February 18, 2014: March on the Rada

The barricades built of sandbags filled with snow start to melt in mid-February as the temperature hovers just above freezing for nearly a week.

         Elvis calls Roman Novak shortly after dawn on the morning of the eighteenth. Novak is getting dressed to go for a run.

         “Everyone says they’re marching on the parliament today. They’re starting to form columns here on the Maidan. Can you see anything on Hrushevsky?”

         Novak looks out his window. There’s a lot of activity below the barricade.

         “Put some food in your stomach. Meet you in the Dnipro lobby in fifteen.”


         Novak calls Pashkovsky, who sounds reluctant to talk over the phone.

         “What’s the word, Julian? Are they storming it today?”

         “As if I’d know. Tyahnybok and company want to turn this into an ultimatum at the Rada. Either the government agrees to go back to the 2004 constitution, or they bring it down.”

         “Just like that? Yanukovych will never give in, he’ll twist and wiggle and stall.”

         “Svoboda and Pravy Sektor want a fight while their boys are still in a fighting mood. The Olympics are in full swing in Sochi, so odds are Moscow will insist on restraint. The window of opportunity is down to less than a week.”

         “What are you wearing, Julian?”

         “What do you mean what am I wearing?”

         “You know, tie, jacket, cummerbund?”


         “Cammies and knee pads.”

         “That’s all I need to know. Let’s meet at the Profspilok, fifth floor, after it gets dark. You can give me a blow-by-blow, if you can.”

         “I think you’re in a better position for a blow-by-blow. Later.”

         Elvis comes all kitted out with two cameras strapped around his shoulders. He wears an old-school photographer’s vest, the kind with pockets for endless rolls of film—even though today he decides to go strictly digital. In his hand he has an orange hard hat with “PRESS” written on it.

         “Expecting trouble?”

         “It’s electric out there. The sun is shining, the kids looked pumped. A fine day for a revolution. I need you to talk to them.”

         They go straight to the barricade under the stadium colonnade. Novak talks to a few of the boys warming themselves around a fire coming from a trash can. They say titushky have been sighted at the other end of Mariyinsky Park. The protesters have spotters on the rooftops at the opposite end of the park and they communicate with them by phone.


         Novak explains this to Elvis, who wants to get to the other side of the park. Novak knows a roundabout path through the woods descending sheer toward the river that will get them there without having to slip through any barricades.


Serhiy slept on the fifth floor of the Trade Unions Building. Word has been making the rounds for several days now that all able-bodied men will be needed for this march. The opposition is under pressure from Europe and the United States to negotiate. Yanukovych understands as much and is trying to stall the negotiations until the Olympics are finished, after which Moscow will let him crush the protests decisively. It’s now or never for a national revolution.

         Serhiy understands. He feels part of something vastly beyond him. Whatever fear he felt is drowned out by adrenaline.

         As soon as the sun comes up, his Sotnya 31 forms ranks. They go up to the Hrushevsky barricade. Some of the boys stay on guard there. Others walk toward the parliament looking for a confrontation—a foregone conclusion. Serhiy is charged along with an older man to cut through an alley parallel to Hrushevsky and climb to the roof of a building with a few backpacks full of rocks and flash grenades to wreak havoc on the Berkut below. It’s a dangerous task because everyone assumes the government—and not only—has snipers set up on the rooftops.


         Serhiy’s partner is Yuri Smyk, a special forces veteran in his thirties who served with the Ukrainian army contingent in Iraq. They casually walk up the alley between buildings. One of the residents opens the service entrance and leads them to the roof where there’s a view of the park and the Rada building, the focus of the march. Smyk tells Serhiy to keep close to the wall of a brick chimney and points out the most likely nests for the Berkut’s shooters.

         He playfully insists that Serhiy be christened with a call sign: Shaleny. It’s almost his last name, Shalin, and means furious or crazy in Ukrainian. Smyk’s call sign is Shakal, or jackal. And he looks like one—short and gristly. You’d never suspect him of being a soldier. In normal situations he looks and moves more like a nervous carnival barker. But on the roof he quickly settles into a quasi-meditative state, methodically assessing every sound and shadow.


