From November 2004 --
An orange ocean is probably the best way to describe Lviv during the post-run-off period. The quiet, hibernating winter city suddenly was thrust into energetic life.
But I was nestled in my office. My co-workers took turns visiting demonstrations but we were still “working.” They spent all day on the Internet checking the latest news, listening to the Lviv radio station that before played the endless loop of pop but now had turned into an all-news call-in show where people reported live from every city. People called the radio station from all over Ukraine: Kyiv, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Lutsk, Vinnitsya and told their stories, reporting what was happening, how many people were out demonstrating, what the mood was and, always to end the call, that “Lviv, mi zvamy! (Lviv, we are with you!)” Even a guy from New York called, speaking in Ukrainian saying that New Yorkers were also demonstrating, supporting the movement. His identification as an American made my co-workers smile and turn to one another: “America is with us,” they said. I would shrug and smile.
Friends or family would call from Kyiv and there would be the shouted repeat of what the person on the phone was saying, “HE’S IN MAIDAN! HE SAYS HE’S EATING WELL! HE SAYS IT’S A SEA OF ORANGE!” After the phone call, there would be tea and a retelling of the retelling with observations and cookies, assertions and oranges. We ate a lot of oranges. It was a party.
And that best describes Lviv’s mood: a party. A sober celebration of unity and democracy (the emphasis on sober where the mandate was if you were drinking, you must be for Yanukovich). This was an instant committed fraternity of those who wanted change, who wanted justice and fairness and who weren’t going to be pushed around anymore. University students, teachers, priests, public officials, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, businessmen and children were all standing together. They shouted the same words, had the same messages in their hearts and were going to shout it together to make themselves heard. Yushchenko was not a god, was not perfect, but a symbol of the opposition, the alternative to a criminal president. “I mean, have you heard Yanukovich speak,” one would say. “He can’t even speak Ukrainian,” another might say. “Well, he can’t speak Russian either,” another added. “He’s an illiterate.” “No, he’s a bandit.” “Well, he was in prison twice.” “But indicted four times!” And on, and on…
Why is the west of Ukraine so against Yanukovich? People here say that they are against him because he is part of the current administrative and the current administration needs to go. You’ll also be told that even if you say Ukraine has gotten better, even if it does show economic improvements, they are progressing far slower than the countries it borders. People are demanding to know why that is. They want to know where it all goes. What has been the cost of this improvement? they ask. In a country where the simple right to vote, to speak freely and to have a non-corrupt government is not available, they ask, then what has Ukraine really achieved?
The election was not fair in their minds when counting was not done publicly and tales of intimidation and corruption were coming from all directions. It was so obvious that something very wrong occurred that the entire world had to repeat that fact. The actions of America, Canada and the European Union were not seen as interference but the keen observation that if Ukraine wanted to be treated as a legitimate nation, it needed to start acting like one. People like Putin were suggesting that the west mind its business but then why was the mayor of Moscow in Ukraine making speeches, aggravating the public? Russia pointed an accusing finger but no one had more interaction with the government players in this situation than Putin.
And most obviously, the west of Ukraine wants to be Ukraine. People here do not want to be Russia. They want to pull away from the east, their past, and look to the future. Here that means westward. In Lviv, you can be in Poland in less than an hour. People here cross the border and immediately feel the smoother roads, see nicer houses and a sense a different, some say better, way of life. They are so close to that border, so exposed to what is available there, and yet once back in Ukraine, it seems so far away.
And so now it is low-tide for the sea of orange in Lviv. Statues still wear orange scarves and people still bear their ribbons, yarn and stickers, but the revolution is on hold. Students return to school, workers keep working and life must move forward. The next round will dictate whether the orange tidal wave needs to return and again show its power.
Orange was everywhere – from an orange shred of yarn in a button hole and orange ribbons in the hair of Plast girls to storefronts changing all the models into orange outfits and full-size “Tak! Yushchenko” flags hanging from the backs of cars. But it wasn’t just the color adorning every man, woman, child, dog, store, restaurant, office, school, government building, church, car, bus and marshrutka. It was the noise of an ocean also. This constant wavelike pounding, clapping and shouting “YU-SHCHEN-KO! YU-SHCHEN-KO! YU-SHCHEN-KO!” An endless tide of horns honking that came only in threes, “Beep Beep BEEP! Beep Beep BEEP!”