Maidan and War as a Process: No Silver Bullet but a Country that is Now Proud of its Identity

Mykhailo Wynnyckyj tells Oksana Smerechuk what it was like to be on the Maidan and the changes he sees since

Show hosts

Oksana Smerechuk


Mykhailo Wynnyckyj

Maidan and War as a Process: No Silver Bullet but a Country that is Now Proud of its Identity
Maidan and War as a Process: No Silver Bullet but a Country that is Now Proud of its Identity

Hello and welcome to Ukraine Calling, your weekly review of what’s been happening in Ukraine with a focus on a main issue. I’m Oksana Smerechuk for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv, and here’s a look at some of the stories that were in the news this week.

FOCUS INTERVIEW: Mykhailo Wynnyckyj tells Oksana Smerechuk what it was like to be on the Maidan and the changes he sees since.

Smerechuk:This week Ukraine commemorates the third anniversary of Maidan. When events came to a head on 18th -19th, than 20th of February, when there were snipers were shooting at the protesters and quite a number of deaths. Today’s guest of Ukraine Calling studio is Doctor Mykhailo Wynnyckyj, sociologist from Kyiv-Mohyla University. He is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, and Director of the Doctoral program. He also works with the Ukrainian CatholicUniversity Business School in L’viv. Raised in Canada, but he has been living in Kyiv for many years and he was here through the events of Maidan. So I’ve asked him in to share his insights with us on Ukraine today three years after these events. So, welcome!

Wynnyckyj: Thank you.

Smerechuk: Mykhailo, you were there on the Maidan three years ago. In fact, reporting from the Maidan. So, what is the strongest memory that remains with you to this day?

Wynnyckyj: Well, the simple answer to that one was that the strongest memory was witnessing someone get shot on February 19th, about three meters away from me. That actually wasn’t a sniper shooting. Because I saw the guy that did the shooting and I saw the guy fall beside me. It was at a time when Maidan was cut in half basically, when Berkut forces had moved forward. Had actually gotten all the way up to the Stella monument. And one of the, I loathe to call them, police officers, but one of the officers in a flak jacket, popped out from behind the Stella monument, the monument to Independence, and shot from a pump action shotgun. And the guy that was standing beside me, like I said about three meters away, fell. And it was at that point that I understood that it was probably time for me to leave. That’s probably the most poignant memory, but it’s also a very negative memory in fact.

I don’t want to focus on the negative. Because Maidan was very much a time of three months of protest, of uplifting, and an emotional rollercoaster. It was a time of national resurgence. It was a time of people power and it was a place where you went to, because everybody was welcome. I hate to sort of use the “Cheers” analogy, where everybody knows your name. It wasn’t like that. It was a solidarity and a feeling of being alive. I think that is probably the most important thing that every person that was on Maidan felt that he mattered or she mattered. And it was a very much feeling of, you know, there were signs that we put up that said, “Please excuse the inconvenience, we are changing the country.” That was a feeling that everybody was there to change the country, and we were there to do it together. One of the things I find, as a sociologist, most interesting, is that it was a leaderless kind of movement, because we rejected the leaders and were very skeptical to Yatseniuk, Tiahnybok, Klitchko, and Poroshenko but nevertheless.

Smerechuk: I was actually thinking that a lot of Westerners were wondering about the Ukrainians’ knack for self-organizing.

Wynnyckyj: I think that this is something that we’re starting to see now as a worldwide process. Ukraine was probably one of the first. I mean, obviously, the Arab spring was a very similar kind of protest movement, which also was basically leaderless. We are seeing protests in Korea at this point. We are seeing protests in Romania. And in every single case we’re seeing people rise up. Usually, by the way, corruption is a very good, rallying call for these kind of protests. There were anti-corruption protests very often. But they tend to be very flat, very leaderless, very network oriented.

I think Ukrainians were probably some of the pioneers of that. But I think we’re seeing a worldwide movement that I, as a sociologist, find very interesting and I think that it is something worth studying more. I think the skepticism of leaders on Maidan was something that has carried over last three years as well. And, unfortunately, there’s been a tendency when many of the Maidan activists have gone into the Government, and have tried to do something in terms of reforms. Some have been more successful, some have been less successful. But the one thing that they all talk about, because we are in a circle of friends there, we interact on a regular basis, one of the things that everybody talks about, is the fact that as soon as you go into the offices of power, even if you have the best of intentions, as soon as you go into government you’re consider to be… well, you’ve crossed to the Dark Side.

