Afghan War Veterans – War in Ukraine

I spoke to Oleh Michnev, the head of the Afghan war veterans. He was very busy and was holding an important meeting, but Eduard who I wrote about in a previous article got me a few minutes with him.

When I asked him what role the Afghan war veterans played at Maidan he said, “Roles are for actors in theaters, we are Ukrainians and our most important function is to protect Ukraine.” He said that an unjust was done to Ukraine and the veterans want “European standards, not Yanukovych’s standards.” He went on to explain that under Yanukovych there were six different living standards depending on who you were, and those who have the least would get the least governmental support, and this is not the European way.

He told me that protests started with students who were living below normal standards. When they were beaten for protesting, their parents and grandparents were angered and joined the protests. “We don’t support any political party,” Michnev said, “we stand between protestors and aggressors to avoid the spilling of blood, and we of all people understand the value of blood.”

I asked him when they will leave Maidan. “We will leave last,” he said, “we are used to fighting for life.” He explained that Ukrainians can’t trust anyone; some of the politicians could be “wolves hiding in sheep skin.” They won’t leave “until the promises of new politicians are fulfilled.” They believe that it’s necessary not only to change the

government, but the entire system. They want a “birth of a new system,” he says, adding, “we will stand until then.”

https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/afghan-war-veterans/

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Prague LGBT Community Supports Ukraine (PHOTOS)

The fourth annual Prague Pride Parade, held on Aug. 16, ended with a festival in Letna Park. What made this year’s event special was the Ukrainian flags spotted in between the extravagant costumes and rainbows. The largest LGBT event in central Europe chose to share their special day with Ukraine.

Just recently, on the night of Aug. 14, Russian military convoys were seen crossing the border. Some thought that this would be the official beginning of a war. This happened right in the middle of Pride week in Prague, and although the conflict in Ukraine didn’t escalate as much as people had feared, Ukraine felt a jolt of vulnerability.

As a Ukrainian citizen I was extremely touched by the gesture. This meant a lot more to me than seeing foreigners supporting my country. Although the world is becoming increasingly more open toward the LGBT community, there is still a lot of legal and social discrimination. I was honored that the LGBT community decided to spend the one day a year dedicated to celebrating their own freedom by showing their support for the sovereignty of Ukrainian territory.

Today they showed that they truly believe that freedom belongs to everyone.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/prague-lgbt-community-sup_b_5684607.html

Ukraine – Life During Crisis

The crisis in Ukraine began on November 21st, when the former president, Yanukovych had refused to sign an agreement with the EU that he had been promising to sign for over a year. He wanted instead to form closer ties with Russia. Students went out to Independence Square known as Maidan, to protest. The police used violence to disperse them, which brought a lot more people out onto the streets. More and more gathered to protest, and stood there through freezing temperatures and violent conditions. They are still standing there today, until there is a new government and order in Ukraine. I applied for a grant from the Prague Freedom Foundation to go make a difference in Ukraine. In Ukraine I spoke to Olga, Irina and Eduard. Their stories were originally published on my blog, blog, http://www.olenakaguiukraine2014.wordress.com

Olga:

Olga Azzuz, a dentist at one of the field hospitals 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.

There was a big problem with taking protesters to hospitals because the Berkut would stop ambulances and harass the injured – Azzuz’s 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.

Irina:

“We are women but we can still help, at least morally,” said Irina, who’s been working in the Cossack kitchen for three months. She is a student in Kiev and when I asked her why she came, she looked at me like it was a crazy question, “all my people are here… I live here so I’m going to stand here until the end.”

I asked her if she was scared. “Sometimes,” she said, “especially that night.” She referred to the night when Berkut stormed Maidan. But she didn’t let her fear stop her from doing what she believed was right. She found a way to help her people, like everyone else at Maidan. Politicians and their parties are often mentioned when people speak about Maidan, but they usually have a hidden (or a not so hidden) agenda, it is ordinary people like Irina who are the true heroes of Ukraine.

