Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

THE INTERVIEW

'We sell dreams, passion,' says French Open's Guy Forget

Read more

FRENCH CONNECTIONS

The French are so rude! Or is it just a misunderstanding?

Read more

REVISITED

After key battle, Syrian town of Kobane looks to the future

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

'War is not an option,' says former FARC guerrilla leader

Read more

EYE ON AFRICA

Madagascar political crisis: top court orders formation of unity government

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Ireland's abortion referendum

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

Weinstein in court; Ireland abortion vote; Italy's populist takeover

Read more

YOU ARE HERE

Sugar and spice: The flavours of the French Caribbean

Read more

ENCORE!

The writing's on the wall: Revolutionary posters from May 68

Read more

FOCUS

Our Focus programme brings you exclusive reports from around the world. From Monday to Friday at 7.45 am Paris time.

Latest update : 2014-02-03

The volunteer army protecting Kiev's Independence Square

© Photo: AFP

Protests at Kiev’s Independence Square have been raging for months. And despite negotiations between President Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leaders, as well as violent confrontations with riot police, demonstrators show no sign of backing down.

In fact, the men and women occupying the square, also known as the Maidan, are becoming increasingly well organised and have even set up volunteer defence forces, which activists claim number 5,000, to protect the area.

One of those volunteers is Vadim, a 25-year-old from the southwestern city of Chernivtsi. At 7pm, he is getting ready for guard duty. Along with his comrade Marian, he will spend the night patrolling the barricades.

“Our unit is called Vatar Maidan, we keep order on the Maidan,” Vadim explains.

The flat where the two men are staying serves as a dormitory for militants and, thanks to its high vantage point above Independence Square, is also a surveillance post for tracking the movements of the riot police.

“From this window here we can see what they are doing and if they are planning to attack we warn the Maidan self-defence organisation,” says Vadim.

Vadim and Marion use a hidden entrance behind the building to get to the street outside, where temperatures are around -20 degrees Celsius.

‘Ordinary people’

“This is the first barricade, our guys are manning it and keeping warm by the fire,” Marian points out.

Much has been made about the role of far-right groups taking part in demonstrations in Kiev. But though such groups undoubtedly have a presence here, they are in fact in the minority.

“Here there are just ordinary people who have come to help. No one asked them to and certainly no one is forcing them or paying them,” says Vadim.

Just a few hundred metres from the Ukrainian government’s offices, the bottom of Grouchevski Street has seen some of the worst clashes with police.

Violence flared up after the government introduced draconian anti-protest laws last month.

They were subsequently repealed, but not before two people had died in the fighting.

“We were taking the wounded out and bringing them to the medical point and at one point me and a mate were taking a guy out who had just lost three fingers,” Vadim recalls.

Though the situation is calmer now, the barricades are still heavily guarded.

“We won’t leave here until the president leaves office,” says one masked activist. “We need to live in a normal country like anywhere in Europe. An ambulance should come when you call for it, for example, in half an hour maximum, not three hours like it is here. We want a normal country.”

Not far away, the riot police have their own camp. They also keep watch all night.

‘People have the right to protect themselves’

At Kiev’s Trade Unions House, which faces Independence Square, the protesters have taken over and made the building their headquarters.

There Vadim introduces the head of his unit, Ivan, who used to work for the president’s Regions Party, before protests broke out in November.

“When the movement started I was a bodyguard for an MP from the Regions Party, but I decided to side with the Maidan,” he says. Ivan, who has not been home for more than two months, has 30 men at his command.

But not everyone is suited to serve as a Maidan defence volunteer.

“We make new recruits pass a psychological test, they have to be a help not a hindrance,” he says.

Wearing helmets and carrying makeshift weapons, the Maidan’s self-defence teams patrol the occupied areas day and night.

They make for a fearsome sight but one the local residents welcome.

“People have the right to protect themselves and their families, their lives, we’re talking about self-defence, it is in those terms that most people see things at the moment,” says Nadezhda, a local architect.

But though the Maidan now has the atmosphere of a crudely militarised zone, there is one great fear hanging over it - the possibility that President Viktor Yanukovich will declare a state of emergency and send the real military in to clear the area.

Even such a well-organised defence force would be unlikely to withstand such an assault.

By Gulliver CRAGG , Abdallah MALKAWI , Jonathan WALSH

COMMENT(S)

Archives

2018-05-25 Europe

Divided Ireland votes in abortion referendum

Irish voters are heading to the polls in a referendum which could lead to the liberalisation of abortion laws. Terminations of pregnancy are illegal in Ireland, except in extreme...

Read more

2018-05-24 Asia-pacific

Training future football champions in Vietnam

Vietnam is a nation of football fans. In the rural area of Pleiku, a school is training young players with the aim of building a national team that will one day qualify for the...

Read more

2018-05-23 Asia-pacific

Philippines moves towards allowing divorce

The Philippines is one of only two places in the world where divorce is still illegal, the other being Vatican City. But the country is taking steps towards changing that....

Read more

2018-05-22 France

France's newest political parties go to school

New arrivals on the French political scene are developing training centres to teach their campaigners how to propagate ideas and develop fieldwork skills. France's Communist...

Read more

2018-05-21 Americas

Young Nicaraguans lead protests against President Ortega

For the past month, Nicaragua has been hit by anti-government protests. The demos were sparked by unpopular social security reforms, but have now swelled into a broader...

Read more