Andrew, 26, is a a medician from Chernihiv who has been at Maidan for two months. He is a member of the 5th Sotnia in the Maidan self-defense.
Fourteen protesters describe why they came to Maidan, what they were doing, and what they want
Was it terribly scary on Hrushevsky Street? It wasn’t, when it was heavy action. I’m opposed to Yanukovych because of the low salaries and poverty. Yes, I understand that the EU Association Agreement doesn’t mean that everything will all of a sudden become great and that we’ll see an [immediate] rise in salaries. It won’t be easy at first, maybe even harder than it is now. We’ll need a little time. But then it will improve. What do I want most of all? I want it to be over. But we’ll stand here till the end.
Kateryna, the editor of a business news portal, became an editor of “Delo Maidana” on Maidan
On December 1, when about half a million people came here after the crackdown of the previous day, I spent all the day at Maidan, writing updates and news on my website and Twitter, until my smartphone battery died. And when it happened, I understood the information vacuum we can find ourselves in. Yet, a jillion people there have no smartphones. This is how rumors start, one problem on top of another – and how you start to believe that tanks are heading to Maidan. That’s how we got the idea of creating the Maidan leaflet. We prepared the first issue using literally whatever was available: I bought the paper myself, someone brought a printer, and we printed it out in a nearby coffee shop. In the first 15 minutes, we gave out 900 copies. We ended up making 27 issues. Now it’s not as current, as the earlier problems with Internet access have been solved and there are now large screens with live coverage from the televisions channels. What will I do if a state of emergency is imposed? We used to review the state of emergency law with lawyers, and we saw how there are so many limitations on journalists – censhorship, actually – that we are not going to be at it. But if the Internet goes down, well, we’ll probably return to underground press.
Dima, 25, is a mime from Kyiv who has been at Maidan for two months. He is a member of the 2nd Sotnia of the Maidan self-defense.
I came here after the crackdown on students on November 30. Why punch the young ones? If they impose a state of emergency, I will kill Yanukovych – after all, they brought it upon themselves. Do I have weapons? No, but I can make them myself. It’s not actually that hard. Before working in the theatre, I used to work at smithy (laughs). By the way, can you donate anything for our Sotnia?
Olexiy, 25, is a script editor
What do I remember about Maidan? The last time I was there was two weeks ago at night. It was bitter cold, down to -20 degrees. I was walking along Khreshchatyk Street inside of the barricades. There was almost nobody around. Everyone was hiding wherever they could find some warmth. As I walked by City Hall, I saw the piano – the one that was played in December for the Berkut. And then some fellow sat down, took out some music, and started to play. He played it so well that I stopped, despite the cold, and started to listen. I have no idea how he managed to do it. Fingers just don’t feel anything at this temperature. Other people stopped too. Eventually, there was a huge crowd behind him, like at a concert-hall. That memory has stayed with me: the cold biting our ears, night, Khreshchatyk, the occupied building, and a silent crowd listening to the music. When he finished, everyone applauded, and he was stunned that so many people had gathered to hear him play. When he had started, the boulevard had been empty and he had played for himself and hadn’t even looked back. At that moment, I realized that, in spite of all of these stones, grenades, military tents and camouflage, there were loads of great people at Maidan.
Oleksandr, 19, is a student programmer from Dnipropetrovsk who has been at Maidan for one month
There are really few opportunities for people – and for youth. There are plenty of recreation complexes, but people don’t have enough money to use them. In Soviet times, everything was different. People had opportunities to advance. Was it scary [on Maidan]? Yes. When I was climbing the front of a building on Hrushevskiy Street, 35 meters high, to throw molotov cocktails at the Berkut, I was afraid they were up there and that they’d get me or throw me down. One of our fellows had been thrown down. I used to see a lot, in terms of what others had done. But as they say, some things are better left unsaid.
Taras, 40, is a small business owner from from Lviv who has been at Maidan for two months. He is a member of the 1st OUN Sotnia self-defense unit.
We are standing on the first stakeout on Khreshchatyk – where drunk titushkas have always come. We stand at nights, and sleep off during the day. Soon I’ll be relieved from duty as well. Yes, we sleep right here in the tents. Of course, I’m tired, but hey. We’ll stand to the better end.
Bohdan, 25, is a cook from Kyiv, with a degree in chemistry. He has been at Maidan for two months. Yulia, 25, has degrees in philology and foreign literature. She is from Rivneo and has also been at Maidan.
Bohdan: We met here, got engaged here, and got married here. This is very important in Ukraine. It happened extemporaneously: last week, we met a priest, who had come from Frankfurt and it was his second-to-last day. This priest agreed to marrry us. We thought it would be something in the chamber [of the municipal adminisration building]. But when we walked into the hall, we saw a red carpet and hundreds of members of the self-defense there to welcome us. How many? I don’t know. Probably more than thousand. Someone played the piano. Another volunteer did the make-up. A friendly businessman also brought us the wedding dress from his shop. I’m actually just heading over there to return it. And then we went to the barricades and drank Champaign. It was the first time we were allowed to break the “dry law”.
