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Maidan through the eyes of an artist

Angus Paterson, BerlinJuly 4, 2014

Kyiv's Maidan was the site of clashes between anti-government activists and Ukrainian authorities in early 2014. Artist Mariya Diordichuk took her paintbrushes to the frontlines to document the revolution through art.

Kunstwerke von Mariya Diordichuk
Image: Andrew Komashko

DW: Ms. Diordichuk, you are a Ukrainian artist and you recently created a collection of paintings in the middle of the protests and clashes at Kyiv's Independence Square, also known as the Maidan. You painted your works of art among flying bricks, Molotov cocktails and exploding grenades. How did you end up at the frontlines of the revolution?

Maria Diordichuk: I am from Kyiv and I was living there the whole time. But at the end of January, when the situation escalated, when the first grenades were thrown and the first blood was shed, I felt I could not really stand aside anymore. Until the very end nobody believed that the situation would turn so violent, so everybody was very shocked when it happened. And that's when I decided to get involved as well and to move closer to Maidan, to a place called the Ukrainian House, where activists were living together during the protests.

And how exactly did you get involved?

I think what's important is that everybody plays their part by doing what they are best at. I'm not a solider, I am an artist. So I wanted to do what I do best - which is to create art. I wanted to depict these events through my paintings. In our age of the Internet, there is so much false information circulating. I figured that it would be my contribution to depict the events as they were, as I saw them. And you cannot do that in a safe place somewhere, you have to be at the frontline.

Kunstwerke von Mariya Diordichuk
Mariya Diordichuk started painting the Ukrainian revolution right at the barricades in January 2014Image: Pavlo Habarov

So I was there every morning for nearly two months, sometimes during the day and sometimes at night. I didn't only paint what I wanted to, but I also volunteered to do riot slogans, make some banners and posters for Maidan. I was working together with the other Maidan protestors, and I felt all of a sudden that I was a part of this. I felt like this is where I belong, and I couldn't leave.

Was there a part of you that wanted to flee from the violence?

I didn't want to run away, because I realised that we were standing for the future of our country, and we were the only ones who could build this future. So I couldn't run away. I was like a drop in the ocean; all of a sudden, it really mattered what people did, and I could not just stand aside. It felt like the whole capital was mobilized and stood together. It was very moving to see, people who never, ever before in their lives took part in something like this, all of a sudden wanted to help, they came to Maidan and they participated.

So how can we picture life at the barricades in the midst of the protests?

In the beginning there was a sense of euphoria; I felt I had a lot of support from other people, but that was before people began to die. Then I realised that I could be killed, so it was an entirely different feeling. Every time I went to the barricades I thought, what if this is the last time? It became really overwhelming, and then eventually you almost get used to all of the chaos.

Kunstwerke von Mariya Diordichuk
Mariya created the painting "Suspense" while waiting for the confrontation at the barricades to begin.Image: Mariya Diordichuk

What were some of the important events that ended up in your paintings?

There is a painting called "Suspense." I was in a particularly emotional stage when I made this painting, because nothing was really happening and we were just waiting. We didn't really know what to expect, and that was very emotional. When something is going on, you know you have to respond, you have to react in a certain way. You have to run, you have to help, you have to do something. But when it is this strange period of nothingness; that is difficult.

That was the first painting that was analyzing the situation; after that it became quite emotional, because people started to die, and things got crazy. The colors were big emotional strokes that were meant to capture the emotion of the moment, and not very much rational at all.

The painting "Forefather" was painted when one of the protesters was taken by the special police forces, and then publically undressed and also beaten. Somebody filmed that, and the video ended up on YouTube and everybody knew about it. I was so very shocked by the fact that in 2014 the police can just catch an activist and undress him and do things like that, it was unbelievable. The fact that he took it with dignity inspired a lot of people.

Kunstwerke von Mariya Diordichuk
Mariya painted "Forefather" after a protester was seized and publicly humiliated by the Berkut special police force.Image: Mariya Diordichuk

I know that at one point you were injured by shrapnel in your eye. Did this make the threat of the situation feel a lot more real?

It hurt very much, and I was very scared. But what was even more overwhelming was that I had to lie to my mother about it. I did not tell her right away; I told her I was somewhere safe, but really I was still at Maidan and helping the activists. For me, this was more overwhelming than being hurt. The injury did heal in the end, but I still have a small blind spot and will need surgery.

How do you feel about the events that have transpired since in Eastern Ukraine?

I believe that it is not something that happened overnight, the region was preparing for this for a very, very long time, many years before today. They watch Russian TV, and I do not think they had this very strong Ukrainian feeling. They did not support Maidan, or at least a lot of them did not. So that is not very surprising. However, it is also important to say there are a lot of people in Eastern Ukraine who are afraid, who do have this national feeling, but they don't do anything because they're scared. I am trying with my works to somehow show that we are there with you, we are all one. We think about you, and we have not abandoned you.

Kunstwerke von Mariya Diordichuk
Image: Vasyl Gudima

Mariya Diordichuk is a 27-year-old Ukrainian artist who has been involved in the art scene since she won her first competition in Oslo, Norway at the age of seven. After completing eight years of art college her works have been featured in private collections in Argentina, Japan, USA, Canada and the Czech Republic. She painted the 2014 Ukrainian revolution from the frontlines and a collection of 12 of her paintings has been showcased in Kyiv as well as the capitals of Estonia, Finland, and Denmark in June 2014 under the name "Freedom Colours." The organizers of "Freedom Colours" are currently working on exhibitions across Europe throughout the rest of 2014. Updates are available here.

Angus Paterson conducted the interview and Annushka Gurzhiy Hougaard contributed to the reporting.