Journey through Maidan

2014/02/03 • News

Maidan’s self-made Christmas tree. The violent dispersal of students on the night of Nov 30 was supposedly to finish setting up the traditional Christmas tree on the central city square. After the protests started full-time the unfinished tree was decorated with flags from the Ukrainian regions represented on Maidan and became a symbol of the revolution

Sunrise in Maidan, self-regulated province of Kyiv

To describe the aesthestic of Maidan, the village-sized zone of Independence square, I simply invite you to imagine a medieval-cyber-punk universe of barricades, makeshift shields, sticks – and a phantom menace of empire’s storm troopers. While this mental image may seem beyond fantastic, it might be easier to imagine if we just try to take on things from the start. But since I don’t have time to repeat what has already been said and reported all over the world click on this link and get what is the deal with the ukrainian protest movement.Done ? Goodo !

Tonight again I haven’t slept – for the second night in a row. No matter how cold it freezls (contraction of the verbs to freeze and to feel) around here, I still had to go out a 100th time and walk around the almost entirely empty Maidan. It’s a thing to see, really, for it only happens one time a day, magically, between 05:59:59 and 06:00:00, that silent time which cristallizes so well this dominating impression of impatience that burns through eveyone in each building, tent, and barricade that constitute Maidan.

Smoke rises from the chimneys of self-made furnaces used for heading and cooking in protester’s tents

There has now been one entire week of unbroken truce, still no one can really tell what will be the scenario. When asked, people of Maidan’s most common answer is We don’t know. All the rest is calculus, variables – gamble. The truth is there are too many elements to take in consideration to try out any serious perspective on the matter.

This uncertainty creates a clear frustration among the protestors, and also, some might say, a potential risk : this might push the famous “provokators” to initiate an unecessary move. Provokator. Only this simple word already associates various definitions ; impatient protestors ; independant groups like the Spilna Sprava, titushky, or even agents from outside. Thankfully with 21 degrees below zero, the weather appears too cold for any strategic movement at the moment. At the last barricade, which  defines the border between the Police and the Maidan Occupied Zone, a protestor resumes the strategy that has been applied for the past 7 days by the forces of the opposition :

” If they make a step forward, we’ll make a step forward – if they make a step back, we’ll make a step back ”.

Dave, a war reporter who has been living in Kyiv for the last 8 years of his life, tells me from his (experienced) point of view :

” Anything could escalate quickly if someone initiates anything stupid. For instance, taking an administration building isn’t stupid if it succeeds “.

A stupid attack would mean an unprepared one, and such an event would start a chain reaction that could turn out really bad for the people of Maidan. Yulia, with whom I went along to see the baricades, still remembers the chaotic scene  on the January 22nd,  when police-fired live ammo killed two protestors. She is aware of the methods of the Berkuts, the anti-riot  divisions  of  the  police  forces,  for  she  has  witnessed  and  pictured  what all her fellow citizens already  know : abuse of force,  torture,  humiliation,  hard beatings etc.

” You have to keep in mind that those Berkuts are blood-thirsty ; without any exaggeration. We know the way they are trained turns them into psychopaths. While the 20 year-old recruits on the frontlines might have remorse and hesitation, experience shows that the Bekruts mentality is made to crush those feelings. When found by a journalist and questionned, a Bekrut officer that had shot on the crowd with real bullets, said if necessary, he would be ready to do it again  ”

Yuliain her twenties, a Maidan protestor 

Then she remembers some declarations she read on the page dedicated to Bekrut  on  Vkontakte,  the  Russian equivalent to Facebook, where officers publically  delcared death to Maidan protestors.

Sunrise in Maidan, self-regulated province of Kyiv

Getting back to the building where I’ve been working and sleeping in for almost a week, I look at the tents, I look at the barricades and their checkpoints, and think about how well structured this place is; then I try to guess how much Maidan costs its organizers to run each day. There is a stage equipped with a very large screen and of course amplifiers right in the middle of the square. Protestors get on there at any time to share a speech, regularly. Sometimes important guests are invited to speak there, like the mediator of Euro-Ukrainian relationships, who came two nights ago bringing a message of support to the  protest.

