A Pole takes a look at the Maidan: how the Mission of the Open Dialog Foundation operates in Kiev
It’s not good to enter the theatre halfway through the play. The theatre of war and its observers are very similar in that respect. After nearly four months of escalating conflict I have found myselfa here; as a correspondent of the Open Dialog Foundation on Maidan in Kiev. – You’re such a tyro – I heard from the mouth of the veterans of the Polish observation Mission after asking several questions.
My arrival at the Boryspil airport on Monday wasn’t indicative in the least of what our south-eastern neighbours had just gone through. The bus ride through the city didn’t reveal anything unusual either. – Life is running its usual course – I overheard some conversations of passers-by trying to keep the events at a distance.
This put-on show was brutally revised, however, on entering the epicentre of conflict: the area enclosed by Hruszevski, Chreszczatyk, Instytutska and Michajlovska streets. The ubiquitous concrete barricades, piles of tyres, scattered setts and the singed building housing trade unions which was burnt during the battle on the night of February 18 and 19. Every dozen metres one comes across memorial sites of the “Heavenly Sotnia”, i.e. heroes of Euromaidan: with photographs, floral tributes and candles. Several dozen tents put up right on Independence Square and along Chreszczatyk Street, with smokey wood-fire chimneys; as it’s quite cold here even in the afternoon. In fact, Maidan is slowly dying off. On the stage, one can most often see less important figures or video coverage. Politicians have locked themselves up in their offices and don’t come here anymore. Gradually, the barricades are being removed and it’s only the tyres being burnt from time to time that remind me of the battle being still fought.
I was shown around Maidan by Steve, a Canadian BBC photographer residing in Kiev since the beginning of January, who supports our observers here. A middle-aged man with long hair and a beard, always wearing the red “PRESS” vest, is a kind of phenomenon in itself. He’s confident, even phlegmatic; calmly and without a moment of hesitation, he communicates in broken Ukrainian with the activists. – I have taken 500 photos of Maidan at night. You must watch everything closely, then you can start noticing the details that do not match the big picture - he says. – How long does it take to discern all of it? – I enquire. – About four weeks, later on you really start to get the feeling of this place.
The photographer takes me to Hruszevski Street where everything began: the first acts of violence against peaceful demonstrators. We passed by the booth of the UDAR party; the shell-cases of live bullets fired by Berkut are displayed on the table. – I’ll show you something, said the Canadian when we stopped in front the open “Kofe Hauz” café. – Each ambler should stop here. If you don’t take a photo of this dent from a machine gun bullet, one could say you haven’t actually been here.
In the flat rented by the foundation I am greeted by Agnieszka Piasecka, a local coordinator, case-hardened by the couple of weeks she has spent doing this job. Extremely businesslike. – We’ve had several dozen people in this Mission. A couple of real diamonds, great personalities have been revealed. I count on your self-reliance and resourcefulness, but you can depend on my support each and every time. – I am told as a form of incentive after the greeting. I also meet the volunteers working on the projects related to humanitarian aid – Marian, a Ukrainian studying in Warsaw and Filip, a Pole who speaks perfect Ukrainian, runs 15 km every morning and does a really good job coordinating, among others, such issues as visiting the injured, hospitalised in Poland by their families.
I have also met Dawid from the fourth sotnia, i.e. a subgroup of Maidan’s Self-Defence. I notice that Poles outnumber other observers. – It’s true, but there are sometimes also journalists from western countries, not necessarily competent, though. Not speaking the language, they often can’t tell Euromaidan from Antimaidan, that’s why the role of the Polish observes and journalists is so crucial here – says Agnieszka.
A newly arrived person is struck by the hermetic language spoken by the veterans of the Mission. It’s understandable that there’s no time for training in general orientation. Everything is based on established relationships, clear division of tasks and self-reliance of the staff. Even a meeting over beer in the evening of St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t only serve the purpose of relieving the tension – it’s an opportunity to get to know the leaders of Maidan’s Self-Defence better the, journalists from the “Generation” Society returning from Donetsk, a place visited by packs of Titushkys, as well as a group of young Polish rescuers who, after numerous attempts, were not allowed in to Crimea despite the official declarations assuring peace, which in that area, everyone heard.