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Ukraine student protesters

Student protests in Kyiv, Ukraine in November 2013 have escalated to increasing injuries of protesters in 2014. Image: RIA Novisti

(WNN) Sochi, RUSSIAN FEDERATION, EASTERN EUROPE: Speaking out with conviction against the state of extreme violence that has overtaken the Maidan (city square) of Kiev, team member and Ukrainian downhill slalom skier Ms. Bogdana Matsotska has pulled out of the XXII Olympic Winter Games giving up any chance to bid for an Olympic medal in Sochi, Russia.

Making her announcement to quit the Games on her Facebook page, Bogdana was joined and supported in her decision to leave Sochi by her father and skiing coach Oleg Matsotskyy, who conveyed to the press that his daughter felt ‘extremely angry’ at Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and wanted to leave the Olympics to stand in solidarity with the protesters in Kiev.

“I am not a political person, I am totally out of politics and political parties, but I stand against these horrible actions that Yanukovich and his government are taking against our Ukrainian people,” Matsotska said in a public statement on Reuters TV. “I don’t want to enter the competition under such terrible circumstances.”

“…To go on the start line when people are dying and when the authorities broke the main rule of the Olympic competition, which is peace – I simply cannot do it,” she continued.

“Instead of resolving the conflict through negotiations (which we had hoped he would when we left for Sochi), has drenched the last hopes of the nation in blood,” said Bogdana’s father Matsotskyy on Thursday February 20 in his Facebook page.

Matsotska’s stand in leaving the Olympic Games is not a unanimous decision though among some others on the Ukrainian Olympic team. Some of the other team members have wanted to stay in competition while wearing black arm bands to recognize the deaths of protesters in the Maidan, now called ‘Independence Square’. But the IOC – International Olympic Committee has said no, although they have not completely forbidden athletes with black arm bands. This is against the rules though, outlined the IOC, which bans any political expression by Olympic athletes in public during the Games.

Having the Games located inside Russia may be a delicate political issue for Ukrainian Olympians as last November 28 the deadline for the Ukraine to join the European Union expired. The expiration took place as Ukrainian President Yanukovich refused to allow the nation to join the West in an offer for increased trade and modernization, something that a majority of Ukrainians, especially its youth want to do.

In December 2013 as part of long-standing efforts to pull the Ukraine away from the European Union, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin offered the Ukrainian government a large and controversial 15 Billion dollar (USD) loan. The gesture was applauded by Ukrainian statesmen during the loan announcement, along with an mention of deep Russian discounts included for the Ukraine on natural gas.

While the numbers have not been completely counted increasing violence between Ukraine’s security police and government reform protesters have brought more than 125 deaths and 500 injuries to protesters in one day alone on Thursday. Twenty-five police officers were also injured with some fatalities reported.

Today as the violence continues to erupt at intense levels a woman was killed by what activists say was a police bullet on the streets of Kiev. Many women protesters though have not been as visible to the news media at the center of the violence in the most recent days. Human rights violations have been reported that affect men as well as women.

“Numerous grave and systematic human rights violations have been reported over the past weeks in Ukraine. Protesters, both men and women, have been kidnapped, taken to the outskirts of the city and severely beaten,” outlined FIDH, the International Federation for Human Rights, three days ago. FIDH works to bring greater knowledge to the world with 178 human rights organizations that work to report injustice and the need to protect human rights defenders.

According to reports by the BBC News, not all protesters at the Maidan are liberal and progressive. Some protesters, involved in the most recent public protests for reform in the country, belong to pre-existing extreme far-right groups that have rallied to take seats inside the Ukraine protest movement as unrest has risen over the past months. This is a concern to those progressive activists who are hoping to bring greater freedom and democratic policies to the nation.

Within the sphere of Ukrainian progressives and human rights supporters, greater crackdowns on freedom of expression, especially artistic freedom, has also been a rising issue for both male and female artists living inside the region.

“In Ukraine, activism has become a regular part of working in the cultural sphere,” says art curator, Ukranian and Brandeis Fellow Ms. Larissa Babij to the art and politics magazine based in New York known as Guernica.  Larissa has also witnessed the rise in what she calls “petty political interests” inside Kiev’s largest art institutions.

“At the present moment, civil society and public dissent have essentially been banned from Ukraine by a series of laws signed by President Yanukovych on January 17 [2014]…Public demonstrations and gatherings are prohibited and both libel and the ‘dissemination of extremist materials’, concepts which can be interpreted very broadly, are punishable by years in prison,” Babij continued.

As those outside of the Ukraine watch the escalating violence, a closer look at the complexity of the conflict itself and the needs for Ukrainian citizens is being discussed by experts as well as those who are advocates for democracy.

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When Emmy award winning American filmmaker Ben Moses created a video and posted it on Youtube on February 10, 2014 giving a 24-year-old Ukrainian woman a chance to speak and explain her own perspective on the need for change in the Ukraine, he didn’t expect the video to go viral with now over 3 million views. “I was in Ukraine preparing a film on democracy — and the lack thereof — when the protests overwhelmed everything. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people flooded the streets, finally fed up with the corruption and ceaseless power grabbing by the leaders of this government. Meeting the people in the protests — many families with children — and hearing their stories propelled me to try and do something to spread the word about what their issues really are,” said Moses. “This young woman personifies the vast majority of the people on the streets in the country, and speaks to the heart of the protest. The vast 99% are not thugs or neo-Nazis, they are ordinary citizens who have simply had enough,” Moses added.

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