I was born in Berdevych. When the Maidan began, I was in Kyiv because I was enrolled in courses at a university there. We had formed a small group of Maidan activists. Although many university students weren’t interested in joining, each of us felt overwhelmed with worry about the fate of our future. We each had our own motivation for being there.
On the Maidan, there were both pleasant and unpleasant moments. There is a lot I’ve tried to forget and now it’s hard to gather my memories. I remember we spent the first night at a subway station. We found some blankets. There were lots of us there. We were offered pastries and tea. In the first days of Maidan we felt the excitement. We believed that we really could make a change, the entire country hoped to revolutionize a new life.
My older brother was also at the protests, but on the Maidan we were mostly separated. He didn’t want me to be there at all. I did all I could to make sure he didn’t know I was there. Mostly, I was with my university friends. My brother and I only began joining up on the Maidan when significant unrest stirred up.
Our parents knew we were there, but sometimes I told my mother I was just away with friends to give her peace of mind. Anyhow, I was there from the start of Euromaidan until February 18th. I wasn’t there every day because I still needed to keep with my studies, but I was definitely there often.
On February 18th, I sustained an injury to my eye. First I underwent a few surgeries in Kyiv, and later I was transferred to Lviv. Kyiv had become dangerous because it was possible that I could be spied on.
For my protection, I even reported for the hospital records that I had sustained an injury to my eye by accident. As if, I had just fallen walking down the street so no one could know that I was injured fighting on the Maidan. Many people began to care for me, and most of them wanted to send me abroad for treatment. They proposedsending me to Europe: Austria, Poland, Germany… There were many options, but action had to be taken immediately because my injury was worsening. Finally, it was decided that I would go to the U.S. where a doctor named Mark Juzych took over my care. He performed multiple operations. My eye was amputated and I was given a prosthetic. I’m still walking around with bandage over my eye because all this treatment had complications…
In the U.S., the Ukrainian diaspora really helped me. They financed my stay and my healthcare. My relatives also helped me financially and continue to support me today. I miss everyone, but they understand why I am here.
I am often asked if I regret what happened to me on the Maidan. They ask what I would do if I could relive February 18th again? I can absolutely say that I would go back to the Maidan over and over again.
After the events of one fateful night on November 30th 2013, I watched as the people of Ukraine struggled to pick up the pieces of a horrific start to a revolution, a revolution that has come to be known as Euromaidan. I couldn’t stand idly by as my people were being attacked, beaten, and killed by Berkut brutality. Without even thinking through logistics, I was booking a flight and would be in Kyiv in a few days. My brother and I decided to go together, so if the need arose, we could always defend each other. As we landed into Boryspil airport those few days later, everything was different—the atmosphere, the worried look on citizens’ faces, it was all too apparent that Ukraine had changed from this.
After exiting our plane and picking up the few small bags we packed, what we thought would be a simple taxi ride into the city center became a giant obstacle—roads blocked and lined with police, people in the streets, it was not the Ukraine I was used to seeing.
My brother and I quickly realized that we were visiting Ukraine in a way that we had never seen her before. When we finally decided that walking would be the only way to get anywhere, we quickly went to our beloved Maidan.
There were people from all parts of the world, tents lining the border of the square, cooks preparing meals for the people standing before us—the peaceful people of Euromaidan. My brother and I looked at each other and decided that this food was earned; it was not for us to take. We chose to buy our food and even bring it to Maidan to share with the people, as we believed that the food that was being prepared was for those that had endured so much more than we had; it was for those patriots that had been on Maidan for weeks and were not backing down. At the time, Euromaidan was about a broader idea than war—it was about making a difference; it was about standing your ground for what you believed in. Performers of all walks of life would be on stage, reminding everyone present to not lose their faith, spirit, and to remember to stand their ground.
My brother and I followed in the footsteps of those performers before us and did what we knew best—we even came equipped for the job. As members of Hromovytsia Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, we came out in our traditional Ukrainian Hopak costumes and danced for and with the people of Maidan. Night after night, we came out and reminded those on Maidan to stand their ground. This helped not only to keep their spirit alive, but in those cold nights of December, it was a way for them to stay warm through dance. Although our time was short at Euromaidan, the memories and acquaintances gained will last a lifetime. The experience that we had on Maidan is one that can never be forgotten. Looking back, this was just a drop in the bucket for what Ukraine was to endure in the coming months, but even thousands of miles away, I still remind our people to do what they do so well: stay united, stand their ground and we WILL overcome.
A moment in my life which will forever be engrained in my memory occurred at 3 AM on a bitterly cold December night in Kyiv, Ukraine. I gripped a microphone, the cold metal freezing to the sweaty palm of my hand. A Eurovision winner and a world-champion boxer-turned-politician shared the stage, only a few hours before a former United States presidential hopeful would be holding the same microphone. I raised it to my mouth simply at a loss for words. “I just wanted to let you know,” the words sounded in front of the 10,000 protesters before me, “Chicago stands with you, as does Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, New York, Washington. America stands with you, and the whole world loves you.”
