I know: in the land of the kalyna, the kalyna
rocked me [in my cradle] with her thin arms,
and the kalyna blood, as a singular song,
burns in my heart with bitter stars.
Kalyna (Guelder Rose) a national symbol of Ukraine and its battle for independence, is always found at ceremonies. Be it a wedding or a funeral, Kalyna has its place. The bitter berries evoke pain but are equally healing. The word Kalyna comes from “fire”, a classical element with cleansing energy representing “the spirit”. In folklore Kalyna often grew on the graves of fallen heroes or those murdered. It is associated with immortality, unity, loyalty, family and love. The wooden stem signifies a bridge between the world of living and that of the dead; the red berries symbolise blood and all which will never return.
Last week Ukraine experienced unbelievable events, the culmination of months of struggle.
War broke out on Tuesday between protesters and armed police in Kiev, Wednesday saw more fighting raising the death toll to 26, Thursday was the bloodiest with at least 70 people killed, a deal was made on Friday between opposition parties and President Yanukovych, and Saturday saw the impeachment of Yanukovych and the release of his arch-rival Yulia Tymochenko. Sunday, the day of rest, Ukraine began to piece itself back together.
This is footage of SBU, the secret service police under direct control of the President, shooting down unarmed protesters on Institutskaya Street February 20th 2014 (warning contains disturbing images):
Friday’s agreement reintroduced the Constitution of 2004 which grants more power to Parliament. Yanukovyvh also promised early elections no later than December 2014. However people were furious with the deal, calling opposition leaders traitors. Statues of Lenin toppled across the country as they demanded the President’s resignation. Nothing less would be accepted after the killings and an ultimatum was giving to him – either resign by 10am tomorrow or face an attack.
As Saturday morning came and the clock struck 10am everyone was on standby. But Yanukovych had vanished leaving his house and Presidential offices deserted. With the streets clear of riot police, protesters moved in and took control. Activists from the group known as Maydan Self Defence seized his mansion declaring it the property of the people.
Parliamentary MPs, realising they were now responsible for the country, urged everyone to retsore order and even appealed to religious leaders to do so in towns and villages since many areas currently have no regional state buildings or governors having been burnt and officials ejected.
A motion to impeach the President would be voted on after 4pm. Meanwhile rumours circulated that he had fled by private jet like many of his loyalist lawmakers who have already skipped town. But he popped up in the Eastern town of Kharkiv, where he recorded a defiant speech stating he was a legitimately elected President and denounced this as a coup organised by bandits. He claimed those who had left or defected from the Party of Regions, 41 members, had done so for fear of their lives. The governor of Kharkiv region, Mykhailo Dobkin, a pro-Russian radical who said all protesters should be eliminated, organised a separatist meeting. Parliament quickly voted in a law preventing any separatist action to keep the country together.
At 3pm, I went down to Maydan to follow the events there. I expected to find celebrations since Yanukovych was about to be ousted. But the mood was sombre as a haunting vibe swept the square. Faces were angry, exhausted, sceptical, and grief-stricken. It was eerily silent with only the sound of hymns sung from the stage. Members of the public brought flowers and candles. Activists had batons and iron rods, prepared to fight off any threats. Boxes of molotov cocktails and stones ripped up from the pavements were neatly staked. The giant charcoal shell of the Trade Union building which was set fire to by the SBU, loomed over the crowd. Its electronic clock at the top now a blank black screen. Time stood still.
A funeral was taking place as light rain fell. The two young men hailed “Heroes of Ukraine” lay in their coffins at the foot of the stage. Priests chanted and prayed. The crowd wept. The human cost of the strife lay right before our eyes, two souls of nearly 100 shot down by police now named ‘The Heavenly Hundred’. “Heroes never die, Heroes never die” cried the congregation, young and old standing in the wrecks of Maydan to honour their sacrifice.
After the suffering and bloodshed, Ukraine has been left shattered, grieving for the dead in a crumbling city.
Walking up Institutskaya Street where dozens were slain, now lined with candles and bouquets, I hear a beeping sound followed by a chorus of cheers. I turn to see what is happening and ask a young man. “Yanukovych has been impeached!” he replies.The news brakes the solemn atmosphere.
I climb the hill to October Palace and look out over the square, a screen near the stage shows parliament voted 328-0 at 5:20pm. Not one of Yanukovych’s party members backed him. I soak up the scene, a moment now etched in history.
Dusk falls with candles twinkling, mourning continues.
Tymochenko who was voted free around 2pm, arrives in Maydan to deliver a speech in her renowned sensational style. The queen of oration and a national hero to many, yet even she can’t lift the heavy hearts. Her freedom is a significant turning point, however Ukraine has irreversibly change and no longer the land she knew.
This country has been through hell, not for Tymochenko, not for an EU agreement, not for an election, but for its people who’ve paid an unimaginable price.