Ukranian photographer Ilya Varlamov has been covering the uprising in Kiev, Ukraine over the last few weeks. He shared his experience along with an incredible series of photographs and allowed us to post them on the blog to increase the spread of the story. The post below describes two days in Kiev: January 22 and 23. Some of the photos may be hard to watch. Aside this post, Ilya has an ongoing coverage of the uprising on his livejournal account (some in Russian, some in English).
In the last days I received multiple requests to translate my posts for foreign readers, as they have very limited information about the happenings in Ukraine. This material describes events which took place in Kyev on January 22 and 23.
Sharing and distribution is appreciated.
22 January 2014. Battles on streets of Kiev.
I came to Kiev. I came to see for myself what is happening here. Of course, an hour after arriving at Maidan, you begin to understand that everything what you’ve read in dozens of articles, saw in TV news reports is total crap. In the upcoming reports I will try to, as objectively as possible, to sort out this new wave of Kiev revolution.
Usually reporters try to answer the question: “Who came out to Maidan and why.” Depending on the political leaning of MSM, the answers are different. Some say it’s “fascists who came out to lynch the Moscali (Ukranian derogatory for Moscovites and Russians in general).”, some say “they’re bums and slackers, who’ve got nothing better to do” and “instigators on the government payroll.” In reality, there is no answer. Those who came out are completely different. Remember, how a couple of years in Moscow there was a MSM buzzword “angry townspeople.” Here you see football fans, retirees, office plankton. And everyone is standing together. A sweet, ol’ grandmother is pouring Molotv cocktail in a nationalists’ bottles; and a manager of a large company is carrying ammunition to the student. And as it seems to me at this time, these people do not have a specific plan, nor idea of what to do next. Of course, individually, everyone has their own plan to “save Ukraine.” For some its “we need a couple of crates of AKs and grenades, we’ll sort things out here quickly.” Others “need to ask the world community for help and bring in the UN troops.” At this time there is no central idea of what to do, an idea that can unite and point in one direction the people at Maidan.
The only thing that is completely clear – people came out against Yanukovich.
The burning barricades are visited by people who have come to let out anger and resentment that have accumulated over the years – for the excesses of cops; for the corruption; for the ‘golden toilet'; for the stupidity of the sell-out officials. An elderly man, 80 years of age, walks up to young guys in masks and asks them for a bottle of flaming liquid. They ask him:
“- Grandad, you wont be able to throw it far enough!
– Just give me one, I want to show these beasts that they cannot treat me like this”
Unfortunately, the Ukranians had bad luck with opposition. The street mob is not controlled by anyone. Klichko and his company met with Yanukovch yesterday. Later they came out to the people, began to say something, but no one believes them. And no one wants to follow them. The main mass of people are completely non-political. They come out to kick Yanukovich and his company’s ass. Everyone has their own grievances and vision of the future.
There are very real battles on the streets of Kiev right now. Unfortunately, Yanukovich is far, so the Berkut (Ukranian SWAT) and soldiers have to play the role of Yanukovich’ ass. The scenery in Kiev is scary. Black smoke, burning barricades and constant explosions. Berkut’s flashbangs and the protestors’ fireworks explode in the streets. Each side is shooting at the other and there are already first casualties(2 to 5 based on different sources).
Let’s go to the barricades?
I rented a room in the hotel “Dnepr”, the very center on the European square. I come up to the main entrance, all doors are locked, lights are out. A group of men in helmets and protection, hanging nearby, greet me “Welcome to Kiev, Mister.” – they’ve confused me with a foreign tourist. Everyone’s laughing. It turns out that the entrance to the hotel is through a local bar. The security guy opens the door and leads me through dark hallways to the lobby. The lights are off, so as not to attract attention. After all, the hotel is almost at the front line.
1. European square. Back when it was all starting, there was a stage here, from which politicians pontificated their smart ideas about the future of Ukraine. Now the politicians have move on to Maidan, and the European square has become the rear base of the revolution. Cars with food arrive here; old tires for the bonfires, wood, medicine and reinforcements.
2. Mihaila Grushevskogo street. The first barricade has been erected here. The guards do not allow in outsiders. Only the press, the volunteers, and the activists, ready to fight Berkut, are allowed to pass. All onlookers are stopped at the approach, to prevent them from interfering with work.
3. This is main burning barricade near the Dinamo stadium, about 100 meters away from the first. It consists of hundreds of burning tires, which are brought here from all parts of the city. The demonstrators got lucky with the wind – it carries the black smoke directly at the squads of Berkut and national guard standing behind the fires. The smoke completely obscures the view and both sides are currently working blind.
4. A bunch of onlookers watch the fight. The battle continues for 4 days in a row.
6. Activists run up, bearing shields and toss stones. Nobody sees the enemy, but everyone knows how far Berkut can toss grenades. No one approaches the determined line without a shield. The grenades that land are flashbangs and tear gas. This does not have much effect on the seasoned protestor. The key is to avoid a direct hit or a nearby explosion, which can cause concussion.
7. The fire is constantly fed by more tires. The smoke screen must be dense! At one point Berkut attempt to feel out the protestors from a hill using a powerful projector.