There’s a lot of skepticism from everyone for the first two minutes people are saying: “Ah, yeah, good! Finally we will see some changes!” Five minutes later you are the enemy. I think the skepticism of Ukrainians towards Government is something that we need to work on.

Smerechuk:But still, going back to the time of the Maidan, what did you observe? What kind of habits and methods that activists adopted on the Maidan? What techniques…

Wynnyckyj: One of the things we talked about that time Maidan was like a Sich. Another word it was like a sort of the recreation of the Kozak fortress, where everybody had something to do. It was very important that everybody find themselves something to do. It was necessary that someone was supposed to tell you what to, do but there was a lot of work to do, so people found something to do. Whether it was standing on the barricades, whether it was building the barricades, whether it was slicing sausages for sandwiches, whether it was bringing firewood for heating. Whatever it was, there was always something to do. And within the barricades it was a very much an insular kind of environment where you felt safe, first of all, and, secondly, you felt needed and that was something that was very important. The stage, in fact, really was sort of the focal point. It was only the focal point for a little while, in other words, from 7 to 9 in the evening, when the speeches were on. There was a lot more of the dynamic around Maidan because there was usually up to ten to fifteen thousand people that were literally living on Maidan for three months. They were not there for three month constantly. People were coming for a of couple weeks, then going back to their jobs, then coming in for a week again. But there was a rotation of people, and no-one was organizing this. It was all self-organized, which was really something that I think at that time was pretty unique. Like I said, I think we see this being a sort of trend now in other countries as well.

Smerechuk: And we see that this kind of organization is continuing, as you said, with people who now have gone to work in Government, perhaps?

Wynnyckyj: Yes. I think the major thing that has come out of Maidan is the birth of civil society. And this is something that we talked about after the Orange Revolution, about it supposedly being the birth of the civil society. But in fact, the birth of civil society organizations didn’t really happen. The civil society organizations that existed in the Orange Revolution were really very often funded by western organizations. They were very small. They were kind of small businesses that were hiding behind the label of NGO.

Today we actually see real volunteer organizations. Now, whether that’s a factor of the war, whether that is that a factor of the Maidan, whether both of them coming together, obviously demand brings supply. So, if you have a war going on, you need have volunteers. If you have a Maidan protest going on, you have to have volunteer movement that’s going to feed that protest. And that something that has happened, but the amazing thing is that it’s been sustained. So, it is not something that we got together on Maidan, we protested for three months, and then after that we all went home. We didn’t. People continued in various organizations. Sometimes those organizations fight against each other.

Sometimes we are starting to see a little bit of a destructive discourse, unfortunately, three years later. And the reasons are that, obviously, when we have various organizations, people do not always agree. And I think that there’s a lot of frustration, because people had higher expectations of change. Obviously a lot has changed in the country, but there are higher expectations. And there always would be, because if you have a protest movement, everybody is very maximalist. And like I said, we had this idea, we were changing the country, and therefore we were going to change the country tomorrow. Well, country of 40 million people doesn’t change overnight, particularly when it is at war. But changes are happening.

Smerechuk: What do you think, is this reasonable, and when you compare it [Ukraine] to other situations?

Wynnyckyj: Absolutely. Revolutions. For some reason we think of a revolution as being a sort of an event. The American Revolution started with the declaration of independence. It took thirteen years to get to the Constitution. The French Revolution started with the storming of the Bastille. It did not end there. It ended, unfortunately, with Napoleon, after going through a whole bunch of guillotines and Robespierre etc. The point is that revolutions are processes. Maidan was a culminating event that will be remembered in history as something that, unfortunately, ended with a hundred deaths.

