Maidan Chronicle – December 17, 2013

Ukrainian pop singer Ruslana Lyzhychko, Kyiv, December 27, 2013

Ukrainian pop singer Ruslana Lyzhychko, Kyiv, December 27, 2013

Today was my day to be a photographer. After I donated a copy of my book on Lviv to the Institute of History, where Valerii had a meeting, I went for a walk around the Maidan, scanning the entire scene with my iPhone. It was cold, cloudy, yet probably dozens of people, if not over 100, camped out. There seemed to be plenty of gawkers like myself taking pictures and videos, sometimes getting photos of themselves beside the barricades. I overheard some Americans or Canadians among them (“Well, the Estonians are probably with them, they’re in the EU…” proclaimed one loudly to the other as I took photos of anti-Yanukovych graffiti.) With the snow melting, the barricades have started to look dirty and not so charming anymore.

I spent the rest of the afternoon looking over the news on the Internet. Like yesterday, I wondered where this revolution was going. In the morning, I’d translated a brief article suggesting a possible split in President Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, yet other materials suggested that Yanukovych is waiting for the Maidan to run out of steam. For that afternoon, it seemed like I’d run out of steam. I was getting more from the Internet than from the street regarding what was going on in Ukrainian politics.

Around 4 Valerii came back from his meeting at the Institute of History, and we went to the home of Valerii’s friend for dinner. She lived outside the city, in a small town called Berezka, so it took about an hour to get there, first by metro, then by minibus. Over dinner, there was more talk of the revolution. I’d made up my mind to spend the night on the Maidan in a tent. Valerii’s friend said that she did it in 2004, during the Orange Revolution, but she saw no sense in doing it now. The Eurorevolution has become more of a show than a revolution. Both Valerii and his friend saw recent events as important in changing Ukraine somehow, but they doubted that the Yanukovych regime would end soon. When I noted all the vulgar graffiti against Yanukovych right in the center of the capital, Valerii’s friend said, “But people make graffiti like that everywhere!” I imagine that, like last year’s series of Grandma and Kitty memes on Facebook, the graffiti provides a good social ventilator and little else. All three of us concurred that the revolution’s lack of leaders was a significant problem. On the other hand, we agreed that this was about people taking a public position (hromads’ka pozytsiia) on Ukraine’s state of affairs, which is not exactly about political parties and their leaders vying for power.

Dinner was beautiful, but after our conversation, I wondered if I was wasting my time by spending a night on the Maidan. It would be a great opportunity to take photos, but would I learn anything new?

It was a very long trip from Berezka to Valerii’s place. There, I put on about four layers of clothes for my legs and two layers of wool socks. I felt so overheated inside, but as it would turn out, I badly needed the protection.

I’d agreed to meet Ihor, another friend and historian, in front of the Main Post Office. We went to a nearby tent marked “Stryi District (Stryishchyna),” the place where I was to spend the night. Ihor introduced me to Andriy, who was in charge of the tent. Andriy was gracious enough to let me interview him and then film the inside of the tent. The tent, said Andriy, has been up for about three weeks. Its residents, including Andriy, had to push back Berkut and national guard units when Yanukovych tried to break up the Maidan on 10-11 December. He seemed to take the whole event in stride, doing whatever it took to protect people and avoid violence. When I asked what the Maidan meant to him, Andriy said that it was a means of showing the state that the people couldn’t be broken, or frightened, and that they were willing to stand up for their rights and freedoms, yet he stressed that this was a civic movement, not a political one. He said that if the Maidan could at least change people’s way of thinking, that would be a worthwhile goal. In other words, Andriy did not emphasize that the Maidan aimed to bring down the regime. Perhaps like my historian friends, he realized that the Eurorevolution was about something less clearly defined than, say, the French Revolution of 1789?

I left the tent to go film the Maidan at night. It was nearing midnight. The crowd in front of the stage was small, maybe 50-100 people, with several hundreds scattered throughout the neighborhoods of tents and barricades. To keep warm, I stood near bonfires made in empty barrels and sometimes within piles of concrete blocks, or I got free coffee or tea from a tent run by the opposition party UDAR.

After midnight, the Maidan began its “Night Patrol” phase. The “Night Patrol” has been held in order to keep enough people around the Maidan so that the police don’t have an excuse to storm it, as they did the night of November 30. The singer Ruslana Lyzychko led it, serving as MC, sometimes playing her own songs, reading people’s messages, and giving people from the crowd a chance to speak to the Maidan. At the top of every hour, the crowd sang the Ukrainian national anthem, and Orthodox and Greek Catholic priests led prayers.

