Kiev, Ukraine’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti is visually intimidating yet conversely welcoming for a city center that resembles a war zone. Translated into Independence Square, locals simply refer to it as Maidan, a word that has grown to carry with it deep connotations in Ukraine. This is where on November 21, 2013, a wave of revolutionary demonstrations were sparked by the government of President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to back out of signing Association and Free Trade Agreements with the European Union.
Core elements of the Association Agreement were signed by the new Ukrainian government earlier this month, less than 4 weeks after “Euromaidan” protestors ousted Yanukovych but for those camped out in Maidan, there is still a long way to go.
Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about Independence Square is that it is dangerous to walk around.
Maidan is the downtown area of Kiev and people still visit the shops around with coffees from McDonald’s in their hands.
Other elements of the square have their own capitalist interests.
That is not to say there aren’t millions of reminders of the struggle waged and lives lost.
Most of the people I spoke with camped out in Maidan say they will wait until the upcoming presidential elections on May 25, 2014.
Passersby look at the remains of an armored police vehicle destroy during the riots. The asphalt still smelled of gas, which continues to slowly leak out of rusted fuel tanks.
Free soup and bread are available throughout the day, something many of the local poor have come to rely on.
A piano that has been in Maidan since the early days of the revolution, which musicians played during the worst of the fighting.
I was fortunate to capture this talented artist one afternoon. In the video right, people relive tension with the tick tap of ping pong balls on saturated wood.
Flowers in front of a makeshift memorial.
Archangel Mikhail, Kiev’s patron saint, looks over Independence Square.
From somber to festive, the mood here varies.
I was surprised at how large Maidan Nezalezhnosti actually is, about one square kilometer.
The Kiev City Hall has become the de facto headquarters for the Euromaidan demonstrators.
Inside Kiev’s City Hall.
Prayers play outside, several times a day to larger weekend crowds.
Uncertainty is the predominant feeling uniting and flowing out of Independence Square.
Tatars, a Turkic ethnic group numbering close to 245,000 in Crimea, protests its annexation by Russia.
On the left comparisons, on the right, foggy commemorations.
In front of tires, you see people leaving flowers, often with tears in their eyes.
Now, as the waiting game drags on, the movement shifts to the left, center, and increasingly far-right. For now, people wait…
…into the nights.
Flowers are laid by people in Maidan almost constantly throughout the morning and afternoon hours.
A tunnel of tires outline the recent front lines of Maidan.
A Few Of The Pictures I’ve Posted On My Instagram Feed
A service I’m using more often these days where I hope to find you as well.
Everyone in Maidan seems to be snapping a photo.
As you leave Maidan back into the rest of Kiev, life is strangely normal. There is almost no indication to be seen that just a few blocks away, cobblestones, flowers, and garbage form a defensive barrier for a movement which hasn’t ended. Over 100 demonstrators plus 16 police officers have been killed since the begining of Euromaidan in a situation that reminds me of traveling before and behind the protests in Bahrain.
I’ll have a lot more to write about Maidan, eastern Ukraine, and traveling in the country in the coming weeks but for some more insight, you can check out a recap of my live chat answering your questions on traveling in Kiev as Euromaidan continues.
Live From Kiev: Ask Me Anything You Want To Know About Traveling In Ukraine As Euromaidan And Turmoil Continue
I hope you don’t mind the impromptu live chat but a few of you expressed interest in learning more about the situation in Ukraine on my Facebook page recently, as I’m in Kiev at the moment. I’ve spent the last week in the city, visiting the heart of the protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”), interviewing protestors, doctors who stitched up the wounded, and many others with very interesting stories to tell.
The chat now closed, thank you everyone for participating!
Next week I’ll be heading to Crimea but am happy that I’ve got a good Internet connection today to take your questions. I have photos plus video as well and if you ask nicely, I’ll be happy to share. Let’s do it, ask away!
When the Olympics Games end the structures built to host them are often re-purposed, demolished, or left abandoned after the closing ceremony. Olympic villages are most often converted into housing, stadiums taken over by local sports teams. In the case of the Winter Olympics, many event-specific constructions like the bobsleigh track can’t be used for anything else but Sarajevo‘s leftover 1984 course was used to host the Luge World Cup – until it became a front in the 1991 Bosnian War.
Carefully walking around the main grounds (the surrounding woods are still heavily mined) in a small park area near one of the largest track turns it’s easy to imagine why the invading Serbian army chose this high point behind concrete barrier to shell Bosnia and Herzegovina‘s capital from for nearly 4 years. Inside the remaining walkable parts of the bobsleigh track you can still see marks left by bullets and holes drilled out for sniper rifles.
