Ukrainian students hunger strike and protest against government, 1990

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Time Period:  
2 October
17 October
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Location Description: 
Maidan Nezalezhnosti, meaning Independence Square
Resignation of Prime Minister Masol, new multi-party elections, military service to be completed on Ukrainian land only, dissuade the formation of a new Union Treaty that would have strengthened the bonds with the USSR, and the nationalization of the Communist Party's property.

Dissatisfied with lack of democracy and the Soviet Union’s influence on their country, Ukrainian university students in L'viv established the Student Brotherhood in March of 1989. In December students in the capital city of Kiev formed the Ukrainian Students Union.

The two groups agreed on a list of demands for the Ukrainian government, including the resignation of Prime Minister Masol and the establishment of new multi-party elections. They also demanded that their military service be carried out on Ukrainian territory, the nationalization of Communist Party property, and the dropping of a proposed Union Treaty with the Soviet Union.

To demonstrate their commitment, the Students Union and the Student Brotherhood built a tent city encampment and on 2 October launched a hunger strike at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti, (Independence Square) in Kiev. The hunger strike was influenced by the example of the Chinese students’ hunger strike in Tiananmen Square in 1989 (see Chinese students campaign for democratic reform (Tiananmen Square), 1989).

Before the Ukrainian students organized their hunger strike, there had already been protests by others. On 30 September, 200,000 Ukrainians launched a demonstration in Kiev to coincide with the opening of the second session of the Supreme Court. A general strike followed on 1 October, but did not garner as much support.

The next day, 2 October 1990, the students began their hunger strike. They erected about fifty tents in the Independence Square. A core of about 150 to 200 students participated directly in the hunger strike while another 2,000 joined at the site. The strikers were joined every day by several thousand protestors, sympathizers, and onlookers from cities throughout Ukraine.

On 15 October, more students in Kiev carried out a demonstration in front of the Ukrainian Parliament building after a live television broadcast showed the efforts of the hunger-striking students in the Independence Square. 50,000 students were involved in this demonstration and one of the student leaders, Oles' Doniy, announced the students' demands before the parliament and also called on students to stage sit-ins in their respective institutions of higher education.

After hearing this call, the students successfully seized the University building that day. The students demonstrating at the Supreme Soviet broke up into smaller groups to march throughout the city to schools and factories passionately stating their demands. Some wore symbols, such as a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.

The campaign gained significant partners and allies, including prominent activists such as Stepan Khmara -- a Ukrainian politician and human rights activist -- and Mykhailo Horyn -- an activist and politician.

Workers from the Arsenal factory in Kiev supported the students as well. The Arsenal factory had been memorialized since 1917 as a factory that had led to the victory of the Bolsheviks, a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. Therefore, the support of these pro-Communist workers for the students protesting against the Communist dominion of Ukraine was seen as a symbolic turning point and victory for the campaign.

The authorities were largely blind-sided by the hunter strike and its success in garnering support from students all over the country, and the increasing amount of protests and demonstrations. In two weeks the government capitulated, agreeing to meet some of the students' demands on 17 October 1990. Military service would be restricted to Ukrainian territory except for volunteers; the proposed treaty for union with the Soviet Union would be dropped. As the months went by other demands were met: Prime Minister Masol resigned and the Supreme Soviet agreed to allow multi-party elections.

Research Notes

The Ukrainian students were influenced by the hunger strikes by Chinese Students at Tiananmen Square. (see Chinese students campaign for democratic reform (Tiananmen Square), 1989)(1)

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Dobbs, Michael. "Ukraine Bows To Students -- Protestors Fold Tent City After Demands Are Met." The Seattle Times. N.p., n.d. 19 Oct. 1990. Web. 14 Sept. 2012.

Diuk, Nadia M. "Ukraine: Land of Paradoxes." The Next Generation in Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan: Youth, Politics, Identity, and Change. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012. 37-41. Google EBook. Web. 14 Sept. 2012.

Kuzio, Taras, and Andrew Wilson. "Stalemate and the Rise of National Communism (1990-1)." Ukraine: Perestroika to Independence. New York: St. Martin's, 1994. 152-54. Google EBook. Web. 14 Sept. 2012.

Mycio, Mary. "Ukrainian SSR Government Bows to Students' Demands." Ukrainian Weekly [Kiev] 21 Oct. 1990: 1. Scribd. Web. 14 Sept. 2012.

Roberts, Adam, and Ash Timothy. Garton. "Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution' of 2004: The Paradoxes of Negotiation." Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present. Oxford [England: Oxford UP, 2009. 337-39. Print.

Solchanyk, Roman. "Introduction." Ukraine, from Chernobyl' to Sovereignty: A Collection of Interviews. New York: St. Martin's, 1992. Xx. Google EBook. Web. 14 Sept. 2012.

"Students Strike for Independence in Ukraine." Associated Press [Moscow] 15 Oct. 1990: 1. AP News Archive. Web. 14 Sept. 2012.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Yein Pyo, 14/09/2012