The other side of Maidan
Today’s blog post probably won’t be much appreciated by those who spent two months at Maidan. If right here and now the revolution means everything to you and you are living by it, it’s best to stop reading now. Today we’ll be covering the other side of the barricades. Because we’re not here to collect Likes, but to show an objective picture of the events.
When at Maidan, one is driven by the euphoria, similar to the one you get at a concert or a sports stadium during a match: even a stranger gets caught in the wave of cheering and supporting the common cause. Kiev’s Maidan is hosting thousands of people, truly and genuinely united by one common idea. This is really cool, and I sincerely envy Ukrainians who have managed to make this happen. But let’s try and leave Maidan to have a look at what’s going on the other side.
On the opposite side of the barricades there are people with faith in a different truth. Unfortunately, communication with Berkut troops [face masks and light blue camouflage uniform] is practically impossible. As soon as you try to come closer, you find yourself at a gun point immediately. Nevertheless, we hear comments from the commanders every now and again. The troops of National Guard [dark blue uniform] are more sociable. Yesterday while the truce was in force, I visited the other side and spoke to the militia, who has been guarding the government quarter for the past five days.
01. I woke up at 8. I went to bed at 4. Not getting enough sleep is the main problem of all journalists in Kiev today. Incidents are taking place 24/7, with the most interesting events often falling to night time. I haven’t met a single journalist who’s been sleeping well this past week.
02. A weird event called ‘mothers of Maidan’ took place this morning. I don’t know who organized it and why, but it looked fake and simply bad.
03. Religious ministers arranged for women with banners to rally in front of Berkut soldiers. They were allotted 30 minutes.
04. I have no idea where these women came from. It’s quite possible that they came here with sincere intentions. The impression however was different: they looked like Yanukovich’s mercenary electorate.
05. The women were singing the national anthem, chanting “You’re our children!” and frankly were trying to create a tragic atmosphere.
At some point the fever pitch started dropping and that’s when one of the event managers whispered something to the women and they all kneeled in front of the soldiers. The reporters finally captured the moment of drama. Shortly the performers ran out of time and ‘the mothers of Maidan” were taken away in an orderly manner.
I don’t know who and why organized this event, but clearly it brought negative fame to Maidan protesters.
During this imitation of deep mourn, I managed to make the best of the situation and spoke to the soldiers and fighters of Berkut.
06. Deeper into the defense line, Berkut fighters are not at all eager to communicate. People are really angry, tired, and very irritable. I spoke to two, both refused to be filmed or recorded. They are reluctant to communicate. There are several public speakers among the fighters. These well-grounded in politics and ideas executives are fed to the journalists of the national media. They say all the right things and give inspirational speeches. You can easily find their interviews online, I’m sure. I don’t find them interesting.
07. National Guard soldiers and militia in general are bright and cheerful. To many of them this is an exciting adventure. I didn’t notice any particular hostility. The boys are finally out of the barracks and into the war! Of course they are frightened, but this fear is probably more like that of a boy climbing high up a tree: yes, he could fall, but curiosity prevails over the instinct of self-preservation.
08. Infuriated people are staring at Berkut from the other side of the barricades. They are preparing to throw stones at them in the next battle.
09. Berkut is a whole different story. They are the main fighting force here. They shoot at the crowd. They genuinely hate people on the other side of the barricades. Arkady Babchenko’s LiveJournal offers an interesting theory, suggesting that Berkut fighters could arbitrarily replace individual ammunition in their rifles to shoot to kill. At first I thought it was just another delusion, you know, like one of those conspiracy theories. But now I think it's quite possible. There is plenty of scumbag on both sides and it's scary.
10. On the other side there, too, are plenty of volunteers to kill the enemy. Looking at the weapons of some protesters makes you wonder. Look, someone took a club and covered it with nails. Why? Who is he going to hit with it? Or why is another man standing with an axe in his hands? An axe kills. Or a pitchfork. Think about it, what will a protester do with a pitchfork when the attack begins? Pitchforks aren’t used to hit people on their heads. Is he going to pierce militiamen with it?
11. "A couple of times stones were flung at me, they hit right in the head. You do not feel anything in a helmet. Generally we are far and they rarely reach us. But 3 days ago Molotov cocktails were thrown and we were very close. Several guys got burns. But we quickly get extinguished. It was scary then, many guys were crying. "
12. Soot from burning tires covered everyone. It cannot be washed off with water, and you can feel the bitter smell of fire coming from anyone who spent some time on the barricades. In a café, you can immediately tell who is straight from Maidan by the way they smell.