But the reality is that after those hundred deaths came 10,000 deaths. And the process continues. In a war. But it also continues internally in the country. We’ve had massive changes in some areas. And we’ve had no changes in other areas. We’ve had massive changes in that we now have a police force that we can actually trust. Which is pretty amazing given where we were four years ago, where people would hide from the police, because the police were the enemy. We have changes happening in the school system, which I think are very long term changes. I’ve had some input into the university system changes, the autonomatization of the universities and the changes to the PhD system.

These are things that most people wouldn’t recognize, because they’ll take a while to have an effect. Changes are in the school system right now that I think are really positive: bringing in a new school system that’s called ‘Nova Ukrains’kaShkola’ [The New Ukrainian School]. These are some of the things that I can mention. Obviously there are many other things that are army related, and defense related, which are very, very positive.

But, if we talk about the police force being a very positive thing, we can also talk about the court system not changing being a very negative thing. So we now have a police force we trust but judges we don’t trust. So we’re about half way between where we want to be and where we came from. So, the revolution is a process, it will take some time. We have some very positive changes. What we need to remember is that the climax was really the start of the process. It wasn’t something that was bang, February 22ndYanukovch [former president] was gone and we live in a new country. It certainly felt that way, but long term, that’s not the way changes happen.

Smerechuk: Indeed, as you’re saying, Ukraine is still in this process. And you have some people being very dissatisfied, they perceive that things are not happening. Others can point out things that have been successfully changing. So for some the glass is half empty, for some it’s half full. So what do you think people feel, overall? Has this revolution, if I can say it that way, has it been successful? Or not?

Wynnyckyj: Well, apparently there’s this urban myth about someone walking up to Mao Tse-tung and asking him his opinion of the French Revolution and he said that not enough time has passed to be able to make a determination. I really do think that not enough time has passed to make a determination as to whether we have been successful. I think we’re on the right track. We’re in year three of probably a decade long process. We’ve had something that surprised the world. We’ve had two elections. We changed parliaments. We changed presidents. We have been able to build an army of 150,000 people that has stopped Russian aggression. Yes, we’ve lost some territory. The war is something that is taking up an awful lot of peoples’ minds, and for rightly reasons. Look we’ve had 10,000 deaths.

We don’t necessarily talk about the numbers injured. I came back from Kharkiv last night. I was travelling with a soldier, a sergeant who’s been in the war zone. He was there for a year, then he de-mobilized. Now he’s back, signed a contract again. He’s in Avdiivka. On January 10th a shell hit him in the back. Punctured his foot. A month and a half later, Monday, he’s back on the line. There are thousands, tens of thousands of stories like that, and it has literally touched every single family. Everybody understands that that’s Putin, but at the same time everybody also understands that that’s part of the Maidan story. And you can’t talk about the war without talking about the Maidan. It’s all part of one process. So there’s a lot of frustration. Obviously, it’s touched every single family. People are involved in volunteer work, people are involved in helping the war effort. People are frustrated because we were promised that the territory would be taken back. Now there’s a question do we take it back, do we not take it back, do we freeze the conflict. There’s a whole variety of things that are there.

At the end of the day, also, people’s lives have gotten worse, meaning economically. You don’t de-value a currency three times without everybody feeling this in their pocketbooks. So clearly, people are frustrated. And that is somewhat dangerous, because, obviously, frustration can turn into violence. But I don’t think we’re there yet. I don’t think we’re at that stage. I think we have enough positive things going on around us. And the new elites, the activists that have come out of the Maidan are still optimistic enough to be able to pull this through. And I think that’s something that’s very important. I’m, by the way, one of the optimists. I’m an incurable optimist when it comes to Ukraine.

Smerechuk: Maybe one of those people we’re waiting for here. So, from your optimistic perspective, what do you think would be one change that would be most convincing for ordinary Ukrainians?

Wynnyckyj: I think there’s no one thing. We’re always looking for silver bullets. One thing changes and the Maidan was a success. I think there’s a variety of things that have to happen. Again, we have to get into this process logic. It started as EuroMaidan. We weren’t EuroMaidan at the end of it, but it started as EuroMaidan. And you know, at the end of the day, a visa free regime is something that we’ve earned. That would be a major, major step. The ability to travel, the ability to see other countries without going through this really degrading process of getting a visa. I think that’s important. I think that the court system needs to change.

