My all-nighter on Night Watch took its toll. I was out with a cold December 20, so I had to limit my activities to writing up events over the past day, visit political scientist Taras Kuzio at the Maidan, and then rest at Valerii’s home.
Taras and I toured the Maidan area, took photos, and later had coffee at a nearby café. Taras pointed out that the fortifications and the men dressed up in various military garb, and he said that they reminded him of “Mad Max” movies. Perhaps he’s right. I’ve never seen the films, but there is an aura of survivalism in the dress of those men sitting by their bonfires and the fortifications and tents behind them. Taras had just gotten back from a trip to the Donbas, and there he saw no support at all for Yanukovych, suggesting that, unlike 2004, there really isn’t a sharply contested battle between political camps. Yanukovych has gone flat.
That night, Valerii was watching the talk show, “Freedom of Speech” (Svoboda Slova), hosted by Savik Shuster. It’s a talk show that lasts something like two hours late into the evening. I didn’t have the energy to watch it, but I did listen to the Minister of Social Policy, Nataliia Korolevs’ka, speak. Korolevs’ka ran for parliament in 2012 as a member of the “Forward – Ukraine” Party, which presumably was set up by the Party of Regions to split the political opposition. This past year journalists discovered that she had faked her undergraduate degree. About one minute of her speaking was enough. The only thing she said was that the government had plans to improve people’s lives, they’ve made some gains, but no government can satisfy everyone. Korolevs’ka’s monologue inspired me to go to bed early.
The next day, I was planning on going to the Maidan sometime in the afternoon, but Valerii told me I needed to go right away. There was news on Ukrains’ka Pravda’s website indicating that “titushky” were going to clear out the Maidan in the morning under the guise of tidying up the city. I shaved, threw my clothes on, and took the metro to the Maidan. Everyone in the metro seemed calm. When I went out to Khreshchatyk, life went on as usual. While taking photos of the Maidan environs, I got taken in by two guys posing as Sponge Bob and some furry animal (250 hryvnias for some photos with them). Many people like them were out that day to make easy money, either posing for pictures or carrying around these pidgeons.
I then went to Kyiv City Hall, site of the alleged provocation that was to come. There were dozens of men in orange hats, or in green military helmets, gathered in front. They flew the flags for the political party “Svoboda” as well as Ukrainian flags. A young woman tried playing the piano in fits and starts near City Hall’s front steps. An elderly man in his 60s or 70s was preaching the New Testament to two young men sitting near a fire in an empty barrel. Neither seemed terribly amused, or they were trying to stay awake from being up all night for “Night Watch” at the Maidan. Some woman in her 60s was giving out candy to people. I finally asked an elderly man carrying a briefcase if there had been a provocation here. He said that there wasn’t, but that there probably were all kinds of rumors going on of one. We talked a little about recent developments. The man noted that Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov some time ago had claimed that there would be no more “Maidan” in Ukraine, and yet it happened anyway, which was a good sign in this man’s opinion. He said that if this were Belarus or Russia, a demonstration like this would have been put down the very first day.
I later went up to a young man holding up a Ukrainian national flag if there had been provocations here. He said no, but that it was still early in the day, and anything could happen. I told him to “hang in there,” and he told me to be careful. One of his friends, also wearing military-like gear, gave me some candy, a sucker. Who knew that guards could be so nice?
I spent the rest of the afternoon in a café, where I hoped to catch up on news on the Internet. I wound up beginning a translation of a long feature article by journalist Tetiana Chornovil about how the Kyiv City Hall was taken by protestors. Chornovil posted her account on the web after it became clear to her that the SBU was about to arrest her. It is quite possible that, rather than using force, there will be attempts to arrest people like her and charge them with dubious crimes. As I was to hear later that day from students, a student from Lutsk in western Ukraine is now under house arrest (wearing a security bracelet) for defaming a portrait of President Yanukovych. Maybe there will be more such cases?
