революція в києві
REVOLUTION IN KIEV
For the second time in a decade Kiev became a stage for revolution.
But unlike the Orange revolution of 2004, the 2014 revolution soon colored blood red. With the erupting violence catching the attention of the International media, I felt there was very little attention being paid to the actual motives behind this revolution and the people who were participating in it, and for what reasons.
(Most Western media stated this revolution was a direct response to President Yanukovych’s withdrawal from signing the EU Association Agreement in favor of Russian relations.)
I decided to go to Kiev and explore the people behind this revolution. Who were they and where did they come from? Why did they take to the streets? And how did they see the future of their country?
The result is a photo journalistic project that tries to give a better insight into the life and mindset of the people that participated in this bloody revolution. I can only hope this document does their spirit, their endurance, their sacrifice and their hope for a better future as much justice as it deserves.
Слава Україні! Героям слава!
“The smoke on Maidan, is the scent of our freedom.”
Even in minus thirty degrees Celsius and having recently commemorated the first casualties, the people of the Maidan Self Defence forces busily guarded the icy barricades that sealed off the center of Kiev from the outside world, and the government forces that waited beyond them.
Hooded and cloaked, with faces grooved by the cold and blackened by smoke, these guards kept a watchful eye on everyone trying to enter this barricaded zone. They sat next to burn barrels wearing homemade armour and carrying self-made weapons. In between smoking and waiting, they eat homemade meals distributed by Kiev’s women.
Inside the barricades the people reigned, and the city breathed revolution. As a massive pulsating organism, the centre of Kiev had adopted a survivalist mentality. And although stores, cafés and restaurants were still open for business and the city seemed to be on a regular rhythm, the backdrop of revolution set the stage for all the people that inhabit it.
Tents were set up everywhere, fires were burning every fifteen meters and groups of armed and armored men gave the smelly, smoke-filled air a palpable tension. In the calm before the storm, which re-erupted heavily on Tuesday 18th of February, several Ukrainians give their view on the revolution and the future of their country.
Independence Square, or Maidan, had become a city in itself. Maidan City was a vivid maze of tents, smoke, flags and walls made from snow filled bags. It was the centre of the peaceful revolution as well as a residence to many protesters that have come from all over Ukraine to make themselves heard.
“The revolution will succeed because spirits are high.”
— Petro Stepanovich, from Besidka, lived in a tent on Independence Square
“I have been here since the first of December. I used to be a professional driver for the last forty years. Then I came here. For honour and truth. In the spirit of the Cossacks, the free men.”
“It is a harsh winter. But we fight for the truth, so we cannot be worrying about food and sleeping conditions. So far only two people couldn’t handle it here. The conditions are tough, but the spirit of Maidan is only going up. The revolution will succeed because spirits are high.”
“I will stay here until the new presidential elections.”
— Irina, from Novgorod-Siversky, lived in a tent on Khreshchatyk
“I have been here for two months now. Up to sixty people sleep here. They come and go. People bring us food. We have to go elsewhere to wash ourselves though. And the tents are cleaned out regularly out of fear for germs.”
“I will stay here until the new presidential elections, until the final victory. I want Yanukovych to resign. I won’t leave until the government and power structures have changed. I want a total re-boot of parliament and president.”
“We need constitutional changes. Now the president is like an octopus with tentacles into every local business and service. In every city or village all the heads of police and taxation are from Donetsk. They act as observers for Yanukovych. He is the head of this Donetsk clan.”
“We have confidence and we want Yanukovych to know this. The peaceful protest should move from the street into parliament. There it can destroy the Yanukovych clan system.”
“IN ORDER FOR CHANGE TO OCCUR, WE WILL NEED WAR.”
— Anonymous combat trainer for the radical Right Sector
“Our main goal is to overthrow Yanukovych. He, his government, and all corrupt men must leave Ukraine. If not peacefully, then by means of war. We don’t want a war. That would lead to many casualties. But in order for change to occur we will need a war.”
“I am a trained martial artist and some of us are professional soldiers with experience in war and fighting. We teach these techniques because we are all soldiers of the UPA (named after the Ukranian Insurgent Army—a Ukrainian nationalist resistance movement during World War II) now and we will need the experience in the coming war. We are with about two thousand people in the UPA right now.”
The KMDA, or Kiev City State Administration building, was one of the many official buildings under the control of the protesters.
Once past the guards and through the revolving doors, the icy cold was traded for a bustle of activity. People came and went by the hundreds. Most of them in home-made combat gear and carrying some kind of a weapon.