As I walked off the stage, back into the crowd of protesters moving the world in their Revolution of Dignity, a woman with tears in her eyes, who had seen people brutally beaten only days prior, embraced me just to say, “we’ve been waiting to hear that for weeks.”
That exchange served a great purpose for me, as both an American and as somebody whose life’s mission has been to present and represent Ukrainian awareness to the world. It assured me of the importance of what I had been doing there and then in Ukraine, simple as my presence on that stage was, and proved that my 22 years of Ukrainian activities, Ukrainian language, and Ukrainian identity, had not been in vain.
So I’d like to propose a reflection to Ukrainian Chicago one year after the Maidan’s climax. How do you, by your actions and words, represent the Ukrainian people? And, at a time when increasingly more Ukrainian citizens are being torn between the West and Russia, how much do you, as someone who lives in the United States, appreciate the rare privilege of living here?
Fr. Yaroslav Mendyuk
My strongest memory from the Maidan is the impressive sense of unity. The hearts of tens of thousands of people beat to one rhythm. These people were motivated by a thirst to go forward, and by a desire for freedom.
There was one specific incident – on the night of December 11th when the Berkut attempted to destroy the barricades, Father Mykola and I were travelling to the Maidan. We were given a ride by a man who had just celebrated the birth of his son. I asked him why he had decided to go to the Maidan, and he replied, “Father, my son was born just a few hours ago, and I want him to live in a normal country, like a normal person should.” This mentality became a starting point for many Maidan activists.
I remember when they once again decided to disperse the Maidan. All the priests were gathered on stage so that we could lead prayers. We felt so pointless. The Berkut was attacking the barricades. Our people were fighting to defend them, and here we were just standing on the stage. We jumped off the stage and went to join our people.
We were standing between the people and the security forces. At this point, the security forces seemed to be composed of common soldiers from the regular army. Eighteen-year-old boys stood outside in freezing temperatures for over 20 hours, and weren’t even allowed to leave to use the bathroom. They weren’t being fed either. My own conscience wouldn’t allow me to eat in front of these boys, even though we were offered chocolate and sandwiches from the people at the barricades. I saw that one boy almost fainted so I gave him my bar of chocolate, but he showed me with his eyes that he couldn’t accept it because his commander was watching. So then I broke the chocolate so that it could be shared, and discretely fed the chocolate to the boy. I was filled with an unbelievable sense of euphoria as I watched these boys eat the chocolate. One boy even cried.
I don’t think Ukraine is divided in any way. Those who see themselves as Ukrainians live on both the Eastern and Western sides of the country. And those who are currently terrorizing parts of the country, are not Ukrainians. Those are mostly Russians and mercenaries paid by Russia.
Fr. Volodymyr Kushnir
I arrived on the Maidan after the killing of the Heavenly Hundred. I was immediately impressed by the amount of flowers and candles. They were everywhere where there had been battles. The ground was covered with them. Everyone carried flowers and photographs of those who had died. This was really moving. The atmosphere was difficult to describe – general silent mourning. At the same time, there was also a deep sense of unity among those on the Maidan.
We traveled to Kyiv not just as priests, but also as hospital chaplains. We met with the wounded. We communicated with and offered confession to the protestors. No one asked me how God could allow this tragedy to befall on our nation, but as I look back to my time on the Maidan I find an answer to this for myself. Our country had to go through this challenge so that every citizen could know for themselves who they are, and what their country truly means to them.
Back in Chicago, I met with a man who is now almost 40-years-old. He is an ethnic Russian, but he was born in Kharkiv. He told me that he just now realized that he is actually a Ukrainian. This tells us that the last six months of disaster in Ukraine have actually worked to form and solidify the sense of nationalism among Ukrainian citizens.
Fr. Mykola Buryadnyk
I decided to go to the Maidan right after November 30th when students were beat there and forced to hide in a nearby church. It just so happened that in 2004, I missed the Orange revolution so this time I really wanted to experience the sense of unity among my people. I waited impatiently for my chance to join in the process of rebirth of my nation.
On December 8th, I witnessed the March of Millions, where Ukrainians gathered on the Maidan in hundreds of thousands. At this point, Kyiv was filled with a sense of unbridled growth.
Later, we faced a harder night on December 11th when Father Yaroslav and I became a living shield standing between the Maidan activists and the Berkut. At one moment, it occurred to me that if violence broke out we could easily be trampled. We began to pray. This was a difficult moment, but near us stood boys who were prepared to die fighting. We stood with them to the end.
Still, the most difficult part was returning to the Maidan on February 23rd. We saw blood on the ground, and could sense every place where someone had died. There was a lot of pain and emotional turmoil on the Maidan. I think that had I gotten to Kyiv just a few days earlier, I would have witnessed the shooting of the Heavenly Hundred. My friend Ivan Halyo was one of the fathers who held the hands of boys as they died, and closed their eyes in the final moments.
Photo by Maksym Prokopiv
Translated by Olga Tymouch