But again, is the court system going to affect the average person? Probably not. The average person is going to be affected by an improvement in their economic lot. And I think that one of the things that we’re seeing happening now is school reform, health care reform. But, in addition to that, we’re actually starting to see the economy grow. The last quarter of 2016 we actually had economic growth, and it was pretty significant, it was in the range of about 5%. So 2017 is going to be a year of finally growth, which means that the average guy on the street is going to see that things are getting a little better. They’re not going to get better overnight. Ukrainians are wonderful at complaining. I think that’s the genetic code of every single Ukrainian, by the way, throughout the world. Everything is really bad, and we love talking about how bad things are. I’m the opposite.

I see things that are moving in the right direction. This is a very different country than it was three and a half years ago. It’s a country that understands its own identity. It’s a country that is proud of that identity. And that’s part of the sacrifice of the Maidan. It’s no longer a victim culture, which I think is very important, which we used to have because of the Holodomor, because of the Second World War. Because of a lot of things in our history we had a victim culture. We’re not a victim culture anymore. We’re a pride culture. We’re a culture where we are proud of who we are, and that’s something that we need to build on. We’ve got a lot of things that we can be proud of. And people make sacrifices for that identity, that solidarity, for that ability to be proud later on. And that puts a huge amount of responsibility on us. We need to build this country. And I think that there’s a lot internal will in the Maidan activists, people who lived through the night of the 18th, the 19th, the 20th. People who decided that they were going to take responsibility upon themselves after that, and they continue to do that. There’s a lot of success stories. We need to communicate them better

Smerechuk: Will these thoughts and insights be appearing in your new book? I hear that you’re writing.

Wynnyckyj: Yes, I’m desperately trying to finish. I have two colleague who are academics who have just come out with their books. TarasKuzio has just announced his, and Alexander Motyl has just announced his. I’m trying to get mine to print by Easter and that means that it will hopefully be out by Christmas, because these things do take a little bit of time

Smerechuk: Do you have a title?

Wynnyckyj: Yes. The book will be called, very simply, Revolution and War. It will be about the Maidan and the first two and a half years after, till the end of 2016, about the reforms that have happened in Ukraine. Things that I have personally lived through and a bit of analysis.

Smerechuk: I’m looking forward to reading this.

Wynnyckyj: Thank you, I’m looking forward to finishing it!

Smerechuk: Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and ideas.

Wynnyckyj: Thanks Oksano for having me.

Smerechuk: And good luck with the book.

Wynnyckyj: Thanks!


This week, Ukraine commemorated the third anniversary of the violent end to the EuroMaidan protests. The Ukrainian winter of 2013-2014, that caught the world’s attention and imagination. Ukrainians taking to the streets and facing riot police to defend their European choice. And succeed in toppling an unpopular president, only to be invaded by neighbouring Russia in a stealth war.

According to Ukrainian prosecutors, 104 people were killed during the Euromaidan protests. They have become known as the Heavenly Hundred. Five of the youngest ones will now have their names on state scholarships. Ustym Holodniuk. Nazar Voitovych. Yuriy Popravka. Roman Huryk. Dmytro Maksymov. The scholarships were announced by Ukraine’s President Poroshenko on February 20th. That day he met with families of all those who died, and attended a special church service in their honour at the Mykhailivs’kyi Monastery. Others gathered in Kyiv’s center, at the site of the killings, to remember the victims.

A day earlier, on February 19th, a group of nationalists had organized a rally in central Kyiv. They called their event the March of Distrust, expressed their negative views towards the president and government, and clashed with police. Others expressed their discontent more peacefully. One of the biggest complaints in Ukrainian society is that not enough has changed after the sacrifices people made during the protests, and after. And that three years later, there is still no official memorial site for those who were killed.

Ukraine in the International Arena

Ukraine was one of the hot topics discussed at the 53rd Munich Security Conference. It’s an annual get together of the world’s top decision-makers in the realm of international security. Ukraine’s President Poroshenko was one of the speakers, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, US Vice-President Michael Pence, Bono, Bill Gates, and around 500 others. Michael Pense’s statements were probably the most reported. He said that the US supports NATO, unwaveringly. And with regard to Ukraine, we must continue to hold Russia accountable and demand that they honor the Minsk Agreements, beginning by de-escalating the violence in eastern Ukraine.  He had a face to face meeting with Poroshenko, and afterwards tweeted: In meeting with President Poroshenko today, I underscored U.S. support for Ukraine and full implementation of Minsk. Poroshenko also delivered a strong statement that was widely quoted. He said: My message is simple: Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. Merkel reminded the audience that freedom of the press is one of the pillars of democracy. And Bono said, Our fate is a shared one – but which fate will it be?

