PHOTO: Alla Marchenko.


It is difficult to identify why Maidan took a violent, military turn. Among the main possible reasons we might first note the inability of three opposition leaders (namely Vitaliy Klychko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and Oleh Tyahnybok) to settle on just one Maidan leader, and the absence of any visible, concrete accession to the demands of the protesters by the authorities.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds 1:2014, 45-48.
Published on on April 28, 2014

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* The article contains statements that reflect the views of the author, not necessary the view of Baltic Worlds’.

When and how did the Euromaidan protests begin in Ukraine, a country that experts recently called an “immobile state”,1 and an “incomplete state”?2 We may date the beginning to November 21, 2013, when Mykola Azarov, the prime minister of Ukraine, announced the possible suspension of the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement,3 and several thousands of people, mainly students, went out in the central square of Kyiv, known as Maidan Nezalezhnosti (literally “Independence Square”), to show their disagreement with the suspension. The sounds of the Maidan platform at that time consisted primarily of slogans supporting a political course towards Europe (e.g. “Yanukovych — sign it!”) and music. Another initial date of significance is November 30, 2013 — after the suspension of the agreement and consequent brutal dispersal of the people gathered at the Maidan. During the dispersal, some protesters were

severely beaten by the special troops known as “Berkut”, while others managed to run away, and found a hiding place inside the Mykhailivsky Cathedral4  not very far from the Maidan. Its bells tolled during that night announcing that danger was looming. The main reason for the dispersal was the need to install and decorate the New Year’s Tree (which later became the visual symbol of the protests).

The latter date, November 30, marked the beginning of truly massive protests, more heterogeneous in their goals than the protests that took place before the dispersal. The declared aim of integration with Europe evolved into a multipronged agenda: sanctions towards those responsible for the violent actions, a replacement of political elites associated with bandits (one of the most popular slogans is “Bandu get’!” — “Gang get out!”), and freedom for Yulia Tymoshenko, whose portrait was put on a New Year’s Tree on the Maidan. Despite the expansion of the goals, the chain of events was called “Euromaidan” in order to symbolize the initial intention of the gatherings, and to be connected to the events of the “Orange Revolution”, which took place in late 2004 in the same location, then known simply as Maidan.

The number of people involved in Euromaidan in December 2013 was extraordinarily high, especially during the “Viche” (“People’s Gathering”), conducted every Sunday (according to the assessments of experts, there were up to 500,000 people present during some Viches).5 The sounds of Maidan were initially concentrated on its main stage, reconstructed after the dispersal, and backstage (the voices of listeners, or “Maidan people”). Despite the gradual transfer of some aspects of the protest away from the Maidan (hiking while picketing ministries, courts, the prosecutor’s office, etc., and the activities of the automobile branch of Maidan called “Automaidan”), Maidan has continued functioning as the main source of sound attracting protesters. Speeches, slogans, public prayers, and concerts intertwine with one another and bring one another into sharper relief, all the while creating everyday chains of tunes. Some of them were as routine as singing the national anthem every hour, while others served as “special attractors”, e.g. the concert of the popular music band Okean Elzy, which gathered about 100,000 people on December 14.6 At the same time, such a unified picture of peaceful sounds underwent tremendous change, including even military sounds. We cannot ignore the fact that Euromaidan has become a platform and inspiration for its internal “anthems”, all connected with national ideas and civic consciousness — the first one, “Brat za Brata” (“Brother for Brother”),7 emphasized pacific integrity, while the second one, “Gorila shyna” (“The tire was on fire”),8 focused on the wartime group dynamics. On February 1, 2014, all the radio and TV channels in Poland broadcast a song of support for Ukraine “Podaj Rękę Ukrainie” (“Give a hand to Ukraine”)9 which could be interpreted as the first international “anthem” of the struggling Maidan.

It must be admitted, however, that the sounds of war were heard near the beginning of the first protests — on December 1 near the administration building of the president of Ukraine. There, some unrecognized people (later called extremists and provocateurs) threw stones and used stun grenades in their attempts to push back the policemen guarding the building. Such actions were followed by mass arrests (including arrests of some random, innocent spectators) which simply gave an impulse to the protest activity and stimulated its demands (“Impeachment to President Yanukovych!”, “Change of the regime!”). Another unexpected sound was heard on the evening of December 8: a monument of Lenin was toppled and crashed into the asphalt not far from the Maidan.10  Some of the protesters connected to the right-wing political party “Svoboda” took responsibility for the action and announced it as an action designed to help get rid of the Soviet totalitarianism.

