ARTEM, 38, works in the private sector as a marketing manager of the NGO, InitiativeE +. He played a significant role in the revolution, communicating and organising with other countries in Europe.
ARTEM- I joined Maidan from the early days. It was a drive to demonstrate my intention to be part of the European vector. We hated Yanukovych's approach of going to Russia. We felt let down because we wanted to join the European nation of families. That’s why we supported the first street protests. When it turned into a well-organised protest on Maidan Square, we decided to help people from out of town. We brought them in our cars, delivered food and drink and provided medicine. On 19th January, things started to turn hostile. Tires were burnt and the clashes between protestors and the police broke out. I met with some guys and we arranged a start up to unite us. We organised cars and made agreements with central churches. First a Lutheran church, then an orthodox church and finally 2 catholic churches. All these churches had well prepared facilities; warm rooms, blankets and mattresses. Doctors agreed to be there overnight to help the wounded. We brought ten mobile phone and posted adverts around Maidan, telling anyone who was sick or injured that we had shelter. We delivered more than 270 people to these locations at the start of Maidan, where they were treated and allowed time to relax. But many fled within 3 days, sick of Maidan.
Our activities expanded a lot, and by the end of February we had many supporters, and 45 people working with us. We didn’t use social media, as what we were doing was illegal, and best kept undercover. Our contact centre had created a database of all those that required treatment. We were approached by several foreign embassies and contacts including Czech Republic, Poland and Germany. Their diplomats suggested medical assistance. They made contact with activists to be treated abroad, whilst we instigated a large operation with military planes, to transport the activists to hospitals in these countries, as well as Canada, the USA and the UK. Over 4 weeks, about 275 people were transported out of Ukraine. After that we decided to create an NGO: E +. The first part of the project was to initiate the database, and we received support from the Ukraine diaspora. They gave us a grant whilst the Council of Europe and People in Need provided us with a template for the database. We started to travel through major Ukrainian towns for 3 month in 2014 and met with over 700 people. The Lutheran church that opened its doors for us during Maidan, served as our office, free of charge. We created this database and connected with the ministry of internal affairs and the ministry of healthcare. For 2 years we monitored the granting of social security numbers and payments of those injured in Maidan.
E + is a big NGO that helps the children of parents killed in the war. We welcome children from Donetsk region and take them to the mountain region to help them de-Russianize and introduce soft Ukraninisation. We also run a project for financial support for widows of soldiers killed in the war and those who have become disabled. Our volunteers are also involved in psychological rehabilitation. We realised our own initiatives and became engaged with civic society. We are supporting and pushing the country ahead, as our government is still weak from transitioning. Our organisation came about in May and we started to advocate the interest of our participants. When the experts who were not politicians liked to show their ideas, we created the map of reform. We collected the biggest organisations in one place and developed our mechanisms of communications.
DOM- Was the revolution successful?
A-Of course! It was a huge success for the country. We had much more support from Europe and the integration of NATO. But many were upset because we are in a worse economic state and with no clear sight to join the EU. But most of us realise that with more transparency, we will have success. Maidan is the start of a long story and it’s the start of a shift for the young for a better future. Now you can easily join a civic sector thanks to European funding. It plays a significant role in policymaking decision. Civic society is now a new source of potential to join the state service. It’s a good thing from Maidan. We started de-communisation. We have taken down many Lenin and Stalin statues and its now illegal to use communist era names. It’s a big step. In the last three years, there have been thousands of new NGO’s showing the young true potential. Reformation package involves more young people. Although we are in economic hardship, we are headed in the right direction. None of the deaths were for nothing. If we stick to our paths and work harder, the country will look totally different in the next 10 years.
Valerie, 24, is a PHD student, studying social psychology. She is doing her research on the refugees from Donbas.
