In the end it does not really matter that our bikes got stolen in Sevastopol, Crimea. There are still a few untold stories about the time when we had them and here is the first of these stories – Kiev, Maidan and civil war in Ukraine.
Even before we started our adventurous expedition to the furthest inhabited place from or home, we had heard a lot about the situation in Ukraine from friends, acquaintances and foreign/national media. Despite this abundance of information, I did not have any clear opinion about the situation in Ukraine (which is the second largest country in Europe, by the way, if you add the territory of Crimean Peninsula). I don’t really think that even the majority of these self-proclaimed experts of foreign affairs have a clear and objective opinion about the events that have happened and are still happening in Ukraine. This lack of unbiased information most probably was one of the reasons I was so eager to visit Ukraine (of course the other reason was the sense of adventure).
As we arrived in Belarus we were able to distinguish two strongly opposed opinions about the actual events in Ukraine. The leading opinion in Belarus, of course, was that the most unsecure region of Ukraine is its western part and, for instance, it would be very dangerous to visit Kiev and Lviv. It is even more dangerous if you happen to be a Russian speaking individual and by some reason don’t know Ukrainian language. All in all, it was alleged that it is a lot safer for Russians and Russian speakers to be in eastern Ukraine and Crimea as the western Ukraine is swarming with fascists and nazis who are constantly trying to kidnap, kill or rape people who don’t speak Ukrainian. On one occasion we even had to explain to a Belarussian gentleman that we are not Lithuanians headed to Maidan to hand out free pasties baked in European Union.
The second dominant opinion, which is popular in Western Europe, is completely opposite to the one described above. The real terrorists are not Ukrainians, but Russians (or pro-Russians). The Eastern Ukraine and not the Western Ukraine is swarming with bandits. There is only one person responsible for the situation in Ukraine and this person is Mr.Putin. Truth must be told, we were more apt to believe this “version of truth” rather than the first. But what actually happened in Maidan and what was happening in Ukraine? Before we entered Ukraine, I thought that I will finally have the possibility to find out the real truth or to formulate an opinion which is based on actual facts rather than on western or eastern propaganda.
As Laura already wrote (see http://hmroads.com/2014/10/laura-writes-nonsense/) we entered Ukraine on 26th September 2014. Already on the next day we were in Kiev and the opportunity to hear something more had finally arrived. In Kiev we were hosted by Roman and Sveta, who had just recently moved from Donetsk to Kiev. The reason for leaving their home in Donetsk was fairly simple – it was practically impossible to lead a normal life there. But in comparison to some other Ukrainian “refugees” Roman and Sveta had decided to move to Kiev and not Russia.
The next day we went on a little bicycle sightseeing ride in order to get acquainted with Kiev. It seemed a bit odd at first, that neither Roman, nor Sveta mentioned anything about the recent events in Maidan and all around the city of Kiev. In order to get to know something we had to ask them ourselves and even then the answers came out reluctantly, this made an impression that they are they are not proud of the events in Maidan (events during Euromaidan in Kiev). Their reluctance to talk about these events got me puzzled, but if you think about it for a second, there is nothing strange about it, since the events in Maidan were possibly the breaking point and one of the reasons (but I still do not believe that there is a causal connection) why the situation in Ukraine escalated so quickly (at least this is the Russia’s version of the truth).
In Kiev, all roads lead to Maidan square and for this reason we also found ourselves there. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for a lot of other people, the square and its surrounding territories were cleaned from almost all objects connected with Euromaidan. The only things that could still be found were a few posters and some missing cobblestones. The territory did not look special in any particular way, and yet it had some kind of mystic aura. The air itself and the people around seemed to tell the story about the protests, violent clashes, Molotov cocktails and death. From one corner of the square you could hear a piano being played ( http://maidantranslations.com/2014/02/12/protest-piano-revolutionary-art-against-violence-by-fascist-extremists-videosphotos/ ). There was a small group of activists standing around this piano and, as I later found out, they were from a Ukrainian NGO connected with the Euromaidan.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to ask questions to Roman and Sveta, we finally got to know something more about their own opinion. They considered that the people who took active part in the Maidan, and even paid the highest price, were the naïve and foolish victims in somebody’s game. Roman alleged that this seemingly spontaneous protest was organized by Ukrainian oligarchs (maybe Poroshenko himself) with a goal to destabilise the situation in the country and to divide the society. But who knows, maybe some part of their opinion was actually true. If you pay close attention to the events in the Euromaidan (as described by neutral independent media, e.g., Vice News) the “professionalism” of protesters and the level of organization leaves an impression that at least a part of the active participants knew perfectly well what they are doing and why they are doing it.
