When I left the metro station in Kyiv and walked to the main street it was very apparent that something big had happened. First I passed a giant Ukrainian flag hung in front of a department store in order to hide not so friendly graffiti aimed at the store’s owner and Vladimir Putin. (If you look carefully you can still see it behind the yellow band.)
It was as if all the previous signs of change I had witnessed in the seven places I had passed through before Kyiv were cumulatively concentrated in several hundred square meters. After the giant flag I came across a gang of self defence guys in assorted military uniforms just hanging out (and in the case of one banging his club against his shield in a fruitless effort to catch the attention of a young woman). The only interaction I had with a self defence member was when a guy offered me his poncho in the middle of a downpour. I declined of course, being Dutch I have learned to just ignore rain.
The atmosphere was weird. Not threatening, just weird. Maidan now feels more like a tourist attraction/place of remembrance than a real threat (despite the occasional Kalashnikov being toted). Improvised monuments are located every few meters. Every location where somebody got killed is marked, but besides this there is a plethora of crosses, flags, signs and seemingly random collections of objects like this memorial with a teddybear and a molotov cocktail.
The self defense guys, and the occasional self defense girl, hang out by their tents or just mill about. Sporadically they are drafted in by some tourists to take a picture or just have a chat. In the late evening Maidan has more of a camp atmosphere, with musicians playing acoustically, people bursting into the national anthem every once in a while, and a huge TV screen broadcasting the news to a dozen or so viewers. You’d almost forget the self-imposed mission of these militias: to safeguard the revolution.
The only thing I can compare Maidan to, is the atmosphere during the final weeks of the Occupy Wall Street movement, but with fewer junkies and more Kalashnikovs (not to overstate the amount of weapons on Maidan, but I don’t recall any protesters with automatic rifles at OWS sites). Some citizens of Kyiv say that the camp has served its purpose, and should pack up, others suggest that the tents should stay until the election result is clear. But just as was the case during the actual protests, walk 50 meters away from Maidan down the main street and you won’t notice anything weird about Kyiv. Sometimes it’s even less than 50 meters: this is a picture of the entrance of a partially burned out mall on the southern side of Maidan where the barricades start right outside the shopping center.