I woke up today incredibly refreshed, but a little worried. It was nearing 11 a.m., and we needed 40 minutes to get to the Maidan. Valerii was not worried. And probably for good reason. Ukrainian time is always slow, and by the time we arrived at the Maidan, 12:30, they had only just gotten started with the mass rally (narodne viche). A priest, either Orthodox or Greek Catholic, was giving his blessings on the meeeting. We were there just in time for the singing of the Ukrainian national anthem. I think I changed octaves too many times, but it didn’t matter. I was there, with them. With the people who had come in the thousands one day after another to voice their protests against the regime.
The Maidan had thousands of people in it, but I don’t thinkit was a million. At least in the tent city (the Euroville) near the Main Post Office, Valerii and I could walk freely past tents, refreshment stands, and book vendors.
It was time to test out the video camera. I’d never used one in my entire life, and I was expecting disaster. I decided to shoot away. Valerii stood to the side while I went around the neighborhood of tents. I couldn’t figure out how to use the viefinder (it was turned to a side,so I had to hold the thing perpendicularly and hope I’d gotten the image). I tripped on tent stakes twice. But I was able to pan across a neighborhood teeming with crowds headed to the main square, where there indeed was a sea of people. Young and old bearing fnational flags that had names of towns, cities, organizations. Afghan veterans passing by with red vests and Soviet symbols on them. They were guarding the Maidan. Valerii had me take video of the Maltese Roman Catholic order that was serving food to the crowd for free (donations encouraged). Valerii said that they were a charitable organization affiliated with the Roman Catholic church in Ukraine, which has services in Ukrainian. One of the people in line, a man in his 20s, had a patch on his arm with the colors of the Ukrainian flag. It said, “I breathe freely.”
The meeting was like many a “viche” I’d seen in Lviv. There was Oleh Medvedkov, one of the spokesmen for the opposition party “Bat’kivshchyna,” who was the MC forthe meeting. He had been the “DJ” for the Orange Revolution, which left the impression that this was either a rerun or a “prequel.” There were intellectuals giving speeches. Then I think another opposition politician, Iuriy Lutsenko, then journalist and activist Ihor Lutsenko. There was Ruslana, the woman who kept the Maidan together when Ukrainian law enforcement organs tried to breakup the Maidan December 10-11. Some of the speeches were inspiring, but some of them were a bit long-winded. At one point, Valerii and I stopped paying attention to the speeches. Instead, we spoke with his colleague, Kataryna, who was complaining about an interview over medieval fortifications where the journalist twisted what she’d said. At one point, a woman in her 60s or 70s came up to us and expressed what joy she had to see this Maidan movement coming together out of nothing. She shared her joy about the Lenin monument coming down, which led to a conversation about the monument’s status (Kateryna pointed out that in no way would UNESCO have protected an individual monument like that, contrary to various complaints circulated by the monument’s defenders). The stranger started talking about special elections for parliament held in Kyiv that day. She said that in her neighborhood in Shevchenkivs’kyi Raion, the Party of Regions candidate had paid off all these neighbors of hers, offering them 200 hryvnia for voting for him, then 200 more if he won. “A cheap bribe,” noted Kateryna. We debated whether or not a neighborhood like that would have fallen for such cheap bribes, especially since it was a well-to-do neighborhood. “They’re rich,” said the stranger, “so they’re skimpy!” (suggesting taht they’d go for any money offered). She also claimed to know that a group of hired thugs had been brought in from Cherkassy to cause trouble. “Cherkassy!” she exclaimed, emphasizing how bad times were. They were being offered 1,000 hryvnias if they beat up people. The woman also talked about some school directorin her neighborhood had made needless changes to the building. It’s possible she was a retired teacher,noted Valerii, because she spoke Ukrainian so well.
Around the time that Kateryna and the stranger were talking politics with us, I could hear some guy on stage speaking in English. We turned to the large TV screen that gave us a full view of the stage. It sounded like an American. He spoke boldly about freedom, etc., etc. I got out my camera and started filming. Borys Tarasiuk, another opposition figure, was translating for him. Valerii then figured out that it was “Murphy.” Senator Murphy. “Patrick Murphy?” I said. “No,” I immediately interjected, remembering that that was a student of mine.
