Summer tourists take in the sites of Kyiv′s Maidan revolution | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 30.05.2014
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Summer tourists take in the sites of Kyiv's Maidan revolution

As Ukraine forms a new government, Kyiv's independence square, the Maidan, remains occupied by activists. However, visitors can now take a special tour of the Maidan's tents, barricades and battlegrounds.

The area around the Maidan in the heart of Kyiv is one of the city's main tourist attractions. But while the political upheaval in Ukraine might deter international visitors, for US$50 (around 35 euros) tourists can take a new walking tour of the Maidan and meet people who are literally still manning the barricades.

Olena Klimova has worked as a professional guide in Kyiv for around 10 years. She usually starts the tour on the city's best known boulevard, Khreshchatyk, beneath the marble plinth that used to support a stature of Lenin until it was torn down by demonstrators in December 2013.

Klimova finds leading a tour through her home city, where history is literally unfolding before her eyes, is very challenging. Before each tour she makes sure to check buildings and tents around the Maidan to get a sense of the atmosphere and adapt her tour if necessary.

"I know that every night, anything can change," Klimova says.

She also draws upon the stories of her first hand experience of participating in the protests that ousted Viktor Yanukovych. But she's also conscious that not all of her customers will agree with her interpretation of events.

"With foreigners it's very easy because I just have to be very direct with them. And with Russians, who receive news in Russian, sometimes it can be a mental fight."

Maidan Tour Kyiv Ukraine

Barricades of bricks, tyres and sandbags remain in place along Instytuka Street where dozens of protestors were shot dead by snipers in February

Meeting the people of the revolution

To enter the area still inhabited by people living in tents and occupied buildings around the Maidan, you need to pass through fortified check points guarded by camouflage-clad men.

Outside a large green army tent fenced off from the street to make a kitchen and living area, we meet Svetlana Skrypai, from the Cherkasy region in central Ukraine. The 21-year-old takes off her cap to show us the long scar on her head from being beaten by police.

Svetlana describes to us the hardship of living in a crowded tent. But she feels it will be worth it if there is real change in Ukraine. She's prepared to stay until the new Poroshenko government fulfils its promise to hold parliamentary elections later this year.

"I know if I manage to stay here, if we will manage to change the parliament, to introduce new people to the parliament, simple people the same as you and me, it will be easier for us to live," she says.

As we walk among the tents and make-shift compounds, many activists, particularly males, wear some form of camouflage military clothing. For some it's practical work wear for living in a tent months on end, for others it's clearly more of a uniform.

Klimova points out various emblems and flags flying over tents too. The red and black flag of the ultra-nationalist Right Sector is very prominent. Now a political party, the Right Sector is one of the most radical organizations present at the Maidan and its members were involved in violent clashes with police.

Outside many tents you'll also find ad-hoc displays of helmets, home-made shields, molotov cocktails, and usually a plastic donation box. Some groups are quite creative to solicit tips from passers-by. For example, offering tourists the chance to pose with them holding a Russian World War II-era sub-machine gun for an "unforgettable photograph".

Maidan Tour Kyiv Ukraine

For a small donation tourists can try on helmets and have an 'unforgettable photo' with a long term Maidan protestor

Further on in the middle of the Maidan, there is a sort of flea market atmosphere. Buskers, including a group of elderly women in traditional dress, play and sing for small crowds, and several stalls sell ribbons, scarves and caps in the Ukrainian national colors of blue and yellow.

Everywhere, tourists pose for photos or take 'selfies' with their mobile phones against the backdrop of what remains of the Maidan revolution.

Looking around there are huge piles of bricks, imposing barricades of tyres, wood and metal debris, the blackened shell of the Trades Union building, armored vehicles and make-shift shrines of candles and wilted flowers commemorating the dead.

A terrible memory

As we walk a little way up Instytuka Street, just behind the Maidan, my guide Olena describes how this street became a killing ground. Between 18-20 February, about 70 people, including riot police, were shot dead in this area as demonstrators clashed back and forth with police.

"The Maidan is located as if in a hollow so it was very easy for snipers to shoot from up the hill and from buildings," she says. "Sometimes they were not shooting directly at people but at the road and then it [bullets] ricocheted back to Maidan."

There is an ongoing investigation into the sniper shootings at the Maidan. Klimova says she still finds it very hard "to digest" what happened here. She also introduces me to Katja Kobko, a student activist. Kobko says she was beaten by police on February 18 and will never forget what she experienced on Instytuka Street.

The 20-year-old describes how police chased demonstrators down the street towards a barricade with a narrow passage. In the panic people fell upon each other.

"That was one of the most terrible things I've even seen because I found myself under this pile of people. And I have never heard men screaming like that," says Kobko.

Maidan Tour Kyiv Ukraine

A group of women in traditional dress sing Ukrainian folk songs on the Maidan.

Summer of uncertainty

To finish the tour, Olena sits me down outside a tent that serves sweet green tea or a simple slice of rye bread and pork lard to anyone who drops by. Kyiv's newly-elected mayor, Vitali Klitschko, says the goals of the Maidan protests have been achieved and it's time for demonstrators to leave. Here though, there's little talk among people of going home soon.

As the summer tourist season begins, the political upheaval and ongoing fighting in the east of Ukraine is likely to be disastrous for the country's tourism industry this year. Olena Klimova is however trying to remain optimistic.

"A year ago I had three, four tours a day. Now of course it drops and I have three or four tours a month and I am very happy when I have this opportunity. But I'm not depressed. I know that this is a period we have to pass and life will stabilize and everything will be good."

Leaving the Maidan, a young man plays a traditional folk song on one of the upright pianos that you'll find among the tents. He says the song is about a young partisan boy who dies fighting for Ukraine. People of all ages sing along as they pass by. It could be easy to dismiss a tour of the Maidan as just a gimmick. But for intrepid visitors it's perhaps a way of finding out more about Ukraine's ongoing crisis and a chance to see a revolution through the eyes of people who are still living it.

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