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I Am a Ukrainian

The people demand change.

They recognize that something is wrong in their country

Who are the protesters in Ukraine?

Who are the protesters in Ukraine?

By Keith Darden and Lucan Way
February 12 at 3:28 pm

Ukraine Protests

Joshua Tucker: The following is a guest post from political scientists Keith Darden (American University) and Lucan Way (University of Toronto) addressing the question of who is protesting in Ukraine, and how much support do the protesters actually have. Their conclusion: Ukraine’s protests may not be driven by the far right, but they are not supported by a clear majority of Ukrainians … and neither is a turn toward Europe. You can find links to previous posts from The Monkey Cage on the ongoing political turmoil in Ukraine at the end of the post.

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For over two months, anti-government protesters have camped out in the center of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Coverage in the media has presented vastly different images of who these protesters are and what they represent. Recently, some commentators have depicted the protests as emblematic of a Europe-wide resurgence of chauvinistic nationalism. They point to the presence of the Right Wing among the protest movement and the prominence of “ultra-nationalist” groups in the recent violence.

In stark contrast, others have seen the protesters as fighters for democracy expressing the views and interests of the broad Ukrainian public to join Europe and rid themselves of Russian subjugation. Along these lines, the conflict in Ukraine has been viewed from a geopolitical perspective as a battle for and against efforts by the Kremlin to seize Ukraine, with critics of the protests seen as abetting such efforts or potentially even being on the Russian payroll. Asserting that “the movement as a whole merely reflects the entire Ukrainian population, young and old,” influential supporters of the Maidan in the academy have concluded that nationalist forces represent a “minor segment” of the protests and therefore a focus on such radicals is “unwarranted and misleading.”

What then do the protesters represent? What is the role of the far right in the protests in Ukraine? To what extent does the movement “reflect the entire Ukrainian population,” and how would we know?

Available research on the protesters and public opinion data from Ukraine suggest a reality that is more complicated than either of these competing narratives. First, there is no evidence that the majority of protesters over the past two months have been motivated primarily by radical nationalism or chauvinism. Surveys of the protest participants conducted in early December and again at the end of January suggest that the main driver of the protests has been anger at President Viktor Yanukovych as well as a desire for Ukraine to enter the European Union (see also Olga Onuch’s prior post on The Monkey Cage). Notably, the most unifying factor seems to be opposition to Yanukovych’s efforts to crack down on protesters. This is consistent with the ebb and flow in the size of the protest movement over the past months. Initially quite small, the protests exploded after a violent crackdown on them at the end of November and then again in mid January after Yanukovych pushed through a series of draconian laws to limit protest and dissent. None of the protest demands reflect an obvious chauvinist or nationalist agenda.

Yet, in Ukraine today, it is equally misleading to state that the nationalist right represents a “minor segment” of the current protests. The protest leadership (to the extent that it exists) consists of three opposition parties in parliament – one of which, the Svoboda party, is clearly on the far right. Svoboda, which captured 38 seats and 10 percent of the vote in the last parliamentary elections, until 2004 called itself the Social Nationalist Party of Ukraine and employed neo-Nazi and SS symbols. While the party changed its name and symbols in 2004, Svoboda’s leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, continued to argue that the opposition should fight the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia running Ukraine” and praised the Ukrainian Insurgency Army (UPA) in World War II for fighting “against the Moskali [Muscovites], Germans, Zhydy [Jews] and other scum, who wanted to take away our Ukrainian state.” The party does not hide its glorification of the interwar fascist movement, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). In December they held a torchlight rally on the Maidan to honor the OUN leader, Stepan Bandera, and they regularly fly the red and black flag of the OUN, which has been banned as a racist symbol at soccer matches by FIFA.

The explicit harkening back to the songs, slogans, and symbols of the nationalist movement of the 1930s and 1940s — with its aspiration to achieve an ethnically pure Ukrainian nation-state free of Russians, Jews, and Poles — has been one of the most significant differences between these protests and the Orange Revolution of 2004. The right-wing groups have been particularly active among the organization of the protest movement on the ground, particularly as the number of protesters has dwindled over time and revealed a resilient right-wing core. Svoboda’s deputies control the opposition-occupied Kiev city administration building, its flag is widely visible and a portrait of Bandera hangs in the central hall.

