VICE: Heroes of the Euromaidan revolution are leaving Ukraine

VICE: Heroes of the Euromaidan revolution are leaving Ukraine | Русская весна

Ukrainians are fleeing the country in record numbers: since February 2014, 600,000 Ukrainians have sought asylum or other forms of legal stay in neighboring countries, and thousands more have moved to the U.S. and the European Union. Others have fled illegally: Poland reported a 100 percent increase in the number of detentions of illegal Ukrainian immigrants last year.

But the emigrants are not only asylum seekers. They are the Western-leaning intelligentsia, the professional classes with relatives abroad, and the students of the Maidan who first organized protests against former President Viktor Yanukovych's kleptocratic and violent government in November 2013.

Since the overthrow of Yanukovych last year, a Russian-backed secessionist movement has claimed the lives of 5,400 people and injured 13,000. The recent ceasefire has done little to quell the violence. Inflation is skyrocketing, hitting 25 percent in December. The hryvnia, Ukraine's national currency, has lost two-thirds of its value against the dollar over the past year. This devaluation has crushed Ukrainians' purchasing power, particularly for western goods, and severely limited their mobility: the average monthly Ukrainian salary was $384 in January 2014. By December 2014, it was down to just $261.

There is little reason to stay; the brain drain from Ukraine is accelerating.

Compassionate, diminutive, and curly-haired, Dasha got her undergraduate degree at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Ukraine's most prestigious university. Trained as a social worker, she was an active volunteer while living in Ukraine, working regularly with drug addicts and patients at a psychiatric hospital in Kyiv before leaving for the Netherlands last summer. Dasha says she and other recent émigrés are conflicted about whether or not to return. "Many will not go back," she predicts. Spending months protesting for an unfulfilled vision was taxing: "I can't say that I want to return home soon. As I was standing on the Maidan last winter, I realized how difficult it would be for me to stay in Kyiv."

For Ivan Demianets leaving was difficult. He left behind his family, girlfriend, and an NGO that he helped build. Still, moving to the U.S. was logical, and perhaps inevitable.

Ukraine's educational system is in shambles. Plagued by uneven teaching and corruption, students often pay for grades, rendering degrees meaningless. Given the opportunity to get a doctorate from a prestigious Western university, immigration was a kind of imperative. If after the revolution, it seemed like a good idea to get an education abroad and return after a few years, Ivan is now deeply ambivalent about going back to Ukraine. In the present crisis, Ivan now sees two paths for Ukrainians: "You either fight or you leave."

Emily Channell-Justice, a graduate researcher at City University of New York, is writing her dissertation on the youth of the Maidan. She says the fallout from the revolution was a reality check for many young Ukrainians. "The Maidan allowed a lot of people to see an idealistic version of change," Channell-Justice told VICE. "But they also saw what implementation of that change would actually mean. They understood that implementation was going to prevent actual radical change, because it's too hard to implement things that would actually make things different in Ukraine."

Ukraine is arguably more corrupt today than it was under Yanukovych. As one former racketeer told me, "At least in the old days, you knew who the boss was." Corruption has become decentralized, and, as a consequence, more difficult to track down.

In many ways, revolution was the easy part. The failure of reform in Ukraine over the past two and a half decades has proven that revolutionary fervor does not bring honest government or prosperity. The Maidan, like the 2004 Orange Revolution before it, was fueled by emotionality, not always rationality.

Full version can be reached at Vice.

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