Irrespective of previously said, all that happened in the Maidan is something truly remarkable. Latvians should understand (plenty of people have paid with their lives for Latvian independence) why so many Ukrainians were ready to die in the Independence Square, yet, I don’t think that anything like that could happen back home in Latvia (not because we don’t have similar problems to the ones in Ukraine). It does not really matter if people who died or got seriously wounded were heroes or fools (and it seems kind of ridiculous when such judgements are handed out by somebody who has not been even close to the actual events). Putting away the political context, the sense of unity and brotherhood between the protesters during the Euromaidan can only be admired. It could easily be true that part of the activists were just adventurers and some were mercenaries, but the majority of them were simple Ukrainians who believed that they could actually succeed, that they could make Ukraine a better place. They believed that somebody will listen; they believed in democracy more than people in Western Europe or anywhere else. It just seems that Latvians no longer believe in any such miracles, we have accepted that every four years we have to vote for the least of evils. The sad part is that nothing will change also in Ukraine – the old ones will be substituted by the new ones and soon after that these new ones will forget why the old ones were cast out. While standing in the Independence Square you really want to believe in fairy tales but maybe for me it is a bit too late.
Few days later we drove to the village Novi Petrivtsi to visit the residence of the former president of Ukraine – Viktor Janukovich. It is located near the Dnepr River and covers some 140 hectares of land, but even the impressive size of the residence is not its biggest gem. In the territory you can find everything that a fat, corrupt president could wish for – a zoo, a golf course, a helicopter landing platform, a private gas station, a restaurant, even SPA, etc. Most probably, it would be possible to find something else there, but, to be honest, we did not have the time nor the interest to look for it. Truth to be told, the trip to the residence, at least for me, was a bit boring (I usually don’t have the patience to walk around a fancy park for hours admiring it’s disgusting beauty) and left a rather unpleasant impression. It was unsettling to see the enormous greed that made Janukovich continue his efforts to grab and steal as much as he could even though he no longer needed any of it.
We left Kiev and travelled to the capital of Moldova – Chisinau. Not far from the Ukrainian – Moldavian (Transnistrian) border we noticed something interesting – the main transit road was barred by military checkpoints and, from time to time, fortified entrenchments could be seen on the sides of the road. The situation there has become even more intense, right now Ukraine is digging a 440 km long trench along the border. But even this 440 km long trench is nothing compared to the situation on Ukrainian – Crimean border (if you call it a border). The no man’s land actually resembles demilitarised territory – next to the road you can see camouflaged Ukrainian soldiers, armed vehicles, entrenchments and fortified bunkers. The spotlight of the day was that parts of the border area and the main road itself were mined. Once upon a time I thought that stuff like tanks and mines can be found only in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or in the movies, but now it is right here – in our neighbourhood. All this makes me imagine that the magic glass shield which ensured the peace in the region has been broken, the peace and security of our subcontinent is on an edge of a knife. Maybe somebody has already decided how all this is going to end and all what we can do is to try and find some crumbs of truth and put them together.
I am in Tbilisi now and adventures in Ukraine are now only a recent memory for me. And even now, when I have seen and heard something directly, can I say that I understand what has happened and what is happening in Ukraine? Probably I can’t. The thing I have understood is that there is not an easy way out from the present situation. The people of Ukraine have been divided in two opposing groups and this division has actually destroyed several families. Some of the scars (the burning of Union House in Odessa; killing in Kiev) will never actually heal. Sad.
P.S. Everything written in this article is a personal opinion of its author. The topic about events in Maidan is hard to grasp as it is much more complicated that a lot of people suspect.
P.S.S. The next article will be about our adventures in Kiev and it will be published on 8th December.