In late November 2013, President Yanukovych refused to sign the association agreement which had been negotiated with the European Union. This led to growing protests on the Maidan, the Independence Square in the heart of Kyiv. These continued until February 2014 and were met with ever greater violence by the security forces. The situation then escalated between 18 and 20 February 2014, when over 100 people were shot dead by the security forces and several hundred were injured. In reaction to this, however, large parts of the army and security took the side of the opposition and forced the President to flee to Russia. As soon as the violence was over, a delegation of politicians, administrators, civil rights activists and members of the media, led by Mayor Jung travelled from Leipzig (itself a cradle of the Peaceful Revolution in 1989) to Kyiv in a show of solidarity. “Everything was still smoking. We shared in mourning the dead at first-hand. But we were also able to feel the sense of hope for ourselves. In that unique place we sensed the winds of change, feeling that people really wanted a new society and were prepared to give their lives for that,” recalls Dr Gabriele Goldfuß, head of the City of Leipzig’s Department for International Cooperation. The City of Leipzig worked with the Protestant church and used donations from the city’s population to set up an aid project to provide therapy to help victims of violence process their trauma.
It was in this initiative that the EuropaMaidan Leipzig Association took root. The association continues to provide trauma care, but its work now includes political education aimed at raising awareness among the people of Leipzig around developments in Kyiv and supporting Ukraine’s process of transformation towards democracy and decentralisation.
When Russia responded to the development of democracy in Ukraine by occupying Crimea in 2014 and instigating a proxy war in the east of the country, Leipzig donated hospital beds and medical equipment to Kyiv in order to provide better care for those injured in the war.
In June 2019, a commemorative plaque honouring the Ukrainian national composer Mykola Lysenko was unveiled at the house in Nürnberger Straße where he once lived. “Many people from Leipzig can see this plaque every day when they walk past the building,” says Vlad Nikolaev, who represents the City of Kyiv’s Department for International Cooperation, emphasising the plaque’s symbolic importance. “It shines a light on the long-term outcomes of our work.” In addition to music, numerous projects are underway ranging from literature, book fairs, the visual arts and independent artists, to the culture of commemoration, startups, Jewish life, libraries, social issues, new mobility and urban development. These all express the character of the partnership of younger generations and groups in the two cities in the years since the revolution of 2014.
In 2021-2022 Leipzig and Kyiv celebrated the 60th anniversary of their partnership, despite the adverse circumstances. The Covid pandemic was challenging for the municipal partners in a range of ways, but lively exchanges still took place, including discussions of how to overcome the pandemic and deliveries of testing stations and other aid. The municipal partners were pleased that a large delegation led by Mayor Klitschko was able to travel to Leipzig for the “Kyiv Days” from 8 to 12 October 2021 in spite of travel restrictions.
However, the Russian war of aggression meant it was not possible for a German delegation to Kyiv for the “Leipzig Project Week” from 20 to 23 May 2022 which had been planned as part of the anniversary celebrations. This caused the cancellation of several projects and events.