Flowers, karaoke and masked soldiers in a visit to Ukraine's capital
In Kiev’s Independence Square, the aftermath of a bloody revolution has left behind a strange beauty. Red roses adorn piles of charred black tires. A rainbow of votive candles lay before heaps of rusted metal, burnt wood, and other debris—remnants of barriers built by anti-government protesters against thuggish security forces. Beneath a lamp post punctured by bullet holes—snipers—lies the photo of a smiling young man and a splendid pile of flowers in his memory. In an auditorium at Kiev’s city hall, now manned round-the-clock by activists who feel their work remains incomplete, a young man in a bulletproof vest plays a gentle classical piece on a white piano.
These contrasts also stand in for Ukraine’s political reality, now a mix of wreckage and blooming hope three weeks after massive protests overthrow an authoritarian president who had spurned Europe for Russia’s orbit. An interim government has now replaced the reputedly corrupt Viktor Yanukovych, and elections are scheduled for May. But the economy is in crisis and the parliament is still packed with dubious characters. Talk of war hangs in the air like the smoke from the barrel fires warming the activists and self-defense volunteers still camped on the square, who say their work is unfinished. Russian President Vladimir Putin has seized the Crimean peninsula, and may have designs on other parts of Ukraine’s pro-Russian east. Kiev’s anxious residents are left to wonder whether their future holds more flames than flowers.
Elena, as we’ll call her, is a 25-year-old lawyer here. She grew up in the pro-Russian east but studied in the UK on a scholarship. Smartly dressed in a grey tweed jacket and black-framed glasses, Elena estimates that she filled two dozen Molotov cocktails during the protests. She also volunteered in a makeshift hospital, witnessing injuries like she’d never seen before.