Rostyslav is a rapper. In November 2013 he was living in Germany and was on the road to success under the stage name of Egoisto Artisto, when he saw the mass protests in Maidan on TV. He immediately took his suitcase, jumped on a flight to Kiev, went straight to Maidan in the center of the Ukrainian capital, and has never left the square since. I meet him by chance one night at the end of February at a bar close to Maidan. We talk about the situation in the country, the revolution, and the invasion of Crimea, which has just started. At the end of the night, before parting ways, I ask him where he is staying in Kiev, "I don't stay in a home", he says, "I live in a tent in Maidan, with twenty other men. Twenty other good men".
Hanna spends her days in Maidan, assisting those who held the square throughout the winter months. I am standing right next to a stand, close to an improvised shrine set up under a tent: people are passing by, they stop, they lit a candle and say a prayer for the "Heavenly Hundred", those who lost their lives killed by Yanukovich's snipers and thugs. Some women at the stand are handing out white plastic necklaces, they are rosary beads (sent by an Italian priest, I am told). Hanna finds me while I am asking for directions, she hears me speaking English and offers to take me to the place that I am looking for. We walk through Maidan, past tents, camp stoves the size of cars, and all the rest of the city-within-the-city that Maidan is. I ask her what she is doing there, "I am a volunteer", she replies, "I take care of Job Placement”. She explains that during the months-long protests many workers have been fired and lost their jobs. She is trying to help by collecting their CVs, and bringing them to recruitment agencies.
Maria is a human rights activist. It is her, me and five hundred other people who stand in front of the Russian Embassy, on the evening of the 1st of March. We are protesting against the Russian invasion of Crimea, which has just started. In the preceding hours, Putin has obtained from the Russian Parliament the power to invade Ukraine. People here know that at any hour Russian forces may be landing in Kiev. Perhaps all needed is just to seize control of Boryspil, the civil airport in the capital, and then the Ukrainian army would presumably not even want to fight back.
There are people holding protest signs saying "Russians we love you!", "Do not make war with your brothers", "Putin go away!". There is a group of Lithuanians wrapped in their national flag. The Embassy is dark, and around its perimeter policemen are nowhere to be seen. Volunteers of the Maidan Self-defense are all there is.
I ask Maria what it means to defend human rights in Ukraine and she answers that it means fighting for the instauration of rule of law in the country. People here are totally unprotected in front of the power exerted by the post-Soviet oligarchic caste, which routinely goes also untouched by the judiciary system, corrupt as it is.
My second question: "do you think that there are nazis in Maidan?" First she does not understand my question but when she does, she just starts laughing.
Igor is a scientist by profession and a photographer and a singer. We don’t know each other in person yet, but I have arranged a meeting with him through Facebook. I meet Igor in Maidan and he takes me to a café to try some Ukrainian dishes. He tells me about the dramatic history and present situation of Ukraine, then takes me to Instytutska street, where most of the killings of Maidan people took place.
The tragedy of the events never shows in his voice, as it remains always soft-spoken and calm, like when he tells me:"Maidan is a revolution of dignity"
Oleg is a boy of the Maidan Self-defense. He is in a group together with five other young men, it is in the early hours after midnight and they are drinking tea and coffee in order to stay awake (no alcohol since is forbidden in Maidan to be inebriated and lose clarity of mind). Oleg and his group are among the sentinels guarding Maidan at night. They are happy to talk with an outsider. For most of the past months, and during the violent repression operated by Yanukovich, they felt almost totally ignored by the West.
But now the threat no longer comes from Yanukovich's police, it has instead taken the form of a Russian invasion of the country. "I have always been against Ukraine joining the EU and NATO” says Oleg “but since yesterday I changed my mind". Yesterday, he argues, was the day when Russia, no longer just an influential neighbor, again became an imperial power with its eyes on Ukraine.
Volodja is an 18 years-old boy, I meet him in front of a building occupied and used by volunteers as a medical centre. When I tell him that it is difficult to explain in Italy what is happening in Ukraine, he tells me without a doubt that "once Italians will know in what state of poverty people have been pushed into by oligarchs, they will understand that this is a revolution against the mafia".
Aamir is a student, he lives in Kiev but is originally from Armenia, like Sergei Nigoyan, the first martyr of Maidan, killed on 22 of February. He is an anarchist militant and he despises people from "Pravy Sektor" (Right Sector). He says that, “when in the moment of need, on the barricades, they were not there.”
Anna is a Maidan activist and a mother. She does not have much time to talk with me. She, as well, has to go to give her volunteer services. Being a psychotherapist, she is assisting the families of those who lost children, husbands or fathers under the attacks of the Berkut.
Olga didn't occupy Maidan and she is not a volunteer. She took part in the mass protests against Yanukovich at the end of November but then, when the Government started using violence against the protesters, and when they in turn got organised to occupy the square, when Maidan became a kind of a war-zone and barricades were erected piling snow bags one over the other, she did not go there anymore.
She tells me that it is painful for her to see Maidan like this. For me however, who have got to know Maidan only this past winter, it is very difficult to imagine this square differently. That this might have been the place where young people from Kiev came in the summertime to stroll and listen to concerts.
Earlier I had asked her what she thought about the people in Maidan, "I am against Yanukovich" she said, but seemed skeptical towards the protesters. "What do they think, that soon it will be over and Yanukovich will go away, like in a fairy-tale?".
And a fairy-tale it was, in the end, even if only for a few days. But it was not for free and it was paid with the lives of many, whom it makes sense to call "martyrs" because many of them knew that they were going to die. And they chose not to give up, not to step back, and to stay in Maidan until the end.
Like in a fairy-tale, on 22 February 2014 President Yanukovich disappeared; later it was learnt that he left Ukraine and flew to Moscow. There was no time to mourn the dead nor to rest. On the 27h of February at 4.20 AM Russian special forces in a covert operation occupied the Crimean Parliament. A few days later, the same "little green men" deposed the lawful prime minister of Crimea and replaced him with a pro-Kremlin politician, Aksyonov (whose pro-Russian party had gained 4% of the votes in the previous elections). Two weeks later, on 16 March, the new self-declared government of Crimea held a referendum (that had not been recognised neither as fair nor as legal by the international community) on annexation to Russia, with a surprising result of 96% for annexation to Putin's Russia.