Analysis

The Ghosts of Maidan

“It’s a living cemetery.”

He said this simply; unapologetic for the gross reality of his words. As an ex-peace corps volunteer, he’d seen it all happen.

“We were on this same street the day the police started to beat up the protesters. They were total thugs… I haven’t been that scared in a while.”

Kiev, Ukraina. 20/02/2014 Riots on Maidan square. Civilians killed by the police with Kalashnikov. More than 25 dead this morning.

It’s conversations like this which haunt you as you walk across present day Maidan. One can’t help but think back to those dramatic images of burning cars, riot shields and molotov cocktails. Trying to reconcile this with the carnival atmosphere of the square today, isn’t easy.

Maidan is now awash with colour: a stark contrast to the hellish war zone it used to be. Flags flutter in the breeze whilst couples walk hand-in-hand and street vendors bask in the summer sun. Their stalls offer sloganed t-shirts, golden bread paperweights  and rolls of toilet paper featuring caricatures of Yanukovych. Tourists pose against a back-drop of tyres and filthy rubble, grinning carelessly next to a crucifix commemorating The Heavenly Hundred.

The yolka still stands proudly in the middle of the square, encircled by rows of canvas tents – the last, defiant nod to the revolution which rocked a country.

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As you walk through the labyrinth of Maidan’s makeshift streets, you are constantly reminded of the fact that this is the site of a state’s brutality against its own people. Some were shot, caught in the cross-fire. They never saw the snipers, firing from the high-rise apartments surrounding the square. Others were beaten to death, by titushki or the riot police themselves.

They have not been forgotten – their photographs can be found in every nook and cranny; their faces emblazoned onto the back of a rusting riot shield or a crumbling barricade.

The spot commemorating the first deaths at Maidan (see video)
The spot commemorating the first deaths at Maidan (see video)

There is still an edge to Maidan which is not present in the rest of the city. Though the aims of the Euromaidan, the signing of the association agreement and a democratic election, have now been achieved – the barricades remain.

The tension is unsettling. The stacks of tires left static, men in dirty cargoes sit outside their makeshift homes – waiting.  It is not clear what they are still doing there or what exactly they are waiting for.

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As the fighting in the East continues, these occupiers claim that they stay to defend their people against the government: to make new officials accountable to the Ukrainian nation.

But there are speculations that they simply have nowhere to go: either they are social exiles or are suffering from the psychological problems following the trauma of revolution.

***

Political analysis

It is clear now that the days of this kind of protest are numbered.

Increasing numbers of Kyivans have changed their views about those who remain on Maidan – from praise to confusion, even contempt.

After Maidan, most people went back to work and continue to donate their money to the army. Civic activists continue to put pressure on a new government through legal work and targeted protests next to the parliament. Others have enlisted in volunteer military corps.

Meanwhile, the donation boxes on Maidan with a sign ‘for the needs of the revolution’ have become more of a farce.

Nobody knows when and how these people will leave the Maidan. One of the central barricades on Khreshchatyk was removed just 4 days ago. Perhaps the pressure from local authorities and public opinion will finally convince the remaining protesters to leave; maybe they will be forced by war veterans whose understanding of serving the country is likely to be different.

There is always another option – the winter is coming. Thoughts about the winter concern many Ukrainians even today due to the ongoing gas war with Russia. The protesters should be worried too; it is unlikely they will see volunteer trucks loaded with timber to heat the central square this time.

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