13. "I do not understand, why do they throw all this at us? We are simple soldiers. There are a lot of guys of the 2013 draft. They are 18-year olds, only six months ago, they went to the same movie theaters and cafes with those students who now want to kill them. And why? Is it because of the politicians? Here they tell us, ‘switch to the people’s side’. But where is that side? I have relatives in the Crimea and they fear that Russia will introduce visas if Maidan wins. I have a friend, he’s a taxi driver, and he hates all these demonstrators: there are traffic jams everywhere. Where is the side of the people? Who to choose? We gave oath to protect public buildings from being captured, and we’re keeping it. We are not politicians. "
14. Among militia there are people in civilian outfits who coordinate their actions. Who are they? They choose who gives an interview and to which media.
15. The truce is very fragile and the barricades are ready to launch an attack at any moment.
16. The barricades are growing bigger and bigger every day and I don’t think it will be possible to dismantle them without heavy machinery. On the other hand, Maidan has no energy for an attack. They learned well how to defend themselves, but it’s not efficient to attack Berkut with stones and Molotov cocktails when the latter respond by shooting and throwing grenades.
17. "Standing well! We are constantly swapped; we’re fed better than in the barracks. I read that Berkut employees are being paid and are practically handed real estate [by the government]. This is not so, at least no one here knows anything about it. Maybe commanders were promised something, but ordinary guys definitely don’t get anything. It’s my first day, my friend was wounded. A Molotov cocktail hit the head, he took off his helmet and his head caught fire. Got serious burns, lost eye sight. And he had a family, he is the only provider. He won’t be able to serve anymore. We all pitched in to help him.
Media presents them as heroes, fighters for ideas of some kind, but I see them as ordinary bandits. Over in another country they would have been quickly dispersed, but we are not allowed. There was no order. That’s the greatest disappointment. Anyone who threatens a police officer is a criminal.
Something is constantly thrown our way. It was scary at first, but then we got used to it. The only problem is the constant smoke. We tried to make a deal through the ministers, to get them to stop burning their rubber, but it doesn’t work…”
18. “It’s been two months that I’m standing here. Who are they protecting? Fascists. Their words are noble, but have a look at what they are doing to people, how they undress them in the freezing cold, how they fire point-blank. And what for? Is it for people raising their heads out the sand? They cannot be forgiven. There is the concept of the officer's honor, I myself served, but these people have no honor! "
19. “Where will they show me? I’d send mom--,“ having found out I was a photographer, not a video operator, the guy got really upset. “My entire family is watching and every time they ask when I’ll appear on TV. Commanders keep the journalists away from us for some reason. When those “Maidan-crazed” are on screens all the time!” I asked him what his name was. “Yeah right, I’ll tell ya, and next thing I’m dead!”
20. The barricaders used to shout at militia to join the people. They stopped shouting that long ago. Clearly, militia will not be joining anyone. "Fascists! Motherfuckers!" is heard from the barricades. “Get a job, you slackers!” Berkut responds as one.
21. “They call themselves the people, eh? Quite some people they are! Just look at them. They seized and destroyed the city center, equipment is being burned, people are being injured. In only a week almost 100 of us ended up in hospitals. I have a family, kids, and I’m standing here for them. I’m not interested in politics. Life for us, the common people, will not get any better if Maidan wins. We already had their Yuschenko, so what? They stole then, they steal now, and they will keep stealing. The oligarchs are playing their games there, while we’re dying here for them. I’m standing here for my children, and they [the elite] are all criminals there. If only we had an order, we would disperse them all in two hours.”
22. The barricades.
23. The cordon of the government quarter.
24. “Go home!”
25. No one chose to comment on the Berkut’s use of arms against the protesters. Apparently the commanders turn a blind eye to the violation, allowing the fighters to let their steam out this way. We must understand that there are hundreds of armed angry men, who have been under attack for a week now, and they are not given any chance to react. Seems like the commanders maintain loyalty by covertly allowing laws to be violated. Possibly it raises morale.
27. Militia got powerful beamers. Seems like they will blind the enemy in case of an attack.
28. Militia’s attitude to the reporters is bad. Majority of media channels support the Maidan, which in the eyes of militiamen provides a biased coverage of the events. That’s why in many cases journalist are being beaten and shot at. Again, all this is happening on the whiff of the unspoken permission of the Berkut commanders.
31. There is another cordon on Bankovska street, where the presidents headquarters are located. Militia there turned out to be not talkative at all.
32. The Maidan activists are packing snow into sacks. This is the main building block of Maidan.
33. Sunset over Maidan.
35. Last night rallies in memory of the killed were held. Today, the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that a militiaman was stabbed to death.
36. Evening at the barricades.
37. The truce ended with nightfall. Again, bottles, stones, and grenades flew up and over to the other side.
39. In general, both parties have build up a ton of claims and hatred. I cannot imagine how this situation will unravel.
Revolution in Kiev, Ukraine