Life in Kiev, Ukraine is very different from a few months ago. Ukrainian protesters occupied Maidan square after demonstrations broke out calling for President Yanukovich to step down. Demonstrators have taken over every public building in the region around the square, using these spaces to focus their campaign on the revolution of their the government. Beyond the barriers erected by the opposition, the fight between protesters and policies is more or less continuous. However still, elements of joy can still be found amongst the chaos.
Inside Kiev city hall a black banner is draped across the council chamber that reads “Freedom for Ukraine or Death” and a marble staircase is plastered with satirical cartoons. The hall is used as the main medical center, with volunteer doctors and nurses tending to those wounded by police brutality. Nearby the clinic a large screen projects images from skirmishes between police and protesters. A piano painted blue and yellow mimicking the colors of the Ukrainian flag that sits outside the hall. A mysterious masked man is often found seated before it banging out cheerful melodies to a supportive crowd. The man, who has declined to reveal his identity, spoke with reporters on his actions saying that he wished the world to see that Ukrainians were regular people and well-educated. He said he played to help stabilize the morale of the protesters, calling the action the “spirit of the revolution.” The man is dressed in combat gear to undermine the authorities in Ukraine, who have labelled the protesters as “dangerous militants.” He stated that the people wished only for their patriotic rights, claiming they were not after money or violence.
Despite the cold weather, many of the activists spend their nights sleeping in central Kiev, literally holding the fort of the revolt. The night-time temperatures can drop as much as -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Ukrainians however, are using the cold weather to their advantage as much as possible. The streets are barricaded with bags filled with snow and cement powder. These are held in place with iron poles and often the space in front of the walls is doused with water creating slippery ice. Protesters watch these new barriers day and night as if they were medieval ramparts. There are several circles of snow barricades that radiate out from the central square. The occupiers are constantly building new ones, blocking up small side streets and access roads to control central Kiev. There is also a massive wall of burning tires set up near the Dynamo stadium, an area that has already seen casualties for the protesters. The wall is kept burning daily, providing a screen that hides the activists from police who are stationed beyond. Stones are tossed over the wall at police who retaliate with grenades and tear gas. Occasionally, people shoot fireworks towards the police line, cheering at a direct hit.
European Square, the rear guard of the occupied city is constantly filled with cars arriving bringing food, wood, medicine and tires to burn. Local businesses donate bread, salami, porridge, tea and coffee to help bolster the protesters. Cafés close to the center also advertise free tea for the “Euro Maidan” as a way to show their support.
A lot of citizens spend their free time at Maidan. Grandmas stand shoulder to shoulder with young men, preparing homemade Molotov cocktails out of jam jars and soda bottles. People from all walks of life, all ages, all backgrounds have banded together in Kiev.
The situation has been compared to the 18th century French Revolution. Indeed the set up with barricades and people on the streets invites the comparison, as well as the actions of the Ukrainians who are hoping to gain control of their country. On one of the barriers around the city is a French flag inscribed with the words “Merci France,” a sign that protesters have also made the connection. Beyond the walls, protesters stick together in solidarity against their oppressors.
By Sara Watson