In Kiev, protesters are building a village

December 13, 2013

The thousands of Ukrainians who have committed themselves to the long-running protest on the Maidan, as they call it — Independence Square — are quite proud that no one is giving orders. It’s a three-week-old boomtown bursting with egalitarian yet individual initiative: everyone and anyone shoveling snow, tending fires in barrels, building barricades, passing out cups of tea, standing guard duty.

And, yes, pitching in where needed is a big part of what’s going on. But a lot of organization and attention to management went into this, too, and it has thrust a devoted band of activists into all-important roles needed to keep this thing going.

There’s Yevgenia Mosina, 21, who makes sure the kitchen stays up and running at City Hall, which the protesters have turned into a sort of dormitory, registration hall and distribution center. Donated food comes in every day in cartons large and small. Volunteers cook it. More volunteers serve it, free, out of a cloakroom. When the temperature outside drops into the single digits, as it did earlier this week, people need to eat, and heartily.

“I was trying to work three days without any sleep, and it’s really hard,” Mosina said. “And we have to try to support people, and smile all the time.”

She looked around the teaming municipal hall, filled with a damp haze coming off protesters’ coats as they warmed up. “We’re trying to be one big team — one big country,” she said. “It’s a period in my life when I’m very proud to be Ukrainian.”

The Post's Moscow Bureau Chief, Kathy Lally, explains why Ukrainians are protesting in the streets. (Sandi Moynihan/Kathy Lally, Sandi Moynihan and Terri Rupar)

There’s Darya Mykhailova, 19, who has gone to work in a converted souvenir stand on the Maidan, helping out-of-towners find free lodging. On a slow night, that might mean 500 to 1,000 people. Every day, cars and buses bring new recruits to the protest from around Ukraine, but especially from the western part of the country, where pro-European sentiment is strongest.

An exhibition center on the outskirts of Kiev has housed up to 5,000 people on the days of big weekend gatherings, she said. The Catholic cathedral, across the Dnieper River, can take up to 2,000. Residents of Kiev offer spaces in their apartments every day — the supply, in fact, is greater than the demand most nights.

And then there’s Volodymyr Honsky. He is the 47-year-old voice of the revolution, the speaker of the Maidan, the emcee, the counselor, the bard, the singer, the comedian, the cheerleader, the announcer of news.

Every day, from noon to seven, the big stage is his. He chooses speakers, he makes introductions, he croons a bit, he cracks jokes.

“I’ve been talking since 1989,” he said, during a brief still moment backstage. He said he was one of the first to reach the Maidan the day the protest started; he has a way with words, and somehow became the holder of the microphone.

He’s a political professional, with the opposition Fatherland party, but people have known him over the years because of his penchant for doggerel and wordplay and generally holding forth. Now, day after day, it all pours out, hours of talk when added together. He’s never at a loss for words, he said. “It’s a professional thing.”

“It’s the hardest work on the Maidan right now,” he said, in a way that sounded not immodest but just true. “The stress is bad for my health, but it gives me a real high.”

His task, as he sees it, is to keep people’s spirits up for the long haul. “They’re standing for hours in the cold. They’re miserable. Then, when I speak, they’re yelling along with me.”

Part of his job is to be the gatekeeper for the microphone, which means fending off a lot of people who shouldn’t get it. “It’s hard to find adequate speakers all the time,” he said. “So many are either nervous or out of their minds.”

Someone made a YouTube clip, splicing together different moments to make it appear Honsky was inciting violence. Now a criminal investigation has been opened against him, based on the clip.

“When I’m charged, don’t forget about me,” he said buoyantly.

“He is one of the most important symbols of the revolution,” said a friend, Yuri Hanushchak. “He can influence opinions more than most politicians can. He works and works and works, in a situation when an attack could occur at any minute.”

He also helps stop people from getting bored and wandering off, said Marta Vovchasta, a schoolteacher from the western city of Lviv who joined the protesters the other day. “He has a pure soul and a pure heart,” she said, “and his heart is breaking for Ukraine.”

Every night, Honsky drops into bed as soon as he gets home, exhausted. The material that keeps him going day after day is from 24 years of writing and thinking and composing. He’s too tired to work out anything new.

“After this revolution,” said Hanushchak, “we’ll go to the dacha and have a good long sauna.”

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