Ukraine's Maidan movement wins Lech Walesa freedom prize

The Lech Walesa foundation on Thursday awarded its annual freedom prize to the Euromaidan protest movement that helped topple Ukraine’s pro-Moscow government earlier this year.

Polish anti-communist icon Lech Walesa said his foundation normally honours specific individuals but this year chose to hail “the whole movement which gave hope to the Ukrainian people”.

This year’s Lech Walesa Award, worth 100,000 euros ($127,000), will be presented to representatives of the movement on Monday at a ceremony in the northern city of Gdansk.

Euromaidan was an ad hoc group of protesters who gathered last year on Kiev’s vast Independence Square (known as the Maidan) to demand that the country be put on the path to European integration.

The demonstrations erupted over then president Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to scrap a historic EU agreement in favour of closer Kremlin ties.

That pact has since been inked by the new pro-Western government in Kiev and President Petro Poroshenko said Thursday he plans on Ukraine launching its EU membership bid in 2020.

More than 3,200 people have died in the 10-month crisis in Ukraine that saw Russia annex the Crimean peninsula and pro-Russia rebels control large chunks of the east of the country.

“Today’s situation in Ukraine is even tougher, that’s why we have to provide the Ukrainians with any possible support, the kind we received from the free and democratic world,” Walesa said in a statement Thursday.

The 70-year-old Nobel Peace laureate spearheaded Poland’s own democracy movement and as leader of the Solidarity trade union negotiated a peaceful end to Communism at home in 1989.

He then became the country’s first post-communist president.

Created in 2008, the Lech Walesa Award is “dedicated to all those working for understanding, cooperation and solidarity between peoples, in the name of freedom and values intrinsic to the Solidarity movement.”


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