Editor's Pick

In Ukraine: Maidan

Dmytro Babachanakh '16

“The crowd around me seems to be nervous and to a certain extent frightened, but no one is about to leave. We’ve been standing here for days and I wonder if anything can take us out of here except for God’s will, our will. We are the Gods and we are about to change something important. We are the ugliest God ever: wearing warm clothes which become dirty after several days here and gas masks which apparently add to our wild attraction; we do not look like Gods, rather the monsters.”

What began as a peaceful protest in Kiev, Ukraine on the 21st of November 2013 wasn’t meant to be a bloody massacre. The only reason people went on the streets was due to the sudden decision of the ex-president Victor Yanukovich’s refusal to sign the association with the European Union, which he previously agreed to sign on the 29th of November. People wanted to have a visa-free status to be able to enter European countries even though this wasn’t included into the document.

The first protestors were mainly students: they have occupied a part of the main square of the country (which is called “Maidan”) and organized a peaceful demonstration. Their main demand was for Yanukovich to sign the infamous association. When the day the document was supposed to be adopted passed, people began to realize that nothing would change and some of them started to leave the square.

It all changed on 30th of November when Mr. Yanukovich decided to disperse the protest. The official reason for that was that the place where the biggest New Year tree in the country was usually installed (which is Maidan) was occupied with protestors. The elite police forces known as “Berkut” came there at night and violently beaten hundreds of unarmed students. I, like many, still can’t understand the decision of Yanukovich, it was absolutely unnecessary to deal with protestors in this way, because the demonstration would be over in a couple of days in any case since, as I previously said people began to lose their enthusiasm. But due to his sudden drastic action, the 30th of November became the turning point that changed everything. Surprisingly, the people’s reaction was immediate. On the 1st of December people have overtaken a couple of governmental buildings near the Square of Independence (Maidan), which later became the headquarters of the demonstrators.

"Berkut", the Ukranian special police force

“Berkut”, the Ukranian special police force

I will briefly describe you the next following month. First of all, it is important to notice that the demands of the protestors changed. Not only people wanted an association, they also wanted a new president and a new government. Now that was a rather different game to play. While there were some 30 thousand people on Maidan on weekdays, most of the protestors have adopted a tradition of gathering there on Sundays when their number had often reached over 300000 people. The clashes between activists and Berkut became more and more furious and I remember receiving calls from my friends and hearing the explosions of smoke grenades. Berkut used guns, which fired rubber bullets (one could modify them for gunshot bullets of the same caliber) and fire trucks (which sprayed water at people when the temperature was already far below freezing point). Activists were trying to oppose: people were burning tires to create a smoke wall between the police forces and themselves, buying medicine, gear, and food for themselves; they were making Molotov cocktails and installing tents on the floor of Maidan. A couple of people died during those months; some activists were chased by the Berkut, they were either beaten or killed outside of Maidan. The opposition leaders and leaders of Maidan tried to negotiate with the president, but that never went too far.

Violence has reached its peak on the 18th of February. During the next couple days Berkut was reinforced by snipers. 75 people died during the open clashes on the streets from 18th to 20th of February. Personally, at those days I thought the revolution would lose. I was on Maidan on the 20th of February with the police were standing some 50 meters far from me. I brought some food supplies with me and helped to build barricades made of what used to be pavement on the main square of my country. Pieces of smoldering tires were under my feet and there were so many Molotov cocktails around me that I had to carefully step around so as not to tip them over. I remember thinking that it was the end; I looked around and I realized that people around were feeling desperate and detached: they had nowhere to go and they would stay here whatever happened.

"Many protestors were wounded or killed by sniper fire"

“Many protestors were wounded or killed by sniper fire”

On the 21st of February Yanukovich signed the peaceful agreement with the opposition and Maidan leaders, which called for the expulsion of Berkut from Maidan. Activists didn’t trust the document, neither did I. Moreover, by then people on Maidan were not satisfied with the document: the demands of activists had evolved to complete lustration during the long two and a half month. I remember waking up in the morning and listening to the news, it was something like “all governmental buildings in Kiev are under control of the protestors, Victor Yanukovich is escaping the country”. I was shocked and happy, I couldn’t believe my ears, I thought we had won, that it was all over, and that our lives would return back to normal, maybe even better.

Only later did I understand: it was not the end, but rather the beginning. The protest was not the thing it seemed to be and it turned out that I perceived it wrong. On the 22nd, however, everyone hoped that the challenge was over.

To be continued…

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