“I first came here when students were on strike in favor of the association agreement with the European Union. I was here the night students were beaten but I left at midnight to sleep, but when I heard they were beaten I had a new reason to protest on the Maidan. Two days later, City Hall was occupied and I worked in the kitchen and then I moved up to working with the commanders. Then when it started on Hrushevsky Street in January, I was bringing tea and cookies to the demonstrators. Then when the Ukraine House was occupied, I started working in the press center. Of course Yanukovych is responsible for this. I don’t know who else is responsible, but I know Yanukovych has already been punished. I want honest authorities. Right now we can see changes of faces, but I want new faces. People are awake now but of course there is still ignorance and people who are not supporting Maidan. I want awareness.” -Yulia, 18
From February 18-20, 2014, the Maidan Square in Central Kiev was the scene of a siege, the culmination of months long protests initially led by students who were later joined by Ukrainians of all walks of life representing all aspects of society. What began as a protest against President Viktor Yanukoych’s decision to sign an economic agreement with Moscow over an association agreement with the European Union had morphed into something else, a larger demonstration of the people against the state. Snipers positioned on buildings surrounding the square attacked the demonstrators with live rounds, leading to over 70 deaths. The next day, Yanukovych fled his luxurious residence outside of Kiev for Russia, where he remains, a disgrace to his nation and the Ukrainian people.
The Maidan Heroes are those who were shot and survived this spat of political violence. This is not a name I have chosen for them, but rather how the Ukrainians refer to them. Most would not consider themselves heroes yet many consider themselves lucky to be alive and are grateful their injuries are not more severe. Olesya, a volunteer nurse from the town of Kremenec, was shot through the neck, tweeting as it happened, “I’m dying.” Eighteen-year old Yulia, a student from Kiev, was shot in the face, and survived a bullet to the brain, which was removed using microsurgery through her nose.
In these portraits of the Maidan Heroes, I hope to convey their strength and dignity and show the determination of people from across the spectrum of society to improve their country, long ago given to corrupt and violent forces after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their stories are about reclaiming a country from thieves. Maidan Heroes is also an opportunity to hear the voices and see the faces of the people who sacrificed so much to be heard, who were very close to being silenced. At a time when the story of the future of Ukraine is being played out in Moscow and Washington through the Russian and Western media, it is important to listen to those whose struggle brought us to this point and recognize their courage has lead the world in new directions.