Several months ago, there was a lot of coverage in the Western media about the ongoing protests in Kiev and the occupation of Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). But after the fall of the Yanukovitch Government, coverage moved to the troubles in Crimea and the East, so I assumed things were back to normal in Kiev. I expected to find signs of what had happened, but I must say I had no idea it was still occupied, almost like it was months ago.
Tents and barricades were still everywhere. I asked a young local guy who spoke English well why the protesters were still there, now that a provisional government favourable to their views was in place. “Honestly, we’re not sure” was his answer. He suggested most residents are looking forward to all these people going back to wherever they normally live (including in their Kiev apartments).
As is often the case in revolutions, the victorious “side” can often be a mishmash of powerful intellectuals, miserable bandits and everything in between, from many ideological backgrounds. As I mentioned in my Lviv story, I have been very busy in the last couple of weeks and I didn’t have time to try and understand the very complex nature of Ukrainian politics and history. So I will just share the pictures I took around Maidan Square.
Hundreds of tents block one of the main streets of the capital. When I was there, some people thought they would have to be removed for Victory Day (May 9th). In the end, the current Government didn’t cancel the celebrations, but cut them back massively, citing fears of provocations and clashes. A book could be written just on the symbolism, implications and historical roots of such a decision. I won’t be the one to write it.
A field kitchen.
A makeshift church.
Small breaches have been made to allow pedestrian traffic, but otherwise the barricades have not moved.
One was being removed when I was there, in front of the flower clock. It was the only one which stank, probably because it was partially composed of garbage.
Barricades were made of sand bags.
Some sort of industrial rubber.
Thousands of tires.
Obstacle fields had depths and were well designed.
At first, I thought pavement stones had been removed to throw at the authorities, but then I realized they had been used to build fortifications.
Massive fortifications! You may think this just looks like a little wall anyone could climb over, but you have to remember this would have been manned by the protesters. By analogy, for a professional army, going through a minefield is relatively easy. But going through a minefield while being attacked by the enemy is very hard! This is the same situation; trying to cross such barricades while being beaten with sticks and having rocks and Molotov cocktails thrown at you is not easy at all. All I can say is that when faced with such a movement, which has been allowed to entrench for so long, removing the protesters with minimal violence ceases to be an option. You can negotiate or you can go in with force, but there is no illusion to be had if you chose the later; people will die on both sides.
Even some heavy anti-riot police vehicles did not survive.
The burnt out shell of the Trade Unions Building, which had become the headquarters of the protesters.
Signs of the violence are still very present, and makeshift memorials have been built all around the square.
While reviewing my photos, I realized that I had taken separate pictures of the individual memorials to two of the victims in this shot.
One of the few women.
And one of the youngest victims ( I think the youngest was 17). Unsurprisingly, I did not see any memorial to the policemen killed.
Symbolism was everywhere.
Sometimes positive in tone.
And sometimes outright violent.
Or of questionable ideology.
Overall, the place had the strangest feeling to it. A very odd mixture of conflict zone, old battlefield, country fair, tourist site and normal busy street. “Militiamen” with various uniforms, some still with UK or German Army insignias, mixed with hunting gear and jeans. I avoided taking pictures of them, as I didn’t want to face a language barrier if I had been challenged on my intentions. None that I saw were armed, and during the day anyway, none were drunk, which gave the place a rather safe feel.
A cartoon competition of some kind, next to the vendors of souvenirs and Ukrainian flags, pins and t-shirts.
What I can only describe as a mini war museum!
Local tourists and residents taking pictures,
Many with the whole family. Nothing seemed threatening, until I heard marching music. I was a little concerned about who would show up, what their intentions would be and how the occupiers would greet them.
My concerns were not really founded! This was becoming stranger by the minute.
And then I saw the absolute last thing I expected to see there!
Stuck between the utterly bizarre and the completely normal, I did the only appropriate thing to do in such circumstances.
I ordered a beer and some sushi.