Territory of Liberty #Euromaidan

Arkadiy Babchenko


For a long time I couldn’t understand which associations Maidan brings up for me. It is not a revolution, nor disorders, and all the more it is not Bolotnaya Square. Not ‘okkupay’. Nor a war, either. It is not a protest in its pure form. And not even confrontation with the authorities, notwithstanding the barricades and blockade of the square with military vans. Indeed, there are both protest and revolution, but everything is mixed in a sort of bouillon of social and political phenomena, a little of each. Not a single phenomenon prevails and cannot characterize Maidan in full.

However, today, looking at the concert, the crowd of many thousands people at 3 am which wasn’t going to break up, night watches and shifts at the barricades, paramilitary organisation, army tents with labels ‘first sotnia’, ‘second sotnia’, the barricade that blocks the Khreshchatyk street and bears the name of ‘Cossack redoubt’, I have understood.

Maidan is Sich. The same Zaporizka Sich about which Gogol wrote. The same half-field, half-military, half-civil way of life that everyone associates with Cossacks.

Maidan is the territory of liberty (‘volia’). Not freedom and not lack of restrictions but liberty, and the Ukrainian word ‘volia’ is the best to characterize what is going on here.

The protesters encircled the square with barricades to protect not a particular plot of land but their ‘volia’, their right to live as they wish, not as the authorities dictate them. After all, there are no authorities here.

Maidan is a society of free people who do not recognize any power over themselves except for the power that they are willing to recognize. “There is no power beyond Maidan.”

The three opposition leaders – Klitschko, Tyagnibok and Yatseniuk – are not commanders here. They cannot make Maidan do what it doesn’t want to do and cannot make it refuse from its intentions. The leaders even asked a mandate for the past round table with the President Yanukovych. Maidan gave them that mandate. Maidan allowed them to go and negotiate with the opponent on behalf of people, made them retranslate its will, not otherwise. Generally, no deal with the authorities is possible. It would not be accepted.

Maidan is on its own. It is a separate organism, separate institute of the society, which can organize and manage itself. Direct democracy.

‘Narodne viche’ (People’s Assembly), a band with violins and something like ‘kuren’ in the City Council guarded by these people, where one has to take off his hat at the entrance – out of respect for the comrades.

Many people wear Cossack hats, wide trousers, colonel’s clothes and other national costumes of the last centuries, have ‘oseledets’ on shaven heads and long moustaches up to shoulders, puffing tobacco at long crooked Cossack pipes. They are surprisingly in place here, in their environment; however, under any other circumstances they would look like mummers.

Like numerous priests of all confessions who go in front of the barricades during storms and stand before people, not behind their backs.

Faith is very natural here. The three-hour long public prayer in the morning when Maidan found itself in the blockade, people with helmets in their hands crossing themselves, Christmas cribs near the New-Year tree – everything fully corresponds to the place and spirit. It seems that faith can really lead people if it does not aim at making them frantic devotees. Even the poster “Long live St. Mykolay, Ded Moroz out!” does not annoy.

Hear the anthem, when thousands of people stand with their hands pressed to their hearts and sing, “Souls and bodies we’ll lay down, all for our freedom, and we’ll show that we, brothers, are of the Cossack nation!”

Zaporizhka Sich as it was. Khortytsia. Taras Bulba. Volia.

“Do you hear me, father?” “I hear you!”

During the storm the winner of Eurovision-2004, singer Ruslana stood on the stage the whole night. She appealed to the police to stop and keep from massacre, repeating that it was a peaceful rally. By the way, it seems to me that she doesn’t sleep, at all. Every night she sings the anthem on the stage every hour. She spends nights with all others at the House of Trade Unions, on the floor. Police didn’t manage to force their way through the large crowd of people who came to the aid of the protesters, as Kyiv citizens found out about the storm and went to Maidan on foot from all corners of the city, took helmets and joined the ranks, so at one point there were so many of them that the police failed and laid their shields to the ground. Then there were chants from the stage “We’re nation! We’re nation! We’re nation!”

They are a nation, indeed. The deputies of Verkhovna Rada stand on barricades together with people. In front of people. Defend their electorate by themselves. They stood in front of bulldozers on the Luteranska Street. Can you imagine the deputies of State Duma standing between the police and protesters on the Bolotnaya Square and preventing the police from beating people? Taxi drivers carried people that night to Maidan for free, announcing that in the social networks. Hotels let all those who wish in to warm themselves and rest. All of them, indeed, including policemen. It is a very strange sight, when both “Berkut” fighters and protesters stand in a queue to water closets. Here it is said, “Our people wear red helmets. Those who wear the black ones are ours, too; they just don’t know about that yet.” Hostels provide accommodation. Drivers leave notices on the walls about their readiness to carry people to their homes for free. Food, firewood and diesel oil are brought from the whole city. The flow of support of the camp does not stop even for a moment. A group of Crimean Tatars came and cooked pilaf in a big pot for a week. Miss Ukraine 2013 delivers tea to the frozen people as an ordinary volunteer. I see her every day. The top model has been working recently with her face hidden behind a medical mask, so that unnecessary attention does not interfere with her lower work which is so important at the moment.