         They wait against the chimney, hidden from view by an adjacent building. Shakal stands up discreetly from time to time to survey the situation with a pair of binoculars. He pulls out a new phone he purchased a few days ago and keeps in contact with their sotnya’s commander at the Hrushevsky barricade.

         “They’re all gathered at Mariyinsky Park, between the Rada and the Kyiv Hotel,” Smyk says.

         Serhiy nods.

         Smyk pulls a pistol from a holster under his jacket, removes the magazine, checks the barrel and mechanism, dry fires, then puts the magazine back in.

         “What kind of gun is that?”

         “Glock 19.”


         “Austrian. You know anything about firearms?”



         “I can teach you. This one is easy. Even an mental invalid can use it without cunting everything up. You’ll learn quickly. That’s why I asked to have you with me here.”

         “You asked the commander?”

         “Bezkorovainy? I told him. He doesn’t know dick about these things. He’s out to be a politician—and he’ll probably have a lot of success. You’ll see, he’ll make sure to fill his pockets once this Maidan is finished.”

         “Why me?”

         “Because I’ve been watching you. I like how you move, how you climb and crawl, especially for a tall guy. You’re not afraid of getting hurt, which means you’re almost not afraid of dying. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad … but more important, you don’t talk too much. You prefer to listen.”

         “That’s because I’m still not comfortable with Ukrainian. I even have trouble with Russian. I grew up abroad. Then came back—for this.”

         Serhiy points to the streets below. Columns of Berkut bang their batons against their shields as they move.

         “Your Ukrainian is fine. More important than your tongue is your heart.”

         Smyk comes from the western part of the country. He speaks Ukrainian exclusively, using Russian only for profanity, or to converse with foreigners.

         He examines the rooftops through the binoculars.

         “There, further up, a couple of Berkut on the roof.”


Larissa wakes up early. It’s sunny so she decides to walk to the Maidan. Shortly after stepping outside, she notices a couple of buses with Ministry of Interior troops, the VV, pass by, so she changes her mind. She’ll take the metro and pay Roman Novak a visit.

         She gets off at the Maidan, where columns of marchers are being organized to go to the Rada. Young men up front, woman and elderly behind them. She checks the Dnipro. Roman isn’t there, so she goes to the infirmary at the Trade Unions Building.

         As she walks out of the hotel her phone rings. It’s Gleb.

         “Lara, where are you? Still home?”

         “No, I’m on the Maidan.”

         “I called to tell you to stay home. I’m watching TV and looking at the computer. They’re bussing in Berkut from Kharkiv and Crimea. I can see columns of titushky out my window. Everyone is expecting trouble.”

         “It’s too late Gleb. But thanks for the concern.”

         “Stay away from the Rada and Bankova Street. That’s where it looks like they’re going to clash.”

         “I will. Thanks.”

         As soon as she hangs up she wants to call Roman and pass on the news, hear his voice. Instead she sends him a text. “Clashes expected near the Rada this morning. Be careful around Bankova.” She sends the same text to Serhiy.

         Before Larissa gets to the infirmary, she checks her phone several times for acknowledgement. Nothing.


Novak and Elvis climb up the hill and enter Mariyinsky Park from the river side. It’s filled with riot police and pro-government counter-demonstrators bussed in from Donetsk and environs. Amid the small crowd of old ladies and aging coal miners carrying their light blue Party of Regions flags, there are dozens of obvious enforcers: young men in padded suits with helmets and sticks ready for action. They all wear white and red strips of cloth around their arms so the Berkut can distinguish them from the nationalists on the other side of the barricades.

         “Ask them why they’re here and I’ll film them,” Elvis says.

         “Since when do you film?”

         “This is my first time. I want to do something different.”

         Novak finds a massive young bouncer type and asks him in Russian: “Why are you here?”

         The men with him don’t want their faces filmed so they pull their scarves up for cover. The big man doesn’t seem to mind.

         “We’re supporting our president,” he says. “Our democratically elected president against those fascists. Fascism won’t pass through. No pasarán.”

