On the streets with big plans. How Kyiv’s Euromaidan museum wants to promote democracy for the whole of Europe

Ihor Poshyvailo, director of the Maidan Museum. Source: The Ukrainians 

Culture of Ukraine, History of Ukraine, Maidan

Editor’s Note

Eight years after the start of the Euromaidan revolution, Ukraine’s Euromaidan museum is essentially homeless. The territory where the Memorial should be built is still under arrest while the investigation into the shootings of the deadliest days of the public uprising in February 2014 is still ongoing. The construction of the building for the museum itself is only about to start.

Yet Museum finds other ways to keep the memory of Maidan alive, has become part of the diplomatic protocol, is one of the few museums hosting international interns, and has plans to “actualize the topic of democracy not only for Ukrainians but also Europeans.”

Its director Ihor Poshyvailo explained to us what the museum can offer now, what are the main achievements and obstacles to keep the memory of the Heavenly Hundred and the Maidan alive and relevant for contemporary times.

After the first 5 years of work, the newly created Ukrainian National Museum of the Revolution of Dignity has implemented the strategic plan for 2016-2021, and even exceeded it, the director of the museum Ihor Poshyvailo told us during an interview. Currently, the Museum has 5 different spaces in the center of Kyiv, including open-air memorials and collections. Visiting the museum and memorial by international delegations has become part of Ukraine’s diplomatic protocol. Currently, 50% of the visitors are international. The museum is launching the construction of its first new separate building that is expected to open for the public within the next five years.

Poshyvailo: We are not a museum on paper, or as sometimes our enemies say, a “museum that does not exist.” In terms of quantity and quality of our work, we are superior to many Ukrainian museums, even though we don’t have our own large premises yet. But we have several permanent exhibitions in the House of Trade Unions on Maidan Nezalezhnosti square, open-air exhibitions, and also traveling exhibitions in Ukraine and abroad. We also have our scientific project and many other joint projects with our partners.

After all, we are talking not only about the events that took place on the Maidan, but we are talking about broader things: the protection of human rights, Ukraine’s struggle for independence, our values, democratic development, and reforms. There are many small achievements along with our main task of building the Museum and the Monument itself.

The Maidan Museum and Maidan Memorial were launched by the public initiative in 2014 as a collection of Maidan artifacts and “people’s memorial” on the Heavenly Hundred Heroes Alley (Heroyiv Nebesnoyi Sotni) where snipers killed 106 protesters. The people’s memorial included photos of those who were killed, symbolically marking of the places of death by ribbons and flowers as well as a cross, a chapel, stone boards with names, and portraits of those killed. In 2020, the Maidan Museum has also installed the Dignity bell.

In 2016, the state established the official institution of the National Memorial to the Heavenly Hundred Heroes and Revolution of Dignity Museum to honor the Heavenly Hundred and preserve the memory of Maidan. In 2018 the museum received 5 valuable land plots in the center of Kyiv, conducted the first international architectural competition for the best concept of the Museum and the Memorial. The first step in the construction process of the Museum, which is preparation and submission of technical and design documentation was launched in 2021.

Meanwhile, the Museum actively operates in its temporary spaces that include:

  • The main information and exhibition center of the Maidan Museum on 120 square meters at the House of Trade Unions on Maidan Nezalezhnosti, 18/2
  • Gallery of the protest art on Lypska street, 16
  • Library of the Maidan on Lypska street, 16
  • Places of the Revolution of Dignity – walking excursion route, including 16 sights and an exhibition under the Independence Monument
  • People’s memorial created by volunteers on the Alley of Heavenly hundred that the museum takes care of until the permanent Memorial is constructed on that place.

The museum events can be followed on its web page, Twitter, and Facebook.

Part of the current memorial to the Heavenly Hundred established by volunteers and maintained by the Maidan Museum. Source: Maidan Museum ~

Part of the current memorial to the Heavenly Hundred established by volunteers and maintained by the Maidan Museum. Source: Maidan Museum

Poshyvailo: Continuing our voluntary initiative, the Cabinet created a state institution of Museum in 2016, but the challenges only began: premises, team, funding. Our initial priority was to create the museum collection and memorial without building new premises.

We have successfully achieved the status of a historical monument for the Heavenly Hundred Heroes Alley. The upcoming step is the status of a monument for the Territory of Dignity – important places where immovable objects from the time of the Revolution of Dignity are still preserved. Such as pillars, columns, and facades with marks of bullets, or places of death of the heroes of the Heavenly Hundred. These places should tell a story, so now we have started installing information near each such place. We have established systematic care for the area on the alley.

We have developed an information and navigation system, which we call the Places of the Revolution of Dignity that consists of 16 information stands. The revolution has taken place in the city center so the place is important but not for everyone. For the guests of the city, for the new generations, who were studying at school 8 years ago, the alley, Khreshchatyk, or Mykhailivska Square were not symbolically connected with the Maidan. Our stands capture the story and tell it in Ukrainian and English individually.

