On October 12, over 20000 Ukrainian students came to the streets to protest the decision of the government to allow public universities to introduce new burdening fees. A total of 15 cities were protesting, from the West to the East of the country. Major rallies were held in Kiev, Lviv, Kharkov, Uzhhorod and Simferopol. Rivne, Ivano-Frankivsk, Zhitomir, Kamyanets-Podolsk, Sumy, Khmelnitsky, Kirovograd, Lugansk, Lutsk and Sevastopol were protesting as well.
The organizers of the protests are the independent student union "DirectAction" ("Priama Diya" in Ukrainian) and the Foundation of Regional Initiatives. "Direct Action", a left-wing syndicalist union striving forlibertarian education, has been active in defending students' rights and interests against the pressure of university administrations, neoliberal reforms and state special services.
A year ago, "Direct Action" was instrumental in arranging protests when the previous Timoshenko government intended to pass a similar decree on additional fees for students. Then, mass student protests prevented the adoption of the controversial decree. Now, in late August, the new Azarov government passed the 796 Decree that allows administration of universities to install fees for missed classes; for use of libraries, first-aid posts, gymnasiums and Internet; for dissertation etc. The authorities are about to increase the fees for dormitories and to reduce the number of students educated for free as well, though the Ukrainian Constitution formally provides free higher education.
Contrary to the Ukrainian far right blaming some people in the government as 'Un-Ukrainian', independent student activists emphasize that the problem is not in personalities but in the system itself. They see the introduction of new fees as a part of the offensive of neoliberal capitalism against the social rights of people, particularly youth. They call for resisting such measures and want to extend their struggle.
In Kiev, 2000 students participated in the march to the buildings of the Cabinet of Ministers and the Administration of President demanding free education for all. Their slogans included "Liberty, Equality, Student Solidarity!", "Knowledge not for sale!", "Universities aren't markets!" "Down with the ministers, down with the capitalists!", "One solution -- revolution!", "Rebel, love, don't give up your rights". The banners stated "Student Solidarity", "Down with social barriers!", "Don't Panic! Join us!", "Remember 1968", "Not for sale", and the Orwellian-style "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength... Knowledge is Commodity?". Near the governmental residence, activists voiced their demands to cancel the entire decree, not just its most offensive positions. They also read the solidarity greeting from the well-known Ukrainian author Serhiy Zhadan, and stressed out the international solidarity within the Global Wave of Action for Education and the endorsement of the International Student Movement. A great number of "Direct Action" papers and leaflets calling for students' self-organization and struggle were distributed.
The youth demo in Lviv was perhaps the largest. It gathered, by various estimates, from 5000 to 7000 people. United under the motto of free education, students of Lviv marched to the building of the regional administration where they held the picket. The building was attacked by unknown people who threw smoke bombs, tomatoes and eggs. However, ultimately the meeting had a peaceful conclusion.
In the Transcarpathian city of Uzhhorod, the protest organized by the Foundation of Regional Initiatives was attended by 600 or even 1000 young people, an enormous number for the smallest of 24 regional centers of Ukraine. It was definitely the biggest demo in this city in recent years. On the square at the local regional administration Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, was the first city to protest the controversial governmental decree, as the administration of the local university had been the first to introduce 'paid services' by this decree (moreover, it proposed even some own 'inventions' such as fees for retaking of exams). On October 4, 500 young people rallied by radical Marxists and Anarchists marched across the city to manifest their rejection of the commercialization of education. They gathered despite the university direction threatening to repress the student activists. A week later, Crimean students were joined by the rest of Ukraine, so they came out for another rally, this time a flash mob, to confirm their demands.
More than 300 university students protested against newly imposed fees in the second biggest Ukrainian city Kharkov. Despite the cool weather, some female students even took off their clothes to show that increase in cost of university education would leave a low-income student unable to continue studies 'without selling the clothes off her back'. A similar performance was held in Rivne.
Facing the rage of the students, president Yanukovich announced that the government decree would be suspended. However, this was revealed to be a lie to calm down the revolutionary students. The campaign against commercialization of education isn't over. The struggle continues!
Press-service of "Direct Action"