From computers and smartphones around the world, Ukrainian-born social media users watched helplessly Thursday as scenes and reports of further violence flooded their Twitter streams and Facebook newsfeeds.
More than 100 people have reportedly been killed in Kiev this week as protesters clashed with riot police in a bloody stand against President Viktor Yanukovych’s government. The escalation of violence brought a swift end to a brief ceasefire.
For Ukrainian expats who support the movement, the only thing to do is show their solidarity remotely. On Facebook, many users have changed their profile photos to variations of blue-and-yellow ribbons, reflecting the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Others turned their profiles completely black.
Julia Martyniuk, a Kiev native who now lives in Brooklyn, swapped out her cheery profile photo -- in which she’d sported a broad smile and sunglasses -- with a graphic of a large blood-soaked ribbon. She told IBTimes that the image represents the spilled blood of protesters who have been injured or lost their lives. “It’s bloody due to the events which took place in Ukraine within last 48 hours when our so-called president decided to take extra measures to stop the protest by any means, even the ones involving killing innocent people,” Martyniuk said.
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Martyniuk said some of her friends who still live in Kiev have been sharing firsthand stories of the unrest via social media. She shared one status update from a friend who awoke to the sounds of gunfire and explosions Wednesday night.
“So… Yesterday night. What were you falling asleep to? I was falling asleep to the sounds of gunshots and grenades. Literally. But that’s not all. The protesters were being attacked by police, the buildings they have occupied (which means they had a “hospital” there, some food and a place to sleep) were SET ON FIRE (!) with many people in there so injured that they had no chance of getting out! MANY MORE WERE KILLED BY SNIPERS. Until about 3:30 am people were singing the national anthem so loud that I could make out the words between the sounds of grenades exploding.”
The protests -- or revolution, as some have dubbed it -- is being branded “EuroMaidan” after the central square in Kiev. It is a movement to end Yanukovych’s reign and bring Ukraine closer the European Union and further from Russia.
Lecia Bushak, a health reporter for IBT Media’s Medical Daily, who is Ukrainian-American, estimated that about 90 percent of her Ukrainian Facebook friends have changed their profile pictures to something “EuroMaidan-related.” In an email, she said she started noticing all-black and blue-and-yellow profiles on Jan. 22, when at least four Ukrainians were killed in a clash with police over new laws restricting their right to protest. Others used an image of a candle against a black backdrop, “to show solidarity and respect for those who died in the protests.”