Sunday, February 23, 2014

February 23rd demonstrations

Today was the first day I'd been to Freedom Square since it all began. We had a meeting in a restaurant that overlooked the square and, not having heard any recent warnings about the area, decided to go. Here's what we saw upon emerging from the Derzhprom metro-
3 PM
The Lenin monument, the preservation/destruction of which has become a hot topic in the past day, has now been fenced off and surrounded.

Using a loudspeaker, a man called out to the small crowd: Kharkovites, it doesn't matter which side you're on! We are here to prevent vandalism! This is why we are here! Wake up, get off your asses, and join us!

Still, the crowd was small and unstable. People approached, listened, and drifted away.

Ukrainian flags and Kharkiv city flags fluttered in the cold wind, joined by a handful of Ukrainian Socialist Party flags.

On the other side of the square, directly in front of the Regional State Administration building, was a second crowd.
People crammed themselves together on the sidewalk across the street, fronted by a line of policemen.
There will be no fascism here! roared the man on this loudspeaker. If we take the statue down, it'll be done in a lawful manner!

At this point, the crowd here was definitely bigger than the gathering on the other side of the square. Those near the main door of the government building looked relatively mainstream and waved the flag of Yulia Timoshenko's camp next to the nation's flag. Further out on the sidewalk were demonstrators with orange helmets, face masks, and wooden sticks. At the corner there was even a sole Anarchy flag. (There has been some anarchy graffiti along Pushkin street but I'm not sure if it's recent or not.)

As if to relieve some of the tension, brightly-colored Maslenitsa (spring holiday) decorations covered the ground between the two groups.
A giant samovar!!
The decorations were either being assembled (now would be the appropriate time) or taken down early (fear they'll be targets of vandalism?), it's hard to tell.

The afternoon went on and we were able to keep an eye on Lenin and his crew. When viewed from eleven stories above ground, the crowd swelled and shrank like a giant amoeba.

Both groups were still there come nightfall, accompanied by extra police officers.

Further down Sumskaya street stood a lonely monument to Taras Shevchenko. Although this statue had been a popular meeting point for recent gatherings, Taras loomed over the little plaza in silence tonight. Dozens and dozens of red carnations lay at the feet of the workers that ring the monument. Colored candles flickered in the darkness. A few photographs had been taped to the pedestal; I'm guessing they represent those from Kharkiv who died this year in the fighting.

So for now, there's some calm again in the city. No more lines at the ATMs, fewer frantic shopping trips, no recent reports of violence that I've heard, and many people seem more optimistic about what lies ahead. Hopefully this is the beginning of a long-lasting peace.

For up-to-the date photos and a timeline of local events, go here.


  1. Did you hear that Peace Corps evacuated all of their Ukraine volunteers? I feel so bad for everyone who had to leave :(

    1. Thanks for the info, Chelsea! It's shocking news but I'm glad they're all safe. Ukraine will miss them :(