Three stories of participants of Revolution of Dignity fighting against Russia today

21 November 2022, 06:36 PM
Three stories of defenders of Ukraine who participated in the Revolution of Dignity (Photo:NV)

Three stories of defenders of Ukraine who participated in the Revolution of Dignity (Photo:NV)

The Revolution of Dignity began in Kyiv overnight on Nov. 22, 2013, starting a cascade of events that have changed the country and the people living in it forever.

Ukrainians came to the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) to protest against the rejection of the European course by the then President Viktor Yanukovych.

The protest continued day and night and spread from the capital city to the entire country.

Overnight on Nov. 30, when there were about 400 people on the Maidan, mostly students, they were surrounded by armed fighters of the Berkut special riot police unit. The latter violently dispersed the demonstrators – they were chased and beaten even hundreds of meters from the Maidan. About 80 protesters were injured.

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The Ukrainian public were shocked and outraged, and more than a million Ukrainians came out to protest in Kyiv. Some rally participants joined the protests in the capital from different regions.

The most tragic stage of the Revolution of Dignity took place on Feb. 18-20, 2014. Then, using firearms, the security forces killed more than 100 people in the capital’s centre, several dozen went missing, and more than 1,000 protesters were injured.

After the brutal executions of the revolution’s participants, Yanukovych and his entourage fled the country.

On the ninth anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity events, NV spoke with three of its active participants – Vitaliy Kuzmenko, Yevhenia Zakrevska, and Bohdan Masliak, who are currently defending Ukraine in the war against Russia.

They talked about what the revolution had become for them, about their most important memory from the Maidan, the decision to go to war, their impressions of serving at the front, and shared their thoughts on how the battle with the aggressor country would end.

Their answers are given in the form of a first-person narrative.

Nine years of challenges

Vitaliy Kuzmenko

military intelligence officer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (Фото: NV)
military intelligence officer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine / Photo: NV

The events of the Revolution of Dignity determined the vector of our movement, the development of our state and how we will live in the future. From today’s height, we can see what changes are taking place (in the country): they are going slower than we would like, but we still can choose our future and develop rather than returning to the quagmire from which we got out in 1991.

Now (the Russians) are trying to drag us back into this swamp. (The revolution) is one of the elements of the formation of our modern nation, political and democratic, with the values with which we live, and with which our children will live.

For me personally, the revolution has been a constant period of challenges from that time until today. Because first there was a revolution, then the war began, and later I was in the ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation) until 2016, and I have had to fight again since Feb. 24. This is a certain responsibility that you take upon yourself: if you have already become involved in defending certain values, a certain direction, accordingly, you have to constantly make efforts for this throughout the years.

The most important memory from the Maidan is the people and the sense of community that existed during the revolution (especially at the protests), mutual support, mutual help and purposefulness of people who understood why they were there and that everyone had to work together to achieve a result. For Ukraine, this was a rare case of such unity. Later on, it became clear that this is not rare for us, but it happens most often when there are certain external challenges.

Ukrainians are quite strong individualists, everyone has their own opinion, and that’s normal. We can quarrel quite often inside the country, but we always unite when someone from outside comes telling us what to do, how to live, etc. Actually, this is such a certain national character trait.

Vitaliy Kuzmenko (second from the left) during the protests of the Revolution of Dignity (Фото: via FB Viktor Ogneviuk)
Vitaliy Kuzmenko (second from the left) during the protests of the Revolution of Dignity / Photo: via FB Viktor Ogneviuk

If to talk about the events of the revolution, I had to go through almost all of them. But I remember the most the night of Nov. 30 (Vitaliy was severely injured as a result of being beaten by the Berkut forces). I was still a young student, and that night I felt for myself how they were trying to turn us (as I perceived at that time) into Belarus, a totalitarian state, where expressing one’s own thoughts is already a crime.

And the feeling that came on Dec. 1: being in hospital, I saw the reaction of society, which opposed such prospects for itself. This is something that sticks in your memory and stays with you. Unfortunately, I had to go through tougher events in the future that took place during the unfolding of the revolution, because the events escalated and even in February, they were not much different from what happened later at the front.

I have had an open wound since the revolution: a final legal verdict on these events. Even though so much time has passed and even in the current conditions, this (issue) is still not closed. This is a negative factor that remains with us, we cannot calmly move on, without looking back at every anniversary of the revolution, that, after all, judgments and responsibility for these events have not been legally passed. And the problem is that even in the conditions of war, this issue is not closed. Although, when, if not now?

