Despite silence in the Ukrainian government and the oligarch-controlled media on the subject, social media has been the scene of an active discussion over the past month regarding this 'what if' scenario, with people reflecting on what might have happened to their country if the Maidan 'Revolution of Dignity', or the Maidan Coup, as it is known by opponents, had never taken place.
Discussing Sunday's 'phantom election' date on Facebook, a user named Aleksei postulated that in an alternate timeline, perhaps Poroshenko would still emerge as a frontrunner and defeat Yanukovych, but in such a case "he would have become the president of a united Ukraine, including Crimea and Donbas."
A user named Ekaterina responded to Aleksei with a sentiment only too-well known across the former Soviet Union, namely that "what ifs do not exist in life. In reality, the things that occur are the only things that could have possibly occurred."
But others discussing the subject, on Facebook, Twitter, and a spattering of political forums, could not help but voice their disappointment and dissatisfaction over the way things ultimately turned out following Yanukovych's ouster, and the spiraling crisis Ukraine has found itself in since then.
Haste Makes Waste
Ultimately the impatience of the Euro-integrationist Maidan protesters and their powerful national and international backers, and their subsequent unwillingness to let an increasingly unpopular president serve out the remainder of his term in peace, carried Ukraine from one disaster to another.
The population as a whole has been demoralized, with recent polling finding that the majority has become disillusioned with the government, the media and social institutions. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands have fled to Russia as refugees from the war-torn east and from other areas of the country, while dozens of radicalized and armed ultra-nationalist formations have grown up like mushrooms since the coup and have taken the place of a weakened and dispirited state.
Commenting on the promises made to the Ukrainian people by proponents of European integration, who initially launched the Maidan protests following Yanukovych's suspension of negotiations on an Association Agreement, Kononenko noted that "none of the promises made to Ukrainians under the coveted European integration project have been fulfilled. The visa regime with European countries has not been lifted, but on the contrary, has been tightened. Ukraine has been told openly that it has no prospect for NATO membership. The question about membership in the EU has not even been discussed."
Comments over the post ranged from people criticizing the magazine's editors for their "pessimism," to users noting that pessimism is a perfectly logical feeling, given the extremely difficult situation that has engulfed the country. A user named Alisa asked "what visa-free agreement can we talk about in the current environment?…No sane government will open their borders to a country that has dug itself into such a deep hole, and integration has nothing to do with it." Pavel agreed, noting that "the economic part of the association agreement has been postponed, while the political part doesn't work, and trade with the EU has not replaced losses in other markets." Sergei rounded out the chorus of despair, noting that he is a patriot and loves his country, and that he would never consider going to live in Europe if he could stay in Ukraine, but "to just endlessly endure, and to blame everything on the war and the consequences of Yanukovych's corruption is just becoming impossible."
Ex-President Weighs In
In December 2013, when the Maidan protests had already begun but had not yet spiraled into a full-blown crisis in the center of Kiev, President Yanukovych soberly assessed his electoral chances for 2015, noting that he would consider not seeking a second term if his approval ratings didn't improve over the next year. "If my approval rating remains low, and I face poor prospects [for reelection], I will step aside and will not interfere with the country's development and its forward progress," Yanukovych noted, speaking before journalists in Kiev.
Even as the Maidan crisis burned out of control, the president was initially promised by the protest leaders that he would be allowed to serve out the remainder of his term, albeit with reduced constitutional powers, before the revolutionaries, in their impatience, changed their minds.