Caught by the ‘ religion of rejection’ – A side stop in Kiev, Ukraine

**Kiev, Ukraïne, December 22, 2013 – 20:30** *Erm..this is not the Opera I think. This seems exactly the place I promised my parents not to go. But it really isn’t my mistake! The taxi driver must have understood only my German stumbling attempts to say I wanted to go ‘zum zentrum, zum ploscha’ (Square’ as pronounced in Ukrainian language). It’s minus 8 degrees, but there are people on the street everywhere. It smells like what I later recognize as ‘Borsch’, a traditional local dish. Gathered around smoking trash bins I see women dancing and singing, dressed like those Babushka puppets I used to play with, thinking every woman in Russia looked like that. From the distance, I can hear what seems to be someone speaking through a microphone. Walking towards the noise, I pass several army colored-tents, people playing guitar and offering me a smoke or a coffee. Although I should have known better perhaps, I walked further towards what I later found out was independence square. Bands were playing, people smiling shared blankets. I couldn’t imagine a warmer welcome in such a cold county like this…* That evening, the 22nd of December, I just arrived in Kiev, the capital city of Ukraïne. I didn’t want to go to the hotel yet when I arrived. I was curious to the city where I would spend my Christmas vacation. I booked my trip far before the protests began, in November 2013. Of course it did cross my mind it wasn’t going to be as safe to go here. I heard some stories concerning the demonstrations in the city against Viktor Janoekovitsj, but I was too much occupied with preparing my final exams to pay close attention to the whole reasons Kiev’s citizens started to occupy the streets. On the time I left Holland, I must admit, I therefore didn’t know much about the specific reasons the demonstrators opposed Janoekovisj. “Something with being friends with Putin and not with the European Union” that’s all I knew. The old stories about forced prostitution, drugs and child abuse dominated my views on the safety in this city for a girl travelling alone. I figured however that no one, not the demonstrators nor the national police couldn’t possibly have anything against just another ignorant tourist, who’s just in town to see some churches and visit some museums. As for pimps, drug dealers and other criminals.. Amsterdam, the Dutch capital city I often visit, has numerous. Why should Kiev be less safe than Amsterdam? And standing there on independence square that evening, between women, children and men enjoying the warmth of the trash bin fires, I couldn’t imaging experiencing a safer feeling indeed. **December 25, 2013 – 16:00** I experienced how nasty cold weather can be when you want to do ‘the tourist thing’. Tired of wandering around convents and markets, and kind of bored with traditional pro-Russian and Ukrainian art, anti- traditional Russian and Ukrainian art, anti- art of the movement against anti- traditional Russian and Ukrainian art, I suddenly felt miserable. Lonely. After all, it was Christmas day. The warmth I experienced on independence square the other day didn’t left my memory yet. On contrary. I yearned to feel it again, but didn’t went back. After all, it wouldn’t be sensible to dwell among demonstrators, would it? **December 26, 2013 – 20:00** My miserable feelings of the day before invigorated when I lost my credit card. I just went to an ATM machine, close to independence square. Suddenly the power shut down, right at the moment I inserted my card. Panicking, not knowing what to do because no one would understand my attempts of Russian, I dwelled on the street to independence square. What joy, what laughter. Even more than the evening of the 22nd, people were outside on the street watching the festive demonstrations. Children waving flags colored in yellow and blue, bands playing Christmas music from the 50s. Painters who drew comics of Janoekovitsj and Putin. I started to feel less miserable about having lost my credit card as I wandered around independence square, watching the performances, the art and dancing Hare Krishna’s who also suddenly were there. Out of the blue, I felt so angry at Janoekovitsj. How dared he harm these people! And how did I dare to panic about losing a credit card while having more cash money in my pocket than the majority of the people on this square? I was struck by feelings of guilt and dishonesty. I had to do something to help them, to compensate for my spoiled tourist behavior among people who survived the freezing cold on Nescafe and buckweatporridge. The fact that it was Christmas enforced my feelings of support to the demonstrators even more. Although I must admit, my knowledge about the reason behind the demonstrations still lacked as before I came to Kiev. Seemingly hypnotized by my surroundings however, I stated to hula hoop dance. I love to hula hoop dance and it cheered me up a lot as always. Especially when some Ukrainian citizens gathered around me and applauded, some even threw money at my feet and offered me hot drinks. As I kept on dancing, the crowd surrounding me started to sing and applaud louder. Suddenly I didn’t felt lonely at all. Suddenly I felt like being among friends instead of strangers. ‘Free Ukraine’ I yelled. I stammered something that I heard a lot of demonstrators shout on the street, which I figured was ‘go away Janoekovitsj.’ After dancing, I got a blue and yellow scarf, gloves and a coffee of two men in the group surrounding me. I tried to chat a while with them since they seem to understand English a bit. ’You like Ukrainian spirit’ they said. ‘Girl alone not safe’ they warned. I told them I was just a tourist, and that I really felt sorry for the Ukrainian people and wanted to support them with my dancing. When I told them about losing my credit card, they immediately started to talk in words I didn’t understand. After some hand and feet gestures and phone calls, I understood I had to go back to the same ATM machine the next Monday, 11:00 AM. I still had enough cash money to survive until then, especially since my dance performance caused that a lot of people threw money at my feet (And a love letter, in part in English, in part in Russian...sigh) I decided to give half of the money to the other performers on the street, kept the rest to pay the subway and went back to my hotel. **Monday December 30th – 11:00** I must have made a scene at the ATM machine. Without a stint of recognition, a man walks towards me and hands me over my credit card. Before I can ask him how he knew it was my card, he is gone. It really is my card. The blue and yellow scarf doesn’t leave my shoulders since that day until I return home. Free Ukraine, the spirit of Ukraine, like mantra’s these words cross my mind. Every day I was on independence square for a while. Every time I was there, it felt like doing something good. **Sunday, the 2nd of January 2014 – 12:00** My plane will leave in two ours. Fire everywhere. On independence square, the children are gone. The painters and musicians are disappeared. Only the carousel and coffee salesman are still there, pointless. No one seems to feel like celebrating. No music, only the voice from the microphone as that evening the 22nd. My last experience of independence square. *When I saw the news at home, I realized I went back just in time. What came over me the day I started to dance on the square? What was I thinking walking around with a blue and yellow scarf, shouting the slogans like all the other demonstrators, while not even really knowing for what they were demonstrating? I still don’t know. It felt like I was captured by a religion. A religion of rejection.*

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