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin called for United Nations reform this week. Klimkin is chairing the UN Security Council for the month of February. The Council met on Tuesday, the 21st, to discuss unresolved conflicts in Europe. In his speech,Klimkin pointed out that paragraph 3 of Article 27 of the Charter requires ‘a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting.’ But that Russia continues to veto UN resolutions on Ukraine. He said, ‘We need urgently to reform the Security Council in order to remove the veto power abuses.’ We’ll post a link to the entire speech on our website. 


People in eastern Ukraine continue to suffer from war. The town of Avdiivka continued to experience heavy shelling this week. On Sunday the 20th, heavy rockets and firing went on for 10 hours. The next day, Kamianka was shelled for 7 hours. Over the past week 2 civilians were killed, one of them a child. The OSCE reported that freedom of movement was restricted on both sides of the contact line. 4 Ukrainian soldiers were killed, 2 died of their wounds, 30 were injured.

Russia Moves to Recognize Authorities Controlling Parts of Donets’k and Luhans’k

Russia appears to be moving to normalize the status quo in the Donbass. On Saturday, Putin issued an order that documents issued by non-Ukrainian authorities that control parts of Donets’k and Luhans’k now must be accepted in Russia. Passports, birth certificates, vehicle registration, diplomas, and so on, issued by self-proclaimed governments in areas they call “Donets’k People’s Republic” and “Luhans’k People’s Republic,” will now allow people from those areas to travel to Russia. And work or study there. Ukraine criticized this move as a violation of the Minsk Agreements. The Kremlin released a statement that this move was temporary, until a political settlement of the situation is reached.


IT continues to be a growth area for Ukraine. The Kyiv Post reported that thirteen Ukraine-based IT companies were on the 2017 list of the top tech firms. The International Association of Outsourcing Professionals issues an annual Global Outsourcing 100 list. This year EPAM Systems, Luxoft, Ciklum, Intetics, TEAM International Services, and Softjourn, were among the leaders. They all have R & D offices in Ukraine. 


New feature film: Bitter Harvest

This week saw the international cinema release of Bitter Harvest, a romantic drama set in Ukraine during the time of the Great Famine of 1933. The story is about love, rebellion and survival in very dangerous times. It is the first major dramatic film, which portrays the mostly unknown events of 1930s Stalinist Ukraine, such as the tragedy of the Holodomor, during which millions perished by starvation. The making of the film was financed by Canadian producer Ian Ihnatovych, supported by a Canadian director and Canadian screenwriter. Major roles are played by rising young British actors Max Irons and Samantha Barks, as well as veteran actors. The film has a Ukrainian and international film crew.

Kazimir Malevich

This week Ukrainians also marked the birth date of Kazimir Malevich. He was born on the 23rd February 1878 near Kyiv. Malevich was the founder of the avant-garde Suprematist movement and a pioneer of geometric abstract art. His most famous painting is the Black Square. Malevich grew up in Ukraine and worked in Kyiv during the late1920s. Although he is known as a Russian avant-guard artist, Ukrainian art historians are now discovering how Malevich’s art had its roots in traditional Ukrainian culture.


And here’s a song for you. It’s called Апофеоз війни, which means the Apotheosis of War. Written and performed by BorysSevastianov.


Next week will mark the beginning of Russia’s stealth invasion of Ukraine. We’ll be looking back at those events and what has followed. As well as other stories. Tune in for a new episode. And we’d love to hear from you. Write to us at [email protected]. I’m Oksana Smerechuk for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv. Thanks for listening.

Interview transcribed by Marta Dyczok Ilona Sviezhentseva. Headlines by Marta Dyczok. Sound engineer Andriy Izdryk. Web support Natalia Kucheriava.