The bells of Mykhailivsky Cathedral started tolling for the second time during Euromaidan on the night of December 11. The detachments of police and special troops called “Berkut” came closer to Maidan and tried to remove some barricades that were erected illegally, and possibly disperse the protesters once again. Nevertheless, the only damage was minor injuries to some of the protesters; Maidan was defended and quantitatively supported by the presence of other people who heard the cathedral bells and online alerts. Several straight days were punctuated by gripping announcements about the undermining of three central subway stations in Kyiv close to the place of the protests — the trains did not stop at those stations, which provoked rumors about the expected dispersion of all the activities, and lots of jokes about bombs (meaning they were located only in minds of the prime minister and the president).

However, due to the length of the vacation period in Ukraine that time of year (Catholic Christmas, New Year, and Orthodox Christmas), passions of Maidan had time to calm down, and speeches were mostly substituted by concerts and Christmas carols. The quantity of active protesters was significantly diminished, so it seemed that Maidan had finally transformed into cultural performance with rather vague relation to the protests.

Tensions grew immensely after the sudden adoption of laws restricting civil liberties — it happened during the session of Ukraine’s Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) on January 16 when the deputies, mainly belonging to the Party of the Regions which supports the president and government, voted “by hands” (that is, without debate, and without a formal vote count).11 The laws were rapidly signed by the president and published in specialized media. At the same time, attacks on Euromaidan activists increased (the most extreme cases were the attacks on Igor Lutsenko and Dmytro Bulatov, kidnapped and tortured by unknown people). Such attacks were widely covered in Ukraine’s mass media, which focused on the arrest of injured people at hospitals, or kidnappings in the streets. The most perceptible shift of Maidan sounds happened on the day of Epiphany (January 19, 2014) when the active center of Euromaidan moved to Hrushevskogo Street. After finishing a regular Viche, some of the Euromaidan protesters decided to picket the parliament and were stopped by the police troops. Tuneful carols of the ongoing holidays were suddenly changed into the revolutionary strikes against metal and explosions of Molotov cocktails, on one side (initiated by the so-called Right Sector, then supported by the other protesters), and, on the other side, there were the sounds of stun grenades, along with the clatter of shields.

It is difficult to identify why Maidan took a violent, military turn. Among the main possible reasons we might first note the inability of three opposition leaders (namely Vitaliy Klychko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and Oleh Tyahnybok) to settle on just one Maidan leader, and the absence of any visible, concrete accession to the demands of the protesters by the authorities. In spite of the initial demand of Euromaidan protesters to punish people from “Berkut” for their actions during the night of November 30,12 not one of them has actually been punished (and some have even been rewarded by the authorities for a job well done). Moreover, a Ukrainian journalist, Tetiana Chornovil, was severely beaten on the Eve of Orthodox Christmas, which mobilized the activities of the population as well. The sounds of shots on January 22 finalized the era of the peaceful Maidan, and opened the milestone of victims (symbolically again, on the Unity Day of Ukraine).13

The period of so-called truce could be characterized as the sound mosaic. The protesters stormed Ukrainian House, a strategic place near the square and Hrushevskogo Street, previously taken by the police. Sounds of smashing windows and fires burning on the premises of Ukrainian House signaled the fragile nature of the armistice. The protests spread into different regions of Ukraine where local protesters started occupying the regional state administrations. In light of the situation, a special emergency session of parliament was called on January 28 to repeal recently enacted laws on civil liberties.14 The president accepted the resignation of the prime minister and signed a decree dismissing the government (which, however, had to continue working until the parliament approved its new composition). At the same time, dozens of cars in different districts of Kyiv were set on fire during the nights. The tunes of piano played in the frosty street near Kyiv State Administration or inside of Ukrainian House were reminiscent of the previous, peaceful stage of the protests.