And Svoboda is just one of many signs of a strong far right presence in the organization and mobilization of the Maidan. Andriy Parubiy, the “commandant” of the Maidan and the leader of the “self-defense” forces that guard the protest camp in the center of Kiev, was a co-founder of the Social Nationalist Party with Oleh Tyahnybok. In recent weeks, the coalition of smaller right-wing organizations called “Right Sector” spearheaded the violent turn in the protests – using stones, Molotov cocktails, pipes, and siege weaponry against police. While this group has not been welcomed into the protest leadership, it is clearly an important player on the ground and has reportedly been arming itself in the event that talks fail to achieve Yanukovych’s resignation. More generally, nationalist activists from Svoboda and these other groups have provided the opposition with its most “fearsome demonstrators” who according to the New York Times “led some of the more provocative efforts to occupy buildings and block government offices.”

Despite the strong right-wing presence, are the protests nonetheless pro-democracy? The answer to this might seem obviously yes – given that they are directed against authoritarian behavior and an autocratic president. Yet recent work on mass mobilization has suggested that we need to be careful about assuming that politicians’ and analysts’ master narratives about “democratic revolutions” reflect the actual motivations of those on the street. Princeton University Professor Mark Beissinger has shown that Ukrainian protesters in late 2004 had a “weak commitment to democratic ends” – despite the fact that the protests were sparked by electoral fraud. More recently, a December survey of the current protesters in Ukraine cited above shows that less than 20 percent were driven to protest by “violations of democracy or the threat of dictatorship.” More broadly, it is important not to assume that opposition to a non-democratic regime is the same as support for democracy. History is littered with examples of opposition movements that governed in an authoritarian manner after they took power – from the opponents of the Shah in Iran in 1978/1979 to the anti-Soviet nationalist movement in Armenia, which harassed opposition, and engaged in serious electoral fraud after taking power in 1990-1991; to the dictator Alexander Lukashenko, who started off as an opposition parliamentarian in Belarus in the early 1990s.

Moreover, the protests themselves are not particularly representative of the views of a broader Ukrainian polity. The claims that “the movement as a whole merely reflects the entire Ukrainian population, young and old,” find very little support. In this, as in virtually every area of political opinion, Ukrainians are pretty clearly divided. Surveys taken in the past two months in the country as a whole range both in quality and in results, but none show a significant majority of the population supporting the protest movement and several show a majority opposed. Recent surveys provide suggestive findings that quite large majorities oppose the takeover of regional governments by the opposition. The most reliable and most recent survey shows the population almost perfectly divided in its support for the protest: 48 percent in favor, 46 percent opposed.

The protesters’ inability to garner greater support is surprising given the fact that Yanukovych’s popularity is far below 50 percent (although he is still apparently the most popular political figure in the country). One reason for this failure is that anti-Russian rhetoric and the iconography of western Ukrainian nationalism does not play well among the Ukrainian majority. Almost half of Ukraine’s population resides in the South and East of the country, what was once called “New Russia” when it was settled in the 19th century by a very diverse population of migrants from within the Russian empire. It is an area that has, for over 200 years, identified strongly with Russia, and nearly all of these Ukrainian citizens are alienated by anti-Russian rhetoric and symbols. The anti-Russian forms of Ukrainian nationalism expressed on the Maidan are certainly not representative of the general view of Ukrainians. Electoral support for these views and for the political parties who espouse them has always been limited. Their presence and influence in the protest movement far outstrip their role in Ukrainian politics and their support barely extends geographically beyond a few Western provinces.

Relatedly, there is little evidence that a clear majority of Ukrainians support integration into the European Union — despite the fact that the turn away from the European Union sparked the initial protests. While different polls show varying levels of support for European integration (e.g. this recent one from SOCIS), most show around 40-45 percent support for European integration as compared to about 30 to 40 percent support for the Customs Union – a plurality for Europe but hardly a clear mandate.

In conclusion, we should always be very wary of claims that protests speak “for the people.” We should be particularly wary when “the people” referred to are the people of Ukraine. If 20 years of scholarship and surveys teach us one thing, it is that Ukraine is a country that is deeply divided on virtually every issue pertaining to relations with Russia or the West, with very deep historic divisions that continue to bear on contemporary politics.

