Table of Contents

The Euromaidan protests, which brought millions to the streets in antigovernment rallies in Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine in the winter of 2013–2014, were the largest mass mobilizations since Ukraine’s independence in 1991. Initially provoked by the decision of then president Viktor Yanukovych to not sign the Association Agreement with the European Union (EU), and galvanized by the police’s brutal dispersal of peaceful demonstrators, the protests were driven by deep frustration with the way Ukraine was governed: the lack of democracy and rule of law, violation of human rights, and rampant corruption. The protesters pushed Yanukovych out of power, and a new government concluded an Association Agreement with the EU in June 2015. Yet the protests took over 100 civilian lives and triggered Russia’s occupation of Crimea and armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

After the Euromaidan protests, Ukrainian activists adopted a relatively wide range of pathways. Some activists moved to work in partnership with the new democratically elected government. Others kept a focus on sporadic street protests. The largest segment chose to develop new civic initiatives around volunteering and community organizing. Ukraine’s particular political challenges, especially the ongoing conflict in the east of the country, explain the specific types of activism developed in the protest’s wake.

Unfinished Revolution

Ukraine’s Euromaidan protesters came from diverse backgrounds.1 The protests brought together people of different ages, political views, and social backgrounds. Far-right nationalists, liberals and left-wing activists, church clerics and LGBT activists, office workers and residents of rural areas shared the Independence Square. Fewer than 10 percent of protesters belonged to a political party or civic organization.2 Unlike the Orange Revolution of 2004, when the opposition called on people to protest against electoral fraud, in 2013, it was civic activists, journalists, and student youth that began the protests, and the political parties joined afterward. In February 2014, the protesters did not accept a political deal, brokered by European foreign ministers, between Yanukovych and the opposition.

Natalia Shapovalova
Natalia Shapovalova was a visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe, where her research focuses on Eastern Europe, with particular focus on Ukraine and EU policy toward the Eastern neighborhood.
More >

Some of the immediate Euromaidan demands were quickly met. Ukraine’s 2004 Constitution, which limited the powers of the president but had been abolished during the Yanukovych rule, was restored, and early presidential and parliamentary elections were held in 2014. Postprotest civic activism kept pressure on the new government and contributed to important reforms, including on issues related to decentralization, anticorruption, tax, healthcare, and education.3 Civil society became more organized after the protests and consolidated its internal structures better to monitor state authorities and influence policymaking.

Yet many of the activists’ fundamental goals remain unmet, and this shortcoming negatively impacted civic space in Ukraine. One of the initial demands of the protests was to bring those responsible for police violence to justice; this has not been done.4 The country is still awash in corruption, including at the highest levels of government.5 The government resisted the establishment of fully independent anticorruption bodies, and the parliament approved legislation requiring anticorruption civic activists to declare their own financial assets—in effect, deliberately making their lives more difficult. Political influences on law enforcement agencies and the judiciary remain strong. The electoral system has not been reformed, and the parties remain closed clubs controlled by oligarchs. Civic freedoms are not fully protected. Civic activists and journalists are being killed, assaulted, and smeared in post-Euromaidan Ukraine, and dissenting voices often are discredited as foreign agents.6

In the aftermath of the Euromaidan protests, Ukrainian civil society has become more confident, diverse, and vibrant with many new forms of organization, participation, and resistance.7 Civic groups enjoy high levels of public trust.8 Some forms of civic activism, such as donating and volunteering, have become more widespread than before 2014.9 However, the number of citizens engaged in civic activism remains at the pre-Euromaidan level.10

Postprotest Strategies

After the 2013–2014 protests, civic activists adopted an array of strategies to push for changes in the country. A significant share of activists returned to their work with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or funded new civil society organizations. A few Euromaidan and post-Euromaidan volunteer-based civic initiatives turned into professional NGOs. The number of registered civic associations, particularly charity organizations and housing associations, grew after 2014.11 Many citizens who participated in the protests started to work to change communities from the bottom up by engaging in grassroots activism, organizing communities around local issues and attempting to influence local politics.12

A potent coalition of civil society organizations and experts, the Reanimation Package of Reforms (RPR), shaped the parliamentary agenda and prepared many law drafts in the first two years after the Euromaidan. RPR’s advocacy contributed to the establishment of new anticorruption institutions; the Ukrainian Parliament adopted nearly sixty laws from RPR’s advocacy list.13 However, the window of opportunity to cooperate with the Ukrainian government closed after 2015, and the RPR structures also became more bureaucratic and donor-oriented.14

Street politics was also a part of the response. Most protests that have taken place in post-Euromaidan Ukraine have been rather small and remain peaceful. At the same time, there has been a turn toward more radical, violent actions. Protesters who resorted to violence, sometimes deadly, mainly represented far-right groups. One such example is that of the Svoboda Party, whose protest in front of the Ukrainian Parliament against the constitutional amendments providing for a special status of Donbas on August 31, 2015, led to the death of law enforcement officials. Other violent activist actions included efforts to enforce a trade blockade with noncontrolled Donbas from February to March 2017 and so-called National Squad protests in March 2019, which called on then president Petro Poroshenko to jail an associate who had been implicated in a corruption scandal.