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I went to the front in 2014 and stayed there until 2016

I had a natural motivation (both then and on Feb. 24) to protect my home, to protect my relatives from the attack that was taking place from Russia. Although before the start of the war, I never thought that I would end up in the army, I never planned it, I had completely different plans for life. But when the time demands to protect your country, there is no such a question “to go or not to go,” but another one – in which unit and what skills you need to be effective in battle.

I started my service in a volunteer unit on the basis of the UNA-UNSO organization, then I served in the already formed 54th intelligence unit and ended my service in the 121st separate intelligence battalion. I’m currently serving in the south. Since Feb. 24, I initially took part in the defense of Kyiv – we fought north of the capital city on the right bank of the Dnipro River, then I ended up in the south in Kherson Oblast. Now I’m no longer in the operative unit but have a slightly different line of work. But in fact, since Feb. 24, I have already changed several units, moving with the way our front is moving. I remain in the structure of military intelligence.

The more you fight, the more your perception of what is happening directly on the front atrophies.

How this war will end is a rather multifaceted question. In any case, it will end with our victory. We can already say that we have won. But for this to become a fact, will have to make great efforts and sacrifices. Because what is unfolding now since Feb. 24 is a continuation of those events that preceded it (since 1991, when Ukraine regained its independence).

Many people blame (Russian dictator Vladimir) Putin for this war and that it is his decision to wage war, but it is a reflection of the expectations of Russian society in general. Because, if we consider other rulers of Russia, who among them was different from Putin? They didn’t really have any differences: it’s just that someone had more opportunities and tried to capture their neighbors, and someone just tried to keep the territories they conquered.

Vitaliy Kuzmenko

Photo: Vitaliy Kuzmenko

Therefore, this is not a fight against Putin and his entourage, but against Russia and its senseless in the 21st century imperialism in the perception of society.

But they have now mobilized 300,000 people, and I think they will mobilize the same number and send them to slaughter. They are also trying to transfer their economy to military lines. Only after all this does not help them, after they understand the fatality of defeat, our victory will come.

Maidan was saying ‘no’ to dictatorship

Yevhenia Zakrevska

a lawyer for the families of the Heavenly Hundred Heroes, an aerial reconnaissance officer in the 92nd mechanized brigade (Фото: NV)
a lawyer for the families of the Heavenly Hundred Heroes, an aerial reconnaissance officer in the 92nd mechanized brigade / Photo: NV

The Maidan was a test of the strength of the legal concepts and theories that I learned at the university, which I believe are correct and without which it is difficult for me to imagine myself as a lawyer. Human Rights. Social contract. Rule of law. Theory of the state and law. Freedom of speech. The right to peaceful assembly. The right to self-defense. The right to revolt. In fact, I won for myself the right to continue to call myself a lawyer in this country and proved (first of all to myself) that my activity is not devoid of meaning.

After all, I cannot imagine that I would continue to work as a lawyer in a country where, after the night of Nov. 30, 2013, blood was simply washed off the Maidan, the knocked-out teeth were fixed, a couple of dozen protesters were arrested in addition to hundreds of beaten and broken ones, and they would formally deny in the official statements the detention of “some lawbreakers.” And everyone else would just accept it. And that was the most likely scenario. It was practically inevitable. I have already seen this in neighboring countries. But I physically could not allow this to happen to us, to me.

Yevhenia Zakrevska (second from the left) during the protests on Independence Square
Photo: Yevhenia Zakrevska (second from the left) during the protests on Independence Square

The evening of Feb. 18 (became the most important memory for me). The storming of the Maidan (was taking place). The barricade (laid) across Khreshchatyk Street. I was standing 10 meters from it. There were 15-20 people at the barricade. Four of them were my friends. Two of them were minors. And I’m standing, following their heads – helmets, I see how an armored personnel carrier is crashing into a barricade, how people are falling from the barricade, I freeze, I looked closely – not my friends. And I realize that now these 20 people, a quarter of whom are my friends, and half of whom are minors, are all those who protect the Maidan from this side, who protect me in particular. These are just these ordinary guys. And I understand how much everything depends on each of them. From each of us.

I found myself at the front 10 months ago – on Feb. 24, when the full-scale invasion began. When the Russian army was a few dozen kilometers from Kyiv. When one day I lost the opportunity to work as a lawyer because the courts stopped working. And when there was a real threat of the encirclement and capture of my city. When I imagined what we later saw in reality in Bucha and Irpin. My personal motivation was very simple – to get a gun and be able to shoot back in case of anything. And I went to the territorial defense’s collection point. I signed a contract and received a machine gun.

