As the standoff in Ukraine continues over Russia’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, artist Tomas Rafa provides an intimate portrait of the recent battles that unfolded in the “Euromaidan” protests in Kiev. These photographs and video offer a rare on-the-ground look at the fiery front lines.
Since I returned the other day from Kiev, where I documented the protests included in my artistic give attention to patriotism and nationalism, the problem in Ukraine has taken a sharp turn for the worse and shifted this is of these fraught terms. It is always hard to accurately describe the ability of patriotism and nationalism—and the boundary between these related sentiments—in words, which explains why I use my camera to reveal their symbolic functions in popular uprisings. Given that Russian forces have seized control of Ukraine’s southern Crimea region, Ukraine is divided and nationalist celebrations of President Viktor Yanukovych’s departure came to an untimely end. Putin’s moves have put a lot of the planet in a diplomatic frenzy directed at staving off what could be the start of a fresh Cold War or, more terrifyingly, a world conflict. Meanwhile, for many Ukrainians in Crimea, patriotism may mean voting to keep attached to Kiev in an impending referendum; for others, it could involve deeper ties to the land of the native tongue.
We cannot say what will happen next, nonetheless it remains vital that you reflect on what unfolded throughout the months of protests. The name of the movement, Euromaidan, arose from protesters’demands for greater ties to the European Union and their rallying point in Kiev’s central square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), also referred to as simply “Maidan.” As the protesters in Maidan were mostly local residents, many came from cities in the west of Ukraine, like Lviv. The square was also filled up with a mixture of Ukrainians, Russians, Poles and international journalists. People sang the Ukrainian anthem constantly; I heard it about 50 times a day. Additionally they chanted, “Berkut out,” discussing the authorities, and “Ukraine: honor and liberty,” in Russian. I met numerous Russians who have been inspired by that which was happening in Maidan and wanted to bring this kind of revolution with their country, where it happens to be very difficult to alter the political environment. They had arrive at Maidan to learn to ignite and direct a revolutionary situation.
On February 20, the deadliest day of the revolution, the Alpha Group—a unique counterterrorism unit created by the Soviet KGB in the 1970s—was killing many individuals on the streets. More than 80 were killed, and hundreds were injured. I had flown to Kiev from Warsaw considering that the roads were now blocked at the town limits. I shot video while the streets below became a killing zone. Everyone was being rescued from the streets and brought to the foyer of Kiev’s Hotel Ukraine. Many journalists were in the hotel, and the management eventually chose to close the doors to keep them safe. The snipers were still shooting at the journalists through the windows, however, using heavy ammunition that Euromaidan videos may not be stopped by bulletproof vests. Not so it mattered, since these snipers aimed for the pinnacle or neck.
Protesters certainly have mixed feelings now they are no more united by the normal goal of taking down Yanukovych. Right-wing nationalists fought alongside with anarchists as long as Yanukovych was in power, but no longer. Serious tensions on the list of protesters arose as soon as former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko stumbled on Maidan. Today, pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian inhabitants of Crimea are clashing daily. The present struggle in Crimea is never as deadly while the bloodiest days of the uprising, but the long run for the peninsula—and for Ukraine as a whole—may be much more dangerous than anything we have so far witnessed.