What most media and people following the recent developments in Ukraine know as “pro-EU” or “anti-Russian” protests after the Ukrainian government backed out of a historical agreement with the European Union that was to bring Ukrainians one step closer to Western Europe, are in fact protests that seem to have been in the making for the past several years.
In terms of corruption, Ukraine ranks 144th out of 177 countries, tying with Nigeria, Iran and the Central African Republic on that list. Dissatisfaction and outrage runs deep among Ukrainian citizens, many of whom were, according to a recent study, ready to leave the country to improve their living standards. Sophia Opatska, CEO of the Lviv Business School, explains in detail on the Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania) Knowledge@Wharton website why the people of Ukraine are taking action and demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych and his government:
In the last couple of years, Ukraine has been in a recession. Although the current government outlined plans to make improvements and reforms, only a small number of people close to the president’s family has experienced any benefits.[...]
Meanwhile, small- and medium-sized businesses have constantly felt intense pressure from tax departments, while reports have surfaced about corruption in state administrations and the courts. The country suffers from low levels of investment, a small number of new business projects and an out-of-date economic structure.[...]
At the same time, the system of social justice in Ukraine is in tatters. On the night of November 30, Ukrainian authorities used brutal violence against a group of students and young people who had been peacefully demonstrating against the government’s U-turn decision. This shows how Ukrainians’ personal security is not assured and citizens can easily be humiliated by the authorities. During the last 22 years of Ukrainian independence, there have been many political games, agreements and trade-offs between parties and politicians, but these social boundaries were not crossed.
On November 30, Ukrainians woke up in a new country. Social media and smartphones allowed us to see the cruelty and violence perpetrated by the authorities, and civil society reacted immediately, with nearly half a million people staging a peaceful demonstration in Kiev the next day. This enormous support came as a surprise to the authorities and opposition leaders.