Are there nationalists here? Yes, they are the majority. Maidan is West-Ukrainian in its mentality. The party “Svoboda” are nationalists. UPA flags are seen quite frequently. Likewise, the chants “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes!”, “Glory to nation! Death to enemies!”, “Ukraine! Above all!” are heard every minute from every corner. There are ultra-radicals – the same football hooligans who fought with “Berkut” and drove it from the Lenin monument, who rammed the ranks of interior troops with bulldozer at the President’s Administration, and who fought at the House of Trade Unions during the storm and poured water at the attackers from fire pumps through the windows of the City Council. From time to time they appear, loudly march along the streets armed with crowbars and steel rods, then vanish. They are not numerous but the most outstanding. All the others are moderate. Not common, but one might say that… in the long run, they do not go further than speaking. Nationalism is not personified here. It is directed not to particular persons with inappropriate skin colour, not outside but inside, against the policy of the neighbouring countries, which try to dictate their will. Not against the countries but against the state policy – it’s important. I do not share Bandera’s slogans, at all. Though, I do not have any problems with Russian language and passport. Considering all these chants, it is very rare here that someone is killed due to his nationality. There is a large Turkish diaspora and they are treated calmly, even respectfully. Notwithstanding the fact that at the barricades it was heard about “foul janissaries” whom Cossacks never allowed to rule over them. Yes, fights with leftists happen. Yes, the monument was thrown down with cries “Hang the Commie!” Nevertheless, nobody cuts one another with knives, nor shoots at the head on staircases. Nobody shouts to “stop feeding the Hutsuls”.

“He who doesn’t jump is a moskal,” says a jumping boy in Cossack hat to me.

“I’m a moskal,” answer I.

We had a puff from each other and went one’s own way each.

In general, “there is nationalism and there is a nationalism”.

Maidan is not a hipster story. It’s about something else. The overwhelming majority of people here are common men. Workers. Land dwellers. They are dressed clumsily or quite simply. You will not meet boys in tight jeans with iPhones here. They come at the weekend, naturally, to take photos as if in a sightseeing tour; however, most of the time the life sustenance of the camp is provided by people not from the higher social strata.

I think that they have a very remote idea of the European integration. Actually, Maidan is not about European integration, either. Refusal of Viktor Yanukovych from signing the agreement was just the beginning. If the authorities had not paid attention to the protesters then, everyone would return to their homes now. It is not such a big problem, after all: if it is not signed this year, it will be signed the next year, when somebody else becomes the President (no one has abolished fair elections and freedom of speech here yet).

Nevertheless, the authorities behaved completely like idiots. Thirty people were beaten, and even if they had thrown stones and sticks to the special police unit, that is non-professionalism. Thousands of people came to Maidan the next day. Later, the clashes on the Bankova Street, where people lying on the ground were beaten up. A million of people came out on streets then. Afterwards, demolition of the barricades and utterly foolish attempt of clean-up of Maidan. This Sunday the largest crowd is expected. Every time the authorities do their best to raise Maidan. Around ten thousand people stay here even at nights now. Compared to the initial three hundred.

Maidan doesn’t remind playing “Zarnitsa” no more. Instead of demolished toy barricades the real fortifications have been built – of the bags with snow, poured with water and armoured with welded reinforcement (they welded it all the last day): steel ropes, barbed wire, hedgehogs, barrels, metal shields and everything that came to hand. Misunderstanding of what one must do and why everyone has gathered here passed. The service is arranged accurately and regularly, with shifts, divisions, sotnias, distribution of duties, supervision sectors, posts, positions and access control. The Afghan veterans (six hundred men at present) stand on the posts. Plywood shields are prepared to repulse an attack; like we did in childhood, playing knights. The streets are obstructed with hedgehogs. Everything is serious now. Yanukovych has stirred up a wasps’ nest and enraged them. People are lively and angry, they have prepared and they are waiting.

On the bridge over the barricade on the Institutska Street hangs a poster “Welcome to hell, “Berkut”. Of course, one can demolish all of this. Everything can be demolished. Four thousand trained and prepared fighters, armoured, bearing shields, gas, grenades, plastic bullets and water cannons, can do wonders.

But half of Ukraine will come here then.