The third time when the bells tolled was on February 18, resounding with the beginning of the sharpest battle of the winter, another suspension of Maidan with stun grenades, shots and fire. All the stations of Kyiv subway had been closed several hours before which made atmosphere even more tense due to the transport collapse in many parts of Kyiv and made it impossible to come to the city center (for the first time in the history of Ukraine). Moreover, repeated announcements from the police loudspeakers near Maidan about the need for women and children withdraw from the place “because anti-terrorist operations would be commencing in the center of Kyiv” added a lot to the atmosphere of fear and rumors not only during that evening, but also during the ensuing days. The headquarters of Maidan, called the Trade Unions Building, was set on fire and burned down along with the main clock of Kyiv that sat in a clock tower on the building. This was a kind of symbol of the end of old times on the Maidan and in the country as a whole.15 Indeed, the dozens of people killed, mainly the protesters’ side, during these nighttime clashes made these winter days mournful. The atmosphere of mourning brought a degree of silence and peace, though this was cruelly broken by unknown snipers’ shots on February 20 and 21. This interruption resulted in numerous random victims on the Maidan. According to the official information of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, as of March 7, 100 people are reported dead in connection with the Maidan events that started on February 19, while more than 1100 people have needed medical treatment.16 The main stage of Maidan was transformed into a burial service, as some people injured in the February clashes died in March. The most repeated song of the mourning period was “Plyve kacha po Tysyni (A small duck is swimming in Tysyna)”17 which became a kind of “Requiem”. A popular slogan “Geroiam slava!” (“Glory to Heroes!”) as a usual answer to “Slava Ukraini!” (“Glory to Ukraine!”), used often from the very beginning of the protests, seemed to transform from a metaphor into something more substantive — dead people were proclaimed heroes and acquired the name “Nebesna sotnia” (“The Heaven’s Hundred”).18 In such a melancholy atmosphere, supported by continuous prayers from the main stage of Maidan, even breaking news about the Parliament’s voting for impeachment of Yanukovych, new Presidential elections on May 25, and the release of Tymoshenko from prison on February 22,19 did not result in euphoria among the people. Moreover, Yanukovych’s escape from his country house called Mezhyhirya (and later — from Ukraine to Russia), questionable appointments in different branches of the government, and an absence of punishment of those guilty of the deaths of the protesters, became catalysts for discontentment and the decision of people to stay on the Maidan. It was clear that such discontentment and the general mood of protest was located not only in Ukraine’s capital and could result in marauding on a massive scale — though, the most visible damage was done, again, to. . . Lenin’s monuments. They were destroyed one by one all over Ukraine in several days20 — such a phenomenon was called “Leninopad” (“Lenin’s falling down”). Another form of reaction to psychological stress caused by recent events on the Maidan was found in a sudden possibility for everyone to visit the residence of Yanukovych in Mezhyhirya,21 a top secret, restricted place. Thousands of people tried to visit the residence as soon as possible which resulted in traffic jams and long lines of wishful visitors. The sounds of a piano played by the protesters in the residence this time symbolized a kind of victory over Yanukovych, the “Runaway King” with an exclusive collection of musical instrument.22 However, the symbolic victory of Maidan in Ukraine faced a new danger, now from Putin’s policy in Crimea. Pro-Russian demonstrations with the help of “Night Wolves” bikers and other Russian movements added to the threat.23 Soldiers without easily identifiable uniforms occupied the Crimean Peninsula, blocking main points and forcing the Ukrainian troops to surrender to “Crimean authority” which actually meant rejecting authority from Ukraine itself. Occupants fired “warning shots” towards weaponless Ukrainian troops24 in order to demonstrate new power, identified as Russian. In this way, at the beginning of March the main stage of Euromaidan in Kyiv lost its place as a main center of decision making processes and became rather a decorative stage for approving decisions of the new Ukrainian authorities as well as for traditional gatherings, while main social activities and political tensions “migrated” to Southern and Eastern Ukraine. As a decorative form, however, the Maidan remains a symbol of united Ukraine which was emphasized, for instance, in multilingual speeches and citations of Taras Shevchenko during the Viche on March 9, the day of Shevchenko’s birth 200 years earlier.

