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Maidan. My Thoughts on Where this All Began.

By: David Elley


What does ‘began’ mean…? All the way back to when? When does Ukraine become something more than just a region in your mind? Like all conflicts you can keep going all the way back to the first time someone wronged another’s family if you like. Alas, in the thinking of many in West even today, there is a Cold War mentality, a mentality in which countries and peoples like Ukraine, have no agency of their own. They are simply moved about by one side of the other, at the expense of the people who live there, with their families and their dreams. Even today, the history of Euromaidan, of the Revolution of Dignity, must endure much mythology…. Or simply lies.


Instead, I take you to where it began for me, personally, and hide behind the armor of subjectivity for now. Yes, I have chosen to wear a plastic safety helmet, the thickest winter clothing, and a homemade wooden shield, and I carry everything I need in my backpack, like those thousands of Ukrainians in the Euromaidan protest in the Winter of 2013/14.


I spent part of yesterday evening walking the Independence Square, the Maidan Nezalezhnosti, and then again, this afternoon. It is difficult to imagine now, what happened here that “Winter On Fire”. The lights are bright, traffic zips through. My bus, the 114, comes through there.


On the 21st November, 2013, a student-led protest took place on the Maidan, in reaction to President Victor Yanukovych’s sudden decision to reverse a pro-EU agreement he had promised to sign, and instead signed a pro-Russian one. By the 24th November, clashes between protestors and the Berkyt police, had begun. Escalating violence from the pro-Russian Berkut by 30th November caused an estimated 400,000 people to join the protest on 1st and 8th December, according to murdered, anti-Putin Russian politician, Boris Nemtsov. Something very different was happening, even I could see this.


Back to my wanderings. Soon it will be ten years to the day, on 20th February 2014, when Berkut snipers killed 47 people, armed with plastic helmets and wooden shields on the Institutskya Street. But the road to my being here, in Kyiv, a civilian volunteer, that road starts in Euromaidan, December 2013. I think it was an Okean Elzy concert, although I do not recall why I saw it, but on 14th December 2013, that was the moment I became invested in Ukraine. I don't know specifically how many people that night were there, maybe 500,000, but when they all sang their national anthem, I knew who these people were.


Maidan is beautiful now, even in war. The column commemorating the Independence of Ukraine in 1991 shines beautifully in the morning sunshine, topped by the deity Berehynia. (Berehynia is associated with the guardianship of the nation.) The subway below bustles with activity, small shops, flower sellers (just in case!), and coffee and pie shops. At the SE corner there is a small grassy area. It is covered with small Ukrainian flags, thousands of them in fact, as well as small Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Polish, UK, US, New Zealand, Australian, Irish, Japanese, Romanian flags…forgive me if I missed your country’s flag. I looked long and hard last evening and again today.

 

These flags each have a name, written in sharpie, and each is a remembrance. Every single flag symbolizes a life story cut short before its true end should have been.  We say it’s a moment of glory, but no, not all of us will think it is ‘sweet and fitting to die for our country.' Their children may find that hard to understand, their spouses, their parents. These are my thoughts as I stand here, for a while last evening, and again today.


I walked up Institustkya Street today in the same winter light as 20 February 2014. I read each plaque, walked from tree to tree, remembered what I was shown on YouTube that same day. The memorial to one is poignant, his helmet with a single bullet hole from one side to the other, where the bullet also pierced him, preserved here. His Cossack’s sword lies here too, similarly preserved. I walked up as far as 150m from the controlled government area. No problem, I turned around there.


I needed to see something beautiful, and so I walked up the hill to the North in the direction of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral. The esplanade outside features a handful of destroyed Russian tanks, and several picture shrines which feature Ukraine 2022 and Warsaw 1944, drawing the comparison to the genocidal inhumanity of both Nazis and today's Russians. I walked on through the small gate into the courtyard of the cathedral. It took just a little while to realize that a memorial was taking place, by the large black van outside, the soldiers, priests, and dark-clothed people waiting outside. I chose to quietly walk away. Today there was to be no beauty for me.


As I bought my plaited wristband and flag, from a representative of a military hospital in Kyiv, I was drawn back to November 1918. In London during November 2018, the UK cast a red poppy in glass for every soldier who died for the UK in World War One. Each poppy, 888,246 of them, was placed in the moat of the Tower of London. They were there only for a while before each was auctioned off, but I was privileged to see this display of loss from a hundred years ago.


They are not making any more red glass poppies, but outside Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, they are still selling Ukrainian flags, and in Maidan, they are still writing names on them and leaving them in the grassy area with all their lost brothers and sisters….

 



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