9. There are special men on the field of battle, who watch the troop movements of the opponent. The man in the mask and shield will always tell you where it’s safe: “Stop! There’s a devil shooting from behind the column, don’t go father that line! We’re about to smoke him out of there!”
10. The scouts constantly refresh information about the enemy position and coordinate activists, who toss stones and Molotov cocktails.
11. The authorities turned several water cannons at the demonstrators. Surprisingly no one is afraid of the water. This scout is climbing a balcony to see what’s behind the smoke screen. The drenched people dry at the campfires. And some just walk around wet. There’s an incredible atmosphere here: on one hand you can feel the weariness of the frustrated people, on the other hand euphoria and expectation of victory. In such light, no one is paying attention to wet clothes. Only medic volunteers ask people to go warm up to avoid frostbite.
12. Activists with Molotov cocktails at the front line.
14. Actually the center of Kiev is very pretty right now
15. Protestors periodically shoot fireworks at Berkut. The entire square lights up and people cheer.
16. Somewhere over the the Berkut troops are getting ready for another assault. The assault is always sudden and everyone fear its. This morning Berkut has already shown that if the need be they can scatter everyone in 5 minutes. Why they do not – is a different question.
17. Catapult 1, seized and destroyed, is replaced by Catapult – 2. In reality it’s just a large slingshot, but to keep continuity the call it Catapult – 2.
18. Miracle of the engineering thought! Catapult -2 quickly went through testing and was admitted into the armament of the rebels. The crew consists of six people: three people pull the elastic; two people hold the frame; one person loads and delivers ammunition.
19. The wonder machine works well, but slow. The missiles fly far into the night, but reloading takes 2-3 minutes.
20. In a nearby alley people prepare Molotov cocktails. In reality, most of the bottles contain either pure kerosine or gasoline, the recipe is no longer followed – no time. Empty glass bottles are in a big deficit.
21. I’m looking at the guys and everyone is drinking Pepsi. I’m wondering: why drink this crap, it’s freezing outside? As it turns out, bottles ran out and someone brought several crates of soda. So as not to waste, everyone’s drinking together. Even infant food jars are used. All glass containers fly at the cops. The filling of the containers at the front line is done by the activists of the ‘right sector,’ but in the rear the bottles are filled by regular grandmas and pretty young women. Those who the guards do not allow passage to the front.
22. There are problems with bottles here. The mixture inside is liquid, not thick like in the original Molotov recipe, and the fuse is a simple rag. During the throw part of the gasoline can spill out and light up the thrower. Of course the fire is quickly put out, but the effect is very low. Almost 50% of all cocktails spill out before hitting their target.
24. The onlookers on the hill help out in any way they can. Sometimes they use lasers to blind the Berkut fighters. At one point the police was able to climb the colonnade entrance of the stadium and began to rain Molotovs and gas grenades down on the protestors. The onlookers use lasers to hit a Berkut in the eye, or try to find snipers on the roofs. There are constant rumors of snipers, although no confirmation of their existence has been produced.
25. Volunteer giving out dry, waterproof boots at the front line.
26. A young woman with a tea kettle approaches an activist on the front line to keep them hydrated. Some carry sandwiches, some dry clothing. Later I will describe in detail how things work here.
27. Campfire behind the barricades, where the wet and the frozen dry and warm up.
29. On my way back I see a group of people, trying to open a manhole. I ask them why are they trying to open the manhole? “We want to turn off the water so that Berkut will stop hitting us with water.!” The manhole does not open, this is a government district and all manhole covers are sealed securely from inside. Later they tried to break the manhole cover with sledge. I tried to explain that this is pointless, but I was ignored. The were not able to break through and they’re still getting hit with water.
23 January 2014. Temporary cease fire at Maidan.
I would like to dispel the most common myths about Maidan.
1.”They destroyed the whole city”
Not true. All of the action you see in the pictures are happening on a small square near the entrance to a Dinamo stadium. This is a government sector, there is no intereference in peaceful life outside of this area. If you make an analogy with Moscow, imagine that the barricades are someone in the area of Ilinka or Varvarka, near the president’s administration. Sure, it’s the center, but regular Moscovites wouldn’t notice. There is dark smoke and fire on all pictures: those are mostly burning tires. There is not tangible damage to the buildings. Unfortunately one store burned down last night near the barricades, resulted from a poorly thrown molotov cocktail. Even the statue of Lobanovsky, located in the epicenter of fighting has been covered with cloth to prevent damage. Overall, the protesters are very careful regarding property. They’ve take apart fences and benches, but no windows are broken, noone is vandalizing, and all looters are caught and beaten. So the picture is pretty apocalyptic, but things are not so bad.
2. “This is not a revolution, nothing horrible is happeneing”
Also not true. This is a real revolution. Decide for yourselves: it’s been two months since the center of Kiev has been in the hands of the opposition. Several government buildings are seized. The work of many government offices is paralyzed. The opposition has created barricades, which the authorities have not be able to take. Despite the freezing temps, tens of thousands of people are on the streets for the last two months. The system of defense and supply chain are established. There is perfect order at the protestor HQ, people are fed, dressed, people are pooling money to gather supplies. The most important thing: the people in power are unable to restore order. The police has failed several times at try to storm the barricades. I’ll make a separate post about this, but trust me, the only way to dismantle this is with heavy artillery, or drop in commandos. Every day the opposition is securing more territories. What is this if not a revolution?
