eran oppenheimer .nl

Kiev's revolutionary frontline

Ukraine's unrest on Maidan started in November 2013 when president Yanukovych cancelled a far-reaching agreement with the European Union in favor of a deal with Russia. But by mid January 2014 the government rushed a new anti-protest law through parliament, criminalizing the protesters and setting high jail sentences for offenders. By now the protests were no longer just pro-EU, but turned against a thoroughly corrupt and flawing system and quickly grew in magnitude, support and violence, turning a protest into a revolution.

The barricade on Hrushevskoho street

Leading away from the main protest camp at Maidan and up to the Parliament building, is Hrushevskoho street. When the protests started to boil over by the end of January and the first demonstrators got killed by police gunfire, the barricade here became the absolute flash-point of the protests. The infamous Berkut riot-police faced scores of mostly young men with all sorts of body armor, helmets and crude handmade weaponry, lined up against each other in an almost surreal medieval like setting.

The violent outbursts of the protests, which were a direct backlash to brutal police crackdowns in the months prior, had become an instrument of their own to pressure the president in meeting the demands made at Maidan. Each time negotiations between the opposition and the president stalled one could see the big plumes of black smoke rising up from the front barricade at Hrushevkoho street. It made opposition leaders often address the 'self-defense' units there first, before going to the main stage at Maidan, just to try and keep the calm.

Against the backdrop of molotov-cocktails and rubber bullets, there were ordinary people supporting the violent protest in whatever way needed. Women handed out food and hot drinks, there were people filling up bags with snow to reinforce the barricades, or kept gutters from freezing over so melted ice water could flow away from the barricades. At the heights of the riots a human chain would form all the way to Maidan to hail car tires to the front. It was this level of organization and support of the violence against the system that made a once peaceful protest into a full-fledged revolution. A more detailed analysis of these sentiments can be read in this excellent op-ed from the KyivPost.

Prelude to a Prelude

Only a month later that determination to make a change turned into a bloodbath when over a 100 people were killed by police gunfire in what turned out to be the ousting of president Yanukovich. Another month later a Russian backed armed uprising on the Crimea let to its annexation by Russia and the east of the country slowly slid into civil war.