Looking back to the Maidan, it is clear that the volunteerism which took place has become the basis for the Ukraine’s contemporary civic activism. From November 2013 to February 2014, the Maidan revolution served as a medium for bringing people from all walks of life together, for a common goal.
That goal was first the want for stronger European ties, and eventually the ousting of pro-Russian President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. As the protests became more and more violent, the need for volunteers and assistance grew.
Titushki Vs Activist
Titushki Photo Credit: Lesia Mazanik, 1 February 2014
During this time two different perspectives emerged about the activists. First was that the activists and the volunteers were one in the same. The volunteers were there to assist the wounded. To keep the momentum, and to create peace. The second, which matches the perspective of my students in part one of this series, was that these activists were here to cause trouble.
Titushki is not a dictionary term. Titushki is the plural form of the Ukrainian surname Titushko. On May 18th, 2013, Vadim Titushko, assaulted two journalists. His name has since become the unofficial title for any young man hired by the government to assault protesters. During maidan, it is reported that these men were paid 25 to 50 euros ($34 to 68) per day. They worked throughout the country, but no matter how violent things got, they never managed to quell the Ukrainian drive for change.
An activist is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as, ‘a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.’ For many on the Madan and across the nation after the illegal annexation of Crimea, the best method for activists to get involved was through volunteerism. Although a volunteer is defined as, ‘a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task’ and is thus different than activist, I argue that when activist campaigns they are freely volunteering their time to a cause. I also argue that, more often than not, volunteering makes you an activist no matter your feelings toward the word. You are giving your time freely to a cause you believe in. You are acting.
To many Americans being a volunteer means picking up trash by the river or helping at a local soup kitchen, but to many Ukrainians, it means risking your life. When the war in Donbass first began, many of the original responders were volunteer battalions. There are at least 44, volunteer battalions which work within the official Anti-Terrorist Operation.
Saving Lives Ukraine in cooperation with MedAutoMaidan provides medical aid to soldiers on the frontlines. Diaspora groups in Canada and the United States work to send money and supplies to send to not only the soldiers but internally displaced people. Vostok SOS, works to assist IDPs from Luhansk and Donetsk, offering everything from goods to transportation from conflict zones. It is through these organizations and man more, that Ukraine has filled the gap in aid.
Ukraine’s civil society is acting in ways the state cannot. Due to a lack of infrastructure, funding, institutional support, and political unrest (corruption, reform etc) the Ukrainian Government is seen by much as inefficient.
Renaissance, by Seth Globepainter and Ukrainian artist Kislow & The Dreamer, by Fintan Magee
Photo credit: Me, See the top 36 murals of Kyiv here
Walking through the different cities of Ukraine, you see first hand the work of volunteers and activists alike. From painted murals standing over the once protester-packed streets to newly formed nongovernmental organizations popping up in many’s days to day lives, it becomes clear that if one thing has changed in Ukraine since Maidan, it’s civil society.
I asked in my first part if the volunteer work I’ve been doing is even culturally appropriate? Is being a volunteer in Ukraine even what the people of the country want?
“Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.”
This mural dedicated to IDPs was created in Dnipro. Funded by the UN, it carries the quote of the German poet Christian Morgenstern. Photocredit: radiosvoboda
I’ve found, It’s impossible to answer if every person in Ukraine is ok with my presence. Whether everyone sees activism as a positive addition to Ukrainian culture. But as I live here and hear the thank yous of my students, I can’t help but feel doing something right. That the civil society of Ukraine, although young and still learning, is doing something right.