Friday 21 November 2014 13.54 GMT
What happened to the demonstrators who brought down a government and threatened to reignite the cold war? RFE/RL caught up with some on the anniversary of the movement
The Euromaidan protests in Ukraine began a year ago today and continued for months, through the long winter of 2013-14. During the days of waiting and of celebrating people’s power on Kiev’s Independence Square, the world had the chance to meet many ordinary Ukrainians as well as political leaders and celebrities who joined in the protests.
Some of their stories are well known. Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in February and made occasional press statements in the ensuing months. His former prime minister, Mikolay Azarov, is also in Russia. He has reportedly bought a lavish mansion outside Moscow and has been seen consulting with members of the Russian State Duma. The Ukrainian Interior ministry has said that both Yanukovych and Azarov have been granted Russian citizenship, and authorities are investigating claims that both men continue to receive Ukrainian pensions.
To mark the first anniversary of the beginning of the protest that transformed Ukraine, RFE/RL caught up with some of the people we met during those heady days and find out what they are doing now.
Maryanan Sochenko: We should’ve gone further
Maryna Sochenko and her sketchbook were permanent features of the Maidan from the first day. Now, a year later, she flips quickly through an endless pile of canvasses and drawings in her Kiev studio. She is marking the first anniversary of the protests with an exhibition of her portraits of the faces of Maidan.
“There were so many different types of people,” she says. “The most interesting thing is the geography, of course. I didn’t go looking for people. They came to find me. This one is from Sevastopol. This one from Kherson. Here is a journalist from Kiev. All of Ukraine is here.”
Looking back, Sochenko thinks maybe the protesters should have been more active; more decisive.
“I think we shouldn’t have sung so long on the square, but we should have gone and thrown them out of their offices, ushered in some new people,” she says. “We should have made a real revolution.”
Since she left the Maidan, Sochenko has battled depression, working through her feelings in her art. She remembers the tense times when the Berkut riot police announced they would clear the square and protesters waited in the night.
She remembers how the protesters stood their ground then and draws parallels with what is going on now in the fight against pro-Russian separatists and their Russian supporters in eastern Ukraine.
“We are stronger because we are right,” she says. “That is why we are stronger. God is on the side of those who are right, who are defending their land. They are not right – they have come here and they can feel that they are not in the right. When they are captured, they can’t understand what they are doing here at all. They have no moral justification, just as they didn’t in Afghanistan. That’s why they lost there – because they weren’t fighting for anything.”
Nazariy Boyarskyy: The spirit lives on
During the protests, Nazariy Boyarskyy worked for Euromaidan SOS, a group of volunteers who tracked down the dozens of people who went missing during the demonstrations. He estimates that approximately 30 people are still unaccounted for.
He continues to work as a human rights advocate and says that the spirit of cooperative public involvement that was born on the Maidan continues to this day.
“You can see it in the eyes of the volunteers who come in to help, beginning with the talented lawyers who work for us for free to help detainees and going all the way to the wonderful woman who comes to us to make us lunch,” he says. “You can feel from these examples that people are ready not just to sympathise, but to pitch in. And that is the most vivid impression of the last year for me.”
Last year, Boyarskyy marked his 25th birthday on the Maidan on 30 November, a dramatic day on which Berkut forces attacked protesters.
This year, he anticipates a more relaxed celebration aimed at making up for lost time.
“I’ll spend the evening together with my closest friends and relatives because over the last year, unfortunately, my friends and relatives suffered the most because I didn’t have time for them,” he says. “So now, I want to see them.”
Halyna Trofanyuk: There could be another Maidan
Halyna Trofanyuk, who cooked for the demonstrators, says she was changed by the three months she spent at the protest.
“I used to be timid,” she says. “But you’d better not mess with me now. If necessary, I can get people behind me and convince them that you have to fight for what you need and not wait to see what others give you.”
Her broad, kind smile was a landmark at the Kolomiya tent, although it was often obscured by clouds of steam rising from cooking pots.
Her fellow protesters took to calling her “Mama” because of her astonishing knack for quickly putting together hot meals for large numbers of people. When she returned to the village of Rosokhach, Trofanyuk was something of a celebrity. She was invited to speak at the village club and a Ukrainian flag that she brought back from the square still hangs there.
Slowly Trofanyuk’s life has returned to normal. Her daughter, who was with her on the Maidan, has married and had a son, conceived during the protests. “A little Maidanovets,” she smiles.
She continues to travel to Poland for seasonal work. She contributes to the army and regularly donates blood.
But she can’t hide a measure of disappointment as well and fears that Ukraine’s politicians have not learned the lessons of the protest movement.
“There could be another Maidan if the politicians don’t understand the chaos they are creating,” Trofanyuk says. “People are getting ready for the worst, and they have become disillusioned even with the Maidan.
“We need wise politicians so that people can really see that their sons are not dying for nothing,” she says.
Sofia Marchenko: Everyone tried to help one another
On a cold day in late December, university student Sofia Marchenko was handing out patriotically themed biscuits to Maidan protesters.
“I think sweets always raise people’s spirits,” Marchenko told RFE/RL at the time. “I love seeing people smile as they take the biscuits, as they express thanks and say how tasty they are.”
Now 19, Marchenko has resumed her studies and continues to develop her small baked-goods business. But her memories of the Maidan remain fresh.
“The most vivid memory isn’t one particular moment when something happened or someone said something,” she says. “There isn’t that sort of thing. But I really remember the general mood when everyone who was there became sort of one big family and everyone tried to help one another.”
Despite bitter cold and her parents’ fears about the danger, Marchenko went to the Maidan several times to hand out her baked goods. She also collected money and much-needed items for the protesters throughout the demonstration.
A year later, she continues selling her biscuits at fairs and supporting the Ukrainian army’s operations against the separatists in the eastern Donbas region.
The spirit of family that was born on the Maidan, she says, lives on among her circle of university friends.
“I still feel it,” she says. “I don’t know about other people, but among me and my friends, the feeling remains.”
She’s fatalistic about the Maidan, convinced that the protest had to happen exactly as it did and when it did. She says that the experience changed her and many – but not all – Ukrainians.
“Among us [Maidan veterans], there has been a change in our way of thinking,” she says. “Now people don’t think about what Ukraine can give them but about what they can give Ukraine. And I think that is the foundation of love of one’s country. Not, what can I get, but what can I give? And my disappointment is that a lot of people still don’t understand this.”
Robert Coalson contributed to this report