Ukrainians are, however, quite unified in the desire to be governed better than they have been for the past 20 years. The mass protests were primarily a response to efforts by President Yanukovych to impose a more repressive regime. Those on the square are not, on the whole, motivated by an affiliation for the far right or its agenda for Ukraine. Yet the heavy symbolic and organizational presence of the far right in the protests has surely limited the extent to which the protests can find majority support in the country and undermined their effectiveness in producing a better government for Ukraine’s citizens. A clear majority of Ukrainians could certainly be persuaded to abandon support for Yanukovych in an election, but the lack of majority support for the protests suggest that they might not take that option if it is presented to them wrapped in the violent anti-Russian rhetoric of the nationalist right.

www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/02/12/who-are-the-protesters-in-ukraine/

CapnTrips13
10:01 PM EST
Posting this on behalf of Mychailo Wynnyckyj Ph.D.
Kyiv-Mohyla Academy
“Who are the protesters in Ukraine?” – a response from someone who has actually been (t)here.
Part 1 of 5

Just as I was beginning to believe that the western press may have finally understood that Ukraine’s current street protests have little to do with so-called “radical-right-nationalism”, on 12 Feb. 2014, the Washington Post published an “authoritative” answer to the question “Who are the protesters in Ukraine” by two North American academics, Keith Darden and Lucan Way (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp… Not surprisingly, given that their standpoint is 5000 miles away from Kyiv, the answer Darden and Way give to their own question is (mostly) wrong. The authors are careful to veil their skepticism of the real democratic substance of Ukraine’s protest movement with academically appropriate genuflects towards those who present evidence that contradicts their conclusions, but they nevertheless advance the following highly controversial points:

a) Right-wing politicians are (apparently) disproportionately represented in the Ukrainian protest movement’s leadership. Specifically, the authors note the prominence of the Svoboda party on Maidan, and cite its use of (apparently) xenophobic and racist symbolism as reflecting the party’s (supposed) aspiration to achieve an ethnically pure Ukrainian state.

b) It is unclear (in fact, doubtful, according to the authors) whether the EuroMaidan movement truly represents the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people, and whether average Ukrainians really support the protest movement. The fact that the “radical right” is apparently now leading the protest movement is cause for concern (for the authors) because history is littered with examples of revolutions whose leaders become dictators after gaining power, having previously called for greater democratization.

(continued)
LikeReply
Mychailo Wynnyckyj
9:43 PM EST
Several observers have wondered if a targeted campaign aimed at discrediting the EuroMaidan movement may not be afoot, but more likely, the propagation of disinformation is not purposeful. In an effort to fit the uniqueness that is the EuroMaidan into inadequate accepted social science paradigms, and at the same time to remain nominally impartial, both academics and western journalists have grasped on the “nationalist” stereotype as one that is easily understood by uninformed readers.

A similar phenomenon occurred during the Cold War when left-wing sympathizers and apologists of the Soviet regime in the West came to be referred to as “useful idiots” by opponents of state socialism. Although this term was often (incorrectly) attributed to V. Lenin, its sense seems to provide a particularly salient description of proponents of the “nationalism-on-Maidan” hype: “useful idiot is a term for people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause.” (Wikipedia)

Mychailo Wynnyckyj Ph.D.
Kyiv-Mohyla Academy
LikeReply
Mychailo Wynnyckyj
9:42 PM EST
If the leadership of the protest movement is in fact xenophobic, and the demonstrators are in fact proponents of an exclusively ethnic conception of Ukraine, it is unclear why there are as many Russian speakers in evidence on Kyiv’s Independence Square as Ukrainian speakers (personal observation, supported by survey data). Furthermore, the ecumenical service held every Sunday on the stage of EuroMaidan during the mass rally (viche) regularly includes both Muslim and Jewish clerics. The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress has repeatedly denounced false reports of anti-Semitism supposedly emanating from the EuroMaidan movement, instead blaming the Yanukovych regime for inflaming inter-confessional tensions – including staged attacks on synagogues by government-sponsored thugs. The Maidan Self-Defense force recently announced the formation of a Jewish Regiment in addition to the already existent Crimean Tatar (Muslim) regiment; their participants stand side-by-side with Right Sector fighters on the barricades. All of this seems to bely the portrayal of the Maidan as promoting an integral nationalist/extremist program for post-revolutionary Ukraine.

