“4:08 30.11. System Error”
By Mariia Lebedieva, journalist and civic activist
December 30, 2013, 16:00
Translated by William Risch
This is what I remember of that night. I need to mention this. That day generally was strange. Strange, because at 19:00, on the stage under the Maidan’s column, where people had started assembling some days earlier, an “action plan” was announced, and the public itself had been talking about it. I should also mention that up until that day, there had been two Maidans, the Maidan itself, and European Square, which even artists sought to unite. And right on that day they performed, the Maidans united. They took down the stage on European Square, and the meeting there disappeared. Before that, Ruslana, who had supported people with her performances, came over from European Square to the Maidan.
Opposition politicians were supposed to be returning from Vilnius. It was exactly at 19:00 that all three showed up onstage. They said that the state had treated us badly, and that we needed to go to the end, and nothing good would come out of this regime. No one at that moment said anything specific. Everyone had been waiting for something specific. We were waiting, too, for public figures who are generally involved in politics as well (everyone on the
Maidan, and not just them, in one way or another were involved in them). But for some reason, they made no speeches. There had never been so many people on the Maidan since 2004. And in a few hours, only about one percent, or even less, of those who had come to act, remained.
After speeches were done, the crowd slowly wandered away, but the most determined young people were left for the night. These people didn’t know why they needed to go, because the protest had not achieved its goal. Instead, politicians at that point decided that the Maidan had assembled to hear what they had to say about events. People didn’t understand the situation. Already at midnight, it seems, young guys – nondescript looking, not from the Maidan – showed up around the stage and took it down. One activist addressed the people and passed on word that there was going to be some noise, not very big noise, but noise, and people should stay. And the people stayed. No one foresaw the frightening scene that was coming.
We were near the column until 3 a.m. For some reason, we didn’t go home, we just happened to stick around. Around 3:20-3:30, we sought shelter in a bar in the Pasazh to get warm and reflect. Someone ran into the bar and managed to exclaim that a huge number of Berkut troops was running through the streets. Then we got a call from a friend at the Maidan. It was a call from hell.
People from Khreshchatyk Boulevard below were running through the Pasazh. They were running like they were fleeing wolves or bullets. We were frozen for a moment because of what we’d seen. Then we ran down to the Maidan, because our friends were there, and actually, we didn’t understand then the scale of what was going on. “Go back! Don’t go there!!! Back!!!” – a guy stopped when he saw what direction we were running in. It was better to run; stopping for a second would have cost us dearly.
The first thing we saw on Khreshchatyk near the Pasazh was about ten “Berkut” soldiers pressing in on two girls. One of them was crying, the other was yelling out something to them. We ran up and asked them what right they had to detain them. What had they done wrong? The Berkut soldiers simply went after us and them. I tried to take a picture of something on my mobile phone, I took out my identity card, and my friend explained that she was a lawyer. The men in helmets evaded looking at us and said, “They’re drunk, we’re taking them home.” We got the girls out of there, and we asked them to get off the streets somewhere. Indeed, they weren’t drunk, they were in shock. People stood with eyes as wide as dinner plates, and they couldn’t move. They had been forced away from the column to this place. We later understood that it was a miracle that they’d left the girls alone.
We went on to the Maidan. They tried to force us away, they pushed us back, they tore away our telephones, they beat hands showing identity cards. I really don’t know how we wound up near the Maidan.
At this point what was going on beneath the column was frightening. They chased people away like cattle; those who fell were beaten on the head, on the legs. They dragged people to the ground, they beat people lying on the ground, and these pictures are visible even now on the Internet, those things that we saw – how “Berkut” forced people away from Khreshchatyk. Soldiers in helmets went along in a line across Khreshchatyk’s pedestrian sections. Behind and in front of them, these same soldiers literally ran after everyone who happened to be on Khreshchatyk at that moment and beat them with batons. They chased after and beat passerby who simply happened to be on Khreshchatyk. Soldiers ran up to benches where people were sitting and beat them on the head.
I was stunned, and it wasn’t because I lacked the instinct of self-preservation. My brain killed all my emotions at once, and it only allowed one thought. If I see this, if this truly is the reality I am a part of, how do I escape from this?… And what sense is there to flee?
