This week marks one year since the turbulent events, which after months of protests, lead to Yanukovych’s ousting. Events which a year on, are no less tragic and significant.
I had just returned from England after celebrating a wedding February 15th between my Ukrainian friend and a fellow expat.
Flying into to snowy Kiev, I wondered nervously what awaited Ukraine. Unrested was mounting, everyone could feel it.
I’d been to several Maydan demonstrations. It wasn’t easy to participate. People were threatened if they attended rallies. They could lose their university place, their jobs, or worse. Many suffered intimidation and beatings at the hands of government recruited thugs known as “Tetushkis” who roamed the streets looking for prey. There were also reports from kidnapped survivors that Russians resembling intelligent forces had abducted, tortured, and questioned them on how the protest camp functioned and who was funding the demonstrations. Protesters, organizers, and journalists, disappeared regularly. Some survived, some were found dead in the woods surrounding the city, and others have never been seen again.
Then came Black Thursday January 16th. The turning point. Fiery tension ran through the capital like electricity.
In a bid to regain control, Yanukovych passed 12 anti-protest laws dubbed the “dictatorship laws” resembling martial law. After nearly three months of mass demonstrations, the laws sparked riots and the first protester was shot dead January 22nd. More deaths were to come.
Blood had been spilled, changing everything.
No matter how hard Yanukovych tried to quash the unrest, it only backfired with red-hot flames.
The center of Kiev was a raging beating heart. I ventured down to the square during ceasefires to see for myself. The road up to parliament was unrecognisable. The Dynamo football stadium chalk black, a burnt out bus and barricades divided riot police and protesters, the crowd stood heaving with anger, drumming on tin barrels. Young and old united.
I saw grandmothers shovelling snow to strengthen barracks, mixing Molotov cocktails, old men ripping up cobbled stones ready to throw, young men and women guarding outposts, makeshift hospitals, food stalls.
Their countenance said it all. Ordinary citizens pushed to braking point.
An elderly man next to me was so enraged, his eyes burned with fury, his face screwed up with disgust, his arms waving in protest.
Raw emotion filled the air. It was surreal.
The laws were repealed January 28th. It felt like a victory, but horror was to follow.
We were on the edge, and the tipping point into war was around the corner.
February 18th to February 20th was unbelievable. Atrocious. Nearly 100 people killed as a result of the “anti-terrorism” operation. I heard the gunshots from my apartment. We were terrified of leaving our homes.
The Maydan protest camp came under attack from snipers. Everything happened at lightning speed. Every hour brought new deaths and injured, more strife and tragedy.
February 21, Yanukovych made a deal with the opposition, but the following day abandoned parliament. He was impeached February 22nd and Kiev was left to bury the dead.
After a serene celebration in the English countryside, I returned to chaos, bloodshed, and a full-on revolution, flying from a wedding to a mass funeral.
Yanukovych was ousted. Maydan was in ruin. More lost lives.
Ukraine, like a phoenix, perished and rose again.
Peace is still a distant dream.
At the end of February 2014, Russia invaded. Set on caging the golden bird.
The human cost today:
5,486 people killed
12,972 wounded across eastern Ukraine
5.2 million people estimated to be living in conflict areas
978,482 internally displaced people within Ukraine, including 119,832 children
Another Minsk agreement, more broken promises, no end in sight.
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