Translated from the Russian by Amanda Love Darragh
The first anniversary of the Maidan protests fell shortly after the declaration of the ‘second’ Minsk ceasefire, on 12 February. This ceasefire, like the previous one, was ushered in to the roar of exploding missiles. Not along the entire frontline this time, admittedly, but at certain points where the separatists had planned their advance. President Poroshenko made a brief but significant appearance on a dark, damp evening in Kiev – on Institutskaya Street, which is still closed to traffic, and which not so long ago ran with the blood of protestors killed by snipers – and then a symphony orchestra played Mozart’s Requiem. The whole country seemed to be standing still, with tears running down her face.
A year has passed. Those who were killed during the Maidan protest became Heroes of Ukraine (posthumously). Many of those who survived went to Donbass as volunteers, to defend the country’s territorial integrity. Many are still fighting. During the course of the conflict some even decided to become professional soldiers or police officers. Just as military operations began in Eastern Ukraine the country began to implement a programme of reforms, starting with the police force. The police reforms are being spearheaded by a young Georgian woman, Eka Zguladze, who has been appointed First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs. She is the one credited with successfully tackling corruption in the Georgian police force at the beginning of Mikheil Saakashvili’s presidency. Saakashvili, now the former President of Georgia, is also here in Ukraine, tasked with overseeing reforms. But progress is slow and subtle, while the ‘eastern front’ endures continual military operations day and night, with scant regard for the ceasefire. The fighting, the bombing raids and the funerals of those killed in the conflict make it all but impossible for many Ukrainians who took part in Maidan or sympathised with protestors to look back and see things clearly: how far has Ukraine come this past year? What has been achieved?
If you ask people during the course of a conversation what they think about Maidan now, it usually takes them a while to reply. ‘Maidan’ is history. It has been ‘pushed back’ – first by the annexation of Crimea, then by the unsuccessful attempt to incite armed uprisings against the government in Kiev throughout the south-east of the country, from Donetsk to Odessa and Pridnestrovie, and finally by the gradual deterioration of the situation in Donbass to a state of war – a war that wouldn’t be happening were it not for the tens of thousands of tons of Russian missiles and mines making their way into Ukraine, were it not for the volunteers, the mercenaries, the regular and reserve army officers, coming from all over Russia to fight in Ukraine.
It’s impossible to predict how and when Putin’s war against Ukraine will end. Every now and then European leaders promise not to ‘abandon’ Ukraine, but they don’t want to ‘abandon’ Russia either; they are already suffering from the economic sanctions they themselves have imposed. At the same time European politicians understand that if Putin manages to destroy Ukraine – both economically and politically – he won’t stop there.
Today, when I ask people in Kiev if they would have gone to Maidan in 2013 if they had known where it would lead, they pause before answering, but most of them say yes. ‘We had no alternative!’ they explain. ‘Yanukovych had already sold Ukraine to Putin, and that’s why he turned his back on Europe! Yanukovych used the threat of rapprochement with Europe to blackmail Putin. If Maidan hadn’t happened, then we would no longer have an independent Ukraine.’
I have my own vivid memories of Euromaidan. Not of the tragedy it became and on account of which it ultimately succeeded, but rather of the spirit of the Ukrainian people, their desire to influence the fate of their own country and their readiness to take action.
Now the word ‘Maidan’ has acquired new relevance – there have been calls for a third Maidan protest, with the aim of overthrowing the new government. Next there will be calls to take direct action against the war, against mobilisation, against everything that the new President and Cabinet of Ministers are doing. The new government is responding to this threat by attempting to introduce internet censorship and stricter control over the content of political talk shows on TV. But even Yanukovych was unable to subject Ukraine to the Russian model of total control over society through censorship and the judicial system. The majority of Ukrainians know perfectly well who stands to benefit most from a third Maidan; on this basis a third Maidan seems considerably less likely than a third ‘Minsk ceasefire’.
The fact of the matter is that a third ‘Minsk ceasefire’, which will be possible only after the second ceasefire is officially acknowledged to be defunct and the country suffers several more months of bloody and devastating warfare, will say less about Ukraine than about her Western comrades-in-arms – the European Union and the United States. It will be a verdict on their indecision, on their reluctance to take more effective economic, financial and diplomatic steps to stop the Russian Federation sending arms, men and machinery to Donbass, without which military operations would never have begun.
Amanda Love Darragh’s translation of The Diary of Lena Mukhina is also available through Foyles.