I saw my colleagues with head wounds. I saw my activist friends, I saw an elderly woman, Liubomyra, with a broken arm. She could not say a word when asked, “What happened to you?!” She just looked at me, her eyes wide with fear, near the ambulance. A man with an injured head stood in front of her, getting help. It was frightening. Incidentally, police chiefs chased an ambulance away from Instytuts’ka Street, despite the fact that dozens of people there needed help. There are witnesses to this. The “Berkut” soldiers were sub-par. I heard how they laughed about their victims, how they were deliberating over whether or not to beat them some more. They yelled curse words to people in the face, and they did it not without satisfaction. And they did it out of anger, out of madness. They ran around the Maidan for a long time after, chasing after innocent people and beating them. Some days later, we found out that the order that they carried out is usually issued when putting down prison uprisings. There also are witnesses who saw how a police chief chased away an ambulance from Instytuts’ka Street and threatened to fine it.
Riot police surrounded the part of the Maidan behind the column, the perimeter of it, … while allowing municipal workers in?! They had come from the direction of Instytuts’ka Street. I saw their faces. They were serious and frightened. They put out metal shields and fencing. The soldiers stood silent in their black helmets. And after they had surrounded the Maidan, people could walk in front of a barrier of riot police.
It was at that moment that I saw Ruslana, frightened or simply exhausted from a lack of sleep, her eyes filled with terror. It turned out that people had fled in small groups across town and were hiding. Ruslana decided to gather them together. Two colleagues and I were also in her vehicle when we went to Mykhailivs’kyi Square. Indeed, there was a group of people standing there in front of the Khmelnyts’kyi monument. We had to remain somewhere so that others could find out exactly where people were being gathered. And when we went to the Church of the Three Saints, looking for a quiet place to stay, a man inviting people to the Mykhailivs’kyi Cathedral stood at the side gates.
Dawn broke. The demons of the night fled to where they’d come from. People slowly woke up in a different country, not even fully comprehending where they’d woken up.
The first people who woke up were citizens, not professional politicians. That’s how it should be. Individually, and together. The loneliness and sense of pent-up emotions that they felt gave them the maximum force needed to collect their nerves and organize themselves, lean on each other, gather together. This, too, is the instinct of self-preservation. Those on the Maidan who did not wind up in the hospital suddenly sensed an abyss, a vaccuum, the loneliness of tiny ants amid limitless chaos, where no one except themselves could bring about order. It was like everything was just like it was the day before, the same streets, the same buildings, but it turned out that these were all decorations behind which chaos reigned.
And things started to move. In a very short time, people started to come up with things that they had never done before in their lives. Indeed, such things are not done in a day, but they didn’t have a choice, they didn’t have time. The system was broken, and it was no longer about changing personalities. http://bit.ly/Zminy2013 (this document was made by the public, for those politicians who wish to govern the country)
In non-stop rhythm, in haste, in one day, they tried to make up for years that had passed. They tried to grasp the cosmos in one day. Each day people are coming to new understandings. And this process is going on without disruption. Dozens wound up in hospitals. People looked for the disappeared for a month, one person lay in a coma for several weeks. Some two or three people still haven’t been found yet. Where are they?… Are they alive?… And people’s demands went nowhere. No one was punished for this. They made up a strange law about an “amnesty,” http://blogs.pravda.com.ua/authors/zakrevsckaya/52b60a576b4c8/, while at the same time, throughout the country, a real hunt after the most active people, the ones most dangerous for the state, is taking place. http://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2013/12/28/7008795/
Not a single official has resigned. Only one person could give out orders like this and had the authority to do so. The Minister of Internal Affairs. Certain people in the country’s “top management” also tried to create the conditions for this and allowed this to happen. Since that terrible night, people were convinced that Zakharchenko was no longer compatible for his post. A month passed, and there has been no resignation. The Minister of Internal Affairs is the same, the government is the same, and the Maidan has not given up its position. And it cannot give it up.
We can never in our lifetimes forgive such a thing. They can’t do such things to us.