Saturday, December 11, 2004

Friday night rounds

My wife and I went out last night to see what was going on around the government buildings and on Independence Square. We took the subway downtown and rode the long escalator up to the entrance near the national bank and the presidential administration building. It was late afternoon but the sun had already gone down.

On an earlier visit to the street on which the presidential administration building is, the place where the large numbers of riot control police were standing in ranks to prevent any entrance, I had visited at about the same time. The sun had set, it was dark. While walking down that street, the feeling had been surreal. Tents on either side with blankets and sleeping bags out airing. Tarps stretched over provisions in-- and out of—crates. Music blaring loudly and a big screen showing the Rada that was in session that evening. . And a smoky haze hanging over everything from the fires that were burning in what looked like fifty gallon drums halved. Down at the end, near the troops, more tents and more people that had come to look and to take pictures. But two lines of men about fifteen feet apart kept people separated from the troops. About twenty yards behind them, the troops were double ranked one at about every arm’s length.

Take away the gawkers, me included, and the whole thing would have looked like a bivouac for a reenactment of one of the wars this century. All of this on a street that carried the president and others to the president’s official building to conduct the affairs of state. It would be like finding an extensive encampment along Downing Street or on the sidewalks surrounding the White House.

But last night was a little different. The tents were there but there were not as many. It looked like the rest that were standing were being prepared to be taken down. Fires were still burning in the half drums and a smoky haze still hung around the place but it was not as much as it had been. There was no loud music except for a radio that someone had turned on in his car. And down at the end near the troops, we found a lot less people come to take pictures, no double line of men to keep then separated—a makeshift wall has been put up to do that—and less troops, a single line with one every five or so feet.

On our way out, we passed by a tent and a woman called out asking if I was an American. I said I was and she said we ought to take a picture there. I stood by the closest tent and she got on one side and a fellow from that tent got on the other. My wife took the picture.

We started talking to the guy after we were done. He said he was from Donetsk, the area which is the seat of the secession talk. But he was not living in Donetsk now but in Kirovograd south of here about 120 miles. He had been here since December 2nd living in the encampment and had had to ask for vacation time from work to be able to do it. (He has a few more days.) His family did not even know he was in Kiev.

I told him that I was amazed by the whole thing, that I didn’t think Ukrainians would do it. He said that he hadn’t thought so either. They had planned that students would demonstrate but to have ended up with men and women of all ages, including grandmothers and great-grandmothers, was something that was surprising. I told him, “Good job. Very good job.” He looked pleased by that. He should have been.

We went from there to see what was happening at the Rada. Tents were still there too surrounded by a wall of plastic Styrofoam in squares. Each square contained some graffiti about Kuchma or Yanukovych or both. And again, the smell of wood smoke.

When we asked one of the guards near the entrance to the Rada, about a hundred yards from the encampment, whether things were easier now, he said, “No question.” And he smiled. Must have been relieved.

Walking down the hill from there, we passed by the Cabinet Ministry building. It is a large building, imposing, with a faux colonnaded fa├žade that makes it look like it owes something to the Greeks, much like any other public building in the world. As a matter of fact, on the roof to one side there is an obelisk, a small version of the Washington monument. Though that isn’t Greek it does look like an attempt to tie this into antiquity in some way. All of this ornamenting a building built during the height of the Soviet Union. Looks like they couldn’t completely break away from the past.

No one was there either. The guards were there a handful of them but there were no protestors. We had heard that the drum bangers would still being pounding away and would continue to pound until the election. But they were nowhere to be seen. Across the street in the park up above, to our right as we walked down, we could see the tents of another encampment. And we could smell wood smoke. But there was no one to be seen.

There were though cars driving past on the street. One in particular stopped in the road in front of the ministry building and honked his horn, one of those horns that has an elaborate, in-your-face kind of tune. It was like something cars would do in the US to harass pedestrians, but this guy was doing it to harass anybody at the ministry building. It looks like he has got the taste of a little bit of license in the face of authority—something new here-- and was expressing himself. He stayed there until he was whistled away by the police. No guns drawn for having been too close to an official building, no surrounding of the car, and no ticket. Just a whistle to get him to move on along.

On down the street and around to the square, we found the stage was still there though not being used. And we found a few people, even fewer than there would normally be on a Friday night. (Maybe people have revolution fatigue?) But there were people there and later some were gathered in front of the stage on the street that bisects the square—Kreschatik—talking politics in little groups. There were probably fifty or so there, old and young, all talking politics. It was something to see. It was not the hundreds of thousands there had been a few days earlier but it was an interesting thing to see anyway, people gathered in front of the stage there near Independence Square talking about politics.

The tent city was still in the middle of the street further down but there was work going on. It looked like some of the tents had been taken down and some others were in the middle of being taken down. We had heard earlier that the mayor had asked for the tents to be moved to the sidewalk so that the traffic could flow again down Kreschatik. It looked like the protestors were obliging.

The impression is that things are more back to normal than of course they were for the seventeen days. The thing is though as I was telling my wife up near the presidential administration building, we are probably never again going to be able to see that spot or any of the other spots that had been the focus of attention during the revolution, in the same way again.


Anonymous said...

"never.. going.. see that spot.. in the same way again."(later - this post may, or may not, be a duplicate - because the original has not shown up... like several others I've tried to post in the past)

I've been keeping an eye on that spot - from here in California - sometimes peeking at it several times a day - via THIS LINK at the WebCam provided by 1plus1 TV. Hitting reload will provide the next available image. Right now, at 4:10PM Kyiv time, there are several dozen people 'hangin' out' in front of the stage.

I'll think the WebCam will probably be there until after the re-re-re-election of Yushchenko on Dec. 26th - and I hope for a while after that!

Anonymous said...

One thing about that street intersection... there seems to be no traffic light. Sometimes I think I can make out an officer directing traffic, but often it's just kind of 'go-when-someone-decides-to-let-you.. maybe' - amazing stuff. I saw one bus, with a little tiny red car behind it, that took fifteen minutes to cross the middle of the intersection!

Anonymous said...

'That spot' has become very famous - across the world - and I'll wager few will forget it outside Ukraine, as well.

Anonymous said...

Scott - I think the no-show-post problem ~could be~ browser related. I use FireFox, because I hate the MikySoft mess. I found that after the comment tally number increases, the post was still not visible on clicking on the comments link - but, a reload at that point made it appear. I've given it a good workout this AM (your eve, same day) and I've been able to see all posts execept one - that just never showed up at all. I've not found a possible 'cockpit problem' at this end to explain it - but, there may be one. I'll use other browsers to see if it happens again, let you know results...

Anonymous said...

Great descriptions, Scott. This whole affair has made me miss Kiev so much, and it's nice to go walking around with you and your wife to see how things are settling down there (at least for a little while).


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