Thus, Euromaidan in its recent form didn’t seem to be so much about signing the agreement with the European Union as much as it was a battle with the system
established by Viktor Yanukovych, which had been seen as repressive and lawless. The ideology behind Euromaidan had been formed by the right-wing political force called “Svoboda”, though it would
be a mistake to consider the protesters
at Maidan as predominantly right-wing activists. It must be noted that in early December, Maidan consisted of mainly young, educated people (average age
– 36 years; and 64% of them have a higher education), mostly from the Western and Central Ukraine, though there were representatives from all over Ukraine (50% of the protesters present at the beginning lived in Kyiv).25 Recent surveys demonstrate that Ukrainian citizens have rather sophisticated attitudes towards Euromaidan (e.g., results of “Sociolopis” survey conducted in the “military part” of January 2014 showed that the views are split in half — almost 50% are Euromaidan supporters, and 46% are opposed;26  similar results were obtained by another survey by the “Democratic Initiatives” Fund and the Razumkov Center in December 2013, during the more peaceful phase of protests).27 Mirroring these results was the recent “Research and Branding Group” polls, which showed that 50% of Ukraine’s citizens opposed Euromaidan, while 45% supported it;28 similar findings were published as representative of inhabitants of the regional centers of Ukraine in late January.29 In general, the attitudes towards the overall geopolitical future of Ukraine remain more pro-European (for nearly 43% of people) than Pro-Russian (nearly 30%), shown both by “Socis”30 and Research and Branding Group31 polls. Later research on the make-up of the Maidan protesters, conducted by the “Democratic Initiatives” Fund at the beginning of February, showed that regional representation of Maidan remained heterogeneous, with a slight prevalence of people from the Western part of Ukraine (55%), with the average age and education being similar to what was present at the beginning of the Maidan protests, while gender structure tended to be more homogenous (88% men, 12% women)32 Such a gender shift can be explained by the turn from the peaceful Maidan to the Maidan of struggle.

In such a convincing sociological symphony, many questions nonetheless remain obscure. Who shapes different sectors of Euromaidan now? When and how will Euromaidan be resolved in Ukraine? Will the bells toll again, and if so, for whom? Therefore, while not discarding the necessity to re-tune the melody in the internal politics of Ukraine and the still thriving Euromaidan, the intervention of a foreign factor into the process seem to be the most important challenge influencing the music of Ukraine after the Maidan victory over Yanukovych’s regime. . . .

Note: The content in commentaries expresses the views of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the views of Baltic Worlds.


1 Taras, Kuzio, “Political Culture and Democracy: Ukraine as an Immobile State”, East European Politics & Societies, 25:1 (2011) 88–113.

2 Serhiy, Kudelia, “The sources of continuity and change of Ukraine’s incomplete state”, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 45 (2012) 417–428.

3 Web portal of the Ukrainian Government, Accessed November 21, 2013,

4 In English, this is often referred to as St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery.

5 Ukrainian National News, Accessed December 1, 2013,

6 AP, Accessed December 14, 2013,

7 YouTube, Accessed December 1, 2013,

8 YouTube, Accessed January 29, 2014,

9 YouTube, Accessed February 1, 2013,

10 CNN, Accessed December 8, 2013,

11 NGO “Maidan Monitoring” Information Center, Accessed January 16, 2014,

12 Leading motif for people to join Euromaidan – see the press-release of “Democratic Initiatives Fund” survey conducted on December 7 and 8, 2013, via a random sample of 1037 protesters.

13 Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Accessed January 22, 2014,

14 BBC, News Europe, Accessed January 20, 2014,

15 BBC, News Europe, Accessed February 19, 2014,

16 Ministry of Health of Ukraine, Accessed February 14, 2014,

17  YouTube, Accessed February 21, 2014,

18 “Sotnya” (“Hundred”) is a structural unit of Maidan self-defense groups.

19 Kyiv Post, Accessed February 23, 2014,

20 Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Accessed February 24, 2014,

21 Daily Mail, Accessed February 24, 2014,

22 YouTube, Accessed March 7, 2014,

23 The Guardian, Accessed February 23, 2014,

24 BBC, New Europe, Accessed March 3, 2014,

25 The Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, Accessed March 4, 2014,

26 SOCIOPOLIS: Social, Political & Market Research, Accessed February 3, 2014,

27 The Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, Accessed March 12, 2014,–v-ukraini-sho-dali_.htm.

28 R&B Group; Research & Branding, Accessed December 30, 2013,

29 R&B Group; Research & Branding, Accessed January 31, 2014,

30 Socis, Center for Social and Marketing Research, Accessed January 31, 2014,

31 R&B Group; Research & Branding, Accessed December 30, 2013,

32 The Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, Accessed March 12, 2014,

  • Orysia Tracz

    Thank you for this article. Heroyam Slava (in Ukr.), not Geroyam (in Russian).

  • by Alla Marchenko Sergiy Kurbatov

    Alla Marchenko is associated researcher, Faculty of Sociology, National University of Kyiv. Sergiy Kurbatov is research fellow at Institute of Higher Education, National Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of Ukraine and guest researcher at Uppsala Centre for Russian Studies, Uppsala University.

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