November 21st was the seventh anniversary of the start of the Maidan revolution, also known as Euromaidan, a series of protests that led to the fall of President Viktor Yanukovich of the Party of the Regions (pro-Russian) and radically changed the political board in Eastern Europe. Independence Square (Ukrainian: Maidan Nezalezhnosti) in Kiev was the centre of these protests. To better understand what happened in those days, it is highly recommended to watch the documentary, “Heaven’s Hundred”, which has the option of subtitles in English. https://youtu.be/G_OlqRn2Eug
Alvaro Peñas interviews Yurii Novievyj, member of the executive committee of Svodoba (Freedom), main Ukrainian nationalist party, leader of the union “Svoboda Pratsi” (Freedom of Labour) and coordinator of the Orthodox movement “Katehon”. In 2013-2015, he was a regional deputy in the oblast (region) of Kyiv.
What was the situation like in Ukraine before the Maidan?
Before the Maidan in Ukraine, several processes were taking place at the same time. First, a national renaissance and overcoming of the consequences of Russian occupation in all fields of society. In particular, this resulted in the development of a national movement that was related to these processes. Second, an economic transition and privatisation that created a whole series of powerful oligarchs who held economic and political power, and had their own means of communication, political parties, paid ministers, and even private armies. Some of them maintained close ties with Moscow, and others with the West. This led to the formation of two sides, one pro-Russian and one pro-Western.
Protests begin in Kyiv on the night of 21 November 2013, after Ukrainian government suspended signing of the Association Agreement and the Free Trade Agreement with the European Union.
Here it is necessary to distinguish between the Euromaidan and the Maidan. It was two different processes. The Euromaidan, supported by liberal and pro-Western parties, began to demonstrate in the face of Yanukovich’s refusal to sign an agreement with the European Union on 21 November. The Maidan, supported by the nationalists, started from the violence used by the police against student protests in December.
In addition to the support of Western governments, the Soros network campaigned for protests. As in the case of Catalonia some time later, Soros made a propaganda campaign: “This is Ukraine, Europe”.
Yes, Soros took advantage of the situation and made very shrewd propaganda: we are against Russia and we support you. Then sold his idea of an open “Europe”: abortion, zero Christianity, lgbt, migrants, antipatriotism… It is a model that even many supporters of the Euromaidan did not share, since they simply saw the West as ally to Moscow, and to which we strongly oppose.
One of the most significant events was the demolition of the Lenin statue on December 8.
Yes, it was the main statue of Lenin in the capital. Many others previously fell in the Kyiv oblast, Poltava and Chernihiv. It was not only a symbol of communist ideology, but also of Russian occupation.
Street tensions were rising until, in February 2014, police began using firearms against protesters.
The truth is that Yanukovich has been using violence since 2010, when he became president. And in the case of the nationalist movement, clashes with police in Kyiv and other cities were commonplace. Irregular arrests and street beatings were frequent in 2012, and there were more than 100 fake criminal cases against Svoboda members in Kyiv alone that led many of them to prison. In 2013, I had to leave Ukraine to avoid persecution for my activity as a regional councillor and politician. I came back when the Euromaidan started, although I could not occupy my apartment. I was permanently in The Maidan Square and was one of those in charge of organising the resistance from occupied Kyiv’s town hall. From the outset, police acted with great violence blocking people and vehicles’ access to the centre and provoking the protesters, then beatings and kidnappings would come, and finally the use of firearms. In response, the police had to deal with our organised resistance.
Yanukovich used a special police unit, the so-called Berkut (Golden Eagle in Ukrainian), and para-police groups for repression.
The Berkuts were a special police unit created to fight terrorism. However, they ended up becoming a riot unit. Then there were the so-called titushki, which were illegal formations that collaborated with the police, formed in many cases by criminal elements. These Yanukovich thugs caused riots, beat up protesters and even executed kidnapping and murder. One of the best-known cases is that of Yuriy Verbytsky, a seismologist who was abducted on 21 January 2014 at Oleksandrivska Hospital in Kyiv. His body would appear the next day near the village of Gnodin showing signs of torture.
What happened to these Berkuts and titushki after the regime’s downfall? Some Ukrainian media have published images of former Berkuts in Belarus.
The unit was dissolved and the vast majority of its members remained in Ukraine and participated in the war. Some, involved in murders and felonies, fled to Moscow and may also to Belarus. Regarding titushki, several are in prison and there are others in court proceedings. For example, the investigation into Yuriy Verbytisky’s case ended on 22 August 2020 with the arrest of two suspects as material perpetrators of the crime and 6 other incriminated persons. The processes are going too long and in many cases the criminals are acquitted, there are still too many judges loyal to Yanukovich and who were appointed by him.
Some news pointed to the presence of snipers shooting protesters and police alike.
I really can’t answer accurately. I did hear about snipers trying to take down the Berkut shooters.
Between February 18 and 20, there were 75 dead and more than 500 injured.
Yes, the hundred dead will be reached mainly due to sniper action. At that moment groups of policemen are starting to switch sides and join us. Despite the harshness of the situation, the wounded and the dead, there was a strong sense of unity among all of us who fought there. The inhabitants of Kyiv would send us food every day and cheer us up. I also remember with emotion the daily Orthodox masses in the Maidan Square.
What was the role of the Orthodox Church?
It was very positive. Masses were held on the streets and church doors opened to shelter activists after clashes with police. Its role was also rewarded by the Orthodox hierarchy itself and they received a decree from the patriarchy of Constantinople that recognised it as the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and separated it from the Russian church, which is now illegal in Ukraine.
In regard to the church I would like to emphasise its importance. I grew up in an atheist family, educated by many years of communism, and did not understand the importance of the church. However, after traveling to Germany, I saw with my own eyes what a society has lost its faith and traditions, and when I returned to Ukraine I became interested in religion and began to attend religious services with my family. The church is a shield to the decadent values that claim to impose characters like Soros.
The regime fell and Yanukovich fled to Russia on February 22. What happened then?
Not only him, so did those responsible for the repression flee. Russia occupied Crimea and an interim government led by Oleksandr Turchynov of the Europeanist Batkivshchyna (Patria) party was formed to deal with the impending war. Svodoba supported this government and took over three ministries, including Defence, and Oleksandr Sich became deputy prime minister.
What did the Maidan mean?
An impulse to move towards the national renaissance and to overcome the colonial situation of the country. Unfortunately, it was only a partial success. Yanukovich’s oligarchs were replaced by Poroshenko’s oligarchs.
Do you think anything like this could happen in Belarus if the protests continue?
No, unfortunately not. The conditions are different and there is no strong nationalist movement. The path to victory can only come through tenacity, continuous marches and strikes. For me, Belarus is a sister nation and I have relatives there. I wish they could become independent from Moscow, although I would not want them to become a country completely dependent on the European Union either.