The View From Kiev: Coping With Ukraine's Unfinished Revolution

"There is no victory," a psychologist working with protesters says, "only a potential victory."
People mourn at a makeshift memorial for the revolution's dead in Kiev's Independence Square. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

KIEV—In front of the scorched husk of the city's Trade Union building, three young men in grubby fatigues sit outside a tent pitched on Independence Square, their faces rattled and vacant. One stares up at the clear blue sky, spinning idly on an office chair.

The tent is a rehabilitation hub, part of efforts by 'Euromaidan' supporters to provide counseling and relief to thousands of protesters struggling to cope with a mix of defiance, grief, and fear as the demonstration's hard-won triumphs have suddenly given way to the threat of war over Crimea, whose residents recently voted for reunification with Russia in a referendum.

The Kiev square is quieter and emptier than it was during the height of the Maidan protests. Some of the people who remain attempt to busy themselves with errands, chopping wood for fires or delivering food. Others simply sit, staring into the distance, contemplating Ukraine's uncertain future even as they recover from violent clashes that claimed more than 80 lives at the protest's peak last month.

Ordinary residents still make a regular pilgrimage to the square, where mounds of flowers and makeshift memorials continue to honor the victims, who have come to be known as the "heavenly hundred." Svitlana, a 52-year-old housewife, says that after months of unrelenting political turmoil, the Russia-backed military buildup in Crimea and on Ukraine's eastern borders have left her stunned.

"It's just the latest shock," she said. "But it's a big shock. We never thought that there could be threats from [Russia]. Of course we want unity and peace. They don't need to divide us. Their actions aren't logical. We expected help and assistance. God forbid there will be military action. I dread it. It's going to make things even worse."

The Democracy Report

For some Maidan demonstrators, the possibility of war with Russia has provided a new sense of purpose. Outside a cafe on the city's main Khreshchatyk street, men line up at a desk to register for the National Guard. But on the square, any sense of common purpose has given way to a cacophony of moods and political views. A large portrait of nationalist icon Stepan Bandera hangs next to the stage. A portrait of Jesus Christ hangs nearby, amid a muddle of anarchist art and spray-painted anti-authority slogans like "ACAB"—shorthand for "All cops are bastards."

Dozens of missing-people notices flap in the wind. Militia members, armed with bats and wearing a variety of insignia, patrol the streets unchallenged. Police are rarely seen anywhere near the square. At night, a ballad booms from the Maidan stage, praising the historical friendship between Ukrainian Cossacks and Moscow, but warning of bad endings for the Moskali if they attack.

A speaker interrupts the song to announce that the parliament has promised ousted President Viktor Yanukovych a fair trial if he returns to Kiev. The speaker, in turn, is cut short when revelers in fatigues call for a tear-jerking video immortalizing the dead to be played on the big screen overhead.

Mourners in Kiev's maidan hold portraits of people killed in Ukraine's unrest. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich)

Halina Tsyhanenko, a psychologist, says that Maidan demonstrators—many of whom have remained on the square since protests began in late November—are suffering from a range of problems. Some simply have been undone by the prolonged absence from their families or worries about how to reintegrate back into whatever emerges as "normal" life in Ukraine. Others are grieving personal losses—the deaths of friends or comrades in the violence encircling Maidan.

Presented by

Tom Balmforth and Daisy Sindelar write for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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