This year we have developed a system of virtual and augmented reality. This VR project was started in 2018 by Oleksiy Furman and Serhiy Polizhaka, known as Aftermath VR: Euromaidan. We provided the maximum number of items from the collection and documentary photographs so that this project was fully implemented. Currently, we offer visits to Instytutska Street with the use of VR glasses and joysticks.

We also helped with other virtual projects, such as 3D Maidan, when immediately after the events, in early March 2014, a high-quality survey and 3D filming of the area was conducted, which can now be viewed.

Two photographers recreate bloodiest days of Euromaidan with virtual reality

During an excursion at the Places of the Revolution of Dignity. ~

During an excursion at the Places of the Revolution of Dignity.

Also, in addition to the premises in the center of Kyiv, we have acquired a huge storage room, where most of our collection of Maidan items is stored when not exhibited. In particular, there are large objects, such as a field kitchen, a car, even granite stairs, which were damaged by fire in the House of Trade Unions.

A temporary exposition of the museum operates in the House of Trade Unions, where we received 120 square meters.

We have also created a scientific database available to visitors and a Maidan library. We constantly conduct research, organize scientific competitions for students, and invited international scholars. There are already 100 research works supported. Among the 10 honorary awards named after the Heavenly Hundred heroes, we constantly manage two and help with others.

A gallery of protest art at the exhibition space around the Independence Monument ~

A gallery of protest art at the exhibition space around the Independence Monument

This year we are opening a new exhibition – a gallery of protest art at the exhibition space around the Independence Monument. Everyone is probably used to this exhibition space already, but it was a difficult achievement. In fact, having no permanent museum space during these years, we used to open a new one every year, testing, gaining experience and expanding the range of our partners.

Signing of the memorandum creating the Ukrainian coalition of memory between the Maidan Museum and its partners on 17 May 2021. Source: Maidan museum ~

Signing of the memorandum creating the Ukrainian coalition of memory between the Maidan Museum and its partners on 17 May 2021. Source: Maidan museum

Ben: How many foreigners visit the Maidan Museum and who are they?

We conduct excursions and other events, mainly at the House of Trade Unions, and about 50% of our visitors are foreigners. From students to foreign tourists, diplomatic missions, trade missions. Representatives of embassies and cultural centers of foreign countries book our tours.

Students from hotspots of the planet also come to us. There were a lot of students from Hong Kong who were studying the experience of Ukraine. They know the famous movie of Winter on Fire but sometimes come even anonymously, trying to learn more. It is known that the Revolution of Dignity and the experience of the Maidan were like a textbook for protesters in Hong Kong.

Also, the opposition forces of Belarus, representatives of the Belarusian scientific community, students, youth – they comes often and we even do joint projects. Until recently, there was an exhibition in the center of Kyiv, which was telling about the formation of Belarus as a democratic independent state, about all the protests since 2020.

It is very important that the Heavenly Hundred Heroes Alley and current memorial are included in the state protocol, and foreign delegations at the highest level come and lay flowers, visit the memorial, light candles near the memorial.

We were very surprised by the American actor and director Sean Penn coming to the museum recently. He is not only an actor but also a volunteer. He visited the countries of the Arab Spring 10 years ago. He is interested in the history of the protests and the experience of freedom fighters. As we told him about our development of the museum, he promised to come to the opening of a new premises and make a film.

На зображенні може бути: 1 особа та на відкритому повітрі

American actor and director Sean Penn near the People’s Memorial to the Heavenly Hundred, tolling the Dignity Bell which is ringing every day if there is a birthday of one of the Heavenly Hundred, 16 November 2021. Source: Facebook page of Ihor Poshyvailo

Also, many foreign researchers and scientists come to us. We are almost the only museum in Ukraine that regularly accepts interns from US and European universities. Many researchers come with their research projects.

The museum is about actualizing the topic of democracy not only for Ukrainians but also for Europeans. After visiting our museum, a foreigner must say that this is a story not only about Ukraine, but it is also a story important to me.

There is also a demand for our projects abroad. A few years ago, the European House of History was established in Brussels, which is a new EU project. And it tells about the modern history of Europe. We are very pleased that the Maidan Museum was invited to present the story of the Maidan at the opening of this museum. A year ago there was also an exhibition about the role of youth in the revolutionary changes in Europe, where we were invited. There is a demand, our exhibitions travel to the Scottish Parliament, to Chicago.

A topographic wall in the information center of the contemporary museum is similar to the one that was on the Maidan, where participants wrote the place where they came from on the boards. The largest part of this wall was burned down during the storming of the square. Today visitors leave their names, short reviews and where they came from on the wall of the museum. When the wall is full, museum workers take a picture of it, erase it, and then people start writing again. So you can track the diversity of the audience from around the world.