How the Maidan activists rescued wounded fighters from the police
What made the biggest impression on me, on the Maidan after my arrival in Kiev in March, in order to gather reports of revolutionaries, was an ecosystem of various civic initiatives. This bottom-up, unselfish movement for freedom and self-determination is well demonstrated by the informal humanitarian aid organisation ‘Safe Transportation’ (Safety and Medical Aid - Безпечне транспортування), which was founded on 18 January, 2014 by five friends. They were residents of Kiev in their twenties and thirties: Yelena Gantsyak-Kaskiv, Ivan Demyanets, Artem Mirgorodskiy, Oksana Sivak and Ivanna Malash. Gradually, they were joined by several dozen other volunteers. I talked about the history of the initiative with one of its creators, Artem, 34-year-old consultant at Kiev’s Borispol Airport, whose professionalism was clearly visible.
‘Safe Transportation’ evacuated wounded fighters from the Maidan and protected them from police who perceived them as armed members of the resistance movement and took them straight from hospital, sometimes not even allowing the doctors to carry out the necessary treatments. In this way, more than 200 people received assistance. – We didn’t take people who required complex operations, such as operations on the limbs, as we saw it as better for them to be taken to the police station for 3-4 days than for us to put their lives at risk. We took only those who had already received first aid from hospitals - Artem reported. After the victory of the protesters, ‘Safe Transportation’ also sent 170 injured abroad for treatment.
- We all were on the Maidan. Everyone helped in any way they could: they made sandwiches, cleaned the toilets, brought firewood, manned barricades. People just came in and immediately found something to do - Artem begins his story. - Then, when it came to the first skirmishes and the first victims fell, we realised that there was no turning back.
- We were transporting those injured in the clashes from theMaidan to hospital, and there, the police were already waiting for them. Arrests, criminal cases, oppression... We understood that this was an urgent problem and that we needed to promptly find a solution to it – Artem continues his story. – Everyone tried to remedy the situation their own way. Then, we found each other and joined forces.
- What have we done? Our friends directed us to people who had cars, , and we drove to several churches. The first was a Roman Catholic Capuchin monastery on the left bank of the Dnieper. There is a Polish community there. We made an arrangement with the monks that we would take the victims there. They said, “It's dangerous, but we are ready to receive them”. The monastery has a small guest house on the first floor. 10-12 double rooms with bathrooms.
And what about safety measures? – We created a system of passwords for the needs of telephone conversations. As they were Capuchins, we said that we were bringing “cappuccino and two pizzas”. We only used our own cars and not taxis, because we could not trust strangers. Taxi drivers could have been collaborating with secret services. This was a risky job, but we have succeeded in transporting over 200 people from the Maidan.
What about other religions? After all, Kiev’s religious landscape is very rich... - The second was the Greek-Catholic church on Lvovskiy Square. There, in the basement, we organised about twenty berths, a canteen and a storeroom for pharmaceuticals. Surgeons, psychiatrists, specialists needed in specific cases would come especially to treat the wounded. We also made an arrangement with the German Lutheran congregation on Luteranskaya Street. On the first floor, next to the organ hall, there is a room with 12 berths, and a canteen. Volunteers from the United States helped on site. It's a comfortable place situated close to the Maidan, but also very close to the government administration building, where the ‘Berkut’ forces were standing. It is only about 15 metres away. We have risked a lot, because they could have asked one of us at any time: “Where are you going?” They didn’t understand why people were going there. They thought they were going there for the service. It wasn’t until the last day that they found out that this was our headquarters, but it was after the breakout, and they couldn’t do anything.
What about the Orthodox? After all, three structures of the Orthodox church in Ukraine are competing for members. - The fourth hospital was in the Mikhailovsky Monastery, which belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate. We also made arrangements with the AIDS Prevention Centre. This is a private analysis centre for HIV positive people. However, we decided not to set up another headquarters there because the location could arouse suspicion. A huge empty alley, and, all of a sudden, a row of cars carrying wounded people. - Artem explains.
How was the assistance from the Maidan organisers? – 7 to 20 first-aid points operated on the Maidan. We produced a duty roster and made our rounds almost 24 hours a day. We checked where the wounded were and what was wrong with them. We left our hotline number at the first-aid points. We worked with the Autodozor, the AutoMaidan, the medical service of the Maidan, hospitals - Artem specifies. 21-year-old Ivan, one of the initiators of humanitarian aid and a chemistry student, joins our conversation.
- Now we are working with the government administration on the granting of veteran status to the victims of Maidan and entitling them to receive war disablement pension – Ivan says. As far as I understand the message conveyed by my interlocutors, the work is difficult, because some people help out of the kindness of their hearts, as volunteers, yet on the other hand, we encounter bureaucrats who try to take credit for the grassroots civic activities. - Now we are working towards establishing a legal entity. It's difficult, because so far, we have acted spontaneously. The Ministry of Health contacts us frequently, because we have a better database of patients than they do – Ivan adds.
I’m asking about the sources of funding the assistance. - This issue has not been the most important for us so far. The office was made available by our friends. It was free of charge; we just needed it so that someone could sit constantly by the telephone, receive reports and pass them on. Besides, costs were at a minimum: mobile phones, gasoline. People are an irreplaceable element, while costs can always be curtailed – Ivan explains. - We have worked with various foundations. The Foundation of Chicago supported us with small donations – Ivan continues.
Artem devotes many sentences to thank the Poles for what they have done on the Maidan. - We are very thankful to you. All this has really improved Polish-Ukrainian relations. If some people harbored bad historical memories of Khmelnytsky and others, they have now been put aside. There is a widespread understanding that the Poles are our brothers. And it is not an imposed friendship, as was during the Soviet Union times, but true brotherhood. Poland and Georgia are the two countries which are spiritually very close to Ukraine, which endorsed it by their actions. The EU is a union of states in which some nations are closer to us mentally and others are further. Bulgarians are more distant, closer to Russia - now they favour what Russia is doing. Cyprus is closer to Russia because it receives funding from Russia. Other countries are ‘for’ Ukraine. However, we know that the greatest support comes from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. One military aircraft flew from Romania. Of non-EU states, we receive the greatest support from Georgia and Turkey. These are the states which have backed up Ukraine the most, but ranked number one is Poland. The Polish government has rendered us assistance, including medical help and transportation. All Ukrainians returning from Poland are very pleased following their stay. I myself am very pro-Polish. For a month I attended school in Poland, I underwent training in Zabrze, I lived in Warsaw, and I cooperated with the Adenauer Foundation and several others.
The initiative’s website: Safety and Medical Aid