Yesterday in Kyiv

Yesterday in Kyiv was something else. I ran into this 22 year-old who said he needed to search my bags before I could enter the tent city at the Maidan. We passed by self-defense forces still bearing clubs and shields. The man guiding me through the tent city swore that if the government did not take back Crimea, it should be replaced. (Several times he told me that he’d done military service in Sevastopol.) He said he had all these problems sleeping after incidents of violence at or near the Maidan. He described hundreds of bodies burning in the Trade Unions Building overlooking us. Hundreds more had disappeared (he said 500), many bodies dumped into the Dnipro River.

As he wildly swore in Russian and waved his hands, we were standing on the Maidan with the same view of it which I had on February 18, when police forces violently tried to storm it. I wondered if my students back home could understand why a guy like him would leave his job in Sums’ka Oblast’ and live here for some three months.

In the evening, a Russian-speaking Cossack showed people bullets snipers had used against self defense forces. He talked about hundreds disappearing, their bodies sent to crematoria. Upset that none of the murderers had been punished, he said that they all should have faced the “tribunal” at the Maidan. A man in his 50s or 60s said in Russian that he had all this information on people who had been murdered or had disappeared, but no members of parliament wanted to speak to him. When I told him he could go to Amnesty International, he acted like he’d never heard of it. I left him my business card, and I said, “I’m just a historian, but I can find someone to help.” I don’t know if he will respond, but I felt I had to do something.

Then when I had a beer with a friend at the nearby Crimean Tatar restaurant (not Baltika, I assure you), one of the employees, when asked how her family was doing in Crimea, said that her relatives called and said that they’d been woken up at 6 a.m. by fireworks celebrating the referendum. She said that Ukrainians and Russians needed to come to Crimea for the summer and support the tourism industry there, no matter if Crimea belonged to Ukraine or not. When my friend lamented the government’s refusal to take any action on Crimea or anything else, he asked the employee what her relatives planned to do (meaning what to do if things go worse). “Fight, what else?” she said. Then she said in Russian, “It’s not going to be forever, is it?” (Eto ne budet vechno, da?) Her question reminded me of what the Jews faced in Germany in the 1930s.

With all the discontent about the government on the Maidan, with the sense of helplessness about Crimea, nothing I am reading on Facebook seems terribly important anymore.


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