However, the fact that Ukraine’s protesters demonstrate tolerance and inclusiveness now, may not reflect their true intentions. According to Darden and Way, history is riddled with examples of movements that are supposedly built on a democratic foundation, that then resort to authoritarianism after they succeed in gaining power. Such corrosion of revolutionary principles is usually triggered by the need to consolidate power, and suppress any potential counter-revolution. In Ukraine’s case, inherent regional, confessional, linguistic, and economic cleavages, increase the risk of such a degenerative non-democratic scenario. Certainly, the promise of European integration is insufficient as an incentive to maintain inclusive democracy given the inadequate level of support for Ukraine’s eventual EU membership currently in evidence.
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Mychailo Wynnyckyj
9:42 PM EST
If the leadership of the protest movement is in fact xenophobic, and the demonstrators are in fact proponents of an exclusively ethnic conception of Ukraine, it is unclear why there are as many Russian speakers in evidence on Kyiv’s Independence Square as Ukrainian speakers (personal observation, supported by survey data). Furthermore, the ecumenical service held every Sunday on the stage of EuroMaidan during the mass rally (viche) regularly includes both Muslim and Jewish clerics. The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress has repeatedly denounced false reports of anti-Semitism supposedly emanating from the EuroMaidan movement, instead blaming the Yanukovych regime for inflaming inter-confessional tensions – including staged attacks on synagogues by government-sponsored thugs. The Maidan Self-Defense force recently announced the formation of a Jewish Regiment in addition to the already existent Crimean Tatar (Muslim) regiment; their participants stand side-by-side with Right Sector fighters on the barricades. All of this seems to bely the portrayal of the Maidan as promoting an integral nationalist/extremist program for post-revolutionary Ukraine.

However, the fact that Ukraine’s protesters demonstrate tolerance and inclusiveness now, may not reflect their true intentions. According to Darden and Way, history is riddled with examples of movements that are supposedly built on a democratic foundation, that then resort to authoritarianism after they succeed in gaining power. Such corrosion of revolutionary principles is usually triggered by the need to consolidate power, and suppress any potential counter-revolution. In Ukraine’s case, inherent regional, confessional, linguistic, and economic cleavages, increase the risk of such a degenerative non-democratic scenario. Certainly, the promise of European integration is insufficient as an incentive to maintain inclusive democracy given the inadequate level of support for Ukraine’s eventual EU membership currently in evidence.
LikeReply
Mychailo Wynnyckyj
9:40 PM EST
c) It is unclear (again, for the authors – doubtful) that a majority of Ukrainians support integration with the European Union – particularly in the southern and eastern regions of the country where affinity with Russia has strong historical roots. According to the authors, Ukraine’s social cleavages are so deep that unified protest, even against a thoroughly corrupt, and incompetent authoritarian regime, such as that of Yanukovych, could not possibly coalesce: Maidan therefore represents only the western and central EU-supporting regions of the country. By implication, such a regionally skewed movement does not deserve the support of western governments.

The above theses certainly lend support to the portrayal of those who are protesting in Ukraine as radical right extremists. As a sociologist who spends much of his time speaking to demonstrators in Kyiv’s city center, I can say with some authority: Darden and Way’s portrayal of Ukraine’s protesters is wrong. It is certainly true that Svoboda party supporters are active on the Maidan, and that nationalists/patriots (what one calls them immediately indicates one’s political preferences – such is reality in a revolutionary situation) were, and continue to be active, among those who condone the use of violence against the Yanukovych regime. Furthermore, it is a fact that the original name of Svoboda was the “Social Nationalist Party of Ukraine”, but Darden and Way’s sweeping claims that this political movement “employed neo-Nazi and SS symbols” and that “the party does not hide its glorification of the interwar fascist movement” ought to have been corroborated with at least some evidence.

Given that the Darden and Way article appeared as a blog on the Washington Post website, I feel it may be appropriate to frame my rebuttal in terms an American reader will readily understand. The authors have assumed that anyone ascribing to the following phrase should be unequivocally branded an extremist:
LikeReply
Mychailo Wynnyckyj
9:39 PM EST
Just as I was beginning to believe that the western press may have finally understood that Ukraine’s current street protests have little to do with so-called “radical-right-nationalism”, on 12 Feb. 2014, the Washington Post published an “authoritative” answer to the question “Who are the protesters in Ukraine” by two North American academics, Keith Darden and Lucan Way. Not surprisingly, given that their standpoint is 5000 miles away from Kyiv, the answer Darden and Way give to their own question is (mostly) wrong. The authors are careful to veil their skepticism of the real democratic substance of Ukraine’s protest movement with academically appropriate genuflects towards those who present evidence that contradicts their conclusions, but they nevertheless advance the following highly controversial points:

a) Right-wing politicians are (apparently) disproportionately represented in the Ukrainian protest movement’s leadership. Specifically, the authors note the prominence of the Svoboda party on Maidan, and cite its use of (apparently) xenophobic and racist symbolism as reflecting the party’s (supposed) aspiration to achieve an ethnically pure Ukrainian state.

