The day Euromaidan turned violent, one year after

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2015/01/20 • Op-ed

Article by: Olena Bilozerska

On 19 January 2014, Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution entered a new phase. Several months of peaceful protests did not achieve much; on the contrary, the situation became worse when the “dictatorship laws” that would make protesting impossible in the first place were adopted on the whim of then-President Yanukovych on January 16. Frustration was mounting, and first of all it was directed at the official leaders of the protests, the oppositional politicians Yatseniuk, Klitschko, and Tyahnybok, who did not seem to have a plan nor to be ready for decisive actions. At the traditional Sunday assembly at Maidan, the Viche, the people gathered on the square demanded for the “trinity” to name who is the leader among them. Yatseniuk answered that it is the Ukrainian people that are the leader. On the very same day the people at Maidan took the initiative into their hands and marched on the Parliament building, where they ran into the Berkut riot police. It is on this day that Maidan entered its phase of violent resistance. Olena Bilozerska shares her recollections on this day.

Today is the anniversary of the events on Vulytsia Hrushevskoho.

On this day the Right Sector fighters  decided to transform the protests at the Maidan from a non-violent movement to one of a show of force, ending what had been until then a stalemate. From that day onward the whole world would know about the Right Sector. Unlike acts of extremism, here was an instance of a national uprising, the difference between extremism and insurgency being the conduct of the people. The nation fears extremists, but the people overwhelmingly supported the insurgents. There were not only young men with their faces hidden who were throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the Berkut riot police. There were also women and even glamorous young women who were digging up the bricks from the road for them, while elderly ladies were bringing bottles to be used in making Molotov cocktails.

The moment when the protesters broke the glass in the first bus. Three days later the first deaths would come.

The moment when the protesters broke the glass in the first bus. Three days later the first deaths would come.

This overwhelming support meant that the time for forceful action was neither premature nor too late, but that the timing was exactly right.

Everyone who was at the Maidan during this time will remember how it was, starting with the Parliament passing the “dictatorship laws” on January 16 and on the 19, a Sunday, during the next Viche public assembly, the “official” leaders of the Maidan proved themselves to be unequal to the challenge of leading the protests, being convinced that it was important to be restrained under any circumstances. That’s when an opportunity arose for those who for years firmly believed that the fate of one’s homeland can never be brokered through the decisions of special interest lobby groups.

My personal recollections are that that day was like any other: I had no inkling that anything would transpire other than the regular Sunday meeting, the Viche. In fact, the most interesting part of the day was the problems I was having with my camera equipment. I was still taking pictures, but only on my cell phone, using up two batteries. When the stones began flying, I ran for cover at the Dynamo stadium (it hadn’t been set on fire yet). I spent 15 minutes taking pictures there under the archway, and then I ventured out to take more pictures. I won’t have believed you if you told me then that two and a half months later I would be in a war…

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The same shot made by a Reuters correspondent. I am in the shot too

I inhaled an awful amount of teargas, since gas rises, and I was the last one to be rescued from the roof of a bus before they torched it. I was coughing from that gas until the end of March.

It is not surprising that after eight months at the front lines of war, these memories have not lost any of their clarity. Today it is exactly one year that we are in a state of war.

How quickly this time has passed, and how much has changed since then. Remember how difficult it was at the Maidan to obtain protective gear? Or even an ordinary soviet-era helmet? Remember how our men set about equipping themselves, anyway they could, with the result being that they looked like characters from fantasy movies?

Then, as now, we have our people to thank for their help during the Maidan in the same way they are helping us at the front lines; we now have military equipment that for years during training exercises we could only dream about. With a little more effort and we might even get to a point where we have enough weapons.
That day, people began to feel like they belonged to a Nation, in the sense that we were one living organism, with a division of labour into the front and rear, all learning to work together. It still remained unknown to us what it would yet take to transform us from a force major, successfully bringing about a change in the government, into a people’s war, a righteous war (c). From then on, from the 19th of January, the Maidan finally took on a life of its own, irrespective of the direction being taken by its “official” leaders. Similarly today, the common people of the nation are defending their homeland, openly ignoring the elite leadership of the government together with their “appeasement makers.”

Ukrainian self-organization will go down in history.

Translated by: Jeffrey Stephaniuk
Edited by: George Pinchuk
Source: Olena Bilozerska’s fb

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  • disqus60

    It still brings tears to my eyes to see the videos of this moment in Ukrainian history, as some of my fondest memories in life were walking on these streets during Christmas when strangers would stop on the globus and sing carols. Amazing.

    It’s one thing for a people to say “of the people, by the people, for the people” which are principles America is founded on, but it’s another to actually live those words and give your life so your nation can be born. It was for this “maidan” that Ukraine was born, a step into its independence, its freedom from the past, it’s step into the promise of the future. I for one will support you, the people of Ukraine and help build prosperity for your nation and your people. God bless you and God bless Ukraine.