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

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.

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

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

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.

Ben: I know that the German architectural bureau that won the architectural competition has already given you the rights to build the new museum. Could you tell the details and when can we expect it?

The Ministry of Culture announced an international competition for a project proposal in two categories: Memorial and Museum. The winners of the competition received prizes of $20,000 for first place, which was awarded to the project “Conquering the Hill” by the German architectural bureau Kleihues Gesellschaft von Architekten in the Museum nomination.

The project of the museum “Conquering the Hill” by the German architectural bureau Kleihues Gesellschaft von Architekten

At the next stage, according to the law, they had the right to develop the project and we could sign a design agreement with them, for a separate fee. According to the state calculations, the amount could be about UAH 55 million ($2 million). For a German company, such a price was unacceptable: it was at Ukrainian market level.

In short, we came out of this legislative conflict in such a way that the Germans transferred their copyright to us free of charge and now the museum has announced a public procurement for the selection of a Ukrainian bureau that would prepare design and technical documentation to start the construction. The process has been unlocked and must continue to move forward.

Ben: Let’s now clarify about the construction of a new memorial on the alley. I know you have both the agreed project and the materials to start it, but the prosecutors have blocked any construction allegedly to finish the investigation of the crimes during Maidan. Is this explanation reasonable and when can the construction begin?

Poshyvailo: This issue is very complex and it is difficult to assess this situation unambiguously. Some relatives of the victims are against the new memorial. They believe that the alley should be kept unchanged as it is. Another group of families believe that the memorial should be built, but only after all investigative actions have been completed and sentences handed. There is a third group of families who believe that the memorial should be built already. They want to honor the memory of their relatives today and do not believe that this termination of construction is necessary for the investigation.

In fact, 95% of the investigation has been completed, and additional investigative actions may be needed only during the court hearings which may happen in a year, five, or ten years. [Currently there was no court ruling against police officers who killed protesters during Maidan partially due to failures of investigation, partially due to the exchange of those suspected for Ukrainian hostages in Russia – ed.].

We are becoming hostages of the situation, because we have already purchased materials and there was a work schedule for 2019 when the court suddenly decided to arrest the area for an indefinite time until the investigation is complete. We have many points of view and we need to find a compromise here.

Стела героїв – центральне місце меморіального комплексу. На таблицях стели будуть написані імена Героїв Небесної Сотні. За задумом авторів, стела є образом протестувальників, що стоять пліч-о-пліч зі щитами.
The project of the new Memorial on the Heavenly Hundred Heroes Alley that symbolizes protesters who stay in a line with shields.

The experience of other countries testifies that the issues related to recent trauma, hot living history, are very difficult. But there must be someone who will take responsibility.

For example, the construction of a memorial to the 9/11 tragedy in New York. The situation there is no less dramatic than ours. About 3,000 victims, downtown New York. The discussion was whether to leave the ruins as a monument, leaving the dead bodies that were cremated among the ruins, or build a new memorial on this site. Investigative actions were ongoing, etc. Finally, the mayor of New York took responsibility and decided to build the Memorial. Similarly, an international competition was announced and representatives of all parties were invited to the jury.

In our case, the state announced the results of the competition and said let’s start, but other representatives of the state in the prosecutor’s office had their own view on the construction. At our request, the government has set up an interagency group this year. Its first meeting was held on the 30 of September. We hope for a real resolution of the situation soon.

A curvilinear pedestrian way near the memorial will symbolize Ukraine’s way for freedom with one linden planted for each killed protester.

Ben: In your opinion as a participant of Euromaidan, what is the main permanent change that followed from it?

Poshyvailo: The most important thing is the beginning of reforms. Some of them are already working, some are slipping, some are blocked by the remnants of the old system. But in general Ukraine has powerfully declared its democratic and pro-Western vector of development, finally abandoning its Soviet past in the process of decommunization. This helps get rid of the colonial heritage.

As for reforms, a very illustrative example is the story of Markian Paslawsky.

He was born in New York, born into a family of political immigrants, and became a Ranger. After the restoration of Ukraine’s independence in 1991, he moved to Ukraine, had his business here, was on the Maidan in the hottest moments. We have a photo of him taking out the wounded during the shootings on 20 February 2014. In March he went to the front as a volunteer of Donbas Volunteer Battalion and died near Ilovaisk on 19 August 2014. Now we have a very successful exhibition called New York – Ilovaisk. The choice. History of Markian Paslawsky.

Markian Paslawsky on Instytutska Street, 20 February 2014. Photo: Oleksiy Kuzmin

We published Markian’s thoughts that his family found on his computer. These are reflections on how to change Ukraine, which we published under the title A Call to Action. These are notes on what reforms need to be implemented to make Ukraine a non-corrupt, developed and prosperous country written somewhere in 2012-2014. Many of the predictions and things that Markian wrote about came true during the Maidan and after it.

Markian wrote that Ukrainian government should invite people from the diaspora and foreigners who are wealthy, experienced in economic and financial reforms. This experience should be transferred to Ukraine. This happened under Viktor Yushchenko, under Petro Poroshenko, when there were many representatives of other states in our government.

In Memoriam Markiyan (Mark) Gregory Paslawsky (16.01.1959 – 19.08.2014)

A very important achievement of the Maidan is that we preserved our state independence, because the risks of its loss were quite real during Yanukovych’s rule, when Ukraine could become similar to contemporary Belarus.

The third important achievement is the formation of a very influential civil society, socially responsible and active. It was the Maidan that vividly demonstrated its power. An important result is also the obvious formation of the political nation of Ukrainians. The Maidan showed that this nation is formed.

Euromaidan, Kyiv, 2014. Photo: open source
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