Ukraine Uprising: Evolution of Maidan

“The Maidan has become a living, breathing thing. That means that it is evolving and will continue to evolve to meet the needs of the revolution.”

– Misha Oleksiyenko, protestor and resident of the Maidan

Canadian photojournalist Christopher Bobyn spent the week following ex-President Yanukovych’s ousting in Kiev, documenting the evolution of the Euro-Maidan from pro-EU demonstration, to revolutionary frontline, to anti-war protest against Russia’s occupation of Crimea.

His work documents the Maidan as an independent and fully functioning town/settlement erected from wood, tires, barbed wire and snow in central Kiev devoted to protecting the democratic ideals of the revolution, free from outside influence. This includes the exploration of the many citizen-led institutions that have developed in the Maidan: City Hall, theatres and museums turned into free hospitals, food kitchens and sleeping quarters, children’s programs, security, an impromptu Orthodox church, etc.

Among these Euro-Maidan institutions are the Self-Defense security forces. As the revolution pushed out the corrupt government, so too did most of Kiev’s police forces abandon their posts, refusing to patrol the streets. The protestors and revolutionaries, not wanting looting and arson to spoil the success of their cause, took it upon themselves to police the city themselves as a Maidan “Self-Defence Force”. Wearing second-hand military surplus, these civilians from many professional backgrounds and ages are now the de facto police in Kiev. The Self-Defence Force of Maidan is the official people’s security of Kiev now that the city police fear to be seen in uniform. Founded by current Ukrainian minister of interior Arsen Avakov to protect protestors from riot police, these citizens-turned-police officially are not allowed to mask themselves or carry weapons. However, many men flaunt these codes and groups are fractured under the leadership, especially the well organised extreme right-wing groups.

Where once EU flags were prominent, now only Ukrainian flags are waved. The revolutionaries have started to view the EU with disappointment after Brussels failed to do more than verbally back the revolution. Joining the EU is still a long-term goal of many protestors in Maidan. However, the successful efforts of Ukrainians in toppling their own corrupt leadership without outside assistance has inspired a general feeling of indifference toward Brussels, mirroring the indifference Ukrainians feel Brussels showed them. Protecting the accomplishments of their revolution internally and bracing for Russia’s fracturing of country are now the priorities.

The Maidan has also become a memorial to the “holy hundred”: the 90 men and one woman killed during February in what many Ukrainians call the “Battle of Maidan”. Indeed, central Kiev now looks like a battlefield, with barbed wire, wooden watchtowers and burned-out buildings shaping the horizon.

The protestors who marched for closer ties with the EU have now changed not only Ukraine, but the EU itself not from within, but from without. Regardless of the outcome in Crimea and indeed in Kiev, the European Union will be forced to adapt to the landscape these men and women have created through their actions. To the bewilderment of Brussels, and indeed Ukrainians themselves, the revolutionaries of the Maidan have placed Ukraine at the centre of European affairs and are driving events that Brussels is racing to keep up with, but fails to influence

Christopher Bobyn’s previous work has included extensive coverage of the former-Yugoslavia, the Syrian civil war and the Egyptian revolution. His photographic work about the aftermath of conflict in Kosovo was accompanied by a documentary film on the same subject, which he also directed. Moving to Europe, Christopher began producing photographic and film work for the EU, NGO’s, and various outlets including National Geographic, Deutsche Welle, The Guardian, GEO.fr and MSNBC.

Christopher lives and works in Berlin.

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An elderly woman carries a sign reading, “Bandit Yanukovych, surrender to [Ukraine’s new security chief] Nalyvaychenko! Choose between prison or a sniper. You are guilty of shooting down the “heavenly hundred”. Bandit and monster, you let Putin eat from under your table.”

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