Sunday

22nd Jan 2017

In pictures: How Kiev's pro-EU protest became an anti-war movement

  • Kiev still looks like a battlefield, while civilians in military clothes police the city (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

Canadian photojournalist Christopher Bobyn spent the week after ex-president Viktor Yanukovych's ousting in Kiev on 22 February documenting the evolution of the Maidan from a pro-EU demonstration, to a revolutionary frontline, to an anti-war protest.

As Crimea’s 16 March referendum on joining Russia approaches, revolutionaries turned anti-war protestors occupy Kiev’s Maidan, safeguarding the principles of their revolution and demonstrating against the efforts of Vladimir Putin’s Russia to annex Crimea, if not the entire east of Ukraine.

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The Maidan has become an independent and fully functioning town/settlement erected from wood, tyres, barbed wire, and snow in central Kiev, devoted to protecting the democratic ideals of the revolution, free from outside influence. Reinforced since ex-president Viktor Yanukovych’s ousting on 22 February, this “town within a city” will stay in place until revolutionaries are satisfied with election results on 25 May 25.

“The Maidan has become a living, breathing thing. That means that it is evolving and will continue to evolve to meet the needs of the revolution,” Misha Oleksiyenko, protestor and resident of the Maidan said.

A man plays darts on a homemade Yanukovych dartboard within the Maidan settlement.

Many citizen-led institutions have been folded into the Maidan: City Hall, theatres and museums turned into free hospitals, food kitchens and sleeping quarters, children’s programs.

Two young doctors and a member of the Maidan “Self-Defence Force” in the Ukrainian House: a museum turned hospital during the revolution. The doctors volunteered to provide the residents of Maidan with free health care and to treat injuries from the fighting with riot police. Kievans also sleep in the museum, and a kitchen feeds hundreds of protestors daily, for free. The endeavour is funded by donations from those who can afford it, and from wealthy Ukrainians who back the regime change from the Yanukovych government.

The casket of a 22-year-old protestor is carried through the Maidan during his funeral in Kiev.

Two weeks after the worst bloodletting, protestors shot by the Berkut (meaning “Eagle”) riot police of the Yanukovych regime are still dying from their injuries in hospital.

The Maidan has become a memorial to the “holy hundred”: the 90 men and one woman killed during February in what many Ukrainians call the “Battle of Maidan”. Indeed, central Kiev now looks like a battlefield, with barbed wire, wooden watchtowers and burned-out buildings shaping the horizon.

As the Euro-Maidan revolution pushed out the corrupt government, so too did most of Kiev's police forces abandon their posts, refusing to patrol the streets. The protestors and revolutionaries, not wanting looting and arson to spoil the success of their cause, took it upon themselves to police the city themselves as a Maidan "Self-Defence Force". Wearing second-hand military surplus, these civilians from many professional backgrounds and ages are now the de facto police in Kiev.

The Self-Defence Force of Maidan is the official people’s security of Kiev now that the city police fear to be seen in uniform. Founded by current Ukrainian minister of interior Arsen Avakov to protect protestors from riot police, these citizens-turned-police officially are not allowed to mask themselves or carry weapons. However, many men flaunt these codes and groups are fractured under the leadership.

Many groups, namely the extreme right wing of the “Pravy Sektor”, independently guard Kiev’s streets without loyalty to the Self Defence forces. Officially the right wing “co-operates” with other groups, but because of its superior organisation and specific revolutionary goals, the far right remains independent of other security groups and operates its own policing efforts. The future role of right wing groups in Kiev remains unclear, but their inclusion and influence in future Ukrainian governments (given their prominent roles in battling riot police and now policing Kiev) seems assured.

A crowd of thousands of Ukrainians protests the presence of pro-Russian soldiers in Crimea. Where once EU flags were prominent, now only Ukrainian flags are waved. The revolutionaries have started to view the EU with disappointment after Brussels failed to do more than verbally back the revolution. Joining the EU is still a long-term goal of many protestors in Maidan. However, the successful efforts of Ukrainians in toppling their own corrupt leadership without outside assistance has inspired a general feeling of indifference toward Brussels, mirroring the indifference Ukrainians feel Brussels showed them. Protecting the accomplishments of their revolution internally and bracing for Russia’s fracturing of country are now the priorities.

An elderly woman carries a sign reading, “Bandit Yanukovych, surrender to [Ukraine’s new security chief] Nalyvaychenko! Choose between prison or a sniper. You are guilty of shooting down the “heavenly hundred”. Bandit and monster, you let Putin eat from under your table.”

On a foggy March evening, Maidan revolutionaries warm themselves as they have for the last three months while in central Kiev. The protestors who marched for closer ties with the EU have now changed not only Ukraine, but the EU itself not from within, but from without. Regardless of the outcome in Crimea and indeed in Kiev, the European Union will be forced to adapt to the landscape these men and women have created through their actions. To the bewilderment of Brussels, and indeed Ukrainians themselves, the revolutionaries of the Maidan have placed Ukraine at the centre of European affairs and are driving events that Brussels is racing to keep up with, but fails to influence (which suits many in the Maidan just fine).

Christopher Bobyn’s previous work has included extensive coverage of the former-Yugoslavia, the Syrian civil war, and the Egyptian revolution. He is currently living in Berlin

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