Yesterday, on my birthday, Salt & Light reached its funding goal on Kickstarter with six days left. Naturally, additional funds will be used wisely and are still needed, but I'm overwhelmed by the support people have offered to make this happen.
I arrived to Kiev at 1 PM on March 19th. My taxi driver, Sasha, drove me to my apartment while kindly pointing out landmarks along the way in his rough English. The eastern outskirts of the city were lined with birch trees along the highway. As the taxi pulled up to my rental apartment, I realized how close I was to Maidan. A barricade of tires and wooden boards blocked an archway to the main road. I was greeted shortly after by a young man, who handed me the keys and showed me to the studio apartment I would be spending my first week in. For as close to the center as I was, I was quite surprised how spacious it was.
Later that evening, I met with a friend of a friend. We took a tour of Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central location of the protests. I was uncertain what atmosphere I would find, but I was surprised how much pride and curiosity the people had. Immediately upon arriving, a drunk was being escorted. I was told there was no tolerance there for such belligerence. Families, couples, and a few tourists were all in the square taking photos and walking between barricades. It was like walking through a film set. A month after the worst clashes between police and protesters that resulted in an estimated one-hundred deaths, windows remained shattered and there was still a lingering smell of burnt tires.
But what I was shocked to find was that while the barricades remained in place, detailed care went into cleaning up the streets. As we stood at the scene of one of the sniper shootings, there was no shattered glass or no dried blood. Nothing that would exploit the events that happened there. Those taking photos did not do so with a smile on their face. There were no selfies, as I was shocked to see at Auschwitz concentration camp. The people there seemed to memorialize it through photography or be listening to the men in military camouflage speak of the events.
The next day, after struggling to wake up early (ultimately to sleep until noon), I went for a long walk to see the rest of Kiev. Despite the impression otherwise, the city felt safe. People were calm. Children were running to class (which made me curious when school starts here). Workers swept the streets. Younger students sat in cafes reading or chatting with friends. Kiev is quite the beautiful city. Cobblestone streets, steep hills, and pastel-colored churches. But the people are the most attractive asset here. They are friendly, helpful, quiet. Most seem to be walking with friends or families.
As I re-entered Maidan from the eastern corner, there was choir music blasting from a nearby tent. In a rough mix of Russian and English, I asked who it was. The military-outfitted young man responded, "Pikkardiyska Tertsia," and typed it into my phone. The music was a bit dramatic, like stepping into a war film, the three men and him standing beside it seem to make sure this is intentional. An overwhelming sound barrier that interrupts any other thoughts you might casually be thinking of or any conversation you might be having. It instead asks you to recognize where you are entering. Kreshchatyk St. is lined by high-end outlets and is a commonly used main road. So, in case you did not notice the toppled over automobiles or barricades, then the music should at least leave an impression on you.
More later... Onto Day 2: The First Day of Shooting.