February 19, 2014: A Lull 


Novak awakes some time before dawn. The men in the tent, and now one woman as well— all their faces full of grime – offer him a tea. “We made it through the night.”

         “Glory to God, we did,” says one man who reminds Novak of Father Ivan, his adoptive father.

         “Slava Bohu,” Novak repeats.

         “There’s more people coming. About twenty patriots from Sambir are already in Zhytomir, and even more from Striy. They say there are roadblocks set up, but even the Berkut in the west is sympathetic. We survived this night. Yanukovych is a dead man.”

         “What about the army?”


         “What army? Ukraine’s army is just a racket for thieves. They wouldn’t risk their lives for anyone. Not him, not us. Over there, under the Stella is the zek’s army. And we saw last night they were too scared to shoot us. Last night two interior ministry barracks near Lviv were seized. The booty is on its way. They don’t have enough men to set up enough roadblocks around Kyiv. The only worry is that those sons of bitches in the opposition will sell us out. We can’t let that happen. We’ve already lost a brother-in-arms.”

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         When he steps outside the tent to go to the bathroom, he remembers that the Trade Unions Building went up in flames. It’s still smoldering in the morning light. The contact line between the two forces cuts through the middle of the square; it’s now a long high barricade of embers that the protesters feed with debris. From the other side the Berkut is spraying the protesters with water cannons to keep them at bay.

         Everyone who needs to go to the bathroom now uses the post office. The queue is very long. While waiting he notices a woman wrapped in a blanket, sleeping against a wall. It might be Larissa, but he can’t be sure. He’s tempted to wake her up. But he decides against it.


         When he comes out, he realizes that he should get to his computer, which is still in the hotel room, and send out an article. This is big news. It’s been a long time since he reported on conflicts, and with the advent of the internet and social media, the lead time has shrunk an order of magnitude. People are getting their news in real time.

         Novak decides to walk down Khreshchatyk, in the opposite direction from the Dnipro. Then, after the Bessarabian Bazaar he can swing around and get back to his hotel. That way he’ll have to pass through government held parts of the city and see how they’re preparing for the next phase of the clean-up operation.

         On his way he sees one of the men from the Sambir tent hammering cobblestones ripped out of the street into smaller, more manageable missiles.


         “Hey, zemliak, give us a hand here!”

         The man calls Novak zemliak, an epithet used for someone from your native land, of your native earth, and it moves him. He grabs a crowbar and starts systematically prying out square cobblestones from the street, one by one, as the men with him sing Ukrainian folk songs he once knew: songs dear to the various armies fighting for independence in World War I and World War II, songs of love, requited and un-, of mothers losing their sons in some bloody engagement, songs of destruction and depth of wonder.

         He prizes out the stones to the sound of the Maidan’s now ritual metal on metal meant to stir courage and torment the Berkut.

         Novak continues all day collecting cobblestones and having borsht with the men from his mother’s hometown. With every hour the population in the Maidan grows. People are streaming in from other parts of the country. The atmosphere is optimistic despite the general fear of Yanukovych unleashing a decisive attack.

         When he finally decides to walk home, the faces he sees in the side streets do not look as hopeful. Scowls are now etched into the veneer of foreboding he saw on those faces only few days ago. Anyone with any sense of history in this country knows such events invariably lead to protracted bloodbaths.



By the time Serhiy awakes, the Conservatory is bustling with activity. He walks upstairs and sees Smyk talking to a few men. He recognizes one of them from a dinner he had with his mother: the tall man with gangly movements, who told him stories about his UPA uncle during the war. Serhiy even remembers his name: Pashkovsky. He walks up to the men and at first they look at him like he might be some sort of spy. Then Smyk puts his arm around Serhiy and vouches for him.

         “He was a hero yesterday on the roof with me. He also knows this building like his pocket.”

         “I remember you,” Pashkovsky says, but it’s clear he’s forgotten the young man’s name.

         “Serhiy Shalin,” he says to help Pashkovsky. They shake hands.