Very little of the original structure is left, most of it destroyed by war while the rest is slowly being devoured by the forest. In the meantime, teenagers drink nearby while those of varying artistic ability leave their painted mark on the exposed track.
A youth vastly different than that of my guide from HYH City Tour (which I highly recommend) who, only a few years older than me, lost his childhood to smuggling food and supplies into Sarajevo under siege. Optimistically though we move on to Sarajevo’s former Olympic stadium where the next generation conditions their footballing legs in today what is one of Europe’s safest countries. The 2017 European Youth Olympic Winter Festival will be held in Sarajevo where Torvill and Dean recently returned to the same rink 30 years after achieving the only perfect skating score in Olympic history. Given the passion and people who brought me to Sarajevo that have bid to re-host the games twice in the past 6 years, I won’t be surprised when the Olympics returns to its mountainous landscape.
Located in the middle of Romania along the border of Transylvania, is the statistically unassuming but surprisingly artful city of Sibiu. Considering it was originally the fortified home of vagabond German settlers – then later 1980s playground for the psychopathic son of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu (who destroyed part of Bucharest to build this) – Sibiu’s history suggests it shouldn’t be the vibrant creative center you voted The Best City To Visit in 2013.
Practical pessimists often call themselves realists and while I would say Romanians are characterized by a warm, energetic, and beautifully nerdy nature, they’re generally apathetic about their domestic prospects. In a global satisfaction with life index Romania ranks in the lower 25th percentile and 83% say government is ineffective; resulting in a serious brain drain problem.
At some level most of us can agree that politicians are dishonest to varying degrees and any legislative process is far from perfect. Enthusiasm for government is a hard feeling to cultivate and even more difficult to maintain. It takes a delicate blend of ingredients and the recipe for Sibiu’s bright outlook couldn’t seem less intuitive.
From Nomads To Nicu
Sibiu was founded somewhere in the 12th century by Germanic nomads who named the settlement Hermannstadt. Until World War II, Germans were the ethnic majority in Sibiu; which is fairly odd considering it’s located right in the middle of Romania, nearly 1,000 kilometers away from Munich or Berlin. Germans were a large part of the population right through Romania’s 1989 revolution, which ousted dictator Nicolae Ceausescu – and his horny, alcoholic son Nicu – who lived in Sibiu as the appointed head of the Communist Party there.
But mostly, he spent his time drinking, raping, and terrorizing the local population who eventually convicted Nicu of shooting civilians during anti-government protests in his final days in power. Ironically, all of those distractions may have preserved the distinct look of Sibiu. As aesthetics were under attack in the rest of the country, locals tell me aside from his many other indulgences, Nicu was given free architectural reign. Whether by apathy or choice, it might be why Sibiu still looks a lot like it did 300 years ago.
German Old School
Although I wasn’t surprised many of the people I met were engineers or computer scientists as Romania has the world’s second fastest Internet speeds, I was taken a back at how obvious their optimism was for the future of Sibiu. (Us engineers tend to be especially “practical”.) And roughly 25 years after ousting a dictator, the source of their momentum was a shock.
There should be a saying that you can take a German anywhere, but you can’t take organization out of a German. Although there are only 2,000 ethnic Saxons living among Sibiu’s population of 170,000, one of them, Klaus Werner Iohannis, was elected mayor in 2000. And he’s popular. Very popular. In a country where a politician would seem the least likely catalyst for change nearly everyone I met in Sibiu had good things to say about their mayor. Nationally, it’s been proposed he run for Prime Minister or President on multiple occasions.
Iohannis has brought in foreign investments but much of Sibiu’s success comes from focusing on its artistic roots. Between May and September there are theater festivals such as Sibfest, Red Bull’s Romaniacs Rally is held here – not to mention over 10 parks and museums like ASTRA open year round. All of this means double tourism revenue over the past 10 years [PDF], money for the local economy, and an infectious cycle of hope.
The Common Thread To Spread
As I write this it’s hard for me not to feel giddy about Sibiu, where things seem to be clicking enough that one can’t help but leave with that impression. An effect that may be spreading in nearby cities Brasov, Cluj-Napoca and beyond to Bucharest, where Sibiu’s mayor was just appointed interior minister and deputy premier. Whether or not he can make clocks and New Year’s Eve run on time in Bucharest is to be seen; but the city he comes from couldn’t have a stranger path to success, which should make us all hopeful for tomorrow, no matter where we are today. Thanks Sibiu.