At first, I’d planned to be on the Maidan for an hour or two, then go to bed in the tent. However, the whole night became too interesting. I stayed on the Maidan all the way until 6 a.m., when “Night Patrol” ended. It was exactly a week since the regime tried to clear out the Maidan, a drama that played out on Hromadske TV, which I watched from beginning to end in Milledgeville, GA. In some way, I wanted to experience what that must have been like to stand out there in the cold, united as a community.

Once “Night Patrol” began, I think about 200 people, maybe 300, were in front of the stage. Over time, I could easily move to the very front row and see Ruslana and others up close. The patrol began with Olha Bohomolets’ giving medical advice, Oleksandr Hrytskenko describing the security situation outside the Maidan, and Andriy Parubiy discussing what internal security was at work on the Maidan.

The crowd was probably at its peak when Vitalii Klychko stopped by to speak around 1. He stirred up the Maidan by talking about his childhood dreams of becoming a world champion heavyweight boxer like Muhammed Ali or Mike Tyson. While his school classmates laughed at the time, decades later he showed some of them his champion belt. The moral of the story, he claimed, was that all of us needed to dream, and that the pursuit of any dream requires hard work and sacrifice. The people at the Maidan were ones making sacrifices for those dreams. Klychko said that, despite what the critics say, the opposition does have a clear plan. However, he didn’t indicate what those exact plans were.

The flags suggested that the core of the audience was from western Ukraine. There were banners for Lviv, for Drohobych, for other towns I knew well. By the end of the evening, there were at least a banner each from UNA-UNSO and the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists. Among the first people testifying onstage were western Ukrainians, including an old guy who could play the flute well and make a rather unflattering remark about Jews (in reference to the state bureaucracy). On the other hand, there were people from eastern Ukraine. One man from Donetsk, in his 70s, went on and on about how people from Donetsk needed the Maidan to “heal themselves (“lechitsia” in Russian).” He said plenty about Yanukovych’s regime being illegitimate, and that Ukrainians couldn’t make the mistakes they’d made in 2004. Then at one point, he led the crowd into a collective singing of the 1950s song, “Rushnyk (Mila mama moia).”

There were other reminders that the Maidan was about all of Ukraine. Ruslana read a note from a man who refused to be identified, a young man from Donetsk who feared for his wife and small child if he gave his name out. He said that he’d been offered a free trip to the Maidan in Kyiv, but it turned out to be a guided group trip for the “anti-Maidan” that was taking place near the Mariinskii Palace and the Supreme Rada. He talked about all the Berkut units deployed around this other Maidan, the lack of tents and appropriate facilities, and how he managed to get out of that Maidan and come to the real one. Later, a 15 year-old, also from Donetsk, came to testify before the audience. He said that teens such as he were brought to the anti-Maidan for money. In order to make sure such teens stayed, they made a roll call every 90 minutes. Those who wanted to be paid had to be there for roll call, “But I wasn’t interested in the money, I was interested in ideas,” he said, so he left. He also said he couldn’t give out his name. One of the older women in the front row called out in Russian, “Support him!”

Ruslana, like the week before, seemed to be taking on the roll of a spiritual leader of sorts. She stressed that this was a movement about human dignity, about the well-being of each and every individual. The state had abandoned people, the Maidan was about rescuing them. She talked about being summoned to the General Prosecutor’s Office that day regarding the Maidan events. While she did not figure in the case of student protests, Ruslana said that she wanted to help students who were under investigation. She wanted to help “half of Kyiv” who was still looking for students missing since November 30. By the end of “Night Patrol,” she said that she was planning on setting up a legal defense fund for the students. One of the audience members who came up on stage, an army veteran, passed along 100 hryvnias from another friend to give to this fund.

Throughout the night, Ruslana responded to calls from different parts of the world, Ukrainian diaspora in Chicago, in Glasgow, in Moscow. She presented some foreign volunteers from Japan, from Italy, from France who were working in the Maidan (carrying wood, cooking food, etc.). There were Ukrainians who had moved to the US as children, and they testified. I was tempted to testify about my last-minute trip to the Maidan from GA, but I decided to pass along a note to Ruslana instead.

