Langley woman in midst of Kyiv turmoil

A history teacher raised in Langley has found herself witnessing history unfold in Kyiv, where months of anti-government protests escalated Tuesday into the worst violence yet.

Maggie Moffat, 28, said the mood at Independence Square, which has been occupied by protesters, has shifted from hopeful and jovial to sombre and tense after violent clashes that left at least 26 dead.

“They have been at a stalemate for so long now and the mass deaths yesterday (Tuesday) has completely affected the mood in Maidan (Independent Square),” said Moffat, who has been teaching at an international school in the Ukrainian capital for almost two years.

“They’ve reached their breaking point, I think … Something has to happen now.”

Nearly three months of protests have paralyzed Kyiv. On Tuesday, protesters demanding reform and the resignation of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament. Police responded by attacking the protest camp with water cannons, stun grenades and rubber bullets. But protesters held their ground, erecting makeshift barricades of tires, furniture and debris.

The morning after, the streets were quiet, with many shops and restaurants closed and window displays taken down, said Moffat.

But the standoff at the square continues, with protesters gathering wood and breaking up cobblestones to shore up barricades. “They are determined to stand their ground,” she said.

Despite the violence, Moffat said she sees no reason to leave Kyiv at the moment. She has been in touch with her family through email and Skype, and heeds the warnings put out by the Canadian Embassy to use extreme caution.

Ukraine’s anti-government protests started in late November after Yanukovych’s regime ditched a long-awaited deal with the European Union in favour of closer economic ties with Russia.

The issue has moved far beyond a mere trade agreement now, said Moffat: “The fight is multi-faceted and laced with centuries of issues over culture, tradition, identity, not to mention the obvious of politics and the economy.”

While Kyiv is primarily on the side of the protesters, the rest of Ukraine is more divided, with the southern part favouring closer ties with Russia. On Wednesday, Ukraine’s president and protest leaders agreed on a truce.

The struggle has to be solved internally by the Ukrainian people, said Moffat, but external pressure is needed to make it happen: “It’s gone on long enough now. It’s time for a resolution to the revolution.”

Being able to witness the Ukrainians’ fight for democracy has been a reminder, said Moffat, of ongoing struggles around the world for ideals such as freedom and democracy that Canadians take for granted.

“I am most definitely guilty of this myself,” she said. “I am incredibly lucky to be here and to be experiencing history in the making.

“I will be able to hold the memory that I have lived through a revolution, a fight for rights.”

– Cheryl Chan is a Vancouver Province reporter.

For more from the Vancouver Province, click HERE.

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