I've been terrible at this whole blogging thing. I'll try to update more frequently! But definitely follow me on Instagram where I post photos more frequently!
To answer the question I repeatedly get asked on Facebook, we are safe. In fact, oddly enough, it is very comfortable in Kyiv at the moment. Perhaps it is the post-revolution spirit, but this city is quite a unique place to be at this moment. Never had I imagined walking at night through a center center turned military camp and not feeling threatened by a mob of masked men carrying makeshift weapons. Not only that, also feel comfortable approaching them.
Currently, Maidan is like a carefully curated museum. The inhabitants of the numerous tents take care of these grounds, cleaning them often and chastising anyone who dares litter, even if just a cigarette butt. We often witness them escorting drunks out of the square. These people are largely self-governing units. Their coordination and collaboration is quite inspiring. In part because many of these people come from diverse backgrounds and opposing ideologies. To some degree, one would have to imagine the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street collaborating seamlessly to grasp how little ideological rigidity has interfered with their overwhelming aspirations of unity and patriotism — at least in Kyiv.
It's been quite interesting to see how the themes of conversation have shifted over the past month. When I first arrived, a few days after Crimea seceded from Ukraine, many people expressed concern that World War III could be ignited if they were not smart. To some degree, they acquiesced to Putin's land grab hoping it would be an implicit exchange to allow autonomy from Russia. But now, people sound ready to fight in and for eastern Ukraine. They are frustrated with the interim government's inaction. And lately, I have heard many predictions of a Maidan 3.0 to ignite around the upcoming elections. We shall see...
Now onto the updates on the production. Where to begin...
I should first start by mentioning that I've been working with a Seattle-based camera operator, Darius, who I met the first weekend after I arrived in Kyiv. He's been an invaluable asset to the film that I had not ever anticipated having while here.
A quick overview of some notable interviews we have had, include:
- A pastor from Mikhailovsky Monastery (aka St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery) where student protesters sought refuge in on November 22nd, the event that sparked the Euromaidan protests that lead into the revolution.
- We also met Alexei, a Cossack guarding Maidan. He invited us into the Ukrainian House, a convention center, that has been occupied for the past few months by the self-defense militias guarding Maidan. This convention center has generally been off-limits to the press (confirmed when one Cossack blocked our camera while shooting B-roll when he thought we were press). We were given unique access to interview their ideological leader, and other Cossacks, in their barracks on the second floor of the Ukrainian House. They shared many intimate accounts of witnessing the deaths and brutality at the hands of the Berkut riot police, as well as snipers. We were with them until 2 am as one Cossack after the next lined up to speak on camera. The biggest take away from this was how little they liked to discuss themselves, and instead praised the bravery of their fellow Cossacks who were killed or injured. One young Cossack expressed a degree of shame for being hospitalized during the worse days of violence on Maidan. He would have rather been beside his fellow Cossacks and Ukrainians.
- We also spent an evening on patrol with Alexei, who gained us access into a post office being occupied by the notorious Right Sector. We followed one member, who was 19, through the basement into their converted exercise room. Our conversation with him revealed how simplified the media has portrayed Right Sector throughout the recent months. Labels such as neo-Nazis or fascists have been applied broadly with little context behind this accusation. This is one of several encounters we have had with Right Sector. Perhaps they are what the media says they are, but it also seems they have been made the scapegoats for moderates who want to distance themselves from the dirty work of the revolution. But who knows! Hopefully our schedule interview this week with one higher ranking member will clarify the subject for us.
These are just some brief highlights, but the project has been growing throughout our shoot and we are looking forward to seeing the end result — not only of the film but Ukraine, as well.
Oh! And our crew member accidentally stumbled upon Vice President Joe Biden at Mikhailovsky Monastery. Unfortunately, he was too busy on his 48 hour stay in Kyiv to grant us an interview. Oh well...