The building also offered sleeping accommodation to many protesters from outside of Kiev. There was a kitchen in which volunteers prepared food and protesters could eat. The canteen had been transformed into food storage space, to where people from all over Ukraine send food. There were clothing collection points where those in need of warm garments could get them. There was an improvised medical centre and the KMDA also housed the press centre of opposition party Svoboda.
“I AM NO LONGER A CITIZEN OF UKRAINE. THE STATE TELLS ME I AM A CRIMINAL. SO NOW I AM A CITIZEN OF MAIDAN. HERE I LIVE AND HERE I WILL FIGHT.”
— Yevgeniy Karos
Yevgeniy Karos – from Kiev – is a 26-year-old Sociologist at the Kiev University. He is also commander of the Maidan Self Defence forces based at the KMDA.
“After the Orange Revolution in 2004 we all thought we would live better lives. But this wish didn’t come true. The future of our country is not in the hand of the people from 2004 anymore. It belongs to my generation. It is my generation that will go down in history.”
“Our revolution is not about integration with the European Union. It is about the Ukrainian way of life and its development. In essence it is an inner revolution against authority. Geo-political matters are less relevant than those of identity.”
“The European Union, and how we view its democracy, is part of our mission. But it is not the main goal. The main goal is for the whole of Ukraine, with its diverse backgrounds, to accept a change in the systems of power. We want more law, more justice, and less corruption. We want to stop this monstrous system.”
“What we have here now is self-organisation and social-organization. We need to expand this to the rest of Ukraine. The improvised medical centres on Maidan alone show that the people themselves are more capable in providing services than the government is.”
“Right now we have crossed a point of no return with the police shooting innocent people. We are tired of this criminal system and there is no police force big enough to protect those guilty few from the masses. Every corrupt official is starting to understand that they have accountability to the people. They are very afraid now.”
“This revolution will become even harsher, but it will come to change our society for centuries to come. The way our forefathers wanted it to be. That’s why there are no tragedies here. Nobody cries for our martyrs because we know these heroes died for the future of their children and their friends. Which is better than to die from hunger, or corruption, or at the hands of this regime. To die from police bullets is a beautiful death if it helps to shape the future of one’s country. Death is a ticket to infinite fame and honour.”
“I think by the summer we will have won. But what that means exactly, I do not know. The whole of Ukraine will have new norms and values, and a new social system as well. Who the president will be doesn’t matter as long as these new values spread across the country. If this happens, we have won. Who will lead us after that is only of secondary importance.”
“First a change in society, then a change in government.”
“WE DON’T WANT TO LIVE UNDER A DICTATORSHIP, THE WAY WE DO NOW.”
— Vlada & Khristina
Khristina & Vlada – from Lvov – are two 19-year-old students that volunteer in the Sklad, which is the food storage center in the canteen of City Hall.
“We have been here for two months now, because we support the cause. We want to help the people and we want to join the European Union. Our parents support us in what we are doing here.”
“People from all over Ukraine come here to bring food. A lot of people from the European Union bring food as well. From Italy, Portugal, as well as Canada. Because there are a lot of Ukrainian immigrants living over there.”
“About six or seven volunteers work in the sklad on a daily basis. Some days we have up to fifty people working to run the food storage and distribution efficiently.”
“WHEN I HAVE TIME, I VOLUNTEER.”
— Tanya Ogarkova
Tanya Ogarkova – from Kiev – is French Literature professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
“When I have time I volunteer as an interpreter for the Maidan movement. When they need an interpreter for foreign press for example, they call me. Otherwise I come to the KMDA and prepare sandwiches for the people.”
“There work around thirty people in the kitchen. Mostly Ukrainians. Some French. And one Russian.”
“I QUIT MY JOB SO I COULD COME HERE.”
— Dr. Pavel
Dr. Pavel – from Chernigov – is volunteer doctor at the medical point in the KMDA.
“I quit my job as a family physician so I could come here. People bring medicine so we can help others. The thing we still need the most are blood thickeners.”
“I HAVE BEGUN GIVING FIRST AID COURSES. THEY WILL BE NEEDED SOON ENOUGH.”
— Dr. Yaroslav
Dr. Yaroslav – from Lvov – is a military doctor volunteering at the medical point in the KMDA.
“I am a military doctor. I started my career by attending to the wounded during the Soviet Afghan War.”
“I was wounded in Hrushevskoho Street by a sharp round of ammunition. I was giving first aid to Roman Senik, one of the protesters who got killed, when a sniper shot me. Despite the red cross on my outfit. I was hit in the left arm, from which we removed a copper twelve calibre round.”
“Now I always carry a camera with me so I can photograph the wounded. How else can we show what is happening here? The police started taping metal shards to their stun grenades in order to make more casualties. They are making splinter grenades.”
