Interview by Oksana Pilyanska, Journalist
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine
On the eve before Palm Sunday, Ivan Filipovych returned to Kalush [Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast] from Poland after being wounded on Maidan. His face was swollen and he had an almost imperceptible scar under one eye. He talks about Maidan with a sense of humor, even when the subject turns to the most critical days of the revolution in February. The young man has lost a lot of weight and looks quite different compared to his “pre-revolutionary” photographs. He is troubled by constant headaches, his eyes water, and he is reticent to say whether he is ready to again go under the knife, in order to correct his nose and fix the scars on his face.
Our conversation is interrupted several times by his father, Mykola Filipovych. He is the head of rural Verkhnya and is clearly worried about his son. Ivan Filipovych relates that while he was in Poland, his father forbid others from telling him anything about Maidan, so that he wouldn’t worry. His phone goes off several times while we talk, and his ringtone, “Vitya, Ciao,” is both prophetic and at the same time from the past: it’s already been two months since Viktor Yanukovych fled the country.
Vikna visited Ivan Filipovych in Verkhnya and found out just what helped the young man survive being shot by a sniper.
Ivan, they say that you “lived” on Maidan and even gave up your job on account of the revolution. What “called” you to Kyiv?
I went to Maidan five times. The first time was on December 1st after the students were beaten. That’s what gave me the first push. I thought that our people would not rise up to revolution again after 2004 [when the Orange revolution took place], but we are Ukrainians–we did rise up. I went to stand up for my dignity and my rights–I didn’t see any way that we could keep living in such a country with leaders like these. I went without even giving notice at work. I didn’t tell my boss until the day after I had arrived on Maidan. I was there the first time for more than a week. Then I started going to Maidan whenever there was some disturbance brewing. At first, I just stood around at Maidan and handed out sandwiches. Then I signed up for the Third Company [Sotnia] with the first ten guys from Kalush. We lived in tents on Maidan for about a week and a half to two weeks. My father supported me–he would also come to Kyiv. And he never tried to dissuade me. My sister kept warning me about going, especially the last time I went. That was on February 19. I left for Maidan in the morning and was in Kyiv by the evening. The day before I left, my sister, who is four years older, really tried to dissuade me from going. I left with the words, “They’re killing our brothers there, while you’re all here at work.”
As for my job, I work for a private business owner, and he treated the situation with understanding. So, I shouldn’t have any problems. Actually, he also warned me about going to Maidan on February 19.
What did you first see on February 19: what was the atmosphere like, what were you feeling? What did you think was going to happen?
The first thing I saw when I got off the bus was the black Khreshchatyk [main street in Kyiv], smoke, and people carrying pieces of pavement, preparing [Molotov] cocktails. We took the medications which we had brought with us, and the food–dropped them off. Then we went to the front lines. The night passed without any real developments: they threw grenades at us, and we threw [Molotov] cocktails at them. I went back to the tents in the morning to find the people I knew, since there weren’t more than about ten people there from Verkhnya. Yaroslav Shopskiy and I went early to the Ukraine Independence Monument, where we threw a few stones about. Then at about seven in the morning we saw that the Berkut [riot police, now disbanded] had started to regroup. We had thought that they would start by coming at us from the rear, but our reconnaissance told us that they would be advancing from the top [of the hill]. Once the storm began, I lost touch with all my companions, and went back to the Kalush tents to wake Vitaliy Hoshovskiy. That’s when the shooting started, the storm. We ran to Instytutska Street and climbed up to the October Palace. One of [our] men got injured there, and we brought him back to the medics. Next, they starting throwing grenades at us, so we retreated. It was when we were making our way up to the October Palace for a third time that I was injured.
But why did you go there? Weren’t there warnings that snipers were operating?
We had to find a position. The Berkut were in a more advantageous position: they were above us, while we were below. It was easier for them to throw grenades and shoot at us. At that moment I didn’t see any of the leaders, “chiefs” or politicians on Maidan. The company commanders [Sotnyks] were warning from the stage that snipers were at work. That’s how it always was: when the unrest started, there was no one at Maidan.
Did you see politicians on Maidan? Or were they there on the stage just for show, or were some of them really on Maidan, among the people, and in the fight?
Petro Poroshenko was on Maidan on the night of February 19, before the storm. During the storm I didn’t see anyone. Altogether, I saw Oleh Lyashko, Vitaliy Klitschko, Petro Poroshenko, and Oleh Tyahnybok on Maidan maybe once. Yuriy Lutsenko was always there. I didn’t see anyone on Hrushevskiy Street–the politicians showed up on the Maidan stage afterwards. At first, when there were concerts, there would be quite a few of them. It it really pains me to see that nothing has changed in the country. This is very obvious to me–I just got back from Poland. If this keeps up, I think there will be another Maidan. The guys will now recover a little bit, and we’ll keep fighting against the current system. I don’t trust them [the politicians] anymore. They haven’t accomplished anything that Maidan stood for. Are you happy with life right now? Are you happy with what’s happening in this country?
