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On The Maidan: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

A woman takes a picture of an armoured vehicle left as a monument on Kyiv's Independence Square, known as the "Maidan."
A woman takes a picture of an armoured vehicle left as a monument on Kyiv's Independence Square, known as the "Maidan."
KYIV -- Under the blazing sun, a patchwork of flags and anti-Putin banners flutter in the breeze from the metal frame of Kyiv's Christmas tree, which still overlooks Euromaidan's sprawling, barricaded tent encampment.

Mornings on Kyiv's Independence Square are a surreal blend of rural and urban. Outside a grubby tent pitched on tarmac, a topless man in combat trousers is feeding pigeons.

Another, smoking a cigarette with a dustbin bag around his loins, appears to be washing in the fountain. And another man stands next to a pile of firewood and calls out to his small puppy "Maidanchik" (Little Maidan) as it scampers past a small memorial to those who died during the protests.

For over six months, the center of Kyiv has woken up to Maidan and its changing moods: from its festival atmosphere in early December to the grief-stricken horror of the February killings and its slide into a lazy scruffiness now.

And it could soon finally all come down. Many have come to see the activists camping out months after the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych as the people's guarantee that politicians don't betray the uprising. Activists swore to remain until the presidential election and no politician has dared hint the activists might disperse. That is, until today.

Vitali Klitschko, the former world heavyweight boxing champion who exit polls suggest won a landslide victory in the Kyiv mayoral election on May 25, said the encampment had saved Ukraine from "dictatorship," but that it had now run its course.

"I am sure the barricades have now served their purpose and have to be taken down," Klitschko said. "Kyiv must gradually return to normal life and concentrate its efforts on carrying out reform so that this reform happens as soon as possible."

We Won't Get Fooled Again

The views from Maidan, however, were mixed on this score a day after Petro Poroshenko, the billionaire confectionary magnate, swept to an apparent first-round victory in Ukraine's presidential election.

A memorial to a man who died during the protests.
A memorial to a man who died during the protests.
Activists like Viktor Labaz, 54, who told RFE/RL in April that the encampment would disperse after elections, are now pushing for it to stay for longer.

While acknowledging the legitimacy of Poroshenko's apparent victory, Labaz plans to remain on the square at least until his inauguration. He wants concrete signs of progress, including lustration of officials tied to the old regime, the dissolution of parliament, and snap legislative elections.

"The Maidan is a cult -- an institute of Ukraine's new civil society," Labaz, a Kyiv-based activist with the People's Movement of Ukraine, says. "The Maidan wants to control the action of the authorities. We don't want a repeat of 2004 [the Orange Revolution] when everyone dispersed and for everything to turn out as it always does -- or even worse," he explains. "This isn't the kind of situation when we can just peacefully go home and expect the 'good tsar' to do this or that."

Activists like Rostik Shcherba, 33, a construction worker from Lviv who has camped on the Maidan for months as part of the "Iron Hundred" self-defense brigade, agrees -- and added that he doesn't intend to leave.

He expressed doubts about Poroshenko's past. The president-elect was a founder of the Party of Regions, served as a minister under Ukraine's last three presidents, and his confectionary empire makes him effectively an "oligarch."

"What did people here die for?" asks Shcherba. "We won't go until we see that they are doing something for people. That they are giving people work."
A water cannon truck that was captured and destroyed by activists still stands on the square.
A water cannon truck that was captured and destroyed by activists still stands on the square.

Others like Artur, a 27-year-old bartender from the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk who has been on the square since December 25, thinks it's time to go home. Kyiv, he says, is "fed up" with the encampment.

"This isn't the Maidan it was. It's just a way to live for people who shouldn't live here," Artur, who declines to give his last name, says. "There are new authorities. Let them organize defense for people. It's time to go home.

"The people with wives, jobs and children back home came here, fought and went back home. If they have to come back, then people will come. There's nothing to do here apart from sit around," he continues. "And then there's the sanitary issue. Now there's the sun and the barricades are just dirt. It'll lead to infection."

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