Fresh off the plane in Kiev, we had over 4 hours to kill and one destination in mind: the site of the 2014 Maidan Protests, Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Independence Square.
We caught a cab after dropping our luggage off at the train station. The whole thing was in Russian, and I’d been told not to speak any English for fear the cab driver might try to raise the price on us, so I had no idea what was going on.
The cab driver dropped us off a few blocks from the square, where we walked along what I thought to be pictaresque city streets. We walked up to the Maidan Nezelezhnosti, the site of the protests, and I was completely unaware we were there until Nikita told me.
It was clean and open. Cars and buses moved predictably along the main street, and pedestrians brisked by on the sidewalk.
The scene in front of us was a total transformation from the images of the infamous Maidan protests well under a year ago. Protest barricades, trash and rubble were gone, and the entire square looked as if it had been scrubbed from top to bottom.
The Trade Unions building directly across from the central monument was set on fire during the protests, and sustained visible exterior damage and charring. Until a restoration could be done, a large banner with the slogan, “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Heroes!,” was stretched across the front of the building, hiding the full extent of the damage from view.
Independence Square isn’t as large as many of the plazas of Western Europe, but the clashes during Maidan Protests were incredibly violent, filled with Molotov cocktails, improvised camps and lots of things being set on fire. Images of the square post-protest showed it covered in the remains of barricades and smothered in black soot.
It couldn’t have been easy to clean.
Laid out in front of the central monument were about 20 large scale prints, over 5 feet, of scenes from the protests earlier in the year. The photos captured much of the violence and destruction, showing the Maidan Nezalezhnosti covered in rubble, smoke and fire.
So it’s not like it never happened per se, moreso that it’s almost a distant memory.
Exhibits and temporary monuments aside, there are more permanent marks of the Maidan protests:
Broken glass along the floor of the iconic Berehynia Monument.
Chipped steps leading up to the monument.
Up the hill, along the fence in front of the Zhovtnevy Palace, or the International Center for Culture and the Arts, on Institutskaya Street is a memorial for fallen protesters. Wreaths, bouquets, and gas masks (worn by the protesters to protect against police tear gas) were draped across the fence, while portraits of the protesters lined the wall below. Besides us, there were quite a few people there examining the memorial, and if they were paying their respects, we didn’t ask.
An official death toll is hard to come by. For now, it’s around 100 protesters and volunteers, called the “Heaven’s Hundred.” It does not include police officers. Wikipedia provides a list of those killed, with a cause of death, many of which, list “gunshot wounds” and even “sniper fire.” It’s difficult to say how much of this is true, but many victims were controversially found to have been killed by sniper(s), and the surrounding investigation continues in Kiev.
I have to say that it seemed unusual, that the square itself was restored so quickly but memorials and the photo exhibit were allowed to stay. Despite all of the renovations, I can’t say whether or not there was a police presence- if there was, we didn’t notice. Perhaps it’s a sign that Kiev and its people are attempting to move on from the violence.
Leaving the square, we turned the corner to the Trade Unions building, where the banner stopped. A blockade prevents entry to the building and the alleyways behind it, but the damage was clear.
Not only was the scorched exterior very visible, but rubble was strewn over the ground in front of it, and spray painted slogans stood out along patches of unburnt wall.
The chaos at Maidan Nezalezhnosti is no more, but the spirit of revolution continues in the current national debate over the new government, and it hasn’t been nice.
Just after we left, protesters clashed again with armed police outside of the Parliament building in a sign of discontent with the current political situation, as well as the military conflict in the eastern part of the country. A couple months prior in August, a rally of peaceful protesters congregated outside of and attempted to enter the Defense Ministry, expressing discontent over the president’s handling of the fighting with separatists, and calling for his resignation. Doesn’t sound peaceful, I know, but when you compare it to the massive clashes earlier in the year, it looks like a party.
Further north in the square we encountered a large board covered with portraits and descriptions, much like the ones on the memorial, except these represented people still unaccounted for. Missing persons. While no one can be sure, Wikipedia sites a few sources claiming that anywhere between 166 and 300 protesters and volunteers are still missing.