b) It is unclear (in fact, doubtful, according to the authors) whether the EuroMaidan movement truly represents the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people, and whether average Ukrainians really support the protest movement. The fact that the “radical right” is apparently now leading the protest movement is cause for concern (for the authors) because history is littered with examples of revolutions whose leaders become dictators after gaining power, having previously called for greater democratization.

I agree 100% with Professor Mychailo Wynnyckyj’s comprehensive response. This article is an example of Ukrainophobic and Russophile reporting instep with Kremlin ideology to taint the truth and deceive…..

JEWISH MAIDAN SELF-DEFENSE LEADER

Michael Gold (exclusively for “Hadashot”)
February, 2014 Vaadua.org
Translated by Olia Knight
Edited by Isis Wisdom
Source: vaadua.org/news/stoilo-zhit-v-etoy-strane-chtoby-dozhit-do-maydana

JEWISH MAIDAN SELF-DEFENSE LEADER: At the end of the day, living in this country has been worth it – because we’ve lived to see the Maidan.

Maidan Self-Defense

Maidan Self-Defense

A cap instead of the kippah covering his head, a typical Jewish appearance – this young man could pass for a Yeshiva professor. However, he is one of the leading people in the complicated system of Maidan self-defense units and barricades on Hrushevsky Street [Hrushevskoho].

He requested to keep his name private, for obvious reasons, but proved to be pretty frank for the rest of our conversation.

– How did you end up THERE? What did Maidan mean to you, and to you as a Jew?

– Like the majority of people, I came to Maidan not “for” something, but “against” something – in general, the society is easier consolidated around protesting slogans. I never supported Ukrainian public authority, but the people’s deaths became a rubicon [point of no return]. That was the moment I realized that … I had to join people on Hrushevskoho. What I saw underwhelmed me at first – everything was so disorganized – lack of leaders, a definitive strategy, etc. Then, suddenly for myself, I started to lead the activities of the standoff, even though I did not consider it “my war” from the beginning. I organized the self-defense, the building of barricades, and later became a leader of a self-defeunit.nse

– So, you came to Hrushevskoho without going to Maidan?

– I visited Maidan a couple of times, I listened to the incoherent speeches of politicians, irresponsible announcements from opposition leaders, and knew full well that people could do more harm than good under such circumstances. And this is what happened when three opposition leaders came up to the stage after 7-hour negotiations with our president, and started sounding out the possibilities for a compromise. People sent them packing and started moving towards Hrushevskoho, ready for assault, without any military knowledge. I served in the Israeli army, and have a clear understanding of counterterrorist operations, I took part in some of them, and I realized that a lot of blood would be shed then. I counted the people on the barricades and made sure that the balance of forces was absolutely unacceptable for offensive action, and instead I offered to take a defensive position and reinforce the redoubt. Today, these barricades look like they should look.

I was completely convinced that I was where I was supposed to be after the attack on Ukrainian House [the international exhibition and convention center on Maidan], where I, in the words of “Pirkei Avot” tried to be a man in a place where there are no people. 1,500 people tried to take seize the building with 200 interior forces soldiers inside, predominantly cadets, and if protesters attacked these young men – the blood would be shed on the other side. We started negotiations that resulted in the release of Ukrainian House without a single shot and without wounded.

– Besides you, are there other Jews in Maidan Self-Defense?

There are four Israelis with combat experience just in my subdivision. Like me, they came to Maidan to help prevent any unneeded casualties. I would call our group “blue helmets” as an analogy to UN peacekeepers. The situation on Maidan is rather nerve-racking, many people want to revenge the victims, and even more people are tired of opposition inaction – all these hotheads full of illusions of real fights and therefore unable to imagine possible consequences. They also do not stop to think that there are people on the other side of the barricades, and that our actions should not defame Maidan’s “human face.”

– Have you every encountered any, not even anti-Semitism, but a condescending attitude that “he’s a Jew and he is still here with us”? I’m talking about a certain dichotomy – there is a “we” – the Ukrainians, and “they” – the Jews, some of whom are our companions and even friends. Because our Ukrainian neighbors keep asking the “Is it any of the Jews’ business?” question.