VALERIE: I am doing research into migrants from Donbas who have settled into other parts of Ukraine. We are not very tolerant in Ukraine and this partly comes from the name of the revolution. It’s called the Revolution of Dignity, and so those who supported the revolution have this set idea on what dignity is. However since many people from Donbas don’t support the revolution, in the supporter’s eyes, those people are not dignified. We have this division in Ukraine at the moment. Central and Western Ukraine whilst Eastern Ukraine speaks Russian. East doesn’t have this strong Ukrainian identity, they just seem themselves as people from Donbas and Luhansk. For thousands of years, the rest of Ukraine has had very strong connections with Hungary, Poland, Austria, and a sense of being Western. Not many people lived in the Donbas area until the beginning of the 20th century when coal mining was discovered and people from all over the Russian empire began to move there. During the Russian revolution people from Kiev and central Ukraine fought for independence, whilst Donbas was a self declared republic supported by the Bolsheviks and the Soviet Union. Donbas became known as a strong Bolshevik area and were very much supported by the Soviet Union. The population went up to 10 million during Soviet era. But when it collapsed, so did Donbas as the rest of Ukraine didn’t have such a need for industrialisation. In the 90’s it became a very depressive region, as the coalmines closed and these 10 million people lost their jobs.
During the Orange revolution tensions between East and West heightened. Donbas supported Yanukovych whilst the Pro West supported Yushchenko. The rest of Ukraine protested when Yanukovych won, saying it was fake, however when he was ousted, the people from Donbas felt defeated that their party lost and wanted revenge.
DOM- Do many people in Kiev know about the history of Donbas?
V- Maybe some. But it is mainly because I am researching it!
D- So you can understand the mind-set of the Donetsk Independence Party?
V- Yes but there is strong Russian propaganda. In Donetsk the strongest element of propaganda was about language. My friend from Donetsk didn’t study the Ukrainian language at all. All of his lessons were in Russian. Russians threatened the people in Donbas, saying the Ukrainian forces were going to come and force them to speak Ukrainian. They were scared their language and identity was going to be taken away.
I went to Donbas and spoke to people. They say there was not this tension between Ukrainian and Russian at the beginning of the 20th century. (?) They were very scared that they were going to get killed for speaking Russian.
D- How did they feel about the revolution?
V- There were people in Donetsk who supported the revolution but many people supported the government because Yanukovych was from Donbas. That was pretty their only reason for supporting him though. And of course they had seen Russian propaganda and news.
The revolution ended in February and in March there was this action in Crimea. People in Crimea were very happy about being part of Russia, because they had become scared the Russian media which said that Fascists had taken over in Kiev. They called it the fascist revolution, and said that fascists would come to take over Crimea. So when the Russians took over in 2014, they were actually happy about it. But now they are not. There is no electricity, no food and oil prices are very high.
Donbas also had a referendum for independence, and even intelligent people voted for it, because they had hear about all these happy people in Crimea. They didn’t think about the future. But Russia wanted Crimea for strategic reasons, and didn’t want Donbas as it’s a poor area. Now people have changed their minds due to the war, which was totally unexpected. Following it there have been three waves of migration out of Donbas:
There were not actually many people supporting this independence movement. Most people just wanted to live and get along with their daily lives, and not be involved in this politics. Now one side blames another for destroying the city and killing people.
D- Are the youth in Kiev affected by the war in many ways?
V- Of course. Probably in each school class there are children from Donbas. There is also Ukrainian propaganda. When the war began there was a call out for young men to join the army. So many families are affected. My father is a policeman and he was forced to go to Donbas. He had an order to go from June 1st for two months, in order to help evacuate the displaced children, and make sure they were taken to Ukraine and not Russia.
There are also a lot of migrants in Kiev. You can see them everywhere. It was difficult for a lot of Donbas locals to rent an apartment in Kiev. Lots of people don’t want them. Vie seen signs saying “Not for Donbas locals” because people are afraid of them. They are seen as others, not them.
D- If they spoke Ukrainian would that still be the case?
V- Not so much. Everyone in Kiev speaks Russian, so language is not seen as a case of identity here. But in Donbas it was, and used as a means of propaganda.
D- How were you involved in the revolution?
V- All the students had Maidan as the means of our future. My friends, my tutors and me were all helping people with pyscologocial issues, talking to them and trying to calm them down. I wasn’t going to Maidan everyday. It was cold and it frightened me. But my friends, especially the boys were going everyday. The revolution was a good idea but id did not offer a resolution. We should protest against something, but rather for something. There was not a clear programme for us, so now we have the same government. We don’t have many new politicians and our current president is as corrupt as the last one. I understand that we will not become part of EU because we are a big country with many problems and we need to sort them out. I want a good western orientated politician to lead us into Europe. I believe something good will happen. As we understand the war isn’t a matter of Ukrainians. It’s a war between the global East and the global West, and what we should be thinking about is what to do with Donbas when this war ends.
