continue ringing” until Ukraine is finally free.

Contact Olena Kagui at [email protected].