I then met with Tatiana, a student I’ve been in contact with over my work on Soviet hippies in Lviv. We met at the Maidan just as I saw a message on Facebook from “Maidan in UA” indicating that Kyiv students were planning a march to mark the one-month anniversary of the Euromaidan protest movement. I talked Tatiana into going. In the metro, in the train, and later in the neighborhood of the student assembly in front of Kyiv National University, we carried on a conversation about how Tatiana could best research Polish hippies and then move on to Estonian ones. I also asked about the student protests. She said that she was there from the very beginning, when students from the Kyiv Mohyla Academy joined up with Kyiv National University and others for a preliminary strike (poperedzhenyi straik). There were friends from all over coming to her dorm to stay. The students set up their Euromaidan originally near where the Maidan’s main column (nicknamed “Stella”) and the infamous New Year’s Tree stand. There were about 5,000 students at first, from the Mohyla Academy, Kyiv National Univesity, and other institutions, then it grew from there.
After students were beaten on November 30, they all were told to wear plastic helmets, and later other students asked them if they could have some,too. I asked Tatiana if she knew anyone who had been arrested or beaten up. She said that she knew one student who is still in the hospital. For over a week, no one could visit him, not his family, not even parliamentary deputies. The Ministry of Internal Affairs kept people like him isolated, hoping that the affair would be kept quiet. As we know, this tactic failed utterly.
Later, after the rally, as we headed back to the Maidan, Tatiana pointed out Shevchenko Boulevard. In the early days of student demonstrations, there were entire columns of people marching all the way from the Shevchenko Monument in front of Kyiv National University, down this boulevard, and then along Khreshchatyk toward the Maidan (students, but also others). As we went past the Kyiv City Hall during the student march, Tatiana mentioned that she’d volunteered at the kitchen there.
As we neared the statue of Taras Shevchenko in front of the university, where the rally was to take place, we saw only a few dozen there. Some older woman (in her 60s or 70s) was mingling among them with a notebook, asking for something that didn’t make sense to anyone. She eventually gave up and drifted away. Within a few minutes, though, more students came. Tatiana and I estimated that about 200 students in all were there. At first I thought I’d be the only cameraman there, but it looked like people from Channel 5 and TSN showed up.
As we waited for the rally to begin, Tatiana switched back and forth from talking about material on Estonian and Polish hippies to talking with other students about the protest movement. One of her friends from the Linguistic University was there. This student suggested that his university administration was solidly in support of Yanukovych, so much so that the chancellor, rather than using student tuition on the university, was giving considerable amounts to “Korolevs’ka’s party” (a reference to the notorious Natalia Korolevs’ka and “Forward Ukraine!” mentioned above). There, the university did all it could to keep students from joining the protests. Ukraine’s former foreign minister, Konstantyn Hryshchenko, came to speak to university, and he told the students assembled that this revolution like others would end badly. He warned that opposition politicians would would use them to pursue their own goals. Early in the protests, the university chancellor got so scared of the students joining the protest that he literally locked up students in their classrooms so that they wouldn’t go out on the streets. (At first I thought I’d misunderstood the Ukrainian, so I asked Tatiana to repeat it in English. It sounds incredible, but it happened. Later, someone said that singer Ruslana Lyzhychko convinced university administrators to put a stop to this.) The Linguistic University’s chancellor also had the academic group leaders – known as “starshyna” – show up at the fourth period (chetverta para) to give an account of which students were present and which ones were not. When I asked this student if any students were currently being punished, he said that lists of student protestors were being compiled, but all of this was being done very quietly.
Tatiana goes to the Mohyla Academy, a private institution, so she and her classmates haven’t had to deal with the kind of control going on at state universities. Their chancellor supported them early on.
Eventually Tatiana and I had to stop talking about research and watch the rally. I filmed as much as I could with my iPhone. One student began the rally with an impassioned speech about Ukraine belonging in Europe, that the EU Association Agreement should have been signed, and that the Yanukovych regime had to go. Another speaker talked about how the battle for democratic freedoms were never easy, as had been the case when the UPA fought the Soviets. As with other rallies, the students chanted “Slava Ukraini!” and “Heroiam slava!” Later Tatiana said that such chants were not really about the OUN, which had come up with it, but something connected with the people of Ukraine being proud of their identity. After these two speakers, some students came up and acted out a comedy involving Azarov, Yanukovych, and Putin making a notorious deal in Moscow not long ago. Either Azarov or Yanukovych was carrying around an EU “Christmas gift,” and one student called on people from the audience to go after the three, while making sure that they got back their Christmas present. Then the students formed a march, with people on the front row carrying upside down the portraits of Azarov, Yanukovych, Tabachnyk, and Zakharchenko.
