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 a week ago from Kiev, where I documented the protests within my artistic concentrate on patriotism and nationalism, the situation in Ukraine has Euromaidan videos taken a sharp turn for the worse and shifted this is of the fraught terms. It is always hard to accurately describe the energy of patriotism and nationalism—and the boundary between these related sentiments—in words, which is why I take advantage of my camera to reveal their symbolic functions in popular uprisings. Now that Russian forces have seized control of Ukraine’s southern Crimea region, Ukraine is divided and nationalist celebrations of President Viktor Yanukovych’s departure attended to an untimely end. Putin’s moves have put much of the world in a diplomatic frenzy directed at staving off what could be the start of a brand new Cold War or, more terrifyingly, a world conflict. Meanwhile, for some Ukrainians in Crimea, patriotism may mean voting to stay attached to Kiev in a forthcoming referendum; for others, it might involve deeper ties to the land of the native tongue.
We cannot say what’ll happen next, nonetheless it remains very important to think on what unfolded through 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 called simply “Maidan.” Whilst the protesters in Maidan were mostly local residents, many came from cities in the west of Ukraine, like Lviv. The square was also filled 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,” referring to the police, and “Ukraine: honor and liberty,” in Russian. I met several Russians have been inspired by what was happening in Maidan and wanted to create this kind of revolution to their country, where it happens to be quite difficult to alter the political environment. They’d arrived at Maidan to learn how to ignite and direct a revolutionary situation.
On February 20, the deadliest day of the revolution, the Alpha Group—a particular counterterrorism unit produced by the Soviet KGB in the 1970s—was killing many individuals on the streets. Significantly more than 80 were killed, and hundreds were injured. I’d flown to Kiev from Warsaw because the roads were now blocked at the town limits. I shot video while the streets below became a killing zone. People were being rescued from the streets and brought in to the foyer of Kiev’s Hotel Ukraine. Many journalists were in the hotel, and the management eventually decided to close the doors to keep them safe. The snipers were still shooting at the journalists through the windows, however, using heavy ammunition that could not be stopped by bulletproof vests. Not so it mattered, because these snipers aimed for the head or neck.
Protesters certainly have mixed feelings now they are no longer united by the normal goal of taking down Yanukovych. Right-wing nationalists fought alongside with anarchists provided that Yanukovych was in power, but no longer. Serious tensions among the protesters arose as soon as former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko came to Maidan. Today, pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian inhabitants of Crimea are clashing daily. The present struggle in Crimea is much less deadly while the bloodiest days of the uprising, but the future for the peninsula—and for Ukraine as a whole—may be much more dangerous than anything we have thus far witnessed.