It’s the size of the place that struck me the most. Immense. When I saw the first barricade that is still left in Institutska Street leading towards Maidan I had to contain my breath: the scene in which the clashes occurred earlier this year was mostly intact. The smell of burnt tyres was still alive. And with it, seemingly much of the spirit of the revolution even though the inhabitants of Maidan have changed radically.
Life continues in Kyiv. Men with different types of uniforms mingle daily in Maidan: some, dressed with a suit walking their way to work and others wearing military garments. Less than a month ago, I counted over 40 military tents that accommodate over night an average of 10 persons each. They all had electricity to feed laptops, kettles and lightbulbs. Some even had small gardens with all sorts of vegetables and others had improvised museums with items of the Revolution: burnt out helmets, gas masks, heavy batons, broken shields, …
This week, the administration of Vitali Klitschko (Mayor of Kyiv) attempted to clear the village created inside of Independence Square in preparation of the Independence Day parade on August 24th. Anger, shots and flames was the response of the current Maidaners. Yet what sparks to an observers’ attention is the fact that the very same people that condemned not so long ago the violent attempts of President Yanukovych to wipe out Maidan’s streets are the same ones helping Klitschko to disperse those still sleeping on a daily basis there. What has changed? Who remains in Maidan and why are ex-Maidaners against them?
Ex-Maidaners — those that were active until former President Yanukovych was ousted in late February 2014 — agree that those staying should not be unnecessarily occupying Kyiv’s main square. For them, the most pressing issue at the time is the Eastern war against pro-Russian rebels “and it is here were ‘true Maidaners’ should be”, a female ex-Maidaner tells me.“There is no need for such a big camp anymore”, further explains Vahtik, a university lecturer who organised together with his wife one of the first borscht kitchens in Maidan. Some advocate for a complete removal of tents whilst others seem to require a small delegation to remain near Verkhovna Rada just to pressure the political class to fulfil the protesters’ political agenda.
In return, those still calling Maidan their home express their concerns about leaving what they consider to be the symbol of a united and sovereign Ukraine. A member of the People’s Party of Ukraine points out that they treat the Square as a checkpoint. The Deputy Head of that same political party, Viktor Stanislavovych, clarifies that Maidan is the fort from which volunteer fighters that travel to Donbass depart. A battalion will carry out its duties for a period of time and then return to rest while another paramilitary unit substitutes them in the battlefield.
They are not the only group with this rotational system. The Ukrainian Cossacks seem to use Maidan for the same purpose — and so do others such as the Azov battalion. As all the ones that stayed, they are armed and ready to combat once more as proven. It would be naiv to believe that they do not keep guns and molotov cocktails in their tents. In fact, all a visitor of Maidan must do to see the fire igniting bottles or find out how to make them is ask.
Apart from that, they refuse to leave the square until all their demands are met by the administration. Many remind me of the fiasco that was the Orange Revolution in 2004, in which protesters left Maidan to find that the government had disregarded their voices. They learned the lesson.
Although many current protesters are sound, I was certainly confronted by others that were intoxicated and often carrying guns. That is not to say that Maidan is an unsafe place. Nevertheless, it might be time to move on before the movement is further discredited by its own people.