In a simple declaration of feeling and national pride, Yulia Marushevska looks at the camera and declares, “I am a Ukrainian” before explaining why the Ukrainian people finally decided to rise up against their government leadership led by former president Viktor Yanukovych.
The two-minute YouTube video clip, published on Feb. 10, garnered three million hits within a week and made Marushevska the face of the Ukrainian Revolution for many in the west.
On April 2, Marushevska shared her experience in the Euromaidan and her hopes for Ukraine’s future in the Intercultural Center Auditorium. The uprising in Ukraine officially broke out in early February when a group of pro-Western protesters took to the streets in the capital city of Kiev to protest Yanukovych and his support of a pro-Russian economic agenda, in lieu of an attempt to join the European Union and reduce the country’s reliance on Russian energy and economic support.
Ben Moses, the film editor behind “I Am a Ukrainian,” weighed in on the role of social media in the protests.
“The police shut the Internet down before they moved to repress the small group of students that started the movement. They shut down the Internet five minutes before it [the crackdown] started,” Moses said.
The groups were brutally repressed by the police, and the following day, the crowd swelled to over 20,000. In the following days and weeks, the Ukrainian people took a stand against their government and succeeded in overthrowing Yanukovych, who in turn fled to Moscow.
Despite Russia’s subsequent invasion of the predominantly Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula and Crimea’s immediate referendum affirming its annexation to Russian Federation, Marushevska views the uprising as a success.
“Ukraine is a young democracy that was born three months ago in the Euromaidan. Before that we were only the facade of a democracy with Soviet officials [making the decisions].”
Marushevska recalled a pre-revolution government riddled with corruption that negatively impacted average citizens.
“People had to pay to open their business, had to pay to close their business … every step of the way. That was very humiliating,” Marushevska said.
Marushevska, a doctoral candidate studying Ukrainian literature at Taras Shevchenko University in Kiev, hopes that her simple video and her speaking tour of American universities encourages the international community to support the cause of the Ukrainian freedom movement.
“Freedom is not only staying on the street, it’s taking a responsibility … it means to work for your community. You’re not only doing it for yourself, that’s living a very small life … you have to care about your country, politics, social life,” Marushevska said.
Marushevska is confident that Ukraine will remain strong in the face of pressure from both Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin. While she places her faith in the people rather than the new government that has recently emerged in Ukraine, she is certain Ukraine will develop into a strong, independent nation. Nonetheless, she does emphasize the importance of the international community’s support in realizing this goal.
“If you want to help, stay with us and come to Ukraine as a student, a tourist … we need people to see it with their own eyes and share,” Marushevska said.
Attendees came away impressed by Marushevska’s poise in delivering her message, and her ability to convey the emotions felt by everyday Ukrainians.
“Sometimes when you hear about things it doesn’t really hit you, but the fact that there’s someone in front of you who’s talking — who you can see and relate to — that changes things. It seems like we’re really seeing the actual problems and issues in a way that we really can’t on the news,” attendee Laura Catherine McCrary (COL ’16) said.
While Marushevska focused on the protesters’ success in the Euromaidan, many students asked for her views on the unfolding crisis between Ukraine and Russia. She partially credited the strong sense of unity that has emerged within Ukraine to common alignment against Putin and Yanukovych. Despite the crisis in the Crimea and uncertainties about Russia’s next step, Marushevska emphasized the deep historic and cultural connection between Ukraine and the former Soviet Union.
“Even though Putin is currently driving the people of Russia and Ukraine apart, we’re close neighbors and in the future we will be good partners,” Marushevska said.
Marushevska does not believe Russia will succeed moving further east into Ukraine proper. While she dreads the possibility of war, she trusts Ukrainians will stand strong since they have tasted freedom.
“[Ukrainians] are ready, but I don’t want this fight. It means war,” she said. “I hope nothing will happen, but we will defend ourselves.”