Monday, March 31, 2014

Tragedy and Devastation in the Maidon: Kiev's Independence Square

The crisis in Ukraine is extremely complex. I do not pretend to understand the various internal and external battles taking place. However over the past few days I have come across a number of fascinating articles , this from the Daily Beast and of course Wikipedia which explain in part the chain of events that led to (at latest count) 103 deaths and over 1500 injuries in Independence Square in the heart of Kiev.  
I suspect that Sberbank, the largest bank in Russia that is sponsoring the competition for which I am a judge, cannot be happy with the situation outside this branch office
It is tempting to assume that what is happening in Ukraine, while tragic, is not really going to affect the rest of us. However, this Reuters article suggests otherwise. It outlines 10 ways the conflict over Ukraine could change the world
What is hard to fully understand is what's happening right now in Independence Square, or the Maidan as it is locally known.
This is the most treasured and significant public street and space in a city that has a lot of public spaces. However, as I hope these photos illustrate, it now feels surreal, with soldiers and former anti-government protestors literally camped out throughout the area.
They have created barricades with old (and sometimes new) tires, paving stones, all kinds of debris and garbage, destroyed bus shelters, advertising signs and almost anything else they can get their hands on.
They have brought in logs and other wood debris to make fires to cook and keep warm, as well as a variety of structures.
Interspersed are piles of flowers, candles, makeshift alters and memorial displays to those who have died; as well as vendors selling T-shirts, flowers, refrigerator magnets, scarves and other goods to the Kiev residents who now walk freely through the space everyday.
Not to mention small vehicles that dispense coffee and tea. When I asked locals why the protestors are still there I hear various explanations. Some say they are trying to stay prepared in the event of an invasion by Putin. Others tell me they are staying until the May Presidential Election, If they don't like the outcome, more active protests could start again. Others say it is a bit of both while still others, like me are confused by what is happening.
There is no doubt that many of those camped out are there because they are still in mourning, and shock, over the events of the past few months. Many have lost good friends, or are worried about others still in hospital. They are raising money for their medical needs.
However others have no job to go to, and like many of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protestors, are enjoying the camaraderie and excitement of the situation.  This is not to demean in any way the seriousness of the situation; but judging from the music, the newly created living and sleeping spaces, and number of bottles littered about, for many this is now starting to take on a bit of a party atmosphere while waiting for future events.
For many residents it is a very unsettling and chaotic situation with a lack of security and proper enforcement. Nonetheless, most of the people I spoke to say much of the encampment could remain until the Presidential election on May 25th.  Here are a few more photos.u

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