         That’s all he needs to say. A real broadcast journalist would ask if they’ve been paid to come, just to elicit a denial. But Novak doesn’t feel like a journalist. He wants to be on the other side, taking the fate of the country by the reins. In any case, it’s well known that the pro-government supporters are paid a paltry two or three hundred hryvnia a day just to show up—more if they serve as muscle.

         Elvis and Novak wander through the leafless park. As they near the far edge of it, the Russian speeches from the pro-government dais, near the parliament, meld in with the Ukrainian speeches coming from a makeshift stage atop a truck on the other side of the park’s gates.

         They walk casually from the Berkut side to the Maidan protesters, who come right up to the riot police and verbally taunt them. “Give up… Have you no shame in beating us for the sake of that criminal?… Give up and join the people…”

         Under their helmets some of the younger Berkut look terrified at the prospect of beating and possibly killing their own people to save Yanukovych.

         On the protesters’ side, young men are busy prying the cobblestones out of the street and collecting them in hard plastic trash bins. Hundreds of heavy cuboid rocks. Elvis takes photos with one camera and films snippets with the other, slithering in and out of the crowd. It bothers Novak a bit to have to follow his new friend and mingle; on his own he would normally avoid situations in which he could get trapped, and instead try to get a more general view. But the way Elvis moves is impressive—as if he had the power to make himself unseen, despite the orange hardhat. On the edge of the street that runs alongside the park a number of pickup trucks are set up with TV cameras in the back.

         A man screaming from the dais into the microphone rouses the crowd and Elvis wants to know what he’s saying. Novak interprets word for word.

         “But our protest is not just so we can be in the European Union, our protest is for dignity, this is a revolution of dignity! Because when we are together, shoulder to shoulder, each for the other, victory necessarily awaits us. Slava Ukraini!

         “Glory to the heroes!” the crowd responded.

         By now Elvis doesn’t need any translation for the “Slava Ukraini” repeated three times—howled with an animal alarm and often followed up by “Glory to the nation! … Death to the enemies! … Ukraine above all!”

         In his youth Novak had heard old men say those same words—but they uttered such formulae with the resignation of old men. Now he understands the impact this hyperbole must have had during the war, when their youth could bring them to bear the most heinous of actions—either on the receiving or giving end—in the name of an ideal, an ideal threatened by a tangible sense of annihilation. These young men from the Maidan snarl with joy, as do many of the older men and women with them.

         The sun grows stronger, fortifying their own sense of conviction. Then someone throws a cobblestone, and another, a couple of M-80s or flash grenades or whatever it is that inspires that fearsome air of festivity.

         “Textbook incendiary rhetoric,” Elvis says in that mock preacherly way of his. “A fine day for a revolution indeed.”

         He and Novak hurry for cover among the other journalists set up in the beds of trucks across the street. The kids start milling along the contact line with their stash of cobblestones, probing and pelting the Berkut, who are now turtled up tight under their shields.

Gleb calls Larissa again.

         “It’s started. I’m watching TV. In the Rada the opposition blocked the podium because they wouldn’t pass the bill. Stay away from Mariyinsky Park.”

         “Thank you, Glebka. We have a TV here. We’re watching.”

         “Good. Stay there. The Banderovs are like mad dogs now.”

         “I’m watching.”

         “Where’s Seryozha?”

         She doesn’t want to think about her son, so she gets off the phone.

         A woman comes around with XL white T-shirts that say “Medic” on it with a red cross. All the volunteers put them on, some of the men even wear red hardhats with white crosses. They all walk out of the building into the sunlight and up the hill toward the Rada.


Suddenly black smoke is billowing up from behind the buildings facing the park. Elvis edges toward it; Novak follows. Fireworks crackle all around, protesters throw rocks, then Molotov cocktails. From the Berkut side come stun grenades, tear gas.

         Novak and Elvis swing a few blocks around the action, circling back to the smoke’s source: a truck burning at an intersection. Thick pillows of soot funnel into the street that looks directly onto the Rada entrance, guarded by columns of black-clad troops.

         Young men surround a group of about twenty Berkut and pelt them. Novak takes cover behind a van while Elvis films: a pack of protesters dragging a fallen Berkut into their ranks. They kick him, concuss his helmet with a crowbar. Suddenly the pack runs for cover, troops charging at them from behind.

