“Maidan Shouldn’t Be There”: Dispatch From Kyiv

April 7, 2014

Kyiv, Ukraine — “Maidan shouldn’t be there,” said my friend as we sat in her kitchen in Kyiv. Before, when I was living there as a researcher interviewing the far right activists who would come to the center of the Ukrainian revolution, my friend’s kitchen was a reprieve from the politics of my work. We spent many nights talking about life, love, and, of course, Ukraine’s uncertain future. But this was all before. Before the elation of early Euromaidan, before the terrifying sniper attacks, and before Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  “During the protests,” my friend tells me, “even the cleaning ladies and babushkas were talking about politics.” All of Kyiv was burning with revolutionary fervor, because Ukraine’s future was once again up in the air. And it still is. But now, with Yanukovych keeping a low profile in Russia, the elation, the terror, and even the politicization of Euromaidan, are quickly receding into the past.

Yet, Maidan, now without its “euro” prefix, is still there: the tire barricades, the burned out cars, and even the camouflage garbed members of “samooborona” (self-defense), remain on Kyiv’s central square. Gone are the mass protests and the impromptu medical clinics and soup kitchens that bandaged and fed the “maidanovtsy” — the name some use to describe the activists. Even the stage and jumbo-screen that once were the sound board for activists, political leaders, and singers, is still there: empty and silent, much like the Kyiv streets. During the day, tourists and young Ukrainian women pose smiling with the tire barricades and tents in the background. Candles and flowers surround portraits of the more than 100 Maidan victims, known as the “Heavenly Hundred,” who were killed during the protests. The mood is somber.

If Euromaidan was the symbol of the revolution, what does today’s Maidan symbolize? More than a memorial to the “Heavenly Hundred,” the Maidan today is a symbol of the building frustration and disenchantment that Ukrainians feel towards the European Union. As David Frum recently wrote, the European Union’s and G-7’s response to Russia’s land grab of Crimea and continuing intimidation on Ukraine’s eastern border, has been incredibly weak. This lack of response in confronting Russia’s disregard for international law with more than economic sanctions against a few Russian officials has notably shifted the mood in Kyiv. Maidan’s loss of the “euro” is emblematic of this shift. Ukrainians still deeply desire to be a part of Europe, but a Europe that’s not willing to recognize Ukrainians’ sacrifice for this desire by taking a strong stance against Russia risks losing Ukraine. Maidan’s new identity is a symbol for Europe’s inaction.