Is it only the calm before the storm? After restless months of peaceful demonstrations and violent clashes, Maidan has turned into a waiting room for 25 May, ready for the first diagnose regarding the country’s future. Will the presidential election day bring an end to the springtime lethargy in Kyiv?
Since the beginning of March, I have been working for Eastbook.eu as part of my European Voluntary Service (EVS) at Common Europe Foundation in Warsaw, Poland. For the last two months, I have been reading, translating and summarising numerous articles about the events in Ukraine happening since Yanukovych has resigned from his office, and the world leaders’ and columnists’ opinion on them.
It was about time to leave the computer screen for the real world. My EVS supervisor Ania Woźniak, planning a trip to Ukraine during which she would meet local coordinators of Scientific Fun, an educational project she is running, invited me to come along.
After ten hours on the bus to L’viv, we had boarded the night train to Kyiv. In the early morning of our second day of travelling, we are walking down towards Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the Independence Square, mostly only referred to as Maidan. The street leading down to the Square, which has been the centre of peaceful protests as well as deadly fights during the last months, is still covered with barricades. Helmets, gas masks and shields between piled up car wheels and sand bags remind of the violence that the place saw. Banners with photos and plastic flowers are dedicated to those killed on Maidan, mainly as a result of the police violence on 18 and 20 February.
EU flags are as numerous as Ukrainian and UPA black-red battle flags, reminding the nationalist paramilitary Ukrainian Insurgent Army fighting for an independent Ukrainian nation state during and after World War 2 .
A smell of smoked meat and campfire is in the air. It is coming from camps along the streets and on the square, where people from all parts of the country continue to live in tents and wait for something to happen. ‘’We are expecting some incident of Russian aggression around 9 May celebrations [the Victory Day and end of the Second World War with Nazi Germany capitulating to the Soviet Union in 1945 – author’s note], that’s why many people come back to Maidan these days,’’ an elderly man sitting in front of a tent explains us in Ukrainian.
We are waiting for M. in a coffee place from which we can oversee the square. Two young men are playing chess on the terrace. A few metres further, women behind souvenir stalls offer little flags and emblems reminding of Euromaidan in addition to the standard merchandise for tourists. M. was one of the first injured treated in a Polish hospital. When violence escalated in February, the Polish foreign ministry offered free medical care to those, who feared detention by the Yanukovych regime in case they would go to a hospital in Kyiv.
On the way to M.’s flat, the taxi driver is sharing the tales of the city. When we pass the statue of the three brothers Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv and their sister Lybid, who are the mythological founders of Kyiv, he explains that the monument was damaged by a cannon shot during the inauguration celebrations of Yanukovych. In retrospect, many people interpreted the accident as a bad omen for his political career ending in abdication and Russian exile.
Later this day, I am on a walk with M., while Ania is meeting her local project coordinator. We are passing the Olympic stadium, where in 2012 the UEFA European championship took place. Today there is a match too, we can hear thousands of fan voices singing anti-Putin choruses. ‘
’What would they do if they saw pro-Russian separatists?’’ I ask M. ‘’There are no pro-Russian people in Kyiv,’’ he replies. ‘’And if even there are, they don’t show themselves.’’
M. tells me that many people previously not interested in politics have become political conscious through the protests on Maidan. Although most Ukrainians are bilingual, many have switched from using Russian to Ukrainian in daily life as a political statement in favour of a Ukrainian nation state.
In the evening, we are meeting with M.’s friends, students and young workers, mainly in their 20s. A girl asks me if media in the EU still report what’s going on in Ukraine and whether people care about it. I tell her that yes, they do, and hope it will remain true.
Not only in EU countries, also in Ukraine, people are getting tired of the prolonged conflict and of the constant propaganda from all sides.
The demonstrators of Euromaidan were taking to the streets for a better life in their country without corruption and kleptocracy. Instead, they find themselves on the edge of war with Russia.
‘’War will start after the presidential elections on 25 May,’’ is an opinion commonly heard among people. While the expected incident in Kyiv on 8 May did not happen, Ukrainians are again in a state of waiting for the ultimate escalation, this time on the upcoming election day.