“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
I grew up in Kiev, a beautiful peaceful city with ancient churches and baroque buildings.
The streets where I used to cut school and eat ice cream are now torn apart by smoke and flames and gunshots and dead bodies.
I never thought it could happen to me and my people. We are civilized.
But it can happen in any country.
Peace is fragile. Democracy and freedom don’t come for free.
I just wonder if almost a hundred people dead is the price. And will we have to pay more?
I clearly remember the day the bloodshed started.
I just returned to Kiev to take care of my dad, who is losing his eyesight.
It was Sunday, January 19th and a big church holiday, the Ice Baptism. People jumped into the cold water, believing the ritual washes away all the troubles and brings peace. What happened next was exactly the opposite.
I pictured men and women in their bathing suits on the freezing cold. They looked both funny and brave.
I followed the ice divers to the main square, Maidan Nezhalezhnosti. There protesters were gathering every Sunday.
At first people opposed the government’s resistance to join the European Union.
Then the police attacked and beat them. Protesters didn’t fight back. Shocked by this violence, many more people went to the streets to ask for justice.
That Sunday people wore masquerade masks and colanders on their heads. They mocked the new anti-democratic laws. They headed to the parliament and met the police. And this time the protesters fought back. That’s how the bloodshed started.
I came to Maidan Square for the next several days.
I walked inside the protester’s encampments. People from all over the country arrived with food, warm clothes and medicine. Protesters cooked and built barricades.
On the frontline, I took pictures and videos, scared to death, my hands trembling.
Protestors threw firecrackers, stones and Molotov cocktails. The government forces struck back with bullets and put hit-men on the roofs.
A man asked me to take a picture of him. He stood there smiling under his mask with a background of fire. Looking at him made me feel less scared.
The guy standing right next to me fell on the ground. Volunteer doctors helped him get up and explained that it was a rubber bullet. I was too shocked to move. Ashes and snow kept falling from the sky.
That day people got killed with real bullets. The police targeted journalists and doctors.
The next day the fighting paused and protesters mourned the dead. I took my dad to Maidan.
We approached the police guarding the governmental buildings. Dad refused to come closer, believing the guys were evil. But they weren’t. The job of these young men was to stand there. These were not the shooters. The world isn’t black and white. It is all shades of grey.
I had to leave Ukraine like this to go back to school in New York. I often regret this decision.
99 people died and more than a thousand were wounded in the bloodshed in Ukraine. They were not crazy extremists, but teachers, artists and fathers. One of them was a journalist. They fought for me. They fought for a better country.
Now the President, who gave the commands to kill his own people, has fled.
For the first time ever Ukrainians entered his residence. It’s twice the size of Buckingham Palace. Visitors found astonishing luxury and accounting documents with “bribe” lines.
My country now has a chance for a fresh start.
It’s not that easy. Many revolutions have failed at this point. Russia’s intervention in Crimea and eastern parts of Ukraine makes it even more challenging.
I don’t know what it takes to rebuild a country. Probably time and patience. Hopefully we will have no more deaths and corrupt politicians. And no war with Russia. 99 people killed in the uprising can’t rise from the dead. But we can make their sacrifice not vain. And learn our lessons. That is the reason why Ukrainian soldiers are now avoiding violence with Russians by any means. We will have to learn our lessons.
People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.
Kateryna Panova is a freelance journalist and photographer from Kiev, Ukraine. She is currently pursuing a masters degree in journalism through Studio 20 at New York University.