Violent attempts to seize public buildings also accompanied the 2017–2018 Mikhomaidan protests—named after their leader, former Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, who was a governor of the Odessa region in 2015–2016 and was deported from Ukraine after an open conflict with the president. The protests initially demanded that authorities stop undermining the newly established anticorruption institutions and then called for the impeachment of the president. The danger of such radical, violent protests is that they attempt to legitimize political violence as an effective method in the struggle against corrupt politicians and political opponents.15

In contrast to the 2004 Orange Revolution, many civic activists have moved into mainstream politics after the Euromaidan. A dozen Euromaidan activists were elected to parliament in 2014, and many more ran for regional and local councils from various mainstream party lists. They also joined ministries, government agencies, and local and regional administrations. Describing her choice to enter politics, a volunteer for the Ukrainian army who become an elected member of a regional council in eastern Ukraine said, “Everyone fights the war in their own way. For me, the war is also my deputyship.”16 A Euromaidan activist who helped found an NGO and then ran for the regional elections explained his choice: “Being a local deputy gives me more tools to change something. My conversation with a governor would not be from such a strong position if I were not a regional council deputy.”17 This small army of civic activists in politics did not change the nature of politics in Ukraine, but it has brought more diversity and more transparency into both local and national policymaking.

Activists’ postprotest pathways were more active in 2014 than after the 2004 protests. Yet a striking similarity is that, in both cases, protesters declined to form a political movement of their own. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, political parties based on a civic activism identity—such as Anatolii Hrytsenko’s Civic Position party or Power of People—did not manage to overcome the 5 percent threshold to enter the legislature. Even though civic activists were elected as members of parliament or regional and local councils, their numbers were too low and their presence too dispersed to fundamentally change the rules of the game and party politics in Ukraine. Though more than half of the members of parliament elected in 2014 were new deputies, the quality of parliamentarians did not radically improve.18

The mainstream Ukrainian political parties remain centered around charismatic leaders and depend on oligarchs or a handful of rich sponsors, with no internal democracy or strong grassroots structures. In the 2014–2019 parliament, former activists and young politicians formed an interfaction group of activist-linked Euro-optimists, but they had only twenty-four members out of 423 members of the parliament. In addition, the Euro-optimists held different opinions on many issues and did not vote together. During the 2019 presidential election, they also teamed up with different candidates. The mainstream parties coopted civic activists to their electoral lists in order to secure more votes but later sidelined them. By 2019, a number of civic activists within parliament left their party factions in a protest against the nature of party politics or were excluded for failing to respect party discipline.19

Still, to a modest degree, the presence of civic activists and journalists among members of parliament has helped to increase transparency in institutional politics. They have helped raise public awareness about the clandestine, under-the-table political deals that frequently take place in the parties and parliament.

A good illustration of the failure of the post-Euromaidan civil society to change Ukraine’s politics is that none of the 2019 presidential candidate front-runners came from the civic movement formed during the Euromaidan. Instead, they were representatives of the old political elite. The now President Volodymyr Zelensky was a new face, coming from the world of comedy and acting, but he offered no change to the populist politics long dominant in Ukraine. During his presidential campaign, Zelensky effectively shied away from answering hard questions or from open communication with journalists and civil society. His critics said that his campaign was sponsored by one of the oligarchs who owns the television channel on which his show aired.

As the 2019 parliamentary elections approached, a number of new political parties that united civic activists and new reformists expressed their intention to run for parliament.20 However, many of them looked for celebrities or political heavyweights to lead the electoral lists in the hopes of generating attention from the mainstream media and the general public, rather than building party institutions and networks of activists. This was more of a new populism than a postprotest continuation of civic activism.

Explaining Postprotest Pathways

Various factors explain why the Euromaidan’s civic energy did not bring about a political movement that could win power through elections and implement more fundamental change. These relate to the political context, the structure, and the agency of postprotest activism.

