Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Celebrating Ukraine's Orange Revolution: Photos of Inauguration Day, Kiev, January 23, 2005

With daily reports about the present political turmoil in Ukraine, it is difficult to recall the optimism that prevailed in Kiev on Sunday, January 23, 2005. On that day, two hundred thousand or so Ukrainians crowded into the city's Independence Square to celebrate the success of the Orange Revolution and the inauguration of a new president. Smiles and proud faces could be seen all around the Square.

A huge crowd at Independence Square: January 23, 2005

The presidential inauguration marked the success of non-violent people power that had helped render null a stolen election. It also celebrated the beginning of the work of a new leader, Viktor Yushchenko, who had won the office in an honest election.

Likely, the people on Independence Square thought that Ukraine would be heading in a new direction that would make life “normal” for them and their families. They expected that pervasive corruption would be swept away, along with a system that enriched people in power, as well as their families and friends. They hoped that the cynical politicians schooled in the ways of the Soviet Union would finally disappear.

Events Leading to Inauguration Day

The man inaugurated as president on January 23 was Viktor Yushchenko. With the help of several political allies and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, he had prevailed in a challenge to the ruling clique. Before 2004, Yushchenko had established himself as a competent administrator as head of the Ukrainian national bank and as prime minister (1999-2001). He had become a popular figure in Ukraine, but was not the choice of the country's rulers to be the next president. Perhaps because he threatened their hold on power, early in the 2004 president campaign he was poisoned with dioxin, apparently an  assassination attempt. The poison disfigured his face with severe pockmarking and slowed his campaign. 

Television in the Square shows the Yushchenko Swearing-In Ceremony at the Ukrainian Parliament; later he came to the Square

The first vote for president was held on October 31, 2004. Yushchenko received 39.3% of the vote and his chief opponent, Viktor Yanukovich, the handpicked candidate of the regime, received 39.9%. In the runoff held on November 21, 2004, Yanukovich won by a margin of three percent, though exit polls showed Yushchenko with an 11-percent margin.

Protest camp on Khreshchatyk Ave. near Independence Square

Protests against election fraud began on the day of the election. They started at and around Kiev’s Independence Square, and massive rallies continued there as a nearby tent city was erected. Also, protests were held in most of Ukraine’s other larger cities. The protests, which became the core of the Orange Revolution, attracted the most participants in Western Ukraine. They were widely opposed in much of Eastern Ukraine, which had voted overwhelmingly for Yanukovich. (The “Orange” in “Orange Revolution” came from the color used by the Yushchenko campaign for its various election materials, such as signs, billboards, brochures, etc.).

Protester holding an orange with needles stuck in it; according to the police, all of the protestors were high on drugs supplied by the U.S.

Apparently a critical point in the protests came on November 28th. With large numbers of people on Independence Square and a growing tent city, the head of the country’s interior ministry stationed 10,000 troops near the Square with a plan to expel the protestors. This plan was opposed by the Ukrainian Security Service (the former KGB) and others in power, and the forcible removal of the protesters was canceled. Because of this, the Orange Revolution avoided bloodshed: the only related fatality was a man who died of a heart attack at one of the protests.

Protester tent

With the wide-spread protests, which were led by a group named Pora! (It’s Time!), and substantial evidence of election fraud, the Ukrainian Supreme Court ordered a new presidential election. It was held on December 26, 2004. Yushchenko won that election with 52% of the vote, compared to 44% for Yanukovich. 

Attending the Inauguration

I was in Kiev on January 23, 2005 as part of my work heading the University of Georgia’s International Center for Democratic Governance. We were assisting the US-Ukraine Foundation with a train-the-trainer’s program. My colleague Sherri Lawless, a Vinson Institute faculty member who is a terrific trainer, was doing most of the work.The U.S.-Ukraine Foundation was a great partner to work with.

On the Sunday of the inauguration, I went early to Independence Square with my camera. (I took all of the pictures in this blog, except the one with me in it.) As I arrived, the dismantling of the tent city on Khreshchatyk Ave. was under way. The protesters had vowed to stay put until a new president was in power. By late morning of January 23rd, all evidence of the tents were gone.

Arriving for the inauguration celebration; note orange clothing items

As the Square filled, I enjoyed watching the crowd streaming in. It was a very cold day and snow was still on the ground. Many entering the Square wrote orange articles of clothing such as gloves,coats, scarves, and hats. Several carried signs, banners, and flags. Lots of parents brought their kids to take part in this historic event. 

Mother and child arrive for the celebration

As the time of the inauguration approached, the square became jam packed. A few people climbed into trees for a better view. In fact, this crowd was the largest that I have ever been in. At the end of the assembly, as the crowd exited the square, I found myself being carried involuntarily with the flow of the pedestrian traffic. The experience was a bit scary, and I exited from the swollen river of people as quickly as I could find a way to do it.  

Sleepy in the crowd

The actual inauguration – the official swearing-in ceremony --  was held in the Ukrainian parliament building. That ceremony was televised on a huge television that had been set up so that the Independence Square crowd could watch events

Yushchenko at Independence Square addressing the crowd (see television to the right)

After that, Yushchenko came to the square, accompanied by Yulia Tymoshenko, his ally and another of the leaders of the Orange Revolution, and others involved in it. There he gave a speech to the festive and good-humored crowd.

Trying to get a good view among a huge crowd

My main impression, as an outside observer, was that the people in the Square viewed the day as an important historic occasion. Most were celebrating the victory of a Revolution that had the potential for making big changes in the country. I was touched by the cheerful, optimist spirit of the people on the square as I had been impressed by the courage of the Ukrainians who had made sacrifices for the Orange Revolution, many putting their lives on the line.

Me (center) with Valentina Pidlisnyuk, who was a visiting scholar the University of Georgia several times. A university colleague of hers is standing to the left

Periodically, I had to remind myself that not all Ukrainians were pleased with the success of the Orange Revolution. Almost every Ukrainian I knew had supported it, but a large percentage of people living in Eastern Ukraine -- which I had never visited -- did not. 

Although most supporters of the Orange Revolution and of Yushchenko would later be disappointed with both, on January 23, 2005 the people at Independence Square in Kiev had reasons to be proud of themselves and their country. As for me, I was glad to have a chance to see this important event in Ukrainian history.

As the Orange Revolution showed, and the present resistance to a thuggish regime continues to show, many Ukrainians are willing to stand up for a better life and to put their lives in danger to thwart a regime that wants to revert to an authoritarian past. At the same time, many other Ukrainians are willing to acquiesce to the powerful as long as they are left alone. We will see in the not-distance future which group is on the right side of history.  

Other Pictures on Independence Square:

Some people dressed strangely for this gathering. The guy with the sign came from Ternopil

"Tak" means "yes"; many at the Square carried orange banners and Ukrainian flags (light blue and yellow)

Eating a bit before the ceremonies

A family waits patiently

Three wise men watch themselves on the big television in the Square

Flags, flags, banners, and trees
A folk group entertains with music
Graffiti on a wall at Independence Square


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