         Novak and Elvis duck into an ally. The photographer switches cameras to get portraits, faces painted with grime and blood. One looks like he’s losing consciousness and Elvis shakes him. “Don’t sleep. Don’t sleep.” A couple of medics appear with bandages and stretchers. An ambulance in the distance.

         Back near the intersection some protesters swarm behind the charging Berkut. They catch a few and pounce, ripping off their helmets and beating them over their unprotected heads. Elvis starts filming again: helmetless Berkut gets up suddenly, runs, then drops as if hit by an invisible rock—or a bullet. Several anomalous pops echo above—reports shorter and crisper than the fireworks exploding all around. The crowd howls with indignation.

         Above the intersection Novak notices two Berkut troops sitting on the slanted roof of a four-storey building, shooting at the crowd with an automatic rifle. Smoke blows in front of them as the wind changes.


Smyk also notices the two shooters from his rooftop position. He calls to let the commander know, but everything is taking a course of its own. What little discipline there was at the morning’s outset has by now dissipated. Only the Berkut and VV manage to keep their defensive lines together.

         Smyk rushes down the stairs with Serhiy behind him. They run up a few blocks and come to a street with troops at the end, so they quickly turned around, enter an alley, slip in through a courtyard. Smyk kicks in a portion of the corrugated metal fence separating the courtyards, pulls a small crowbar out from his bag and forces the backdoor to the building. They run up the stairs. The door to the roof is unlocked. Smyk peers out. He can see the troops on the adjacent building’s roof, positioning themselves better, struggling with the smoke.

         “Go get a few more guys and bring them up for support,” Smyk barks out to Serhiy.

         There’s no need to go far. Before Serhiy gets to the bottom of the stairwell, five young men in balaclavas and motorcycle helmets, armed with sticks and roman candle launchers, are already in the building, looking to get at the Berkut shooters.

         Serhiy climbs back up the stairs and joins Smyk on the roof.

         The crowd below cheers when they see some of their boys appear behind the shooters. Then just as one of the troops take aim at the crowd, Smyk pulls out his pistol, steps out from behind the chimney and shoots the Berkut from behind. The Berkut is wearing a flak jacket but almost falls off the roof from the impact. He manages to crawl back and struggle through the trap door, back down the ladder he climbed to get up there. The other Berkut turns and fires his AK-74 at Smyk, but can’t get a good shot. Smyk stays back and covers Serhiy as he crawls across the slanted edge of the roof, behind a chimney, to surround the Berkut still standing there.

         The crowds below are howling at the sight. One of protesters standing beside Elvis takes aim at the rooftop troops with what looks like a .22 hunting rifle; then someone points out that one of their own is getting close, so he holds fire.

         When the other Berkut leave the roof though the trap door, the five kids stand and raise their arms in victory. Smyk grabs Serhiy and orders him to get off the roof. They run down the stairs and calmly blend into the crowd throwing Molotov cocktails. Suddenly Serhiy is in the middle of bedlam, batons flying in every direction, he can’t tell who’s who. There’s a Berkut lying on the street, he might be dead, and Serhiy instinctively drags him off by the ankle onto the sidewalk. He doesn’t know why he’s pulling him out of the way. Maybe he should take him prisoner.

         Smyk tugs Serhiy by the elbow so he’ll drop the leg. They walk away from the scene, down a quiet side street, avoiding the main arteries and keeping close to the buildings to be as invisible as possible.


Larissa and a few other medics are allowed through the barricades to get to Mariyinsky Park. There are two ambulances with their lights flashing. She immediately starts bandaging an older man with his head split open, gushing blood. He seems fairly lucid and tries to explain how the melee started. Meanwhile, another medic beside her is taking the pulse of a young man on the ground who is already dead. There are troops and titushky and protesters all mixed together and she can barely tell one from the other with so much rage spilling over. She especially doesn’t want to think of where her son might be. Please, Lord God, don’t let me find Seryozhka on the ground here. Keep him safe in this chaos. And as she wraps the man’s head with the gauze she realizes that she’s never prayed before. It sprang out from within spontaneously.