LEONID, 30, is a former soldier turned pizza restaurant owner. His restaurant employs Ukrainian veterans, and the interior is decorated with badges of Ukrainian armed forces, a giant model gun, and most powerfully of all, a map of Ukraine made out of bullets. The areas of Donbas and Crimea were made out of used bullets. He is clearly a respected figure in the community, and several people interrupt our interview to talk to him, all big, tough army guys.
DOM- After the war, why did you set up this restaurant?
LEONID- Before the war I made pizza, after I came back an ex soldier called me and said he wants to help veterans and their families. We worked helping their families, and I realised working with veterans was very comfortable. We had more in common than with civilians. Many did not want to go back to their old jobs so we set up a business to employ veterans and allow them to come together. I studied business management and eventually sot someone to invest. We set up and now we have 13 veterans employed in this restaurant. I brand grew and now we employ over 30. I employed 2 psychologists to help with the mentality of the veterans too.
D- You fought on the front lines?
L- Yes, I was a machine gunner. I finished military school in 2004 and was in the army for 1 year. But then I made pizza for 6 years.
D- So why did you go to fight?
L- Because it is my duty. When war started in East Ukraine, I couldn’t just watch TV and not out to fight. This is my country. When the Russians took Crimea it was fucking shit.
D- So many of the military had civilian jobs?
L_ Yes of course. I think about half.
D- How did you adapt?
L- We had one common enemy so we became like brothers.
D- Were you involved in EuroMaidan?
L- Yes I was there. I protested and helped other guys with medicals and food. But it wasn’t the same feeling as being on the front line.
D- Would there be war without the revolution?
L- Not the right question. Revolution was because of corruption and poverty. Russia always wanted Crimea. Even without the revolution, the war would of happened sooner or later. We have one enemy, Russia. They want to see Europe and NATO on their borders. They want to bring back the Soviet Union, but we want to be independent.
D- What about independent Donetsk?
L- They want to be part of Russia. How can they defend against us? We were kicking their arses until Russia sent military and weapons to them. We had a task to finish this war in 2014.
D- How much longer will the war go on for?
L- I don’t know. I don’t know.. Russia has their own voice in Donbas. There will be no peacekeeping in Donbas. If there is, the war will finish. They don’t want to finish the war. Russia likes to have this difficult situation in Ukraine.
D- Do you think there are any Ukrainians in support of Russia?
L- Yes of course. Russia has very powerful propaganda machine. They have T.V shows, news. People don’t know the truth. They say we are Nazis. We have a few radical Nazi guys, but they are very small and we don’t support them. But Russia shows that everyone in East Ukraine is fighting Nazis or fascists.
D- Would you describe the divide in Ukraine as Pro Europe vs. Pro Russia, or Pro Ukraine vs. Pro Russia?
L- I think it is both. Ukraine fights not only for Europe but we fight for independence in all sense. We want to decide. The lifestyle in Europe is much cooler than in Russia. I was in Poland, and I liked it very much. There’s not so much corruption. We want to live like your living.
D- Do you think its possible with this government?
L- No. But its what we have now. All government is so corrupt. We can’t have changes for the next two or three years.
D- Is there propaganda on this side?
L- We don’t have such propaganda. We don’t know how to do this. We just have anti-propaganda, and our news just says where Russia lies.
D- Will Ukraine be united again?
L- Yes of course. We need change of government through the change of people’s mentality.
KATARYNA, 26, was one of the first reporters at Maidan, following the events from the start. She now has a rather large social media following, which all began during Maidan, as she regularly posted updates in English to her Twitter account.
KATARYNA- I’m originally from Western Ukraine and have lived in Hungary and Poland. But I came back to Ukraine in July 2017 to work in Ukrainian Parliament. I started to tweet about the revolution on the first day, 21st November, and by the 23rd I was actually out there reporting. In the first days I gathered a few thousand followers, and this kept increasing as time went on. By the end of Maidan I had 12 000. I knew the importance of social media as I had studied the Arab Spring and the impact Social Media had then. On the 24th November other people began to join in on the political demonstration. When I checked my Facebook feed I saw people writing slogans like ‘Ukraine is Europe’ but the problem was that they were writing in Russian or Ukrainian. I realised that I needed to write in a way that the whole world would understand, so I began tweeting in English.