– There was not even a hint of such attitudes. I have been in contact with activists from “Pravy Sector” [Right Sector, a far-right militant group], UNA-UNSO [Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense, a far-right political organization] – with all the people I would probably not see eye-to-eye with during peaceful times. However, I present myself solely as a Jew, and a religious one at that. I have tens of resistance guards – Georgians, Azerbaijani, Armenians, and Russians who do not even attempt to speak Ukrainian – we have never been intolerant to each other. They all are quite respectful to my faith – they already know what I can and cannot eat, etc. and this does not cause any hostility.

– How do you and your Jewish friends view Maidan, as the cultural revolution of Ukraine? There are no doubts about the fact that it is a national revolution – “Glory to Ukraine – Glory to its Heroes!” is constantly chanted, protesters sing the national anthem every thirty minutes…

Both flag and anthem are national, not party symbols – and reverence for them is absolutely necessary. People in the United States stand at the sound of their anthem, and no one would treat its words as a nationalist appeal.

I do no idealize the protest movement, nor do I know if a new civil nation is currently being born on Maidan, but I am very impressed with a number of processes. For over 20 years, Ukraine was viewed as a relatively artificial formation with all superficial attributes of statehood – people did not feel proud for their country. The old stereotype “it is none of my business” has been cultivated, Ukrainians were viewed as people who lived without a care in the world. Nobody expected that after nine years since the Orange Revolution, after a full disappointment, people would find the strength to rise again. During the march of millions, where I participated – tens of Jews walked alongside Svboda supporters who shouted slogans I found little pleasure in… There is little doubt that the spirit of freedom and unity is concentrated on Maidan in abundance. Just go around the barricades – it has been a long time since we saw such responsibility; I remember how people would walk by a person that fell on the street in the past. And suddenly, a civil self-conscience appeared – people who work all day stay on Maidan all night, carving out a couple of hours for sleep.

– How diverse is Maidan? How do “Pravy Sector” and liberals, “Spilna Sprava” and “Svoboda”, and others coexist? Have they lost their control levers? Or is it a self-developing organism over which both the government and opposition have almost no influence?

– All these factions are not dominant, they represent about 40 per cent of all protesters, they are in the minority. And the trend toward non-factionalism keeps growing since people keep coming because they feel a duty to protest. In this, Maidan is quite a manageable body; there is a Headquarters of [National] Resistance whose decisions are carried out by all factions. Other than an incident between “Svodoba” and “Spilna Sprava” (we call them “SS”), a status quo is maintained.

– SS? It’s just an acronym, nothing else?

– Nothing else. Neither of Maidan’s factions uses Nazi symbols.

– Many of my Jewish acquaintances argue to “let the revolution win”, and that thereafter everything will normalize – democrats will push extremists to the peripheries of the political process. Don’t you think it is a simplified approach? Usually, the opposite is true – a radical, well-organized and disciplined minority dictates rules of the game to “soft liberals”.

Well-organized extremists are a myth. People under my command are organized much better than radicals. We react much faster and more effectively. I am directly in charge of 30 people, but I can mobilize up to 300. Neither OUN [Organization of Ukrainian nationalists], nor “Pravy Sector” can afford such luxuries.

– Can you sketch in broad strokes a social portrait of an average Maidan “self-defense” guard?

– This is a motley crowd – from Azerbaijani salespeople out of Privoz [a large marketplace in Odessa, a city in southern Ukraine] – to residents of Kyiv – middle managers. Average age – men between 27 and 30 years of age. People from Western Ukraine, Central and Eastern regions are divided roughly equally. Most are without express political sympathies. The inhabitants from western regions have greater reverence for the Ukrainian national liberation movement – it’s a family tradition. However, none of the radicals are associated with these people with model behavior. Tyagnybok and “Svoboda”, for example, are not very popular in their base region.

One way or another, I don’t see them [protesters] leaning right. Right-wing populist slogans have become completely replaced by moderate calls for consolidation and taking responsibility for what happens. To prevent atrocities, establish self-government, and not to give reason to be called vandals.

– This is all very commendable, but who threw Molotov cocktails then?

– Practically everyone did – people could not react to bullets and flash grenades in any other way. I am more than confident that any forceful acts by the government would not have caused such reaction had they not resulted in a loss of human life. Molotov cocktails, this is the easiest thing that could happen there.