The Berkut regroups and progressively surrounds the undisciplined protesters. More water cannons are brought up to the street and they manage to hold back the crowd as well as douse the flaming vehicles.

         Elvis and Novak retreat along with the protesters, and at one point there’s a call to regroup further down, at the barricade on Institutska Street, near the Hotel Ukraina. Novak translates and they decide to go to Elvis’s room there perched above the Maidan, where they can watch the clashes in safety.

         As soon as they walk into the tenth floor room, Novak turns on the TV. He washes his hands and face. Elvis clicks through the photos he’s taken, makes a quick edit, and asks Novak to write about five hundred words so they can send it out immediately.

         Once that’s done, Elvis knocks on the door across the hall. An Englishman opens up, another photographer Elvis befriended. From that room they can see the protesters coming down from farther up the hill. Others are trying to reinforce the barricade.

         Meanwhile, the Berkut stops giving chase. They established a line about a hundred meters away and bring in vehicles behind it: water cannons, bulldozers, armored personnel carriers.


Mariyinsky Park looks like a post-apocalyptic scene: bodies strewn all over the ground. Larissa counts at least four dead: three protesters and one Berkut. She helps some of the injured into the lone ambulance. When more ambulances arrive, Larissa and a few other volunteers decide to go back to the Maidan because everyone is expecting it to be stormed.

         On the way, she stops in at the Hotel Dnipro and washes up in Novak’s room. She calls Serhiy, but his phone isn’t answering. There are several text messages from Gleb.

         “Stay away from Shovkovychna.” Then later, “Institutska under fire.”

         She turns on the TV and wishes Novak would come in so they could sit and watch everything from the comfort of their bed. It triggers a pang of guilt in her, so she immediately gets up and goes back to the Trade Unions Building.


After he sends off the photos and article, Elvis shows Novak the video footage he’s taken of the rooftop shootout: Berkut aims, then falls—stop, rewind, play—Berkut aims, falls—shaky images smudged by smoke and shadow …

         They watch for a couple of minutes, then Elvis goes back to his friends’ window across the hall to check on the action behind the hotel. Novak stays in the room to survey the Maidan and can’t help but muse over their role in this micro-instant of history. He takes notes by hand: How many images of these events are being recorded right now? What will be left of them when the victors and vanquished are definitively settled? Who will decide the truth of it? They’ll need to sift through ages of video documentation to make sense of it. It will put your paltry memory to shame. And since no narrative can sustain so much imagery, the ones who filter it will be able to hunt their overabundant quarry as they see fit.


Larissa slaloms through the crowds on the Maidan moving back and forth as they carry pieces of furniture and rocks for the barricades. She walks through security in the Trade Unions Building. The noise is loud, but underneath so many sheets of sound she can still hear her phone ping. She looks at the screen. It’s a text from Serhiy. “I’m safe. At the Profspilok.”

         It’s enough to know he’s in the same building, even though it’s clear that neither of them is safe there. She can’t go looking for him, but replies with a text: “Me too.”


Security won’t let Novak into the Trade Unions Building. A short stocky man tells him he needs to keep journalists out. Novak calls Pashkovsky.

         “Roman, where are you?”

         “I’m at the Profspilok. They won’t let me in.”

         “Wait at the entrance. I’ll be right down.”

         Pashkovsky shows up and shakes the stocky man’s hand.

         “Slava Ukraini.

         “Heroyam Slava.

         “Let him through. He’s one of ours.”

         No further questions. The two men go straight to the fifth floor. A few commanders rush back and forth down the halls with walkie-talkies and phones. Women distribute shields, sticks, and the few gas masks still left. In one of the rooms a group of women prepare Molotov cocktails, dozens of them in milk crates, while young men carry them out.

         Pashkovsky and Novak go into a room where there’s a TV and four laptops set up, each on a different channel with live footage from one of the rooftops around the Maidan.

         “They’ll be making a move to break through any minute,” Pashkovsky says. “We’re trying to figure out from which side. Hopefully we can ambush them. Institutska would be the best because they’ll be trapped in that little gully and we can rain everything we have down on them from the October Palace and the Ukraina.”

