How Ukraine Is Like “The Hunger Games”
The current civil unrest in Ukraine has been going on since November 2013—protests and riots over the government’s close relationship with Russia, aversion to the EU, and police brutality against its own citizens.
The first protest of the new year took place this weekend, with tens of thousands of people rallying in Kiev’s Independence Square. Elsewhere in the country, others toppled statues of Vladimir Lenin, seen by some as an unfortunate reminder of Soviet Russia’s control of their homeland.
With everything that’s transpired in the last three months, we’ve started to notice parallels between Ukraine’s status quo and that of another world…a fictional one, but popular enough to maybe help tween girls and boys (as well as adult fans) understand Eurasian geopolitics. We present Vocativ’s guide to the “Ukraine-ger Games.” Don’t worry, if you’ve only seen the movies, there are no spoilers for book/movie three.
Ruslana Lyzhychko = Katniss Everdeen
The 40-year-old former MP-turned-activist-turned pop star is better known as just Ruslana, and has been called “the soul of Ukraine’s revolution.” Just as Katniss is a leading symbol to the less-privileged, more-oppressed districts of Panem, Ruslana is a totem of Euromaidan, and also one that draws crowds out. Nights are usually when police clash with protesters the most, when they try to clear Independence Square in Kiev, for example; Ruslana called for people to show up, and they listened.
She also happens to be the winner of the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest–a pan-European festival of musical kitsch that briefly unites the continent, but is then riven by local political allegiances when it comes to voting for the winner.
Also on Vocativ: PHOTOS—Ukraine Erupts Over Beaten Journalist
An honorable mention also goes to Yulia Tymoshenko, who rocks braids like Katniss does and was thrown in jail by current Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2011 for “exceeding her authority.”
Vladimir Putin = President Snow
It’s not just Yanukovych that the protesters are fighting—it’s his relationship with Vladimir Putin, leader of Russia, Ukraine’s much larger, burlier, rather controlling neighbor. A blogger named Pilgrim makes a convincing argument on the website Rogue Politics:
“I know that The Hunger Games is about a future American regime, but the former soviet KGB Putin has already employed many of the same structures. He removed local elections and divided Russia into sectors that are governed by a manager of his choosing. He makes leaders of former soviet satellite countries offers they can’t refuse.”
That’s exactly what happened with Putin and Yanukovych last month, when big-hearted Putin agreed to shell out for $15 billion in Ukrainian bonds, to Euromaidan activists’ incredible dismay. In The Hunger Games, President Snow’s main goal is to quash all dissent and keep districts under the thumb of the Capitol.
Putin’s PR tour of various Winter Olympic spots in Sochi, one week after two deadly suicide bombings occurred in Volgograd, also brings to mind the propaganda-laden Victory Tour that President Snow demands Katniss and her District 12 counterpart Peeta undertake. They visit districts where people are starving and suffering, and attempt to wave and smile and assure the public that everything is OK. They don’t call it the Hunger Games for nuthin’.
Berkut = The Peacekeepers
“Berkut” is the name given to the special units of Ukrainian riot police who have helped suppress the protests as much as possible since they began. On multiple occasions, their policing has become brutal, much like the Peacekeepers in Panem, who beat protesters down, sporting similar-looking riot gear. In their quest to “contain order,” they often exceed their authority and go straight past the pleasantries into beatdown mode.
Also on Vocativ: Five Things You Should Know About Ukraine’s Protests
Dmitry Kiselyov = Caesar Flickerman
Every good dictatorial regime needs an unshakable master of shiny spin. Enter Dmitry Kiselyov, head of Russia’s newly revamped Rossiya 24 channel, owned by the state and as willing to downplay the massive protests as any tyrant could ever want. GlobalPost calls him “one of the most powerful people in Russian media,” and remarks on “his signature heavyweight style,” which begs comparison to Stanley Tucci’s bellowing turn as Panem TV presenter Caesar Flickerman in the Games. Flickerman interviews tributes on their way to the arena to battle to the death, glibly commenting on their love lives and fashion choices as they slink towards their doom. Back in real life, Kiselyov and the Rossiya 24’s farcical reporting (which has claimed Kiev’s protesters are being paid to do so) prompted an Independence Square demonstrator to try to disrupt a broadcast and hand them an Oscar statuette for best lies presented to Russia. “Pass this Oscar to your TV channel and Dmitry Kiselyov for the lies and nonsense he spouted about Euromaidan!”
Wladimir Klitschko = Finnick Odair
Fearless, buff and a public face for rebellion: that’s Ukranian boxer Wladimir Klitschko and District 4’s Finnick Odair. In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire we meet the swaggering Finnick, who seems to suffer from too much confidence, but by the end of the story, we realize he’s in on uprooting the unhappy status quo. We’re not casting any aspersions on Klitschko’s personality, but his heavyweight boxing credentials certainly serve him well in this comparison. Add in to the mix the fact that Klitschko’s high-profile girlfriend—all-American girl Hayden Panettiere of Heroes and Nashville fame—attended the Euromaidan protests with him last month, and you’ve got a formula very similar to Finnick and his offscreen fiancée Annie, who help publicize and romanticize the Panem rebels.
Nursultan Nazarbayev = Plutarch Heavensbee
Both are a mouthful, but that’s not the reason why we’re making the comparison. Nazarbayev, the President of another former Soviet satellite, Kazakhstan, has been heralded by some local bloggers as a potential “‘gravedigger’ of Putin’s imperial plans.” Basically, Nazarbayev is hesitant to join Putin’s grand plans of a political union—he’s OK with an economic one for now—and has issued a few statements that seem to quietly undermine Putin’s authority. Heavensbee, as Head Gamemaker after Seneca Crane is killed off, is an equally ambiguous figure; one who appears to be in President Snow’s pocket, but proves decidedly more independent later. The two also have their fair share of shady ethical charges, the real-life ones of which you should definitely read about, but we won’t get too detailed beyond that for those who haven’t read Mockingjay, the third book in The Hunger Games trilogy and 2014’s most anticipated film, according to Fandango.
What happens to Ukraine is one of 2014’s most anticipated political events. May the odds be ever in their favor.