Maidan’s stage. Sign says “Glory to Ukraine”

Even when most of the protesters have left, and the stage emptied, the screen still  shows  a  sequence  of  various  photos  and  videos.  Some  short  extracts of movies are always playing, no matter what  time  of  the day it is. This non-stop sound have been a matter of complain for many protestors sleeping in the tents installed in the surroundings of this stage.  At 4am in the morning the exerpt of a war movie is being shown – amplifiers are spitting a heavy mess of gunshots sounds and screams. In the daily days of Maidan those sounds created some misunderstanding among protestors who would wake up thinking an attack was going on. This stage is one of the exemple of what Svoboda have been daily investing on since the beginning of the Maidan movement.

The press room installed in the trading house, where I’m currently writing this article, is the result of an other investment from this political party. It is of public aknowledgement that this party has lost – if not control – nevertheless the strong support it used to have from Maidan population. Impatient rioters willing to fight for freedom, power or glory – they have different aims but all are dying of impatience out there, bearing the cold for almost two months. Some of them think the truce has been going on for too long and are ready to make an end to it; they understand that the governement has been playing with everyone’s nerves for too long, since the first day of negotiation. Right Sector, one of the security groups protecting Maidan, is said to have given a deadline to public authorities. If all the opposition’s demands (amnesty/liberation of the protestors and resignation of president Yanukovych)  aren’t met by the February 4th, an attack will be launched.

Warming station

Those security groups add up to an estimated number of 2000 men. There are about 15 declared groups such as Right Sector but a lot more already exist, some of them without any names or recognizable flag. Among them some current and ex-military men offered a true training. Other close-by nations even enrolled : bulgarian, lithuanian, polish, and probably many other nationalities. Their equiment is paramilitary and features sticks, iron bars, flash grenades as weapons – but some tazzers, guns and hunting riffles have also been seen around in Maidan, though in really small proportions.

At this stage the rumor is growing that an attack will soon occur. Police have reinforced its position on their defense line, few steps away from the house of the government – which they haven’t done since the last clashes, one week ago.

If the rumor is true then no one knows what will be the consequences for Ukraine, the most obscure scenario to imagine beeing the success of Maidan. If opposition win the battle, who will replace the current governement ? With that many security groups and such a pushy strategy from Svoboda to overcome any independent initiative from other groups, the succession of power in Ukrain will meet sure difficulties in its process. Since most of the protestors want a radical change, there is little probabilities they would simply give a total access to power to Svoboda, party which doesn’t really bright by its transparency and has also been accused of corruption. Which is why the best solution for the after Ianoukovytch period would be, as many say, the institution of a parlementary system in Ukraine.

Svoboda : Translated from Ukrainian, Svoboda literaly means Freedom. It is a ukrainian nationalist party that entered in coalition with Udar and Fatherland. Those three political parties, gathered with the security groups of Maidan, represent the current opposition of Maidan. Svoboda, has been accused of corruption many times along its 20 years of existence – such as those two other parties. Due to its financial possibilities, it is the most pro-active opposition party in charge on Maidan. It is currently accused of tentatives of pressure to uniformize the current opposition into their wishes, and now encounters critics from the people of Maidan.

Spilna Sprava : Subgroup representing a minority of Maidan. In charge of the capture of different public administration buildings in Kyiv such as the Ministry of Agriculture from which Svoboda, a way larger opposition movement, ejected from, declaring this was an unecessary provocation.

Titushky : Name given to maffia-organized  hooligans hired by the government since the very beginning of the protest. Responsible for kidnapping and tortures, they identify with color armband that allow them not to get beaten up by the police. Not a completely new, Euromaidan-specific term, “titushky” was coined earlier this year after twojournalists were beaten up in Kyiv by a group of athletically built youth. You can see them here getting in line with the police.

Alexandre Banette Brutelle, journalist from France

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