This afternoon Oleh brought me to Maidan. Although Lutsk is several hundred of kilometers away from Kiev, Oleh came to Maidan at least half a dozen times since the protests began last December. He served as the perfect guide, pointing out items of relevance that I might have otherwise missed and introducing me to people he knew to hear their stories.
We drove as far as we could until a barricade made from cobblestone pavers and rubber tires prevented us from going further. As we walked down the hill the barricades grew larger and larger and near the bottom I could see the view of the entire Maidan. My heart sank.
We stopped in front of the one of the hotels where Oleh told me that a sniper shot people from its roof top. A lamp post littered with bullets marked a spot where one of the protester was killed. A wooden shield leans against the lamp post; it was their only means defense, yet no match for a rifle’s bullets. Every few steps, dozens of candles and flowers marked the very site where another protester was killed. It was daunting.
On the side of the walls, there was spray painted writing that translates to read – “Heroes Never Die” and “Freedom or Death.” There was also writing which paid tribute to the Heavenly Hundred – the one hundred men, women and children that were killed by the Berkut, Yanukovich’s military police.
I stood at the bottom of the hill and slowly spun around to absorb all that I saw. All around me there were buildings charred from the fires that exploded when the Molotov cocktails were thrown. And along the perimiter of Maidan there are hotels that encircle it. I could see the Kiev hotel, which was the landmark that I used to navigate myself to my own hotel, when I stayed here just three years ago. And now right where I stand, there was a war.
There are still hundreds of tents pitched at Maidan and each cluster represents the region which the inhabitants came. The entire nation is represented. Ukrainian militia in partnership with ordinary people continue to stand guard at Maidan and literally defend the city of Kiev. They say they are here to make sure that the current government doesn’t steal from the country like the old regime did. And they are protecting the city as the separatist come and cause trouble just as they have in the Eastern part of Ukraine and in Odessa. I had a chance to with dozens of people who are still camped out at Maidan – they are an inspiration.
Optimism runs deep in the spirit of Ukraine’s younger generation and I believe that they are the hope of this country. The older generation although still patriotic and loyal to the idea of an independent Ukraine have been beaten down by years of Soviet oppression. It is even difficult for them to foster independent thought. But the younger generation is different. They know the history of the country and struggle to break free from oppression. They are well educated and independent thinking and they aren’t afraid to fight and die for a better life. They believe now is the time for Ukraine. I believe they are right.
Slava Ukaini – Heroyam Slava!