– Do Maidan protesters realize that without support from the southeast of Ukraine, real victory is impossible? Or who is not with us, is against us?

Despite the complexity of the situation, people do not want the division of Ukraine. Peaceful independence for two months, did not lead to real change, and only the events on Hrushevskoho with throwing Molotov cocktails and burning tires caused the government to react. Therefore, we continue our resistance, to force the president to make concessions. In other words, we are holding the government by its throat with an understanding that negotiations are necessary.

– I’m talking not about the government toward whom few people today feel sympathy, but about people. Ordinary people on the other side of the barricades.

The government launched the mechanism of intimidation, fear, in the east of Ukraine, and exploited people’s fear of “Banderivshchyna” [followers of a Ukrainian revolutionary and a leader of Ukrainian national movement Stepan Bandera], they played the nationalist, including Jewish, card. Everybody probably forgot about the anti-Semitism of Berkut police force’s website, but the government continues to create a negative image of Maidan, accusing it of fascism and other sins.

(The conversation is interrupted by a phone call from an owner of a fashionable boutique in downtown Kyiv thanking my interviewee for dismantling the barricades in front of the store – otherwise, the business would come to a complete halt).

I want to see Maidan “with a human face” that is acceptable to its opponents and I do not intend to burn any bridges. We’re definitely in need of consolidation and understanding that things are not for political games, but for a more successful future for Ukraine as a whole.

– Are you offended that the majority of the Jewish community treats Maidan if not with hostility, then with skepticism? Ukrainophobia has nothing to do with such an attitude – 80 per cent of Jewish population lives in regions where Maidan is, to put it mildly, unpopular. Don’t you want to bring differing points of view together, start a dialogue – not with the government or the majority of the population – but within your community?

– It’s a shame, unbearable. They’ve already urge me on to say a “Heil!” salute. This is a complete misunderstanding of a civil position. I consider the presence of Jews on Maidan not just the sanctification of the name of our Creator – it is the dialogue of Jewish people with the future government. This is what would help Jews live and work in this country. And it is a significant counterweight to those who shout about it being “a non-Jewish cause”. With God’s help, when I can show my face then nobody will say that the Jews holed up.

I see miracles from the Almighty every day on Maidan. One night, we detained a muscular man saying he was searching for a pharmacy. We thought he was a titushka, a provocateur. I came over to him and asked what was the matter. He complained of severe cramps (kidney stones), and that he needed an injection right away. I accompanied him personally to a makeshift hospital at Ukrainian House where they gave him a shot and the man started feeling better.

But there are real provocations – like in the case of the “Dnipro” hotel arson. I was lucky to stop the fire fast with snow bags – the Ministry of Emergencies of Ukraine emergency workers arrived 50 minutes later, when the fire was already put down.

– Have you discovered anything new about yourself, other people, and your country after two months of Maidan?

– I was a bit scared in my ability in emergency situations to guide hundreds of people; in civilian life I have never had such an experience.

As for the atmosphere – I remember how on my first day on Hrushevskoho I approached a barricade and a complete stranger suddenly gives me something saying: “It’s for your throat.” I look at it – it is a cough drop.

Another time, I was standing by Ukrainian House when I saw a strange group of people – I approached them and asked where they were from. One of them says, forgive us, we are praying here – for the people, for peace…

It is wonderful. At the end of the day, living in this country has been worth it – because we’ve lived to see the Maidan. It amazes me, the absence of barbaric behavior, since 12,000 interior troops that stand guard on Maidan and Hrushevskoho could turn everything within a 10 km radius [6 miles] to dust. A lost soccer match brings a lot of damage to a European city. There are no aspirations toward the vandalism and destruction of shops, it is a sign of a healthy nation, that it is not so hopeless as it looked six months ago. This responsibility is very well worth it, at any point on the globe such events would cause tragic consequences – look at Bosnia. And if after all these events people have not lose their human face, then we have matured and we have a future.

The Maidan in the heart of the Ukrainian capitol of Kiev/Kyiv is like a little country within a turbulent Ukraine with people living in tolerance and respect for each other with the common cause of standing up against corruption, greed and discrimination. With the help of the Maidan’s Self-Defence team the future of Ukraine is bright – a beacon of hope for all of humanity especially for the many blinded by dirty and blood money. This is a fight for Human values and Ukrainians of all backgrounds shall overcome!