In general, the most interesting and memorable thing are the people themselves. A boy thirty-two inches high who came to our group of journalists in the morning of the blockade, stopped and said, “Guys, I’m afraid.” He said that in Russian. A girl who stood in front of the barricade, looked at the cohorts and phalanges of depersonalized people hidden behind plexiglass visors and cried. Apparently, she was afraid but cried not because of that. Because of the feeling that her country crossed a line and there will be no way back after this step. A people’s deputy at the barricade on the Luteranska Street who climbed on it, when it cracked under pressure of the police’s shields, and urged the soldiers not to shed blood because people wouldn’t go away voluntarily. A priest who led the column signing the anthem to the President’s Administration, to the police cordons. A hand with a cross over the helmets and hats of the attackers and defenders that shone in the steam cloud of thousand breaths. Pastor in the Lutheran church, young and smiling, who organized a medical post in his temple. A sanitary crew of volunteers near the Administration, where massacre had been and was expected again, who stood calmly, confidently and fearlessly – two girls and a boy, very young, about 20 years old. Afghan veterans who stood in line in front of the barricade and took the heat, even pressing the attackers for some time, summoning people for help. And these people who climbed on the barricade and jumped in the crowd, taking their places in it and pressing with all their might the dark armoured mass that came from above, from the Bankova Street. That stout boy with fat cheeks who was pressed to the barricade with me at some moment and who weighed upon the shields with his back, crying loudly. Several policemen cut from their comrades and surrounded, pressed to the parapet by the protesters stood in “tortoise” figure and fenced with their shields. In my opinion, they were ready to die for something theirs, for their order, as well as those who surrounded them were ready to die for their freedom. And a passage was organized for them to let them go to their comrades to the chants of thousand throats, “peaceful protest! peaceful protest! peaceful protest!”. And they retreated. Thunder of hundreds of metal shields put on the ground simultaneously at the command “shields to the ground!” Crying, and ringing, and rumbling, and roaring of commands, and fists thrown up over the ranks to sign ‘stop’ to the rear lines – all that unique noise made by thousands of men who struggled one against another.

Most of all I remember a woman of about fifty years old. She stood aside, at the tents and didn’t make a nuisance of her poster, though, usually, everyone here tries to convey his message. Her poster was a simple sheet of Watman’s paper. It bore a phrase “We, mothers, cannot run from batons. We can run to guns. Do you want us to do that?”

Posters are a particular topic here. Another report may be dedicated to them. Abundance of creative thinking, wittiness and inventiveness. I liked most of all two posters, the serious ones – “They don’t allow us to live, we don’t allow them to rule.” And the second one written on the demolished barricade “Slaves are not allowed to heaven”. It’s amazing how people managed to express the whole sense of my life in eighteen words.

Maidan is growing every day. It is changing every hour. Each time when I go to monitor the situation, I don’t recognize the places I went through a few hours ago. The whole streets of tents are being built and I become confused and unable to find the familiar way to the hotel.

Fortifications are strengthened constantly and new engineering solutions are regularly found. The last one – hedgehogs wrapped in barbed wire and wide sheet of the same barbed wire spread in the neutral area. People continue to come. The camp population is increasing. The established way of life proved its logic and became part of the optimal working mode. Everyone knows his place, everyone performs his duties. One carries firewood, another delivers tea and sandwiches, the third one cooks, the fourth one makes soup, porridge and gulyash for everybody, the fifth one is on duty at the barricades, the sixth one builds them, the seventh one is a member of self-defence unit, the eighth one places tents, the ninth one removes rubbish, the tenth one, the fifteenth one, the twentieth one… It is astonishing that the fallen and compressed snow was removed from the square just in one night – with the help of sticks and hammers. Removed, packed up in bags and piled in the barricades.

It is written in one of the leaflets, “I am a drop in the ocean.”

But together they are ocean.

They have held Maidan so far. Exactly held. In the literal sense of the word. To my mind, all Ukrainian police was here and the authorities have no reserve powers. I can’t imagine what to expect further. Unlike the Russian authorities who are easily predictable, Viktor Yanukovych is absolutely unpredictable. It is temporary lull at present. Some parity of powers has been established. Neither party has an obvious superiority in numbers. However, they are waiting for the heavy-handed option and preparing to it. I’m waiting, too. It seems to me that it will come to the gas issue. Yanukovych has lost to Maidan once, when it prevented him from becoming the President; and he, evidently, doesn’t want a similar course of events, at all. So, I think that he is ready to the extreme option. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to comprehend his logic.

That night – the night of the storm – Ukraine did enter the EU. At least, Maidan did for sure. It is written on the one of passages through the barricades, “Way to Europe.”

This way runs exactly through Maidan. In all senses.

Well done, Ukrainians! Awesome men.

They have withstood.



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