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What you need to know about Ukraine

- February 19, 2014

Fires burn around monuments to Kiev’s founders as anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev’s Independence Square, the epicenter of the country’s current unrest. (Efrem Lukatsky / AP)
As Ukraine tinkers on the brink of collapsing into chaos, we want to draw interested readers’ attention to a series of posts that we have run throughout the protests here at The Monkey Cage. The full list of posts can be found below, but in particular I want to highlight the following four points that can be learned from these posts:
First, there is far from unified consensus in support of the protesters in Kiev throughout Ukraine.  Equally if not more important, nor is there anything approaching unified support for the government, the president, or the actions taken on behalf of the president today.  Bottom line: Ukraine is a divided country, which makes the current situation especially dangerous. Policy makers should not rule out the possibility that the country could split, enter a period of prolonged violence, or even face something approaching a civil war.  This does not mean that any of these outcomes are foreordained, but for anyone looking forward it is no longer unreasonable to speculate about the causes or the consequences of such outcomes.
Second, the causes of these splits across the Ukrainian population are complicated and have long historical antecedents. See these two previous guests posts (here and here) for an overview of this historical background.  While there are ongoing debates about how much the current conflict reflects these long-term historical patterns of division in Ukraine, the fact that they exist further suggests that the possibility that conflict could advance beyond what we’ve seen today is real.
Third, social media is clearly being used to facilitate communication both within Ukraine and between Ukrainians and the outside world, especially as the government appears to have blocked access to pro-opposition television channels.  We have previously written about this herehere, and here, but the pattern obviously continued today. Anyone following the hashtag #Euromaidan was bombarded with reports, images, calls for organization, and cries for international recognition and involvement.  My lab — the New York University Social Media and Political Participation laboratory — has been collecting tweets related to the protests for the past months, and we saw a huge spike in the number of tweets as the day went on:

Tweets per minute using terms related to Ukraine protests on February 18, 2014 (Figure: Megan Metzger; Data: NYU SMaPP Lab)

Tweets per minute using terms related to Ukraine protests on February 18, 2014 (Figure: Megan Metzger; Data: NYU SMaPP Lab)

Note the beginning of the first spike between 2-4 p.m., followed by a slight drop-off and then a much more significant spike around 6 p.m. Our guess is that the first spike was related to news that troops might be massing and getting ready to attack the Maidan, while the second spike would represent the actual engagement of the police.  This is only preliminary, and additional analysis will be needed to confirm whether this was indeed what was driving the traffic.  That being said, if this was the case, it suggests that Twitter can function as a kind of “early warning system” about police actions during protests.  From a more personal standpoint, if you want to follow the evolution of events in Ukraine in the coming days, simply keeping open a Twitter feed on the hashtag #Euromaidan will supply you with more information than you can process.
Fourth, what happens in Kyiv does not necessarily stay in Kyiv.  As we reported on The Monkey Cage just a few days ago, Egyptian protesters are watching YouTube videos to learn about strategy.  One can only imagine what they’ve learned today.
Here’s the complete list of our recent posts on Ukraine:
How social media spreads protest tactics from Ukraine to Egypt
Who are the protesters in Ukraine?
The (Ukrainian) negotiations will be tweeted!
Social networks and social media in Ukrainian “Euromaidan” protests
What you need to know about the causes of the Ukrainian protests
Why are people protesting in Ukraine? Providing historical context
How Ukrainian protestors are using Twitter and Facebook
As police raid protests in Ukraine, protesters turn to Twitter and Facebook
Six reasons to be cautious about likelihood of opposition success in Ukraine
Three reasons why protests in Ukraine could end up helping Yanukovych