         “Ukraina’s been overrun,” one of the commanders says. “Berkut is reinforcing on top of the hill. Look.” He points to one of the computer screens with footage that could easily be from the window of Elvis’s friend.

         “It’s gonna be a long night, Julian.”

         “I know.”

         “Are you equipped? Do you have any weapons?”

         Pashkovsky shrugs his shoulders. “Not nearly enough. Almost nothing. We’re better off not even showing what we have… or using these kids to kick up some crossfires and make a few heroes.” Pashkovsky hands Novak a shield and helmet and says, “Of course, you didn’t just hear that.”


By the time Elvis steps out of the Hotel Ukraina, the Berkut have surrounded it. The new contact line is farther down Institutska. He can no longer get to the Maidan, so he mills through the Berkut’s ranks and takes photos of their tired faces in the erratic light of flaming barricades.

         The lobby leads to a terrace and driveway that looks out over the Maidan. All the journalists now stuck in the hotel behind Berkut lines are leaning against the railing, above the glass dome covering the Globus underground shopping mall.

         Elvis looks through some of the photos he took earlier: sunset reflected off St. Sophia’s golden domes; soft orange light hovering above a wasp’s nest breached by rocks and swarming with wrath; dusk intimating the glow of an ember about to flare up as something flammable is poured over it.


After nightfall the Berkut crashes through the barricade between the Hotel Dnipro and the Trade Unions Building, right in front of the Two Geese restaurant. This is the clean-up operation everyone has been waiting for. The back part of the barricade is by now a wall of tires that the protesters have set alight. Fire engulfs the rest of the debris, reinforcing the sandbags. Fortunately for the protesters, the dense black smoke blows directly into the Berkut’s faces.

         The Maidan Self-Defense has taken over the microphones on the stage, shouting directions: “Barricade 3, there’s a column approaching. Bring everything that can burn to the barricades, tires, tables, tents. Reinforce the barricades. Nobody panic. Nobody run away… Berkut, stop! Do not attack your own people! You will be held responsible… All those coming to the Maidan, bring any means you may have for self-defense. We need reinforcements!”

         Another Berkut incursion comes at the Institutska barricade, between the Maidan and the Hotel Ukraina. The Khreshchatyk side, on the other hand, remains relatively stable, perhaps to give the protesters an escape route.

         In the Trade Unions Building the command goes out to move everything possible—wounded, medicine, food, equipment—to the post office on the other side of the Maidan, at the corner of Khreshchatyk.

         Serhiy and a few other boys rush out with a crate full of Molotov cocktails to protect the breached barricade. A Berkut snowplow pushes the sandbags and piles of debris. Serhiy hands a firebomb to a man who hits the plow square. The driver rushes out of the vehicle in flames and thousands of people cheer the spectacle of Berkut troops spraying the panicked driver with fire extinguishers.


Larissa carries a box of medicine from the Trade Unions Building to the post office. She zigzags among the tents set up and hears the cheers behind her when a Berkut vehicle catches fire.

         The men on stage are frantically trying to guide the defense efforts. “We need more fire under the Stella! Reinforcements to the Stella,” referring to the square’s central monument.

         Novak, who is still inside the Trade Unions Building, detects the smell of smoke in the halls, and it’s different from that of the burning tires outside. His fear is confirmed by the directions from the stage. “Attention, the Profspilok is on fire! Evacuate the building immediately. Berkut, stop immediately. Berkut is torching the Profspilok! Everybody evacuate the building!”

         Novak rushes out, leaving the shield Pashkovsky gave him behind, though he’s still wearing the helmet. At street level, under the porticoes at the entrance, some Berkut troops have broken through and are being set upon by hundreds of protesters with sticks and rocks. Novak runs behind the defense line and winds up in a reverse human fire brigade, a chain of people carrying flammable objects instead of buckets of water, to feed the burning barricade rather than put it out. Left to right, left to right, he hands wooden chairs and pallets, billboards, signs, logs, whole sections of canvas tents. All around him he hears the non-stop explosions of fireworks and stun grenades over the exhortations from the stage: “Berkut, stop attacking your brothers and sisters! All women move back from the front lines. Let the young boys go up front… Help the elderly… Men, we need more fire on barricade 2! Do not panic! Behind the Stella, there’s a column of Berkut by the Stella!”

