Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

FRANCE IN FOCUS

French education: Reinventing the idea of school

Read more

FRENCH CONNECTIONS

Frogs legs and brains? The French food hard to stomach

Read more

#TECH 24

Station F: Putting Paris on the global tech map

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Davos 2017: 'I believe in the power of entrepreneurs to change the world'

Read more

#THE 51%

Equality in the boardroom: French law requires large firms to have 40% women on boards

Read more

FASHION

Men's fashion: Winter 2017/2018 collections shake up gender barriers

Read more

ENCORE!

Turkish writer Aslı Erdoğan speaks out about her time behind bars

Read more

REVISITED

Video: Threat of economic crisis still looms in Zimbabwe

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

DAVOS 2017: Has the bubble burst?

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

2017-01-20 Donald Trump

Video: Meeting anti-Trump activists

Millions of Americans don't feel represented by their new president. Across the United States, many are afraid of future decisions Donald Trump might make on the issues they care...

Read more

2017-01-19 Solidarity

New initiative provides free services to homeless in Paris

Amid the bitter winter cold, a network of local businesses in Paris are providing free services to homeless people. Easily identified by a logo on their front door, these shops,...

Read more

2017-01-18 Africa

CAR citizens reluctantly leave makeshift camp

When Central African Republic was hit by sectarian violence three years ago, almost 100,000 people found refuge in a makeshift camp beside the airport of the capital Bangui....

Read more

2017-01-17 Asia-pacific

Inside China's answer to Silicon Valley

As Xi Jinping becomes the first Chinese leader to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, we're looking at the rapid and formidable growth of Shenzhen, a city where China's...

Read more

2017-01-16 Europe

Security stepped up in Italy amid terror threat

Is Italy becoming a jihadist hub? The Berlin Christmas market attacker, Anis Amri, is believed to have been radicalised in prison there. And when a routine police stop led to...

Read more