         “Call sign, Shaleny,” Smyk adds, pleased with the fact that he’s already christened one of Pashkovsky’s acquaintances.

         “Sorry, we already have a Shaleny, and I think he’s in this building. Come up with another call sign.”


         Serhiy immediately translates the name into Italian.

         “Furioso,” Serhiy says, with conviction. “It means shaleny in Italian. I grew up in Italy.”

         He had to read Orlando Furioso in high school, and what struck him then was just how cool the name sounded—in any language.

         Pashkovsky nods, an overbitten avuncular smile shining under his wire-frame glasses.

         “Furioso. Fantastic. Agreed upon. Now get yourself out of here so we can have a private conversation. Go to the second floor and make sure there are no suspicious-looking people or objects. But don’t go too close to the balcony where the Berkut can see you. Comb the whole floor and report back. Glory to the nation!”

         “Death to the enemies,” Serhiy mumbles.

         “I can’t hear you!”


         “Death to the enemies!”

         “Now that’s the way,” Pashkovsky says, slapping the young man on the back.

         As soon as Serhiy is out of sight, one of Pashkovsky’s men hands him a tennis racket bag. The commander unzips it and looks inside. An AK-74.

         “Just one?” Smyk asks, looking into the bag.

         “There are a couple more.”

         “How many magazines?”

         “You get two.”

         “Are you kidding?” Smyk says. “They’ll be raining fire down on us before I finish the first magazine. And then what?”

         “What do you want from me? We’re all improvising. You figure it out. That’s your specialty. I’m having enough trouble finding anyone who’s willing, who also knows what they’re doing.”

         “I’ll do it,” Smyk says.

         “Slava Ukraini.”

Anyone with any sense of history in this country knows such events invariably lead to protracted bloodbaths.

It takes Novak an hour to get back to the hotel by going around the trouble zone. Once home, Novak showers and goes down to the sauna in the spa.

         Back in his room he observes the Berkut’s movements below. It’s evening already. The TV news in the background is reporting a truce between the opposition and the government. Representatives from the European Union and Russia are involved in negotiations to convince Yanukovych to agree to early elections. Only the Pravy Sektor’s Dmytro Yarosh has refused to adhere to any truce. He insists on Yanukovych’s resignation as a necessary condition for any negotiations. More than twenty dead protesters and ten dead Berkut yesterday. Firearms, reportedly on both sides, though nearly all the deaths were due to head trauma—stones and blunt instruments. Snipers were spotted atop the Kozatskiy Hotel and other buildings. Russian insignia badges. Shell casings. Outside powers. Conspiracies.

         Out of a sense of professional duty Novak writes a perfunctory update piece and uploads it to the Meridian website, knowing it will be meaningless within a few days.


Larissa calls Serhiy as soon as she wakes up. It’s already afternoon. She was tending to the wounded until dawn. To her relief and joy he answers.

         “Where are you?” she asks.

         “I’m at the Afghantsi’s tent, eating.”

         “I’ll be there in a minute.”

         As soon as she shows up the men give her hugs and offer her a bowl of soup.

         “You’re still alive? All in one piece?” she asks her son.

         “I’ve never felt better. I even got a good night’s sleep.”


         “In the Conservatory basement.”

         “Is that where Pravy Sektor moved?”

         “Some went to the Conservatory. Some went to the City Hall.”

         “I heard the opposition is negotiating. They say Yanukovych might give in,” she says, skeptical.

         “No one here believes it. But we’ve been told not to throw cocktails.”

         Serhiy is happy to see his mother, happy she’s involved in a way he’s never seen her.

         “You feel good too, don’t you?”

         “This is history. And we’re both caught in its storm.”

         But even though he’s happy, he needs to break away from her. Luckily Smyk ducks his head into the tent.

         “Furioso, c’mon. We need to talk.”

         Larissa looks at him with surprise.


         “It’s my call sign. Shaleny was already taken by someone else.”

         She says nothing. But she approves and doesn’t want to make her approval too visible. She no longer recognizes her son.


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

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