I have to say that it was hard for me to leave the dance floor that night. Besides the great music, which people of all ages danced to wildly either because of the music, or to keep warm, there was something about all those Ukrainian flags assembled togeher in the night sky, lit by the stage and the full moon that, at one point, cast a haunting glow over the New Year’s Tree and a huge portrait of political prisoner Yulia Timoshenko, her voice silent at this Maidan. As Ruslana tried to inspire the people with stories from ordinary Ukrainians who came to the Maidan, I looked out at all those faces basking in the lights from the stage. They were all here, like me, braving the cold, standing for an ideal, for a dream. As Ruslana and other speakers that night had stressed, it was individual faces like theirs that made up Ukraine. Thus, these were people whom the state could not cast off. These were members of a community that, at least on the Maidan, were looked after by one another.

There were plenty of references to politics. Several times we sang and danced to a song in honor of Yanukovych, “Vitia, chiao!” There were people calling for Yanukovych’s resignation. Even Ruslana turned to politics somewhat by suggesting that the Maidan was a community that represented the Ukrainian people, and thus she would raise the Maidan’s concerns to an EU representative she was meeting December 18. She would be the Maidan’s voice for the EU. She would recommend, on behalf of the Maidan, that the Association Agreement be made. Still, there was something else going on here that is hard for me to relate to you now. A group of people, united in a common cause, in freezing weather, standing together, dancing together, singing together, all night long – it was a community that transcended language, nation, ethnicity, region, or political party.

I returned home to Valerii’s place around 7. After getting some sleep, I checked my photos. It turned out that I’d had the iPhone upside down for a number of videos. I’ll leave those technical problems to deal with another time. As I learn to become a better photographer, I hope to figure out more about what the Maidan really means to people.


Comments on my post on Facebook from colleague Sean Guillory:

Great report. A few thoughts. 1) It’s natural that as time stretches on many will see the Maidan as increasingly pointless. It’s hard to sustain the energy needed for protests and inevitable when protest becomes the strategy of resistance rather than a tactic. If the goal is to unseat Yanukovich, it will be a long haul for the hardcore who are maintaining the occupation. I fear any stalemate plays in Yanukovich’s favor. But if the goal is to change Ukraine, I think the people who have made the Maidan possible need to bring their organization to everyday life. Yeah, one of your respondents said that this is a civic not a political movement, and I think a lot of that comes from skepticism toward “politics”, but this IS a political movement and it needs to transform into something more permanent. 2) The Maidan as conscious changing is really important. The only task is to harness this new consciousness permanent structural forms. Occupy Wall Street was conscious changing for the participants, but like I said in my first point, this needs to be transformed into tactics of everyday life. Clearly there is a lot of organization–food, shelter, the night patrols that really speak to ways of organizing life otherwise. 3) Maidan as party. This is essential too as this, as you say, creates solidarity between participants–the music, the dancing, and hearing testimonies from other, faceless, supporters is really, really important. But again, if these aren’t channeled into some permanent organization/movement, much of that hard fought solidarity will turn into deep despair after all the revolutionary euphoria is spent. It is despair and disillusionment that will be the real killer of the Euromaidan and all its tangible gains, not Yanukovich.

Facebook updates on that night on the Maidan:

Instead of waking up the neighbors in the tent, I decided it was best to dance all night long on the Maidan.

I am on the maidan for the night. Glad I dressed warmly!

December 17, 2013 at 4:42pm · Like

Kaspars Zellis no pasaran, commrade!

December 17, 2013 at 4:54pm · Like

No Jones take care, and make photos if you can!

December 17, 2013 at 4:58pm · Edited · Like · 1

Ksenya Kiebuzinski Have fun, listen, observe and report back.

December 17, 2013 at 8:01pm · Like · 1

Daniel Kavkaz I’m having a honey-chilli Nemiroff in solidarity

December 17, 2013 at 11:27pm · Unlike · 1

William Risch Just got back. Will report after sleep.

December 18, 2013 at 12:18am · Like · 1

Dimitry Yermolaev Kaspars Zellis это не “левая”, а “правая” революция, так что Ваше пожелание явно не совсем подходит:)

December 18, 2013 at 1:27am · Like

Kaspars Zellis revoljucii socialnie politicheskumu spektrometru nepodhodit…… delenie na pravih, levih proishodit uze posle takih revoljucij.

December 18, 2013 at 1:32am · Unlike · 2

In other news, a friend has invited me to spend the night with him in a tent on the Maidan tomorrow night. Or actually, I think I invited myself. Now let’s see if I follow through with it.

December 16, 2013 at 8:14pm · Unlike · 1

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