As January 2014 drew to a close, any expectation of a forthcoming end to the conflict in Ukraine seemed but a distant possibility from behind the barricades of Maidan Nezalezhnosti –Independence Square– in Kiev. Activists defied freezing temperatures by burning tyres on the forward edge of battle, Berkut (the Ukrainian riot police force) defended access to the parliament on Grusevski Street, and President Viktor Yanukovych met with leaders of the opposition in hopes of reaching an agreement, but arrived at none. Thermometers registered 24 degrees below zero in downtown Kiev, and Ukraine was emblazoned in fire and ice on the front pages of the international press.
Yanukovych was buying time by bringing down the government and revoking repressive "citizen safety laws" that had been passed on 16 January, while demanding the evacuation of occupied public buildings as a condition for releasing more than 200 demonstrators that had been detained during the disturbances. The activists refused to comply with the President's demands, however, because a mass release under the guise of amnesty would label their fellow militants as pardoned offenders.
Multiple voices in Europe claimed that the so-called "self-defence" units of the Maidan were formed by far-right extremists and Neo-Nazis, and that any show of support must be made with caution. One of the leaders of the protests appeared with a disfigured face and clear signs of torture after a week missing.
Representatives of the European Union, backed by the United States, arrived and departed in a constant stream from the Kiev airport, and Russia feared that Ukraine would steal the limelight from the inauguration of the Winter Games, set to take place at the beginning of February in the Russian city of Sochi, and into which Russia had poured huge amounts of money.
Meanwhile, thousands of Ukrainian citizens held their ground in Maidan, waiting out the cold and the uncertainty among the weapons and flags of the opposing sides. There remained people of all ages and ideologies, as oft occurs in massive popular uprisings, despite what media headlines proclaim. Atheists and the religiously devout, workers and students, members of the opposition parties, and those who would send any and all politicians packing, regardless of the colours of their flag. Also the far right-wing activists who lead the protest, of course.
People took to the street to demand that the President resign and call early elections because, as expressed by Andri, one of the peaceful protesters who made his way to the barricades, "we are no longer here to ask for European Union membership or to protest against corruption, which is why the protests began in the first place. While the majority of us continue to pursue these goals, now we are here to put a stop to the recent violence executed by the government. We have never seen anything like this in Kiev."
Some people distributed food and tea to the activists, others collected clothing donated by the protesters, while still others provided medical assistance to those in need. Some prayed in groups, while others photographed the members of the self-defence line as they trained in combat techniques with a view to a possible attack by the Berkut.
One month and at least 86 deaths later, the country made its biggest turnaround since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The whereabouts of the now former president Viktor Yanukovych and some of his collaborators were unknown, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. The security forces had withdrawn to their barracks, the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko had been released from prison, there was a new interim president, and elections had been called for 25 May 2014.
The self-defence forces formed by activists controlled the centre of the capital, and much attention was focused on the Crimean Peninsula, which holds closer political, historical, economic and cultural ties with Moscow than with Kiev. But thousands of Ukrainian citizens again took to the street to occupy the now legendary Independence Square, known by all as Maidan, to remind us that, while the revolution had changed everything in a few short days, almost nothing was final, and nearly everything still remained to be done.