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Anastazievsky agrees. “[Putin is] really relying heavily on that Soviet propaganda and that mind-set that is still there for people,” he said.
That yearning for stability is also the reason Krasnobaieva is not sure that recent protests will engage the older generation still living in Ukraine.
Some of her former neighbors in Crimea continue to revere Stalin, she said. They don’t know about the penalties anti-regime activists faced or the brutality that went on during his rule, she said, but they do remember the stability of everyday life.
Hunger for change growing
The current Maidan movement, which advocates for democracy and human rights in Ukraine, can be traced to that country’s 2004 Orange Revolution, said Iwaskewycz, who lived there at that time. Characterized by protests over disputed elections, the Orange Revolution was a “dress rehearsal” for the current movement, he said.
The civil society that first roused itself in 2004 has lain dormant until recently, except for smaller, short-lived protests.
“The feeling of people, the grass roots energies that fueled the Orange Revolution, were very real,” Iwaskewycz said. “Those fires were not doused.”
The Orange Revolution relied heavily on the directorship of opposition candidates Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko, but such leadership is absent from the current Maidan movement, those from Maidan Minnesota said.
“People over these two or three months, they’ve changed so much,” said Karamushko. “They don’t look anymore for this, you know, big figure to decide for them their destiny. Now they want to be instrumental in the decisions.”
“The Orange Revolution to a certain extent was co-opted by these leaders like Yulia Tymoshenko,” said Anastazievsky, who served as an elections monitor in the final round of the 2004 elections. “Now nobody wants to be co-opted by even a politician who is coming in and saying, ‘I am on your side, I will do this for you.’ They don’t want to hear that anymore.”
Instead, the messiness of democracy is playing out as policy moves by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and President Oleksandr Turchynov’s interim government are debated on the streets.
“It is kind of a nascent form of democracy. It’s an old form,” Iwaskewycz said.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Ukrainian-Americans will continue to watch it all closely, and with hope for peace and change.
Elizabeth Hustad is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.