3. “The entire Kiev is paralyzed, there is no peaceful life for the regular people.”
Kiev is living its own life. All stores and cafes are working, people are going to work, study in universities, get married, divorce and even die their own death. Most of the Kiev populace are not inconvenienced. Imagine if Navalny took over the Red Square and set up his camp there. What would change for you, Moscovites? Nothing. So the only people who are inconvenienced are toruists. A few stores and cafes had to close down in the very center. Also, those living in the center have troubles with logistics. But the entire Kiev is not paralyzed.
Now, when you know all the truth, let’s see how this day was.
31. From the morning everything remains in fire.
32. The protestors use metal shields to defend themselves from water the police are pouring them with.
33. Road signs can serve as good shields.
34. The Maidan’s missile forces. Lots of pyrotechnics are being brought up to the camp, all these rockets fly towards Berkut’s positions.
35. Hearths always require more tires to be thrown into. Because of ash and ice, ground level already rose by one meter.
37. Where necessary, the police gets stoned.
38. Everything is tightened with a smokescreen. Burning tires turned out to be a very efficient tactics. Police troops can’t see what is happening and are unable to attack, though there are disadvantages as neither the protesters can see the police’s positions.
39. This night was burned children’s clothing store.
40. A catapult is always working on the front line.
41. Not many people show up on the Maidan in the morning – the majority arrives at night, after work.
43. At midday Klichko came to the barricades and announced the temporary truce. Second round of negotiations with Yanukovich was due to take place today, and Klichko asked to cease fire and extinguish tire blazes until 8 PM. The police promised not to open fire on protesters, to stop throwing grenades and pouring water. Everyone agreed – Klichko happened to be the only opposition leader whom the crowd listens to. Well done! Just yesterday nobody was listening to him. After the truce came into effect, firemen started extinguishing the burning barricade.
44. A wonderful view opened once the fire went out.
45. People immediately started advancing to the forefront which was previously engulfed by fire.
46. Berkut’s positions.
47. Berkut troops were standing angry and soaked in smoke. Throughout the truce I spotted no provocations from either side.
48. Protestors are making photos in front of Berkut, Berkut in front of the protestors – war is war, but everyone needs to updates pics in social networks.
50. Scores of soldiers and Berkut are standing in small groups up to the horizon.
52. Monument to Lobanovsky next to the stadium is neatly covered with cloth.
53. People get warm next to campfire. Is revolution possible without a bicycle? I say no!
54. People on the hill are prepared for an assault. Stones, incendiary bottles and tires tightened with barbwire will be thrown to the attackers in case of necessity.
55. “Katyusha rocket launchers” used for shooting fireworks to the police.
56. Preparation of Molotov’s cocktails.
57. Bottles and stones.
58. Cocktails are being prepared by women.
59. You’ve probably heard about people banging metal with sticks. Many asked why – this is sort of a signal. When nothing happens, nobody is taping. When casual stone- and grenade-throwing takes place, the knock is monotonous, in order to set rhythm and keep the morale. When Berkut attacks, drumming becomes louder and everyone hears that – for some it is a signal to run away, for some, on the opposite – defend the barricades.
60. Man glues his store’s showcase, even though not a single his window was broken in four days. This store sells expensive furniture, and the ad urges not to rob it. As I said, there are no marauders in Kyiv – everything is perfectly organized, contrary to Bishkek, where, as I remember, the city was plundered in half a day. Nothing like that takes place here.
61. People hammer the snow, then load it to sacks and bring to the barricades. Snow serves as the main building material here. Sacks are being poured by water and snow turns into ice – monolithic barricades which come out are very difficult to destroy.
62. The Maidan’s quarries. People break the sett into easy to throw stones, load into sacks and bring to the frontline.
63. That’s how it looks.
64. They carry.
65. A stove.
66. Modern art.
67. Someone started a rumor about the Armenian Diaspora willing to pay for any information about the murder of their compatriot on Maidan. Later it turned out to be fake.
68. One of the protesters. Russian press usually describes the participants of Maidan as “extremists, radical thugs, ultras, members of nationalistic groups, motley nationalist, sometimes openly Nazist public, extremist militants, rioters, pogromists, rebels” etc…
69. A journalist.
70. According to NTV (russian pro-government tv-channel), this is an “amuck radical”.
71. Look at the people. I said it already, but will repeat: all social classes are present on the squares – from students to pensioners.
72. Grannies for Timoshenko.
73. Another extremist.
74. Women with food and tea always walk among the protesters – sometimes it looks like you’re on a banquet, not on a revolution. To find someone hungry is an uneasy job: the man on photo complaints that he put on three kilograms in a month :). Food is being brought every day, usually it is supplied by sympathizing Kyevites and businessmen who can’t go to the barricades but support the revolution.