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7 June, 2014  ▪  Olha Vorozhbyt

The Foreign Hundred

The Maidan became both a tourist destination and a place where foreigners, who are not indifferent to the fate of Ukraine, gathered. The flags that flew above it were from various countries, not only those of Ukraine and the EU. The heroes of Nebesna Sotnya - the Heaven Hundred - also include the citizens of other countries. How did, and do, foreigners view the Maidan?

Marco Ferraro, Italy:

I came to Kyiv in January. In Italy, events on the EuroMaidan didn’t sound like particularly important news, but I thought that the actual situation was unusual for Europe, because people were taking to the streets with EU flags. I was in Kyiv for a week, then again towards the end of February, immediately after the invasion of Crimea. I then became an activist of the EuroMaidan – Italy group, which spread true information and refuted Russian propaganda. Together with the “We are all Europeans. We are all Ukrainians” group, on the eve of the elections to the European Parliament, I conducted a social campaign to show that a lot of European politicians are friends with Putin.

When I initially came to Kyiv, it was interesting to compare the protests going on there to those that took place in Turkey against the planned construction in Gezi Park, where I have lived for the last three years. I was on the Maidan during the peaceful period. To be honest, I don’t know what I would have done if there had been an attack. I would probably have run to the barricades together with the protesters.

Being in Kyiv was one of the strongest emotional times of my life. I wanted to talk about it to people in Italy, so I spread information. It was something beautiful. By saying “beautiful”, I mean that the people on the Maidan were genuine and honest. I met some more Italians there. What drew us to the Maidan, was the battle against corruption. When the people on the Maidan spoke to me, I felt that I could trust them, because they proved their words with action.

The last time I was on the Maidan was during the presidential election in Ukraine. The place now seems empty, as a friend of mine said, as if only those remain there, who have no real life. It has lost its energy. Of course, during a military crisis, it is difficult to put pressure on your own government.

As far as the Maidan is concerned, in my view, it can have several options for development. One is to become a political movement, a political force, as was the case with Solidarity in Poland. The second is to transform into a civil society, a non-government organisation. And the last – to remain as it is now, a local structure, which is completely unorganised. This will mean that the Maidan will not have any political influence, but it will be able to put moral pressure on society. I think that the strength of the Maidan lies in the fact that it mobilises people to action, they don’t have to be invited. Several months ago, I asked what I could do for the Maidan, and got the following answer: “Do what you can and want to do, there is no hierarchy here”. And this is a very powerful asset.

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Anja Lange, Germany:

I have lived in Ukraine for a year now. Until then, I studied in Leipzig and grew up in Dresden. I am currently teaching German at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. I was at the Maidan nearly every day, generally observing what was going on. At first, it reminded me of the European Football Championship, the final of which took place here a year earlier. Everyone had a good time, danced and there was an atmosphere of a public holiday, which lasted for a week, until November 30. After the attack by Berkut, it became more radical. I understood that everything was a lot more serious. Students went on strike. But with time, there were less and less young people on the Maidan. I was a little disillusioned with this. What’s next, I thought finally.

At first, it was very important for me that the Maidan was a symbol of Ukrainian civil society. People were doing something for one another, free of charge. To me it seemed unbelievable that something like this was happening. Then there was the escalation in February, and I think that from that time on, only those who don’t know what to do remain on the square. They want to live in tents and eat buckwheat.

For the German press, Svoboda and Pravyi Sektor – The Right Sector  - were the main participants of the protests. My mother was the first to phone me, saying that there were only fascists on the Maidan. I told her that “I’m there too”. Many of my family members phoned me, because while all the action was taking place on two streets and the main square, in Germany, they thought that the whole of Kyiv was ablaze.

The Maidan has already become a symbol of civil activity and cooperation, and this is how it should always be. However, right now, in my view, there are a lot of disillusioned people, because at first everyone said: “We aren’t going anywhere until Yanukovych is gone”, and when he bolted and a transition government was formed, the people decided that they would now live in peace, everything will be easier. But it is impossible to change everything in one go.

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Filip Szymborski, Poland:

I am currently involved with humanitarian aid in Kyiv, together with the Open Dialogue Foundation. I came here with this organisation in February, but was here on my own in December.

I initially read a lot about the Maidan, following events on the Internet. I soon decided that I wanted to come here, but I was working and it was hard to leave my job, so I only arrived towards the end of December, when Christmas holidays started in Poland. It was very cold. My first impression was that nothing looked the way that I had imagined. It also reminded me of the democratic movement in Poland.

During the period December 26 – January 6, when I was first here, the Maidan seemed peaceful and vivid – something was constantly going on. I think that for the people who stayed on, it was a place where they could communicate freely and do something spontaneously.

At that time, Svoboda took me in at the Zhovtneviy Palats (October Palace). I did everything that everyone else did: took part in vigils, worked in the kitchen and helped to make decorations for the stage. I came back in February together with the Foundation, and we began to be involved in humanitarian aid and when cases were being heard against AutoMaidan activists. We reported on what was going on there.

Today’s Maidan, as well as the one in December, January or February, is a single space. Probably a lot of the people on the Maidan today were also there in winter. It appears that this spirit has now spread throughout the whole of Ukraine, and that which actually remained on the Maidan – is for the people who stayed behind, for those who seemed to have nowhere to go, since they were either there too long, have nowhere to return to, or were not accepted into the National Guard … but they should at least be allowed to continue living in the place where they stood at the very start.

The physical space of the Maidan should have changed. The road should not be open for cars to travel on, because too much has happened there. It would be good if Khreshchatyk and Maidan Nezalezhnosti were to remain a pedestrian zone, so that people would see where the barricades were located, where the stage was set up, so that these places could became a monument in honour of those events.

When talking about the Maidan, for me, the most important thing was that spontaneity; the fact that people opened up to one another and began to work. This is very important in my view – learning to work together and learning to have faith.

Kate Hiatt Mattila, USA:

I’ve been in Ukraine for almost a year. My first impressions of the Maidan … I remember walking from the Ukrainian House on November 23 or 24, when cars still drove along Khreshchatyk. It was pouring with rain and a few people were standing under blue umbrellas with EU symbols on them. It was really great that they were fired up by something, because after the defeat of the Orange Revolution, everyone was very apathetic.

It would be good if the Maidan could remain a place for communication, discussion and also – memory; for Khreshchatyk to stay open. When people study revolutions, they try to find similarities. As far as the Maidan is concerned, it is kind of unique, because it was peaceful for such a long time …

The Maidan is of unbelievably huge symbolic significance for people in similar situations: if there is a system that should be changed, but you don’t know how to do that, you will find a way out all the same. I think that the overall situation in Ukraine will improve, but that the spirit of the Maidan, its energy and dialogue, will extend and encourage politicians to make changes and have a sense of responsibility to voters, in order to prevent further conflicts.

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