Eduard:

I really wanted to speak to the Afghan war veterans, who were very active at the protests. But the man who had the authority to speak for them wasn’t there yet. So Eduard Kryhov offered to tell me his story and show me one of the field hospitals.

He was in and out of Maidan since it began, alternating between spending time with his wife outside of Kiev, and living in the veteran tent. He helped out a lot at one of the medical points, and one night, they were told that Berkut was about to storm them. He was had a knee problem at the time and knew he wasn’t able to help carry injured men out to safety. Instead he grabbed a hand-grenade and walked up to where the Berkut could see him. The 64-year-old man showed them what he was holding and said, “Look at me; I have seen all there is to see, I don’t care anymore, if you come in here, we will all die together.” The Berkut did not attack the medical point; Kryhov had saved several lives with his bravery.

Kryhov took me to one of the field hospitals at Maidan, where people were still coming to get treated. One man needed stitches removed from his lip and eyebrow, he looked badly beaten. Others came to get dental work done, or to treat a fever or a sprained arm. Kryhov took me into an empty room, made me some tea, offered me bread and showed me pictures of his friends and asked me to put them online. He told me about how he used to live in Prague 9 and Brno and about his wife. He made me see what everyone meant by Maidan uniting people, when we parted ways we hugged each other like old friends.

I was very luck to meet such a wonderful and kind man. He had helped save the country not once but twice – first in Afghanistan and now at Maidan. He taught me that one person can make all the difference in the world.

Story of a Hero – War in Ukraine

The interviewee died several weeks after this blog post was published. Rest in Peace.

I really wanted to speak to the Afghan war veterans, who were very active at the protests. But the man who had the authority to speak for them wasn’t there yet. So Eduard Kryhov offered to tell me his story and show me one of the field hospitals.

He was in and out of Maidan since it began, alternating between spending time with his wife outside of Kiev, and living in the veteran tent. He helped out a lot at one of the medical points, and one night, they were told that Berkut was about to storm them. He was had a knee problem at the time and knew he wasn’t able to help carry injured men out to safety. Instead he grabbed a hand-grenade and walked up to where the Berkut could see him. The 64-year-old man showed them what he was holding and said, “Look at me; I have seen all there is to see, I don’t care anymore, if you come in here, we will all die together.” The Berkut did not attack the medical point; Kryhov had saved several lives with his bravery.

Kryhov took me to one of the field hospitals at Maidan, where people were still coming to get treated. One man needed stitches removed from his lip and eyebrow, he looked badly beaten. Others came to get dental work done, or to treat a fever or a sprained arm. Kryhov took me into an empty room, made me some tea, offered me bread and showed me pictures of his friends and asked me to put them online. He told me about how he used to live in Prague 9 and Brno and about his wife. He made me see what everyone meant by Maidan uniting people, when we parted ways we hugged each other like old friends.

I was very luck to meet such a wonderful and kind man. He had helped save the country not once but twice – first in Afghanistan and now at Maidan. He taught me that one person can make all the difference in the world.

https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/story-of-a-hero/

Flag Parade – War in Ukraine

Today I was part of the Flag Parade, and it was a really amzing experience. We met and prepared our flags in Shevchenko park where I met a lot of interesting international people, some who even spoke Russian or Ukrainian. Everyone was mingling, having a great time and most importantly supporting Ukraine.

I spoke with Chris Taylor, one of the organizers from England. He had a English flag with yellow-and-blue ribbons tied to it. He explained that he helped organize the event “to show unity, to show that the international community here does support the new government.”

Taylor has lived in Kiev for four years and he wants “to show that Kiev is not in flames like the Russian media portrays.” He believes that an event like this “is a very visible thing that the international community can do to show support.”

Taylor has supported Ukraine from the beginning of the conflict, and he wants this event to show continued support for Maidan. “Even if Crimea and Russian aggression wasn’t happening, we’d still be supporting Ukraine.”

