Walking through the centre of the city on the second day of my trip, I unwittingly wandered down Khreschatyk Street and into Maidan, where riots earlier this year led to the overthrowing of the government.
Although the streets have been peaceful for a while now, the effects of the protests and violence remain tangible. Blockades constructed from piles of tyres block off traffic at both ends of the street and square, and walls and stacks have been built from bricks taken up from the pavement. The pavement may be gone, but now pedestrians wander freely down the wide, previously traffic-filled street. A few years ago I took part in a large protest in London against the rise in tuition fees, and remember most of all how strange it felt to walk down the middle of the Strand, normally blaring with cars and buses. I imagine Kievans experience the same sensation now in Maidan.
Now the area has become a strange sort of tourist attraction, with visitors having their photos taken in front of tanks and burnt-out cars. There’s even the odd ice cream seller. Shrines consisting of multicoloured clusters of candles in glass jars, keepsakes and photos remember those who died.
As I approached the main square I was puzzled by the smell of burning, but then, seeing tents, realised that many protesters are still occupying the area. The bonfire smell came from the cooking of meals rather than tyres (I’d heard rumours that pigs and chickens were also being kept in the square but saw none during my visit).
After sheltering from the rain under the tall Independence monument, I wandered out of the square again, stopping to ask a man for directions. Since my Russian (let alone Ukrainian) and his English didn’t quite meet in the middle, he called a friend out from the tent to translate.
Before I knew it I was inside, drinking tea and eating homemade cake with Ted, Alicia and Anastasia, sitting amongst pillows and sleeping bags in a large, dimly lit tent. My hosts were from different parts of the country, and different walks of life, but had been brought together by a common cause. We didn’t talk politics too much (I think their occupation speaks for itself) but I was sad to learn that political unity had loosened familial ties; one woman had become estranged from her family in Donetsk because of their difference in opinion. I placidly accepted gifts of a book, an “I love Tymoshenko” pen and a rosary (we didn’t talk religion either) and made my goodbyes.