First, the Russian occupation of Crimea and the armed conflict in the east diverted a significant part of civic energy. Because the state was weak, civil society took up some basic government functions, such as providing supplies for the army and dealing with the humanitarian crisis. In the first years after the Euromaidan, many civic groups focused on acting as a substitute for the state rather than reforming it.21 Moreover, the prolonged armed conflict and foreign aggression plays into the hands of those currently in power, who use the “Russian card” to silence those who speak out about corruption and the lack of rule of law. A journalist who discovered presidential involvement in corrupt deals in the defense sector was accused of having relatives in the Russian security service.22 A local activist was called a “Russian provocateur” after asking the president to answer the question of what steps have been taken to address corruption.23 The foreign threat is an easy pretext to silence dissent. Parts of civil society have also adopted self-censorship and conflict-avoiding strategies: many civic activists and journalists prefer not to make radical demands or use radical tactics in order to avoid upsetting the country’s fragile stability or to inadvertently help those forces interested in undermining the country’s unity.

Second, the postprotest choice of the pathways mirrored the key qualities of the protests themselves. The Euromaidan protests were leaderless, nonpartisan, and, to some extent, antipolitical. The protesters never had a charismatic leader who could become a political leader. During the first days of the protests, there were two separate Maidans: a political Maidan with party flags and a civic Maidan with Ukrainian and EU flags. The political opposition joined the protesters, but the civic movement kept separate from the political opposition and there was a degree of mistrust toward it. The civic Maidan made the revolution, but the political Maidan came to power as a result of it. Thus, the ruling elite has not qualitatively changed. Even at the local elections that took place in new amalgamated territorial communities established by decentralization reform—one of the Euromaidan’s key objectives and achievements—the old elites came to power. According to a report by a Ukrainian nonprofit election watchdog, in the first elections in the united territorial communities in Ukraine, 80 percent of all the mayoral positions were won by candidates who previously had been influential officeholders, whether as incumbent city, town, or village mayors or as heads of their district councils or district administrations.24

Third, many civic activists felt uncomfortable going into politics, fearing the reputation and resource losses that such a move implies. In Ukraine, politics is still perceived as something dirty. As a civic activist from Lviv explained, describing his choice to run for a seat in parliament: “If I want to be a member of parliament, I need to join a good party that has no chance to get into parliament, or I have to join an oligarchic party, but it would be harder to be independent.”25 Mustafa Naiem, a journalist who often is regarded as the instigator of the the Euromaidan protests (as the one whose Facebook post first called citizens to the square), said that attitudes toward him changed after he became a member of parliament from the Petro Poroshenko bloc party list. He attributed this distrust to the negative public attitude toward parliament and politicians in Ukraine.26

It is also easier to be a civic activist or maintain an NGO in Ukraine than to be a politician independent from big money. As one civic activist put it: “You should have some money from somewhere. . . . You cannot start from nowhere and become a member of parliament and get a salary. It’s possible to win local elections in Odessa, and we even got some small party into city politics. But you really need to invest an enormous amount of time and you should be really devoted to this process. If you want to live your life, it’s easier to be an activist and just work on some projects.”27

Although foreign donors remain the main source of support to civil society organizations in Ukraine, political party funding should come from domestic sources. The civil society tactics of volunteering, collecting donations, and crowdsourcing, used to support the army and charities after the Euromaidan, are hardly employed elsewhere. Ukrainian civil society organizations have trouble finding domestic sources of support for their own activities, let alone to crowdsource for a civic political party.

Kyiv’s Maidan was too diverse to form one big umbrella movement. The only groups that were able to consolidate politically after the protests, forming political parties and participating in the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2014, were the far-right groups. A liberal wing or a more centrist, Christian-democratic, or conservative one, are absent, and their niches remain unoccupied in the political sphere. Ahead of the 2019 parliamentary elections, civic activists and independent politicians announced the establishment of several civic groups.28 However, despite some efforts to join forces, they did not come as a united front.29 For all the innovative work of civic activists after 2014, they were not at the forefront of the political change that hit Ukraine in 2019. Although, just as in 2014, political parties attracted civic activists to their party lists, the election results of July 21, 2019, were more the reflection of popularity of charismatic party leaders rather than teams led by them. The impressive victory that Zelensky’s Servant of the People Party obtained in the early parliamentary elections (254 out 424 seats in parliament) was due mainly to his own popularity. Ukrainians voted for candidates with no name, no previous record of public policy, or no civic activism just because they came under his party brand. According to a public opinion poll conducted in June, on the eve of the elections, the largest share of Ukrainians saw Zelensky as the main reform driver (61 percent), followed by the upcoming parliament (46 percent) and future government (42 percent), with civil society organizations and volunteers having a more modest role (21 percent).30 In July 2019, former Euromaidan civic activists who had turned politicians in 2014 failed to secure seats in the new parliament. In a way, populism has showed itself a force far more powerful that civic activism. Even a modest result for Sviatoslav Vakarchuk’s Holos party seems to be largely due to his own charisma and voters’ trust than due to a team of active people, including from civil society, who came to parliament from his party list. At the same time, public opinion polls show that citizens expect civil society to engage politically.31 Thus, when the postelection dust finally settles down, civic activists resumed their role of government watchdogs and change agents both outside and, to some extent, inside the government.


