April 17, 2022

The Spirit of Maidan

The Spirit of Maidan
A man bearing the Ukrainian flag during the Maidan protests. Image courtesy spoilt.exile

The resistance demonstrated by Ukrainians in their fight against the Russian invasion is nothing new. It echoes the 2014 Maidan uprising, a tumultuous turning point for Ukrainian politics that simultaneously solidified Ukrainian ideals while also raising Kremlin concerns.

When Ukrainian President Yanukovych reneged on his promise to initiate Ukraine's association agreement with the EU, Ukrainians came out in force to protest. Protests centered on Maidan ("Freedom") Square.

In the 2015 documentary, Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom, we get an up-close look at the Ukrainian struggle against authoritarian power and Russian influence. The documentary follows the protests for 93 days and shows how what began as peaceful demonstrations with a festive atmosphere later devolved into a bloody battleground when government forces showed unexpected and naked brutality.

The film shows how the protest stretched from days into months and the peaceful demonstrations turned into a battle between Berkut forces (Ukrainian riot police) and protesters. The events that unfold are at times unbelievable. The director, Evgeny Afineevsky, takes viewers directly into the crowds, balancing extensive footage of clashes with interviews, including with journalist Mustafa Nayyem, who put the initial call out on Facebook for people to gather on Maidan Square on November 13.

There is considerable humanity shown in the film, as we learn about the experiences of people during Maidan, their thoughts on their fight for freedom, and see them put their heart into the protests. When the Berkut switches from rubber bullets to real ones, it becomes clear that the government will do absolutely anything to protect itself.

Even with the extreme brutality of the government forces, the Maidan protests were a success: in the middle of the night on February 22, 2014, president Yanukovich fled Ukraine.

Maidan succeeded: the president was ousted, there were new, democratic elections, and the EU agreement was signed. But the successes were bittersweet. While the Western-leaning protests were succeeding in some parts of the country, the eastern regions saw a growth in pro-Russian movements. These movements would later devolve into conflict, and a few weeks after Yanukovich fled, Russian forces invaded Crimea and Russia later annexed the territory (which annexation has not been recognized internationally).

While the film does have some problems, including the exclusion of nationalistic rhetoric, the viewer does get an intimate view of the heady days of a revolution, and the power that can come out of a united group of people. As we continue to watch the invasion unfold in Ukraine today and hear stories of the Ukrainian people and military standing against the might of a global power, remembering Maidan can raise hopes that Ukraine will be able to resist its invaders and be the free nation it so wishes to be.

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