They say there are three typical natural responses to danger: freeze, run or fight. I did not consider the option of running away, it contradicts my entire worldview. This is my favorite city, my country. Why should I run away and leave everything to the barbarians? Dying was very scary, it was the threat of being helpless.

Yevhenia Zakrevska
Photo: Yevhenia Zakrevska

I’ve been afraid to hide under the blanket since childhood: when someone knocks on the window at night, I definitely have to get out and check. All I had to do was fight. Or at least to be ready to fight: to have a weapon, to have my own place and role in the ranks of those who will fight. Know what to do.

Perhaps this is my innate reaction to danger. Or maybe it is not innate but acquired.

[Strongest impression from serving on the front?] The process of adjusting, searching, and observing the targets is really a gamble.

How do I see victory? Ukraine returns to the borders of early 2014. And both the Crimea, and the Donbas, and all other captured regions are freed from the Russians. A demilitarized zone (should be) several dozens or hundreds of kilometers deep from our border into the former Russian Federation. Russia ceases to exist as a country. Forever. Russia’s successor countries pay adequate compensation for the damage caused, and our country is being rebuilt at their expense. They are forbidden to have weapons, not only nuclear weapons, but any strategic weapons in general. Other countries agree not to sell weapons to these territories. And adhere to these agreements. And, you know, that’s really what it comes down to. After all, calls to the Armed Forces of Ukraine to go to the Kremlin and free them from Putin are increasingly heard from the liberal Russian public. And even claims, what are we still delaying and shifting the responsibility for it to them.

I wanted a future for my children

Bohdan Masliak

a marine of the 503rd Separate Battalion (Фото: NV)
a marine of the 503rd Separate Battalion / Photo: NV

The Revolution of Dignity was a defense of our rights, our path. It was spontaneous. It was not planned. I was abroad on vacation when it all started. I saw the beating of the students (on Nov. 30) and made a decision. It’s like, you know: children are beaten, our people are beaten – we must protect them. Also, we know very well what kind of regime it was, where it could lead us, and we are actually now sorting out the consequences of this. This once again emphasizes that we were right and were following the right path. So, it was for me… I wanted a future for my children.

What is most etched in my memory from the Maidan is how we pulled out the wounded, who actually died in our arms. The last three days of the revolution, starting on Feb. 17, 2014, merged into one day for me. The most vivid memory is when I tried to stop two people who were moving up Instytutska Street (place of mass massacre). They were closer behind the barricade, I saw that they (security forces) were already shooting, and I did not manage to stop them, they just did not react to me. And they were already being carried back (dead). It’s one of those vivid memories because it shook me that I could have somehow stopped them, but it didn’t work, unfortunately.

Bohdan Masliak is standing with his back towards the camera, wearing a grey jacket and holding a plywood shield
Photo: Bohdan Masliak is standing with his back towards the camera, wearing a grey jacket and holding a plywood shield

Since 2014, I volunteered and was at the front probably more often than some people served. But once I signed a contract with the 503rd marine battalion as a reservist.

I have been at war as a marine since Feb. 24, 2022. Since I’m a contract soldier, we were notified around Feb. 20 when we must be in the unit. So, when it all started, we were ready to leave the same day.

The fact that we are having success in some areas of the front is very wonderful. But in reality, we depend on many factors, not only what is happening at the front. The feats of the people who are at the front and doing this war are superimposed on the country’s foreign and economic policy. That is, the aid we receive is also based on the successes of the Ukrainian army. If we were not successful, no one would help us much.

Bohdan Masliak (left)
Photo: Bohdan Masliak (left)

If you remember the entire chronology of events, no one believed in us at the beginning of the invasion. At that time, many believed that we would not last even a week. But it turned out as it turned out. And here we are fully dependent on the help of NATO countries. Whether we want it or not. Because we did not prepare for war during all the years of independence. Since 2014, when the war began, we have not been preparing for a full-scale war. Neither the previous nor the current president believed in it.

The full-scale destruction of Russia as an enemy would be a victory. I understand this is not very realistic if we take the current situation. At least, I would like to throw them (Russians) out of our country. Then we will feel that we have won. And the maximum program is to destroy Russia as a nation. Because years will pass, and it’ll all start again. If we look back in history, we can see that they lick their wounds, recover, and start the same thing again. As soon as they feel that they are stronger than someone, they come and take what they need.

Unfortunately, the war won't be quick.

Therefore, I wish that they would hear the air raid alerts very often in Moscow, that they would feel all this horror and pain that our people are currently suffering.

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