A deep political transformation in Ukraine is a long-term process that may also require a change of generations in politics. In 2014, the protesters won the battle, but their revolution is still unfinished, and they may well need to win many more battles in a fight for a democratic and truly European Ukraine. What is important for civil society in Ukraine is to move on with this piecemeal revolution. Outside pressure on the government is important, but it is hard to imagine institutional change in Ukraine’s politics without a new quality of political parties and political leaders entering the scene at the local, regional, and national levels. Since 2014, Ukrainian activists have focused on the local level and practical volunteering related to the conflict, engaged in new rounds of protests, or joined the government or established parties. Although these postprotest pathways have had some impact and made activists a feature of Ukrainian political life, they have fallen short of what is needed for wholesale political change and democratization.

Natalia Shapovalova is a visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe, where her research focuses on Eastern Europe, with a particular focus on Ukraine and EU policy toward the Eastern neighborhood.


1 Olga Onuch and Gwendolyn Sasse, “The Maidan in Movement: Diversity and the Cycles of Protest,” Europe-Asia Studies 68, no. 4 (2016): 556–587; and Olga Onuch, “The Maidan and Beyond: Who Were the Protesters?,” Journal of Democracy 25, no. 3 (2014): 44–51.

2 “Maydan-2013: Khto stoyit’, chomu i za shcho?” [Maydan-2013: Who stands for what and why?], Kyiv International Sociology Institute, December 10, 2013,

3 Christina Parandii and Balázs Jarábik, “Civil Society and Ukraine’s Reforms: Mission Exhausted? A Case Study of the Reanimation Package of Reforms,” in Civil Society in Post-Euromaidan Ukraine: From Revolution to Consolidation, eds. Natalia Shapovalova and Olga Burlyuk (Hanover: Ibidem Press, 2018), 183–212.

4 United Nations Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, Briefing Note on Accountability for Killings and Violent Death During the Maidan Protests, November 2019,

5 “Poroshenko’s Associate Made Money Smuggling Weapons From Russia—Investigation,” Hromadske International, February 26, 2019,

6 See Ukraine’s Human Rights Information Center reports: “Napady na ukrayins’kykh hromads’kykh aktyvistiv pravozakhysnyky predstavyly u vyhlyadi mapy” [Attacks on Ukrainian public activists, presented by human rights defenders in the form of a map], Human Rights Information Center, October 3, 2018,; and Tetyana Pechonchyk and Lyudmyla Yankina, “Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Government-Controlled Territories of Ukraine: Three Years After Euromaidan,” Human Rights Information Center, 2017, See also Kateryna Pischikova, “How Open is the Civic Space in Post-Euromaidan Ukraine?,” in Shapovalova and Burlyuk, Civil Society in Post-Euromaidan Ukraine, 41–68.

7 Natalia Shapovalova and Olga Burlyuk, “Civil Society and Change in Ukraine Post-Euromaidan: An Introduction,” in Shapovalova and Burlyuk, Civil Society in Post-Euromaidan Ukraine, 11–38.

8 Kateryna Tolokolnikov, “Dovira, paternalism and pasyvnist: Jak ukraiintsi stavliatsia do hromadskykh organizatsii” [Trust, paternalism and passivity: What Ukrainians think of civil society organizations], Democratic Initiatives Foundation, August 3, 2018,

9 Natalia Shapovalova, ‘Ukraine: Civil Volunteerism and the Legacy of Euromaidan’, in Global Civic Activism in Flux, ed. Richard Youngs (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2017), 47–52.

10 According to the series of polls by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, between 2013 and 2018, 8 to 10 percent of respondents said that they were engaged in civic activism and 15 to 17 percent claimed membership in civic associations. See Democratic Initiatives Foundation, “Hromads’ka aktyvnist’ hromadyan Ukrayiny: Opytuvannya” [Public activity of Ukrainian citizens: Poll], February 19, 2019,

11 V. M. Yablonskyi, O. M. Balakireva, T. V. Dzhyha, O. A. Kornievskyi, and A. F. Rudenko, Hromadianske suspilstvo v ukraiini [Civil society in Ukraine] (Kyiv: National Institute of Strategic Studies, 2017).