As we walked through the streets, Ukrainians cheered and thanked everyone for the support. I was pleasantly suprised when someone yelled “Slava Ukraini” and all around me, expats from at least 20 different countries replied “Herojam Slava”. There was a strong feeling of unity between all of us in the parade and the Ukrainians around us.

When we got to Maidan, some of us got to go on stage and say something to the people. Everyone had really beautiful and supporting things to say. Everyone in the world speaks about the “American Dream”, yet there were Americans who live in Kiev praising Ukraine and its people; saying that they were inspired by Ukrainians. There were short speeches in Ukrainian, Russian, English, German and French. Every speech ended in loud applause. The speaker who welcomed us on stage said, “we might not understand all the words, but support speaks for itself.” Once everyone who wished to had spoken, they played the Ukrainian national anthem, and everyone joined in to sign it. I had never witnessed something so amazing.

I would like to thank Christ Taylor, Anders Östlund and everyone who organized and participated in this event. Since November 21st Ukrainians have been showing the world what they are capable of – having the international community acknowledge and support Ukraine is extremely gratifying. It gives the Ukrainian nation even more strength and hope.

https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/flag-parade/

Access Denied – War in Ukraine

Today I attempted to enter Yanukovych’s house even though it is indefinitely closed by the government. They want to investigate what was found there and make preparations to turn it into more of a museum for those interested. It took an hour to drive there and I spent twenty minutes trying to get let in. Other people also came and argued with the guards – even when we tried together, the answer was still ‘no’.

I was very disappointed because I wanted to see the house I read so much about. But on my way home I realized that there is something very positive about what happened today. Under the old government you could do and get almost anywhere even if it was against the law. The most common ways were name-dropping, bribing and threatening.

But the new government made bribes strictly illegal. This new law is constantly mentioned on news and radio stations. People is doing what they can to be as different as possible from the old government. Even less important laws are being taken extremely seriously. People finally want change and are actively making it a reality.

I still have a hard time imagining Ukraine functioning completely without bribes. In the past even going to the doctor used to require it. Health care stayed free even after Communism ended, but if you wanted a guarantee that the doctor would examine you properly you needed to bring: chocolates, alcohol and money as “a friendly gesture”.

I will still try to make phone calls to see if there’s any legal way for me to get into the house, but what I witnessed today showed me that Ukraine really is changing.

Here’s an article with pictures and a video of his house: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2568468/The-spoils-corruption-The-opulent-valuable-downright-gaudy-artefacts-former-home-ousted-Ukrainian-president-Viktor-Yanukovich.html

https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/access-denied/

February 18th Witness – War in Ukraine

This evening I met with Galika Olena Ivanivna. This 62 year old woman with the energy and spirit of a college student was standing in Mariinsky park on February 18th. With a Russian mother and Ukrainian father, Galika did not feel patriotic about Ukraine until the Orange Revolution in 2004. Like the other protestors she was sick of the the government robbing the people who work hard every day.

That day she saw like-minded people of all ages being shot at and murdered right in front of her. She was helpless and couldn’t stop it. It’s been almost a month since and she had trouble keeping her voice steady as she spoke about what she saw. She hasn’t been back to the park or Maidan since.

Before the violence started, she described being at Maidam as “being in a different world where everything was perfect.” There was a sense of unison between the protesters, who were joined together by a common goal of “protecting the people, the future and democracy.” The protesters at Maidan would work together to keep the square safe from pickpockets and those who wished them harm. Every Sunday when the priests would come to lead prayer, they would gather together and make the area spotless and clean. “After leaving Maidan one would feel pumped with so much positive energy.”

She is concerned with the future of Ukraine but insists that “Crimea will be ours.” She is not sure who the future president will be, and she isn’t sure that Ukraine is ready to make that decision just yet. But she is certain that Maidan has now changed how people think and see the government. According to her they will not step down until a worthy and fair leader is governing the country that so many had died to keep sovereign and free.

https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/feb-18th-witness/