Tatiana and I decided to go back to the Maidan, talking about sources for Polish hippies along the way. We went down Shevchenko Boulevard to the remains of the Lenin Monument, where I tried to take photos of the graffiti. One telling detail: “This is for my family,” in black ink, in cursive. It could have been from a family repressed by the Soviets in western Ukraine, from really any family that had lived in Soviet Ukraine.
As I finished taking photos, Tatiana and I saw the student march coming toward us, growing closer and closer as it went down the hill. We decided to join them. It was really amazing. “Molod’ natsiia za Evrointehratsiia!” was one slogan they chanted. They chanted “Slava Ukraini!,” “Heroiam slava!” They may have chanted “Ukraina!,” “Ponad use!,” but it wasn’t that much. Students came by with flares whose smoke made me choke and cough, yet whose flames lit up the evening darkness with red. We proceeded in a narrow column along Khreshchatyk. It reminded me of the Sixtiers who, back in 1963, had a torchlit parade in honor of Lesia Ukrainka down this very street. Back then, onlookers, according to Ivan Dziuba, wondered aloud, “Wow, Banderites, so many of them!” Here, 50 years later, all along the street, the students’ elders waved, cheered, and joined in the chanting. It seemed like everyone was smiling at them.
The march had to halt several times as it passed through barricades set up. Eventually it made it to the Maidan, where this rock group, Tanok na Maidan Kongo (TNMK) (roughly translated as “Congo Dance on the Maidan”), was stirring up the crowd. We all joined the audience in front of the stage. Tatiana was dancing wildly. This was her favorite group, one of whose songs was an ode to Ternopil’, her home town. TNMK had been a major group during the Orange Revolution. I’d run into them the day before, when I had coffee with Taras. “Your music inspired me to come here!” I said. (Actually, I’d confused them with another group, Antytila, whose lead singer looks like the one from TNMK.)
The Maidan had become a Maidan for the students again. When Tatiana and I first met up here in the afternoon, there were these leaders from Svoboda speaking onstage. Tatiana pointed out that one of them had been removed from the Euromaidan in Lviv by the students. Now he was here speaking to the crowd about the virtues of the Maidan and the students who had started this movement. Tatiana didn’t care for any of the nationalist rhetoric going on, and I could tell she was glad to get away from the Maidan then. But here, with TNMK overwhelming us with electric guitar riffs and rap lyrics everyone knew, all of that nationalist rhetoric no longer mattered.
Tatiana and I then went to Kontraktova Ploshcha, in the vicinity of the Center for the Study of Society (Tsentr dla doslidzhennia suspil’stvo), where Mohyla Academy alumnus Yegor Stadny (who had been at the student rally earlier) was to meet me for an interview. I interviewed him and Mohyla student Iryna Shevchenko for over an hour about the Student Coordinating Council (SKR), set up to coordinate the activities of the student protest movement. I will leave aside the details from that interview, but what impressed me the most was how astute both Yegor and Iryna were when it came to student politics. They displayed keen awareness of the need to negotiate with a number of political actors – from the intellectuals of the First of December Group (organized in 2011, consisting of former dissidents like Ievhen Sverstiuk, as well as academics) to other civic organizations and political parties. SKR is trying to become an independent student movement, one uniting all Ukrainian students. They want to make considerable reforms to the education system and the government as a whole. SKR activists admit that the work they are doing will take days, months, years to complete. They realize they need to be independent of opposition political parties and the government, as well as any other civic organizations. They are now working with universities in the east and south, and they plan to reach out to non-students like workers. I left their office full of optimism, that perhaps, for the first time since I came to Ukraine in 1998, there is a student movement that will stand up for itself and push for changes to the entire system, rather than the replacement of one set of leaders with another.