Yulia: I used to work as and entertainer in a hotel in Turkey, and then I came back to my hometown and and started looking for a job. To get job in government, you need to pay a bribe. And such kind of corruption is everywhere. That’s why I’m here.
Anton, 29, a shopkeeper, is a member of Automaidan
Well, of course I was shocked when they burned my car. I couldn’t believe that the authorities could be capable of such things. But all in all, I’ll be here even if they start shooting. Here, your attitude changes. There comes a moment when you understand that you just can’t sit at home. Otherwise, how will you explain it to your kids? Actually, you never know how you’ll behave in a specific situation. My moment of truth came on December 11 on Instytutska Street, when the Berkut launched a military assault on the barricade. There weren’t many people there, but there were several hundred members of the Berkut. We stood in two human chains in front of the barricade to block them. I stood in the second row, while the Berkut was pulling people out of the first row, saying: “You’ll be run over here. Let’s go.” And then these people were dragged through several rows of police and we could see the batons flying over the backs. This is how an Afghan veteran was wrested from grasp right in front of me. Little by little, they pulled everyone out and our row became the first. That’s when I had to decide whether to stay or run. If I stayed, my turn could come and I could be dragged and punched like the others. But if one of us would run, others would follow and the barricade would be left exposed. For some reason, we all stood our ground. What happened next? Someone set some tires on fire and, thank God, the wind started blowing towards the Berkut. Then more people came out to join us so we outnumbered them and it became a bit easier.
Sasha, 17, from Dnipropetrovsk, is a technical school stuent who has been at Maidan for two months. He is a member of the 4th Sotnia of the Maidan self-defense (Cossack Sotnia).
I came here with my father to defend our freedom. Right now, as you see, I’m on walking duty, so everything’s quiet. Yes, I was on Hrushevskiy Street, I was hit in the head by a gas grenade, but I was wearing helmet so I wasn’t hurt. What did I remember? Good companionship.
Daria, 42, is a s doctor at the municipal hospital from Kyiv who has been at Maidan for two months. She is a medical volunteer.
I continue with my regular job, but I spend all my spare time here. It’s not about Yanukovych. It’s about being able to defend our rights. I’ll be here till the end. I’ll be wherever the people are, even if they impose a state of emergency. A doctor has no right to be afraid. Two or three weeks ago, we had a lot of work: missle wounds, plastic bullets, wounds from batons. Now it’s mostly retirees coming in to get pills for high blood pressure. No, no! Don’t take a photo! Wait … I’ll get out a mask.
Kateryna, 55, a retiree from Ternopil, volunteers at the kitchen
I want Yanukovych’s mob gone. I have six children, four of them living in Spain. I’ve been in Europe, and I saw how people live there. I don’t care who will be the president. It is justice that matters. Am I scared? No, I’m not. I helped out on Hrushevskiy Street. You may have heard that, in Sumy today, a shuttle bus stuck two people today in the crosswalk. You never know where you will yourself. The Berkut will probably launch a military assault now. Am I scared? I’m helping out in the kitchen here. I come here for 4 to 5 days at a time, and then I go back to Ternopil. I’ve been here 10 times already. I go back home, watch TV for couple of days, and when I can’t stand it anymore, I come back here. Would you like some tea?
Olga, 25, is a PR manager from Kyiv
For a couple of weeks, I just couldn’t work. I either posted news on Facebook or ran to Maidan to organize something. The I left my work – as a PR manager – to help stack these sacks of snow because more people were needed here and because we believed that, if there were a lot of us here, they wouldn’t beat us. My former manager at the agency now leads the sotnia. My colleague, a copywriter, can get from 5 to 8 years in prison because he threw away the white flag when a journalist standing nearby was shot in the leg on Hrushevskiy Street. So of course it concers me directly. I remember how, on December 11, after we learned through social media about the Berkut heading to Maidan, I took a taxi there in the middle of the night to stand there with the others. Berkut surrounded the square. I had never felt such fear. When at 4 a.m. loads of people suddently started running down from the hills, it felt like half of Kyiv had come out to help us.
Anton, 29, is a foreign language teacher from Dnipropetrovsk who has been at Maidan for two months. He is a member of the Sokil Sotnia,
I helped journalists and doctors on Hrushevskiy Street. Then I was sure that violence is wrong. What specifically was I doing? I was guarding journalists from the people throwing stones and cocktail bombs. If they happened to run near the press, the Berkut started shooting at the journalists. I also helped the doctors to take away the wounded and those who were feeling sick because of the gas. What I remember most is all the support we had. From the earliest days, people started coming in from all of Kyiv. Old ladies and men brought cookies, old electric shavers, food and said: “Thank you for standing here for us.” And I remember that, during the moments of crisis in particular, there were a lot of people, right when they were really needed here most. I wouldn’t say I’m completely happy with what I do in the sotnia – patrolling and the like – but there weren’t many of us here from my hometown, so I understand that no one else would come here in my place. I’m not tired, but I do want to go home. My grandmother, grandfather and friends are there. How long will we keep standing? Till the bitter end.
Original & photos by Yegor Putilov