         Novak switches sides when his back started hurting—right to left, right to left—now a plastic table from one of the surrounding cafés, now a placard of Stepan Bandera, another tent… anything that will burn.

         Black plumes of smoke billow into the Berkut’s faces at the back side of Trade Unions Building. The top floor is spitting flames out the windows. The front entrance is still on the Maidan side of the burning barricade and several people are hanging over the ledges on the second and third floors.

         Serhiy, who has been throwing firebombs, runs back into the Trade Unions Building to look for his mother at the infirmary, but it’s already been evacuated. He hears cries for help further up the stairwell and rushes up. Two people, a woman and a man, are frozen on the second floor ledge. They refuse to move. Serhiy climbs out of the window and guides the woman back in, then he goes to the other side and pulls the man in. Once inside he leads them down a stairwell that hasn’t yet filled with smoke and they all rush outside.

         Around the corner, on the façade looking out over the Maidan, another woman is standing on a ledge three floors up. Serhiy climbs some construction scaffolding along the outside of the building, and while hanging on to the metal bars he coaxes a girl to grab his hand and walk the two terrifying steps across the ledge onto the scaffolding. 

         From another window, this one too far from the scaffold, a girl is standing on the second floor above tents being held as a safety net below. She shakes her head at first, then jumps. The crowd cheers, and the girl is escorted away from the building safely.


As the night progresses, fire engulfs the Trade Unions Building and the Berkut halt their attack. They’ve taken control of about a quarter of the Maidan, the corner from the Trade Unions Building to the Globus glass dome. They control the Stella monument and the steps around it. The protesters still control the Conservatory building, the post office across Khreshchatyk, and much of the western part of the huge square, including the streets leading up to St. Sophia and St. Michael’s.

         Firefighters manage to make their way into the Maidan and try to douse the flames in the Trade Unions Building but the fire continues to rage.

         An idea comes to Serhiy and he runs across the Maidan to the Conservatory. A few people have already acted on the same idea. In one of the basement storage rooms, where Serhiy would occasionally sleep when the Trade Unions Building was too full or he needed to be alone, there are hundreds of foldable wooden chairs. He and four other men carry the chairs up and pile them outside at the entrance, under the historical building’s arched porticoes. From there others can decide which barricades to fortify.


While hauling chairs out of the conservatory, Serhiy runs into Yuri Smyk, the man with whom he began the day. They both need sleep and Serhiy suggests an out-of-the-way store room in the basement. They agree to take turns, an hour a piece, one of them will always stay awake in case the Conservatory building is torched as well.


At one point in the evening, when the Berkut attack subsides, Novak realizes he’s trapped behind the barricades. He can’t get to his hotel and he can’t get to the Hotel Ukraina, both of which are now on the Berkut side. Novak walks down Khreshchatyk and sees a tent with “Sambir” spray-painted on the canvas. Sambir is a town in western Ukraine, southwest of Lviv, where his mother had been born. Novak had been there once, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, and did not like it. It seemed like a town—one of thousands in the world—that only someone who grew up there could appreciate. Its forlornness reminded him of everything that had always haunted his mother: an underlying paranoia, as if there were some treacherous psychic undertow flowing through the water table.

         But here in the tent it’s warm. He’s offered a tea and some lukewarm borsht still left at the bottom of a huge pot. No one asks any questions. Men with grimy faces from hours, days, months of manning barricades more than six hundred kilometers from home let him in to get a few minutes of rest, maybe an hour or two of sleep. No one will be rejected as long as he or she stays on the Maidan and doesn’t run away.


Larissa tends to the wounded at the post office infirmary. Mostly burns. Lots of boys are victims of fireworks exploding near them or burning fuel from the Molotov cocktails that dripped inadvertently as they threw them. There are those shot by rubber bullets, and one boy who’s been hit with a real one. She wants desperately to hear from Serhiy—that is, if she thinks about him. But she doesn’t have much time to think about anything apart from the wounds she’s dressing.


(Click for Part 1 Feb. 18; Part 2 Feb. 19; Part 3, Feb. 20; Part 4, Feb. 21)

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