Postcard from Kiev The Maidan, One Year Later

One year after protests rocked central Kiev and led to the overthrow of a pro-Russian president, Ukrainians are hunkered down processing a drumbeat of negative news with steely resolve, writes a Ukrainian journalist from the somber streets of a city on edge.
The Maidan central square in Kiev this week, one year after the demonstrations.

Ukrainians this week remembered the victims of the mass killings that shook the country a year ago on February 18-20, the bloodiest days of the Maidan protests.

Those three days of unspeakable violence against demonstrators, which culminated in the shooting of unarmed protesters by snipers, shocked Ukrainians.

A few days after the violence, I remember being on the Maidan central square and what it felt like being there. I remember the silence, the tears and the paralyzing grief.

Tonight, there will be many flowers, candles and tears again on Maidan, just like a year ago.

But it’s not only the fallen victims of snipers that Ukrainians will mourn.

The war in eastern Ukraine that has already taken 5,000 lives remains a bleeding wound.

Kiev, which we spell Kyiv, has changed since last winter.

The Maidan has been cleaned up and restored. Apocalyptic pictures of snow-made barricades, fires and devastation in the heart of Ukrainian capital seem distant.

For the outsider, Kyiv looks pretty much as it did before the protests and the war.

People carry on with their lives; the coffee houses are full; roads are overloaded with traffic.

But the colors of the city have changed.

Today one notices lots of yellow and blue – the Ukrainian national colors – the result of swelling patriotism amid the war. Thousands of volunteers have painted bridges and fences in the national colors across the country in response to Russia’s aggression.

The national hue of wartime Kyiv has also been supplemented by shades of green camouflage - and that’s when you sense that Ukraine is at war.

Today one notices lots of yellow and blue – the Ukrainian national colors – the result of swelling patriotism amid the war.

Listening to the talk on the street strengthens that feeling.

Every second conversation seems to be about politics, military actions, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko. "Our guys are dying out there,’’ is the high price Ukrainians are paying for their desire to live in a free and fair country.

Anxiety fills the air.

The last year has been the most dramatic, challenging and exhausting for Ukrainians in decades. A non-stop flow of depressing news has put people under huge stress, which is aggravating a feeling of helplessness.

The stress is so overwhelming, some people try to escape the bad news and avoid the media.

An “information diet’’ helps for a while.

 

A shopping center this week in central Kiev draped in Ukraine's national colors. The Ukrainian text says: United Country.

 

One concentrates on family or work, allows oneself the small joys of a peaceful life, like attending music concerts or art exhibitions.

But then, with one accidental click - everything is back.

You can’t resist the news anymore.

You feverishly rush to learn more details on the Ukrainian soldiers pulling out of a besieged town. You follow the statements of world leaders, the analysis of the frontline situation.

You absorb those bits of information until you get overwhelmed again.

Last week, I met a Polish journalist who asked me all sorts of questions about Ukrainian politics and other things.

Every second conversation seems to be about politics, military actions, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko.

We talked and talked and at some point in our conversation, she looked at me and said: “You know what? I find it really interesting that people from countries in turmoil are so knowledgeable about politics.”

“We have no choice,” I responded.

The anxiety and fear are not going to evaporate any time soon.

Hardly anyone believes the ceasefire will hold, or that the war will end.

Most expect more victims and more pain.

The economic pressure on the people is worsening.

Ukrainians have lost so much since last February: Thousands of lives, a chunk of our country and - peace.

But through these trials, we have gained something fundamentally precious - a sense of human dignity.

And that gives us strength and hope.

 

Dariya Orlova is a Ukrainian national and a researcher at a university in central Kiev, where she teaches a course in journalism and the culture of media. To reach the author: [email protected]