Analysis & Opinions - Wilson Center

Ukraine in Europe: One Hard-Earned Step Closer

| Dec. 15, 2023

On December 14, 2023, the European Council adopted an historic decision to open membership negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, and to grant candidate status to Georgia. All three nations were once part of the Soviet empire, all three share the ill-fortune to live next to Russia, a belligerent nuclear-armed state that sees them as instrumental in reconstructing its imperial past. All three have followed a long and arduous path toward European integration. Of the three, however, Ukraine is paying the most exorbitant price, in blood and treasure, for its European choice.

That the war currently ravaging Ukraine is about the defense of this country's European future is no exaggeration. Ukraine's struggle for Europe started ten years ago, on November 21, 2013, when Ukrainian youth gathered on the Maidan, Kyiv’s central square, to protest the refusal of then-president Viktor Yanukovych to sign the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, scheduled to take place on November 29 that year in Vilnius, Lithuania. Yanukovych did so under the pressure of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also sought to bribe the Ukrainian leadership with a $17 billion loan and cheaper gas prices. As it turned out, not only the Ukrainian students, but most of the Ukrainian population would not accept the Yanukovych-Putin plan.

Two weeks into the EuroMaidan protests, the Yanukovych regime decided to break up protests, unleashing riot police and their batons on the students. This was the first time the state used violence against unarmed, peaceful protesters since Ukraine became an independent state in 1991. The massive surge of popular indignation that followed was in itself a testament to the kind of state Ukrainians wanted to live in and the kind of governance they deemed unacceptable.

For the millions of Ukrainians who in the winter of 2014 came out in protest across the nation, for the thousands who build and defended a make-shift encampment on the Maidan, and for the hundred, the Heavenly Hundred, who would lay their lives in what became the Revolution of Dignity, "Europe" was not an ephemeral notion, not even a reference to a shared cultural past, but a very tangible, conscious choice about the future.

Europe meant the freedom to assembly, speech, and expression. Europe meant the freedom from arbitrary state violence. Europe meant that the nation's political and economic elites are accountable and prevented from growing shamelessly fat on state graft. Europe meant the rule of law and a recourse to justice. Europe meant responsible husbanding of the nation's resources, clean water and air, and sustainable energy. Europe meant agency and options in shaping one's future. Europe meant synergy and cooperation, not a zero-sum game. Europe meant living in prosperity, yes, but most importantly, living in dignity....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Budjeryn, Mariana."Ukraine in Europe: One Hard-Earned Step Closer." Wilson Center, December 15, 2023.

The Author