The Story of Maidan: Part 1 — Revolution of Dignity

On Maidan in December 2013

History was faster than the author. In the middle of writing a book on Maidan, Ukraine went to war in 2014. Many of the people I had met on Maidan Nezalezhnosti between December 2013 and February 2014 had gone to the front and where in a different reality. Euromaidan was over. And so was the book. I decided to not let the manuscript rot on my laptop but to bring my research and my photographs to this public. Although I personally loved Maidan for its display of a civil society that expresses its vision of a political life, this manuscript is trying to depict the events as objectively and well researched as possible. The photographs are by the author if not specified differently. Thank you for reading and sharing!

Revolution of dignity

“If this is a revolution, it must be one of the most common-sense revolutions in history.” Timothy Snyder, Dec. 5th, 2013

“Living within the truth has more than a mere existential dimension (returning humanity to its inherent nature) or a noetic dimension (revealing reality as it is), or a moral dimension (setting an example for others). It also has an unambiguous political dimension. If the main pillar of the system is living a lie, then it is not surprising that the fundamental threat to it is living the truth. This is why it must be suppressed more severely than anything else.” Vaclav Havel, writer, dissident, later Czech president, from “The Power of the Powerless”, 1978[1]

The truth is to be found on the streets. Maidan was and still is the uprising of humans against the rule of the Mafia over the country, a revolution for the dignity of the suppressed, an undertaking of solidarity and community. Maidan was the Agora and the people coming there formed the Polis. They came from many different backgrounds. Many from the western part of the country, but in total from all parts. I have worked with a boy from Donetsk, in our one-day pop-up film crew there was a cameraman from Belarus. Crazy Andrey he was called. And boy he was crazy enough to not turn on the sound in his camera so I couldn’t later synch his footage right. One of the first fatal victims, Serhiy Nigoyan originally came from Armenia, the second one from Belarus. There were priests from all denominations on Maidan, some held the cross in one hand and a gas mask in the other. People who took to the streets where mainly students, small business entrepreneurs, grand mothers. It were those who suffered the most under the authoritarian and economically destructive regime and also could spare some time. Then you had civil activist groups, such as the non-parlamentary party Democatic Alliance, human rights organisation, aggressive patriotic groups such as Spilna Sprava, ultranationalists such as the Pravy Sektor (right sector) who at least use fascist symbolics. Over time people formed 42 self defense groups called Sotnyas (group of hundred) with usually between 20 and 70 fighters. Most were unpolitical, some radical, some far right radical. And then there were the leaders of opposition parties and their supporters.

Until the end there was not one Maidan. It had an organization committee that made it happen to feed thousands of protesters, to get firewood, to guard the square, to oversee the no-alcohol rule, to organize clothes, blankets and the ingredients for Molotov Cocktails. It was a bizarre sight: people drain beer into the gutter to refill the bottles with pure alcohol, put a alcohol drenched cloth in it and store it next to dozen others.

A selfdefense group — Sotnya — excersises on February 17, 2014

The selfdefense (called Samoobarona) had group leaders and a general who oversaw them all. There was a medical division that at some point manned four to six hidden operating theaters throughout the city. But the real core were the many thousand people who showed up on every day, sometimes more, sometimes less. They had no leader, they followed nobody but their own conviction. This is what I heard the most: “we don’t trust any politician. We are here on our own and for our country.” All those people were united by two things: their hatred of Yanukovych and their distrust of all politicians, including the opposition who is now in power.

Former boxing champion and todays mayor of Kyiv, Vitaly Klitchko, was soaped with a fire extinguisher and pushed off the stage at some point. When todays prime minister Yatsenkiuk announced full-bodied to be in first line to catch a bullet and then was found everywhere but in the first lines, he was ridiculed from then on with the name “bulletcatcher”.

Vitaly Klitchko on February 1 at the Munich Security Conferece. Photo: Kleinschmidt / MSC, via Wikimedia Commons

Truth is on this square. When Maidan was stormed by the special police force called Berkut on February 18th 2014, approximately 5 to 10.000 protestors had camped there. Police officers threw fire grenades onto the tents creating a 20 meter high firewall on one side of the square. On the other side was the stage where Maidan icon, the future minister of cultural affairs, Yevgeny Nishchuck and song contest winner Ruslana urged the people to perservere. These 10.000 people were wedged in between the stage and the fire. Only minutes before that scene erupted I was in a safe house some 50 yards from Maidan. Together with a friend, singer Rostyslav Hrytak a.k.a. Artisto, we got out of the safe house but instead of walking towards Maidan we walked away. Away from the danger.

Artisto with a revolution banner right before going on stage to sing for Maidan.

The situation was chaotic, unconfirmed rumours spread: subway closed. Trains closed. Paid thugs roaming the streets. 100 meteres from our place a journalist was shot by those thugs.

Churchbells rang all the time. They called attention to what was happening on the square. They called to people to come. In this madness, ordinary people left their homes and poured towards Maidan, despite the real and the just-perceived dangers. They knew that the more they were, the less likely the police would start a blood bath of unimaginable proportions. These people came from home or from work, normal Kievites, they had no politics and no affiliation. Just ordinary people. They put their life on the line to save everybody on Maidan.

Clashes on Maidan on February 18. By Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe/via Wikimedia Commons

Rostylav and I found refuge with (extra-)ordinary people despite rumours of repercussions for those harboring Maidaners.

These people had nothing to gain other than their dignity. They had nothing to loose except their bare life and they were prepared to risk it. Maidan was a display of pure solidarity. Something that was missing in the previous years. Maidan unified those people, the ones in the countryside who made their own Maidans, those in the diaspora sending money and material and sitting in front of the TV, watching the horrors unfold via live streams, hoping and praying. I have spent countless hours checking out five live feeds at the same time, becoming more and more nervous, feeling both afraid for the security of the people on the screen and guilty for watching violence porn instead of being there. Maidan coined the phrase: “Better a coward on Maidan than a hero in front of the TV.” I have done both and found both fears to be real.

This hardship unified the people and it made them proud. Maidan is the birthplace for a new civil society but it also increased the existing divide. Because a good proportion of Ukrainians opposed the revolution. Either because they benefited from the old regime and the corrupt system and feared to loose out. Or (as with a former friend of my partner) they initially supported Maidan but when being confronted with their own fears they rather bashed the revolution than their own weakness and inability to participate. Or another former friend, a journalist who posted on their own social media wall a call to dear president Yanukovych to brush away the filth on Maidan. People succumbed to state propaganda brandishing the revolution as a fascist coup d’etat.

Unfortunately the truth was in the streets. You had to be there to feel it. I was and I felt it if only for a couple of weeks weeks. So I now feel the need to give testimony of what I saw. And besides having a heart I also have a scientific curiosity to understand whats going on. I took the liberty to research the events as thorough as possible. Here I present both the biased, personal and emotional experiences and the results of that research.

See in Part 2 — Paths to Revolution how historical events paved the road to Euromaidan.

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