12 Natalia Shapovalova, “Assessing Ukrainian Grassroots Activism Five Years After Euromaidan,” Carnegie Civic Research Network, February 6, 2019,

13 Parandii and Jarábik, “Civil Society and Ukraine’s Reforms,” 197.

14 Ibid., 196–204; and Kateryna Smagliy, “A Wake-Up Call for Ukrainian Civil Society,” Human Rights Information Center, September 2017,

15 Natalia Shapovalova, “The Two Faces of Conservative Civil Society in Ukraine,” in The Mobilization of Conservative Civil Society, ed. Richard Youngs (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2018), 33–38.

16 Interview with author, Kharkiv, April 25, 2018.

17 Interview with author, Kharkiv, March 7, 2018.

18 Darina Rogachuk, “Svitlana Matviyenko: Radzhu vsim, u koho ye dosvid, znannya ta natkhnennya, yty u polityku ta na derzhavnu sluzhbu” [Svitlana Matvienko: I advise everyone who has experience, knowledge, and inspiration to go into politics and the civil service], Pravda, March 6, 2018,

19 “Leshchenko, Nayyem i Zalishchuk pokydayut’ BPP. Chomu zaraz i shcho dali?” [Leshchenko, Nayem and Zalishchuk leave the BPP. Why now and what’s next?], BBC Ukrainian, February 28, 2019,; and Marina Shashkova, “Koly my hovoryly, shcho chynovnyky zhyvut’ za rakhunok vkradenoho, nam vidpovidaly: ‘A vy dovedit’’—Mustafa Nayyem” [When we said that officials were living on stolen expenses, we were told: “And you prove it”—Mustafa Nayem], Apostrophe, March 19, 2019,

20 “Nadiia na Vakarchuka: z kym ‘novi oblychchia’ pidut u Radi” [Hope for Vakarchuk: Who the ‘new faces’ will go to the Rada with], LB.UA, May 15, 2019,

21 See Kateryna Zarembo, “Substituting for the State: The Role of Volunteers in Defense Reform in Post-Euromaidan Ukraine,” Kyiv-Mohyla Law and Politics Journal 3 (2017): 47–70; and Susann Worschech, “New Civic Activism in Ukraine: Building Society From Scratch?,” Kyiv-Mohyla Law and Politics Journal 3 (2017): 23–45.

22 “Journalist Bihus, Who Revealed Military-Procurement Scandal, Accused of Having Russian High-Ranking Relatives,” 112 UA, February 28, 2019,

23 “U Cherkasakh Poroshenko nazvav aktyvista ‘moskal’skym provokatorom’ u vidpovid’ na pytannya pro koruptsiyu” [In Cherkasy, Poroshenko called an activist “a Moscow provocateur” in response to questions about corruption], Ukranews, January 18, 2019,

24 Civil Network OPORA, “Final Report on Observation Results at First Local Elections in United Territorial Communities of October 29 and December 24, 2017,” May 24, 2018,

25 Quoted in Chris G. Collison, ‘Five Years After Maidan: A Stronger Civil Society Looks Forward Despite Challenges,” New Eastern Europe, February 28, 2019,

26 Inna Borzillo and Darina Rogachuk, “Mustafa Nayyem: Zaraz rozumiyu, shcho v politytsi holovne – ne sharakhatysya” [Mustafa Nayem: I now understand that the main thing in politics is not to rush], Pravda, March 23, 2018,

27 Quoted in Collison, “Five Years After Maidan.”

28 Anna Kirichenko, “Chastyna ob’yednannya ‘Yevrooptymisty’ stvoryla platformu pered parlament·s’kymy vyboramy” [“Euro-optimists” create a party platform before the parliamentary elections], Hromads’ke Telebachennya, February 13, 2019,

29Hromadske Radio, “Partiia Vakarchuka ‘Holos’ zaproponuvala ‘Syli Liudei’ obiednatysia na parlamentskykh vyborakh” [Vakarchuk’s Party ‘Holos’ has offered to Syla Liudei to join forces at the parliamentary elections], May 23, 2019,

30 Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, “Reforms in Ukraine: Public Opinion of the Population,” press release, July 15, 2019,

31 “Al’ternatyvoyu Maydanam mayut’ stavaty demokratychni protsesy i rozvynene hromadyans’ke suspil’stvo – ekspertne obhovorennya” [Democratic processes and developed civil society should be an alternative to Maidan—Expert discussion], Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, February 21, 2019,