Just outside a subway station in the city’s east, dozens gathered around a projector screen. They watched, transfixed, as the scene cut to riot police in full gear advancing towards protestors. For many in the audience, this was a picture they knew all too well.
On Thursday night, people in about a dozen locations across Hong Kong congregated at street corners, parks and other public spaces for screenings of “Winter on Fire,” an Oscar-nominated documentary about the Ukraine anti-government protests in 2013. The three-months-long demonstrations, known as the Euromaidan, successfully toppled the country’s pro-Russia leadership.
Almost 5,000 miles away from the Ukraine capital of Kiev, Hong Kongers are drawing parallels between the two movements: Both were sparked by the government’s response to a single piece of legislation — in Hong Kong, the leaders’ pushing of a controversial extradition bill, and in Ukraine, the president’s refusal to sign an association agreement with the European Union — but quickly snowballed to include demands relating to police violence and the release of those arrested.
“The way the protests developed in Ukraine is very similar to in Hong Kong, starting out peacefully and then becoming more and more radical and extreme,” Hansa, a 23-year-old protestor who organized a screening near a park that evening, tells TIME.
On the Reddit-like forum, LIHKG, some netizens said that if Ukraine’s movement is “winter on fire,” Hong Kong’s is “summer be water,” alluding to the “be water” slogan that has characterized the fluid, flash-mob style of the protests. Many also say the success of the Euromaidan make it a case study they can learn from.
Scenes of white-shirted gangsters attacking commuters indiscriminately at a subway station in July, and stick-wielding men suspected to be members of a mainland Chinese clan attacking protestors and even reporters last weekend, have incited comparisons to Ukraine’s Titushki — government-hired strongmen who reportedly joined forces with the police to take down protestors.
Kenneth Chan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, says Hong Kongers could empathize with protestors in Ukraine, who felt like their government was not representative of them.
“Ukrainian protestors felt that their leaders were puppets of the Russian government, in the way that many in Hong Kong see theirs as puppets of Beijing,” Chan adds.
Still, protestors acknowledge that the use of force by Hong Kong police has been relatively restrained. In Ukraine, after tear gas and rubber bullets failed to disperse protestors, police used stun grenades and on some occasions, live rounds, with over a hundred casualties recorded in the movement. The use of force has been comparatively restrained in Hong Kong, though officers have fired warning shots in recent weeks. One police association has also urged the consideration of live ammunition at protestors who throw Molotov cocktails, which have been increasingly sighted on the frontlines as the confrontations get more violent.
More than 1,300 protestors have been arrested since the movement began in June, when demonstrations began over a proposed extradition bill that, if passed, would allow fugitives to be transferred to mainland China.
Early this month, the city’s embattled leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, withdrew the bill. But protestors, who want democratic reform and greater autonomy from Beijing, show few signs of backing down.
Thousands have gathered at the city’s shopping malls in recent weeks to sing “Glory to Hong Kong,” an original song that was the crowdsourced effort of singers, instrumentalists and sound engineers were recruited online. The march, which some have branded their new “national anthem,” is a nod to the slogan “Glory to Ukraine” that was popularly chanted during the demonstrations.
The director of “Winter on Fire,” Evgeny Afineevsky, penned an open letter encouraging Hong Kong’s protestors, for “hope truly lies in the hands of today’s younger generations.”
But some have blamed the film — with its graphic scenes of protestors burning tires and setting the city center ablaze — of radicalizing protestors. In an op-ed published Saturday, pro-establishment lawmaker Regina Ip wrote: “The forces driving the widespread upheaval are complex. We have young protesters imagining themselves as agents of change, as in the documentary Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.”
The demonstrations came to an end in Ukraine after 93 days, when the country’s unpopular president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled and general elections were announced. This week, the movement in Hong Kong surpassed its 100th day.
“Hong Kongers need to be prepared,” a 38-year-old protestor who asked to be identified as Cloud, said. “This is going to be a long, uphill battle.”