Text by : Johannes Sporrer
Italian photographer Jacob Balzani Lööv followed a self-defense unit in Kiev's Maidan for ten days up to the bloody events of 20 February 2014. He recently visited one of the protagonist of the revolutionary current that swept Ukraine at that time.
"I was in Kiev to meet some friends," says Balzani Lööv, who at the end of November 2013, found himself suddenly in the middle of Independence Square in Kiev. "I was surprised by how peaceful, determined and full of hope the protest was throughout the month of December, but that changed with time. People started to wear masks and to protect Maidan with clubs and shields, upgrading their defense to the violence of the police."
On the 10th of February 2014 during a protest to demand the release of some arrested activists, Balzani Lööv saw a masked, red-haired young woman and organized to meet her. Olesja Goriaynova, a then 19-years-old, was a journalism student from Sumy.
"I wanted to know if the attitude I loved in December in Maidan was still there," he recalls, "and Olesja told me that it was still there, but under wraps in the compounds where the defense units were living." After few days the photographer was granted access to the group, the 14 Sotnia.
These so-called self-defense units of the Maidan were founded to protect unarmed protesters from the increasing violence of the police.
"The central demand of the group was an independent Ukraine, without Yanukovych," says Balzani Lööv, "and a Ukraine without corruption, leaning towards Europe. Often its members were upset by the fact that newspapers were discussing only the geopolitical interests of the US and Russia, as if the Ukrainians had no say." He felt that the atmosphere in these days was tense. "It seemed quite possible that the police could have broke into the headquarters of the 14th Sotnias anytime and commit a massacre," he said.
To protect the group, Balzani Lööv promised that he would publish pictures showing unmasked members of the defense units only if the revolution would succeed or if there were to no longer be any threat.
Now, a year later, the immediate threat is over for the activists, but whether or not their revolution was actually successful, however, is far less clear. Balzani Lööv has met again with the activist Olesja Goryainova to ask her about the consequences of the protests. Olesja has moved back to her hometown, Sumy, some 300 kilometers east of Kiev. She is studying again, but she cannot fully return to her old life.
"Olesja now collects money and materials for the fighters in the anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine," says Balzani Lööv. She is also a member of the Young Nationalist Congress, an organization that aims to strengthen the "patriotic spirit" of the youth. Olesja doesn't regret the Maidan.
"We just couldn't go on living that way," she says, though with a hint of disappointment in her voice.
Yanukovych is gone, but the reforms desired by the Maidan protestors did not materialize. As before, there is a lot of corruption in the country, and the war in the East has overshadowed the original goals of the young revolutionaries. The profound changes they sought for, postponed.