“I have begun giving first aid courses and courses in the transport of wounded. It will be needed soon enough.”
UKRAINIAN TRADE UNIONS BUILDING
A massive grey building that looms over Maidan. Before it burned out in the recent wave of violence, it rented out its space to the demonstrators.
At the entrance to the building, in front of the actual security check point, there was a shrine set up that remember all of those who pass of the protesters that have already lost their lives.
Security here was made up of heavy armoured men wearing balaclavas and holding metal rods in the palm of their hand. Ready to strike at any troublemaker to be weeded out of those trying to enter. Those allowed to pass made their way between the massive pillars and into the fluorescently lit hall. Once again checkpoints had to be passed. The dirty boot print stained stairway was lined with armoured Self Defence forces making their way down, staring you in the eyes as you passed.
A guarded door and another checkpoint later laid Maidan’s largest improvised medical centre. Spread out over several old corridors and occupying several rooms, it was filled with people.
Medicine was everywhere.
“YOU WON’T FIND THIS KINDS OF SUPPLY AND ASSISTANCE IN STATE RUN HOSPITALS.”
— Dr. Roman Fishchuk
Dr. Roman Fishchuk – from Ivano-Frankivsk – is a 26-year-old medical ENT student volunteering at the Ukrainian Trade Unions Building medical point.
“I am studying in London at the moment. I came here after I realised I needed to be here to provide hands on assistance. At first my parents didn’t want me to fly over from London. But now they support what I am doing.”
“When there are no active clashes we receive about fifty to sixty people daily. We have about fifteen doctors, we have surgeons, and we even have psychiatrists standing by. There are seven improvised medical units working in the vicinity of Maidan. This one has four operating rooms. We are now a whole separate healthcare system. You won’t find this kind of supply and assistance in State run hospitals.”
“IF THE RADICAL AGGRESSION CONTINUES, THE MILITARY MIGHT GET INVOLVED AND THEN THE VIOLENCE WILL ESCALATE.”
— Dr. Oleg Musii
Dr. Oleg Musii – from Kiev – is the President of the Ukrainian Medical Association and one of the organisers and coordinators of the Maidan medical services.
“During the Orange Revolution of 2004 I also participated in the organisation of medical points to help the protesters. We gained a lot of experience there. We started here on the first of December, because at that point a lot of people were camping out on Maidan. Because of the many treats to their health we set up a centre that could provide help fast.”
“It is two different times. Now we mostly get flew related problems. In the period of January 19th to the 25th we saw a lot of trauma from explosive grenades, bullet wounds, baton hits and teargas related problems. It is in that period that we set up a surgical department.”
“The supply system we have works very well. We have about 90 to 95 percent of what we need. We have call centres that receive many phone calls from people that want to help.”
“I have a wife and two daughters. They have a positive opinion about my work, even though I spend 80 percent of my time here at Maidan. I work three days with 12-hour shifts, which leave me the possibility to catch up on my sleep. Then I work a full 24-hour shift, followed by another three days of 12-hour shifts. At the moment I only see my family when they are asleep. When they wake up to start their day and go to school, I am usually asleep.”
“I have a positive view on the revolution. The people have achieved something already.”
“Yet the government doesn’t want to listen so maybe a dialogue won’t be established. But there is a high possibility the protesters will achieve their goals. Although if the radical aggression continues, the military might get involved and then the violence might escalate.”
“People want a normal, EU style country. Not a wild and chaotic Soviet State.”
Walking up the stairs leading to Kiev’s main exhibition centre, this concrete giant only gets more dominating with every step. It was a dark colossus with the only light it produced coming from far behind yet another busy intersection of masked guards and demonstrators entering and exiting.
The light shined through a layer of industrial plastic covering the entrance to keep to heath in and unwanted eyes out.
On the ground floor the massive, soviet style ceiling hung over what was only a few days ago the Open University of Maidan. Here, in the centre of this great hall, people came to listen. Flanked by a permanent stream of Maidan Self Defence ‘soldiers’, poets recited, teachers taught and musicians played. There was also an open library, where a constantly changing crowd snooped through the set up bookcases. It also housed the headquarters of the AutoMaidan movement.
The upper levels, accessible only by decommissioned escalators that layed behind four men wearing combat gear, housed many people foreign to Kiev. There even was a special wing reserved for Soviet Afghan War veterans.
“PEOPLE NO LONGER WANT TO LIVE IN A LAWLESS AND CORRUPTED COUNTRY.”
Katya – from Kiev – is the 25-year-old Press Officer for the AutoMaidan movement.
