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Ukrainians finally awaken to their own power

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Anti-government protesters throw stones toward Interior Ministry members and riot police in Independence Square in central Kiev, Feb. 19, 2014. (Reuters)

After an exhilarating victory for protesters in the Maidan last week, the situation in Ukraine is anything but settled. And, like other crises across the globe, including the civil war in Syria and the failing nuclear deal in Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin is behind it all.

Just this morning it was reported that pro-Russian gunmen have stormed the Crimean parliament and are flying the Russian flag.

Russian news agencies are reporting that they will provide Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich with protection, and it appears he has surfaced in Moscow despite the international arrest warrant that was issued on Monday.

What is happening now is something every Ukrainian has been waiting for: the rebirth of a free nation.

So while Ukraine is scrambling to stabilize itself, Russia is doing everything in its power to ensure that the goals of the protesters are not met and that Russia remains in control of a situation that is spinning out of control.

Ukraine is no stranger to tumultuous times. In the 22 years since independence from the Soviet Union, the years have been filled with economic unpredictability, political corruption and the fight for sovereignty from Russia.

Growing up in Ukraine, I have seen how hard life has been for its citizens. The Ukrainian people are well-educated and hard working, yet their salaries can barely afford them the bare necessities.

What is happening now is something every Ukrainian has been waiting for: the rebirth of a free nation.

For far too long, Ukrainians have been desperate for someone to save them from their abusive ties with Russia. They never believed they could overturn such an oppressive ruler.

Despite Putin’s recent aggression, Ukrainians are saving themselves, like David going against Goliath. The strong will of the people has shifted the odds in Ukraine’s favor.

What Ukrainians have accomplished these past few months is a colossal win for their country, but not because of the West. The U.S. telling Russia not to meddle in Ukraine – a message Putin clearly didn’t hear – comes a little too late to be taken seriously. Especially when you consider that he successfully invaded Georgia in 2008.

The U.S.’s promise to help young democracies has dwindled under President Obama’s rule.

Obama’s foreign policy is largely that of containment, deeming Ukraine not significant enough to intervene. 

The whole world watched last week as people lost their lives in their fight for freedom in the streets of Kiev yet both the U.S. and Europe were slow to react, if we can even call “closely watching the situation” a reaction.  
    
While Obama’s policies continue to underestimate Putin’s agenda, Ukrainians are united in their fight for their country to be democratic and equal for all. Through the cold winter months of standing in protest of the regime and the tragic loss of fallen heroes, Ukrainians have finally awakened to their own power.

This is the moment of truth. The Ukrainian people refuse to be intimidated in their own country any longer, while Putin plays “war games” along Ukrainian border and invasion remains a distinct possibility.
    
The world now bears witness to how hard Russia has been working to destabilize Ukraine.

Through economic, political and cultural force, Ukraine has been losing a fight with Putin -- until now. 

The Russian president’s policy to “divide and conquer” Ukraine has always been a top priority.

He has been working around the clock to make sure that east and west Ukraine strongly dislike each other by emphasizing differences in language and culture. His schemes penetrate far and wide, bearing messages of blatant lies and hate to the Ukrainian people.
    
Putin is the grandmaster of twisting the truth, and he makes sure that every major media and political source in Russia translates his lies to the people. 

Russian media have repeatedly called what is going on in Ukraine “a coup takeover of neo-Nazis, extremists, fascists, and terrorists.” But in Ukraine we simply call them our heroes. Heroes who love Ukraine so much they are willing to die to protect it.

But some Ukrainians who live in the east and south (Crimea) watch Russian TV, and when they hear on the news that Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, “has been taken over by extremists who are going to march to eastern Ukraine to kill and torture anyone who is ethnically Russian and/or speaks Russian,” they side with Russia. 

I, too, would panic if I watched Russian TV.

Ukraine’s problem is not the apparent civil differences, but the bad information that permeates society – information that Putin has been taking advantage of to support his cause.

That said, things are changing quickly. Ukraine is uniting on the issues that have long been controversial, such as language. 

Ukrainian speakers from Lviv, a western city where the Ukrainian language is predominant, named Feb. 26 the Day of Solidarity with their eastern counterparts and spoke only in Russian. And in Donetsk and other major cities in the east, people spoke Ukrainian in solidarity with their countrymen in the west.

This never would have happened just three months ago. Yet, today, a fundamental shift is happening.

Ukraine has matured as a nation. Through disillusionment with the West, Ukraine has found a better world inside its borders.    

Tetyana Shvachuk is a Ukrainian-American political activist and writer. She is CEO of Enlightened Beauty and will be publishing her first book in 2014.