December 8th was another memorable day in Kiev. Thousands of Ukrainians defied the ban to protest and descended onto Maydan yet again for the ‘March of a Million’. This time people were prepared. Having previously experienced beatings and arrests by police, protesters have blocked the square with massive barricades made of wood, steel, tires, and barbed wire and set up camps. The speakers’ stadium is now a big stage with 24hr speakers and performers.
Flags with names of cities from all over the country waved around. No police were in sight, only determined and excited demonstrators. It felt as if you were at a festival with music, dancing, drink and food stands, and campers and bonfires. The streets around the square were also full of people draped in Ukraine’s national colours. EuroMaydan has truly taken over.
But away from the square, near the parliament, the mood became more militant. Men in balaclavas, masks, and safety helmets, made a human chain blocking the street. These men were kitted out against the army of riot police surrounding the parliament building.
The police were geared up from head to toe with shields, helmets, gas marks, batons and guns. They lined the street and park around the parliament, there was no way anyone could get near the building.
In Ukraine you feel safer when police are not present than when they are. With the mass crowd in Maydan, the atmosphere was friendly, but here one felt on edge. Sparks could fly at any moment.
I set off home with an uneasy feeling that something would happen that evening.
Sure enough, a few hour’s later, Lenin had fallen.
The international news jumped on the incident. A peaceful rally with close to a million people wasn’t sensational enough, but seeing a group of nationalist pull down a statue, now that was news.
Like most things in Ukraine, Lenin is a controversial figure. Representing Russian dominance and Ukraine’s long and tangled ties with Russia. Though, for pro-Russian Ukrainians proud of their Soviet past, he’s respected as a great leader. So for some it was good riddance to bad rubbish, while for others it left a bitter taste.
Stalin, most hated by Ukrainians, would have been first choice to bash but none are left so Lenin was the next best thing.
The majority of Ukrainians however do not condone vandalizing soviet monuments (unless it’s Stalin); they are part of their history and city.
Toppling Lenin was a victory for those responsible: the ultra-nationalist party Svoboda which aims to take down all Soviet sculptures across Ukraine.
The international press hyped it up as a grand symbolic moment, even comparing it to the fall of the Berlin Wall, but in Kiev people were unfazed and went about business as usual. Bigger problems took over the capital in the next week. Lenin was soon old news.
Lenin’s marble corps lies where he fell; the head severed and carted off with other body parts. People come to snap photos of the battered statue and chip bits off as souvenirs. It’s more of a tourist attraction than anything else.