“AutoMaidan is made up of about fifty people with cars, which makes us fast acting. It was organised around the first of December, by five people. Now we have about fifty daily members. There are always different people, with different cars. If the government doesn’t want to listen to Maidan, we will bring Maidan to them.”
“Every night AutoMaidan patrols the city to look out for Berkut busses or Titushki. If we see busses heading for Maidan we call Maidan Security to warn them. If trucks with supplies for Maidan aren’t allowed access by the police, we help and escort them. We work with Maidan Security if they need our help, and visa versa.”
“The police controlling the streets is corrupt. AutoMaidan is bypassing them by creating its own civil operation. There are road inspectors that stop cars just for carrying a Ukrainian flag. There is lawlessness on the road. AutoMaidan is trying to restore order. By interfering with corrupt road inspectors that hand out wrongful fines, AutoMaidan takes control.”
“AutoMaidan operates in different cities of both Ukraine and the European Union. We go to houses of Ukrainian political big shots living abroad and hold peaceful demonstrations.”
“Our revolution has a lot of causes. People don’t agree with living in a country without law, with corruption, where the President’s son can take over any business…”
“Yanukovych hasn’t listened to the people for too long.”
“The European Union Treaty was just the last drop. Ukraine wants to live without Yanukovych and this kind of government. After that Ukraine will decide on the EU / Russia issue.”
“I hear Yanukovysh has health problems. I hope it is true. Because what he is doing right now… The International Court of Justice in Den Haag should be waiting for him with open arms.”
“My parents are okay with my work here, although they are nervous. I joined AutoMaidan because what they do is right. We only support peaceful actions.”
“Once we win the revolution we will have a big party. Then we will decide whether or not to stop and resume normal life, or continue to control the law.”
“we provide relaxation and distraction after a long and tough day.”
— Tanya, volunteer at the Open Maidan Library
“The Library was set up on the 27th of January by Ina and Viktor, a married couple from Dnepropetrovsk. After two days we had around a thousand books. Now we have around three thousand.”
“We didn’t expect it to have an impact, but I feel we have changed the flavour of the revolution. It is now no longer fought in fights, but in minds.”
“Every revolution has three pillars. There is the spirit of the masses, which we have on Maidan. There is the force, which we have seen on Hrushevskoho Street. And then there is the intellectual pillar, which we felt was missing. So we decided to create it. Those three pillars combined will unify the whole of Maidan.”
“We provide relaxation and distraction after a long and touch day. There are no normal conditions these days. No normal sleeping patterns. So people come to read, exchange ideas and talk about literature. We have about 700 visitors every day.”
“We want to introduce poetry and literature evenings that are open for all. After the revolution we will send all the books to libraries in small villages. Because it is a big problem in Ukraine, that libraries don’t receive new books.”
“WE WANT THE POLITICIANS TO KEEP IN MIND THAT THE PEOPLE’S HANDS ARE AT THEIR NECKS.”
— Igor & Aleksander, Afghan Veterans
Igor & Aleksander – from Dnepropetrovsk and Kiev Oblast – are two 52 and 58-year-old Soviet Afghan War veterans.
“We have been sleeping here since October 10th. We were at all the rallies. Our first goal is to protect the people. For they are now understanding that they are participating in the political process and they expect their representatives to do their jobs.”
“We are guards of Kiev. We took a military oath before the people. In 1979 we promised to serve the people of the Soviet Union. We are now pensioned soldiers, but our oath is still in effect. Not following it now, in Kiev, would be a crime. This is our motherland and we can not just leave it.”
“There are a lot of objectives. For instance, we have to patrol our territory and capture alcoholics and bandits and take them out of our territory. We support Maidan, following military rules. The Military Militia is here to maintain order in Kiev.”
“Ukraine is not to be made a State of Russia. It is in our hands to solve the problems.”
“If the European Union doesn’t mind what Putin does, it will not care about what happens here. What is happening here is the European Union’s fault because they tolerate Putin.”
“The end of our crisis is also in European hands. But neither Russia or the European Union are interested in a new independent power in Europe.”
“We will stay here until the end, until there is a new President. After that we will stay an extra three months, in order to help restart the government peacefully. We want the politicians to keep in mind that they were chosen by the people and that the people’s hands are at their necks.”
At the edges of Maidan-occupied Kiev one found oneself at the edge of time. There was very little to be found here reminiscent of modern times, next to these manmade walls running through this city.