But I knew the next speaker well: John McCain! I wonder how much the video caught my voice as I said, “Well, if it’s not the Truth Talking Express himself!” His voice was more muddled than Murphy’s, but I could hear him say, “The American people are with you, and I am with you!” The crowd responded with “Thank you!” in English.
After McCain had spoken, Valerii and I went to look for a mobile phone store so that I could finally use my iPhone. We tried to find Kyivstar by way of the Trade Unions Building, but it was off limits. Two young men stood guard. Both had Ukrainian nationalcolors (ribbons if not the full flag) on, as well as stickers that said, “I’m staying at the Maidan until Yanukovych resigns.” One spoke Russian, the other Ukrainian. We asked where the nearest Kyivstar was. They didn’t know. Valerii suggested that I try MTS. “Why do you want Kyivstar?” he said. (I didn’t tell him that my recommendation came from a conversation with the woman sitting near me on the plane to Kyiv. “Excuse me,” I said in English politely. “What phone plan do you have?”) I relented.
We passed through the underground mall that is below the Maidan to get to the otherside of Khreshchatyk. It was another world below the Maidan: warm, comfortable, people relaxed drinking coffee (I’d gotten a cup of coffee on the Maidan from a Russian speaker selling drinks near the tents.). Designer clothing stores (Valerii and I briefly walked through one where I could hear someone singing the cover for John Lennon’s “So This is Christmas.”). Then we went through the metro underground passageway. There was a bandurist playing and a man singing with him, both trying to sell their CDs to passerby.
We came out of the underground right as opposition Oleh Tiahnybok began speaking. Along Khreshchatyk there were people standing at attention, listening, amid crowds heading off in different directions. I must admit that I was attracted to some of what this right-wing nationalist politician was saying: that it was good that the Lenin monument was gone, that it was time for Ukrainians to be free of the “Russian Bolshevik empire.” It brought back childhood memories of the Cold War, the struggle against the “Prisonhouse of Nations.” Of course, everything is much different now, and I should know better than to praise an extremist. Still… something resonated for that instant.
At the nearby MTS store, Valerii helped me get a phone plan. At first,though, I was panicking. I didn’t know how to turn the phone on! For a moment, I thought it was out of power. But then I pressed this button, and lo and behold, it worked, just in time for a salesperson to help us.
With the salesman, it was easy to get a plan set up, but it was another challenge trying to figure out how to open the case protecting the iPhone. Neither the salesman, nor Valerii, nor I could figure it out. Then finally, after pulling at this and that, the phone case, like Lenin’s monument, came apart. Within a few minutes, I was connected to the World Wide Web from Kyiv.
Valerii had to work on an application, and I had to finish a translation, so we headed back to our neighborhood. Near the metro station, I did call my old landlords from Lviv. “Guess where I’m calling from?” “Bill, we’re so glad to hear you! You know what’s going on in Ukraine! And SenatorMcCain said he’s with us, and….” “Do you know where I am? I’m next to the Maidan! I couldn’t take it anymore! I came over.” Maria Ivanivna was incredulous and joyful at once. We talked about meeting in Lviv, but a lot depends on what happens in the next few days.
On the trip back, lots of people with ribbons in the Ukrainian national colors on jackets,on purses and bags. Russian speaking women had them on. Young and old had them. There was one young man with a ribbon that had red-and-black colors of OUN, which said “Slava Ukrainy!”
Valerii and I did some shopping in one of the local shopping centers that had a McDonalds and some other shops outside. Lots of people in the store with ribbons with the national colors. Service was quick. The store seemed so “American” – plenty of Christmas decorations out.
We had dinner at home and then did some work. I finally had the chance to call friends with the iPhone.
Before I close, I wanted to note that it was striking how many red-and-black OUN flags were out on the Maidan. In the metro stations, when going up and down escalators, crowds of young men chanted things like “Slava Ukraini!” “Heroiam slava!” “Ukraina – ponad use!” and a line that followed with the reply, “Smert’voroham!” It’s amazing. I wasn’t here for the Orange Revolution, but I know that when I first visited Kyiv in 1998, I wouldn’t have dreamed that this movement from western Ukraine would become fashionable here. I don’t know if it’s about a return to the nationalism of OUN, but the slogans, like the Ukrainian national anthem, have great power in these crowds.
I slept well my second night in Kyiv, though I did have a strange dream suggesting I was back in my neighborhood in Milledgeville.