By Constantin Sigov
‘Extremist’ is the epithet around which all the arguments justifying the repression of civil society revolve. An attempt to impose laws sanctioning the arrest of anyone who makes fun of the president, or who voices on Facebook their objection to the usurpation of power, failed. This further spurred attempts by the Putin propaganda machine to impose the “extremism” label on disobedient Ukraine. The facts, however, refute these false generalizations.
So who are the real faces of our new social imagery? To answer this, I constrain myself to one image that has come to symbolize the Ukrainian Revolution: the image of a girl who was on Maidan the night of 30 November, when peaceful supporters of Euro-integration were dispersed by brute force. She saw the first blood on Ukraine’s main square, and for three months now she has stayed there to work and to bear witness.
The kitchen became the chief barricade, ensuring the continuous presence of thousands on the wintery Maidan. Among hundreds of other kitchen volunteers, there she was, the girl named Lisa. By the beginning of December, the Maidan kitchen could feed up to 40,000 people a day. The group of volunteers grew to over 1,500 people. They called their operation “Lisa” after the girl from Eastern Ukraine.
Why did they see a symbol in this particular girl? Certainly not to refute Putin’s propaganda that the tone in Kyiv is set by the “extremists” from Western Ukraine. Lisa was born in Siberia in 1986. She grew up near Odesa, and has lived in Donetsk for the past couple of years. Cerebral palsy rendered her arms useless in her childhood. Her refined speech reflects the clarity and depth of her mind. This mind does not know enthusiasm for war and the rhetoric of vengeance. It knows, however, the suffering of the physically disabled, the most vulnerable people in post-Soviet society.
For her, Europe was a ticket out of this ghetto; the treatment of the disabled there is different. In Maidan, she found a society where she was not an invalid, but a friend to her compatriots. We all see her as a symbol of non-violent resistance to the usurpation of power. Lisa became a symbol of the peaceful movement of thousands of people, no more, no less.
Why did physically disabled people suddenly become visible in the context of the recent developments in Kyiv? Because all those who are striving to overcome their own social, legal and civil ‘disabilities’ can suddenly relate to invalids. The people strive to overcome the political lies about each and every one of us. Their guiding words are freedom, dignity, truth. They found an authentic female character in the Ukrainian Marianne. The Phrygian cap on her head evokes a chef’s hat. Her humor would impress ‘the belly of Paris’ no less than ‘the belly of Kyiv.’ Indeed, humor is the antidote for fear.
What will become of us if we let fear snuff out trust? What if fear sows violence and hate not only toward “them,” but also amongst “us?” Before the onset of the Great War, Charles Péguy warned that a brave girl under the sign of hope would help us stand our ground and prevail. Let us remember not to exclude her role from the future of Ukraine and Europe.
Translated by Oksana Poliakova
Edited by Mariana Budjeryn and Robin Rohrback