Last weekend, I traveled to Kiev, the birthplace and main thrust of a larger, trans-Ukrainian movement known as EuroMaidan. Before my trip, I expected to be very sympathetic to the demonstrators, and I could not have been more right. I have written a piece about the demonstrations for the LSE newspaper, The Beaver, which should come out tomorrow, but I didn’t have as many words as I would have liked, so this post will serve as a more casual recollection of my time at Maidan, showcasing photos that might not make it into the main article.
I stayed at the Hotel Ukraine, which sits within the area currently controlled by the opposition. This barricade stands in front of the hotel. I was able to pass though without any trouble, and the EuroMaidan self-defense volunteers who guard the gate allow the hotel to stay fully supplied, merely preventing riot police from entering the opposition encampment.
From my hotel room I could look out over Independence Square. In Ukrainian, the word “maidan” means “square”. The EuroMaidan protestors originally took to the square in support of a trade treaty with the European Union, giving the movement its name. After a series of brutal crackdowns by the Berkut, the Ukrainian special police, the goals of EuroMaidan broadened, opposing the graft and corruption of President Yanukovych’s regime.
I met one young woman, a journalism student, who had taken time off to work as an EMT inside the camp. She and her compatriots stitch red crosses to their clothing to differentiate themselves from the combatants, though the police have been know to target medical workers. The police have also abducted activists sent to licensed hospitals, so many of the injured dare not seek officially sanctioned medical treatment. Thankfully, medical professionals from all over Ukraine have traveled to EuroMaidan to lend a hand. Most of the volunteers have previously worked on ambulances, as doctors, or for the International Red Cross, though some learn the necessary skills on the job, helping as much as they can. In the field hospital at 1 Hrushevskiy Street they perform surgery and a psychologist even offers mental health services to the Maidan demonstrators.
The Maidan has its own press office, where foreign journalists gather to work on news articles and various segments of the camp give press releases. Here medical staff talk about their work in the Maidan. The office issues internal press passes, which are recognized by the Maidan self-defense volunteers who guard checkpoints near the front.
Life at Maidan is composed of long periods of waiting punctuated by brief flashes of panicked activity, making games like chess key in staving off boredom and complacency. The board is made of plywood taped to the ground, and all the pieces have been carved from logs originally intended to serve as firewood. The pieces are whittled to represent the situation in the square, black painted pawns carved in the shape of riot police face off against resolute citizens, painted white with their arms crossed against their chests. Game boards like this one become miniature centers of community within the square.
At the front on Hrushevskoho Street, lines of riot police wait about 40 yards from the front-most walls. While I was there during a truce, I still had a wear a helmet when standing on top of the barricades.
A line of crosses sit between the barricades and the police line, serving both as a reminder of all those who have died at the Maidan, and an extra barrier to any police assault.
Giant slingshots sit just behind the blockade, and ungainly contraptions crafted from discarded lumber, rubber tubing, and fabric. Paving stones from the square are stacked nearby, ready to serve as ammunition in case of an attack.
During downtime, members of the EuroMaidan self-defense force often paint their shields and helmets with nationalistic symbols and images of Ukrainian heroes.
During my time at the barricades, I met a young EuroMaidan self-defense volunteer name Ilya. He is only 19, yet, without any sort of institutional support or formal funding, has decided to fight for his future at Maidan. He borrowed my camera for a time, hoping to use some of the photos for his Facebook page. If you're out there Ilya, get in touch.
During my last morning at Maidan, a group of students brought a piano to the front lines, with the intention of holding a concert later in the day. After the earlier fighting, they wanted to hold an event that would bring everyone involved, even the riot police, together. After all, they are all Ukrainians, and, in words of the young man leading the piano procession, "we are fighting corruption, not the police".
I sincerely hope that the brave protesters at EuroMaidan will one day achieve the liberal, rights defending state they dream of. For press releases and information directly from the Maidan, check the EuroMaidan PR site, and the Kiev Post