On one side of the wall there sat battered groups of Ukrainians dedicated to the preservation of the people’s will. They sat beside burn barrels, out of the painfully cold wind that whistled past the barricades behind them. The only place were minus thirty temperatures didn’t immediately burrow their way through the fabric of your clothing is next to a burn barrel. Breath escaped the protestors in big white clouds. Their faces were gritty from the smoke and grooved by the cold. They looked old. Their homemade weapons were never kept out of sight. Their clothing and homemade battle gear was worn and dirty. They smoked cigarettes and ate homemade meals prepared for them by Kiev’s women.
They applauded as a group of Ukrainian mothers passed, shouting and holding banners telling the world that Ukraine doesn’t want to loose its son to needless violence.
They denied the assistance offered by a small medical unit that asked them if they need anything.
They waited for the next change of watch or for the government forces, that laid about fifteen meters beyond the barricades, to make their next move.
The government forces were wearing riot gear and stood frozen in the icy winds, behind their metal shields. Their cold stares directed at the barricades in front of them. They were Ukrainians sworn to protect their constitution and their government.
They couldn’t smoke, they were forced to stand straight for hours on end during which nobody brought them food. When they were not on shift, they kept warm by playing a game of football against the fire department.
A timeless and nervous stand off between Ukrainian people.
Sometimes the government forces played music through a loudspeaker. In return the demonstrators sang songs. Yet the air was as filled with smoke and ice as it was with tension.
“WE ARE ALL PATRIOTS AND WE ARE ALL PREPARED TO DIE.”
Mikhail – from Spas – is a civilian soldier of the Maidan Army.
“I used to be a history teacher. I came to Kiev in 2004 to be part of the Orange Revolution. When I returned home after that I found out I had lost my job. These new developments on Maidan made me feel I should come back and be here with the heroes. Now I am a soldier in the Maidan Army. It is made up of people from both West and East Ukraine.”
“The most action occurs when the government forces try to break our lines. Me and nine others make up the night sector. We stand watch all night. If Berkut starts a new action we will go out and fight them. We are all patriots and thus we are prepared to die.”
“Radical action is necessary and I will be here until the end. God must help us in our victory because it will be a difficult one. But once we have our victory, I will go back to my village as a hero.”
“PEOPLE ARE SAD ABOUT THE VIOLENCE?
TELL US SOMETHING WE DON’T KNOW.”
— Government Forces
Members of the Government Forces lined up in defense of the Presidents administrative offices. I try to engage in conversation with them.
Can I ask you some questions?
“We can not talk to you. Go away.”
Can I photograph you?
“No. It is not allowed. Go away.”
Aren’t you cold?
“No. Go away.”
Where are you from?
“We all come from Odessa. Now go away.”
Who’s playing football?
“We’re playing against the fire brigade. Keeps us warm.”
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Belgium.”
“What do you think about the revolution?”
“I think it is good people stand up for themselves.”
“Yes it is.”
“I think it is sad there needs to be violence though.”
“People are sad about the violence? No shit! Tell us something we don’t know. We’re the ones on the hard end of it.”
“Now get out of here!”
First of all I want to thank my fixers – Vadim, Anton and Alex – without whom I would not have been able to gain access to the places I wanted to go. Their willingness to help and unwillingness to stop trying got me into some areas other media wasn’t allowed. Without them this project would have been impossible.
No matter how hard working in minus 30°C can get, the hardest part of working on this project was knowing how easy I had it in comparison to the Ukrainian men and women who, for months on end, had to endure the violence and stress of revolution—as well as living in make shift housing with often low hygiene conditions—while constantly battling the elements of the Ukrainian winter.
It leaves you with a terrible feeling, understanding that all these people – who openly talked to me, let me photograph them and even helped and protected me when things got rough – knew all too well that unlike them, once I got the photos and interviews I came for, I had the luxury of returning to a warm and safe home far away from the poverty, corruption and violence that made up their daily lives.
The hardest thing to cope with however - having witnessed the brutal force of this revolution and having spent time with the people behind it - was seeing how fast it faded away afterwards. The moment the revolution came to a sudden end with president Yanukovych fleeing the country (in true Ceausescu style), there appeared for the briefest of moments a vacuum. This short period of re-breathing and reflection, during which Ukraine was without an internationally recognized government, was long enough for big neighbour Russia to seize its opportunity for – depending on how you look at it – imperial expansion, or historical reclaim. With the Russian annexation of Crimea, and the resulting unrests in Eastern Ukraine, the revolution made way for an internationally backed conflict that is often presented as bordering on civil war.
While Ukrainians are still fighting other Ukrainians on their own soil - and East and West still seemingly eager to pour oil on this already rampant fire – I can only hope that this document allows us not to forget for what reasons the events in Kiev, which spurred the current situation in Ukraine, started in the first place…
Text & Photographs © Sam Asaert