At the field hospital I spoke a lot to a woman called Olga Azzuz, who works there as a dentist. After her shift she took me around Maidan and told me how the protests started and how the situation escalated. She gave me insight on what the situation was like before the protests and how the nation came together to make a difference.
When fights broke out, Azzuz describes what happened in Kiev as “the scream of the soul of the nation.” In her opinion it is important for Ukrainians to deal with this issue by themselves, however, “if the West can help out, then they should.” She spoke coldly about Yanukovych and his people, calling them bandits. She said that they “traded their bandit clothing for suits when Yanukovych was elected and stole money from the nation.” They then put this stolen money into Western banks. “They confused their own pockets with the nation’s pocket,” she said.
At the beginning people just wanted to go talk to those in power, “but when people went to the government, their way was blocked,” which angered them. According to her there isno proof that it was the protesters who started the violence but violence did begin after almost 3 months of peaceful protesting. A lot of outrage came when the government enforced strict laws against protesting. Azzuz was particularly angry about this, saying “If we continued to live that way (following those laws) we would live as slaves in a dog house on a leash, seeing the sky only through bars.”
Before the protests even began, inflation was getting really bad; people could no longer afford food. After rent and food was taken care of, they had no extra money to spend on clothes or anything else. The gap between the poor and the rich expanded.
This revolution was a revolution of educated and intelligent people who had diplomas, who ran their own businesses, explains Azzuz, “it was the people who had something in their lives and wanted to defend it.” These protesters had no rights in the eyes of the government, and that was the problem.
The amazing thing about Maidan was that the self-organized volunteers came where they were needed. They would do whatever they were capable of to show support – cook, fight, draw, speak or pray. All the necessary ‘positions’ were filled by people who had those particular skills. The volunteers would meet and they greeted each other like family. There was a real sense of unity.
It was volunteers who did the most at the protest, but politicians were necessary too, especially to help get people out of jail. The politicians also offered the protesters organization, and helped them raise their demands. But although some politicians tried, “politicians couldn’t lead the revolution.”
Azzuz then told me that everyone at Maidan worked together to keep it clean. When it snowed, they would clear snow from the paths and use the snow to build and enforce barricades. At one point the garbage collectors refused to come to Maidan. So the protesters gathered all the trash, filled up several cars and brought the trash bags straight to the dump. They demanded that next time the trash collectors came, and they began coming regularly again.
Just that day, March 15th, something new was being built in the square. It looked like a pyramid and Azzuz and I went to investigate and spoke to the main builder. “This is the Pyramid of Peace and Unity,” he told us, it was built by ordinary people who came here and brought the materials to build it. It was 11.5 meters tall and on the ground it was 5 meters squared. Such pyramids have been built in Jordan and in other places, and they are spiritual places that convert water into energy. People come inside to heal; physically, mentally and spiritually. Not everyone believes in magical pyramids, but the point is that these people did, and they showed what the spirit of Maidan is all about – doing what you know and can to help others.
Maidan had many medical points, Azzuz told me, but they had to keep moving locations to stay safe from Berkut. Many illegal and very dangerous weapons were used in the fighting, and people would come in a lot with serious injuries. One time they were just finishing up tending to a group of injured protesters when someone ran in and told them that Berkut was on their way. They put people on stretchers and they used the Red Cross logo to protect themselves and to go out and find shelter. Some people could barely walk and a lot of roads were blocked off. A Polish church offered to take them in but the road to the church was blocked. They ended up walking in a random direction that had no blockades and they ran into a group of strangers who had cars. They saved them, and drove off the injured into real hospitals nearby.
There was a big problem with taking protesters to hospitals because the Berkut would stop ambulances and harass the injured – Azzuzes word of choice to describe Berkut’s behavior was “sadistic”. So volunteers decided to organize their own field hospitals and used regular passenger cars to transport the injured to protect them.
A lot of the patients who were stopped by Berkut were never seen again. There was one particular patient who Azzuz treated; he had very serious injuries, broken teeth, ripped lip and broken bones in his face around his nose and eyes. He told her that a Berkut officer was beating him in the face yelling “I will rip your head off.” He was one of the patients who a random stranger took to a hospital in his car. Azzuz called hospital after hospital asking about him. He had lost his passport and they hadn’t had time to give him fresh clothes before they had to run, and she was very worried about him. After very many phone calls, she reached a nurse who told her he was recovering from surgery to reconstruct his face. She reassured her that they are taking care of getting him a new passport and had been given clothes that were donated to the hospital. Azzuz thanked her and was relieved to hear that at least his story had ended well, considering the circumstances. During those times, any good news added a little hope and pointed towards a better future.
From what Azzuz told me, it is clear that she takes personal interest in her patients. She continues volunteering at the field hospitals to this day – she is a great example of what being a doctor really means, saving lives by any means possible. She isn’t getting paid for any of her work at Maidan, but helping people is enough of a reward for her.