How much protection did people have on Maidan? Did they wear protective gear, and was it reliable?
People had what they could find for themselves. Although nothing works against snipers, not helmets, not bulletproof vests. I had a helmet and a metal shield. I also hid behind a tree. One bullet ricocheted, hit me in the head and got lodged under the skin. The second hit under my eye and came out through my neck. They were shooting from above. I can’t remember the moment clearly now, when I was shot, though I was conscious the whole time, up until the intensive care unit. Now I want to go to Kyiv and try to reconstruct the events, because what I remember doesn’t fit with what people are saying. From the accounts and what was seen, they shot from the right side, and so the bullet that hit me in the head, this instance is on the mark. But the second injury, from left to right–somehow doesn’t match what was happening. At the moment when I was shot, I felt a brief sharp pain, when the bullet exited and fractured my jaw. That’s when I blacked out for a few minutes. When I came to, I saw some guys were carrying me.
Vitaliy Hoshovskiy, on whom I fell after my injury, has really felt bad. He thinks that the bullet was meant for him, because he was standing behind me. Well, he and I already worked this out, since I was the one who dragged him out of the tent. I saw a photographer who was taking pictures of me, I even tried to cover myself with my hand. They next transferred me to a military stretcher and started an IV. I lay there and watched what was going on all around me. Someone was crying, and someone else was taking pictures. The medics were doing triage: this one is realistic, this one is gone. That really made an impression on me. They immediately had me sent to the hospital.
There were no ambulances. We went in some car. I was taken to the October Hospital and put in the intensive care unit. On the way, my father called, but I gestured not to tell him anything. I couldn’t speak and didn’t start speaking until I was in Poland, and they took me off the specialized equipment. They told my father that I had left my phone to charge in the tent and gone off somewhere without it. I couldn’t speak, I felt my palate had been punched through, like there was a lump off flesh on my tongue. The doctors examined me and said that I had been very lucky: literally one millimeter, and it would have hit my brain or my carotid artery, and I’d be gone now.
How do explain your survival?
God just wanted us to live. So, our mission here is still not finished. I had a small icon in my pocket. It was given to me a by a merchant in our local shop, when I went to Maidan for the third time. From then on, I wore it next to my heart. I also had a cross around my neck. But maybe most of all, my mom was looking over me. She died when I was still little. Before this happened I thought I was “unlucky” in life. But February 20 was my second birthday. Since that day I have changed my opinion.
You were treated in Poland. Tell us, was the treatment completely free of charge or did you have pay for some of it? How do you feel now?
I was in the Kyiv hospital for two days. I was taken to Poland for treatment on February 22. [My face] was very swollen and I could only see a little out of my left eye. Someone from my village came to visit me while I was in Kyiv, it was my cousin. Olha Sikora was also there [Kalush regional head for the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party]. I was next transferred to Krakow, to the Fifth Military Hospital. While I was still on Maidan, I heard that an international mission headed by Radoslaw Sikorski [Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs] was coming. Before my transfer, the nurses at the hospital washed my hands and face, so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed while crossing the border (he laughs–Author). They set my bones in Poland. I’ll never forget the moment, when after the operation I was dying to have something to drink, but I couldn’t utter a word. You’re also not supposed to drink anything after an operation. So, the nurse soaked a bandage in water, and that helped a little.
My relatives came to see me in Poland. My father was there. There is a very large number of Ukrainians living in Krakow, and they also came to see me in the hospital. I wasn’t able to talk until they took me off the special equipment. I spent pretty much the entire time lying down staring at the ceiling. We didn’t have to pay anything for the treatment. It was taken care of by the Poles. I couldn’t say or do anything. After a month and a half, I had memorized all the little cracks in the ceiling. I really didn’t have any information about Maidan. The events in Crimea were starting; however, my father forbid anyone from telling me anything for the sake of my emotions. This was really killing me, not knowing what was happening. It was a really bad dream, only on sleeping pills. I looked through all of my life during this time.
This swelling around my eye is supposed to go down. I cannot open my mouth all the way. I have a constant headache. I can only take soft foods and liquids, and I won’t eat anymore yogurt after getting tired of it in Poland. I can’t even look at oatmeal. When I got out of bed for the first time, I had to learn to walk all over again. I need one more plastic surgery, but I’m still not sure whether I will dare to go under the knife again. It will take six months before my jaw function is restored. My eyes water a lot, and I can’t read.
Do you have any specific plans regarding [further] community activities? You’re the son of a rural council head, so you have an inside view of civic authority. Will it be possible to go up against the authorities when your father is in fact part of the authorities?
Right now I belong to a local self defense Sotnia. Soon there will be a meeting. We will start by deciding on some one, basic, question. I want everything to be done according to the law. What is the [government] power in a village? This is minimum cost, just papers for signature. Today my father is the village head, tomorrow he’ll be someone else. There must be community control over the authorities. We have to change people’sconscious awareness, because this is what we fought for on Maidan.
Thank you for the interview, and get well soon!