What is the problem?
The Revolution of Dignity, which began on November 21, 2013, became a turning point in Ukraine's recent history. The desire for European integration and the free and democratic development of Ukraine prompted a large active part of citizens to protest against the actions of the then government.
What is the solution?
Some Euromaidan participants were ready for more significant actions than just protesting. Various initiatives arose spontaneously to help citizens solve urgent human rights issues on Maidan and support the active community's request for self-education and understanding of what is happening.
When Maidan won, the Russian-Ukrainian war began. Many of the initiatives continued their work already as formal public associations, each of which, in its own way, has taken care of the development of Ukrainian citizenship.
Rubryka shares how these ten years have passed for them and what tasks they are currently performing.
How does it work?
Euromaidan SOS: from the protection of victims of Maidan to the recording of Russian crimes
Euromaidan SOS is a self-organized group of human rights defenders, public activists, lawyers, journalists, and other caring people of various professions, created in response to the illegal actions of the authorities regarding the dispersal of a peaceful protest on the night of November 29-30, 2013 on Independence Square.
The goal of the initiative was to promptly provide legal assistance to injured Euromaidan participants in Kyiv and other cities of the country, as well as to collect and analyze information for the protection of protest participants and provide interim assessments of the development of the situation, says Oleksandra Romantsova, the executive director of the Center for Civil Liberties, which in 2022 became a Nobel laureate peace prize.
"When our hotline received a call about this, we immediately looked for a lawyer for this person because Euromaidan SOS had its own base of volunteer lawyers. In the best of times, we had more than 400 specialists throughout Ukraine, who helped free of charge," Romantsova recalls. Many people of different ages wanted to join at that time, from students to pensioners. There was a case when a woman visited the center and said she could not work on the hotline but would cook food for our organizers. And she came every day.
Since people contacted the 24-hour hotline with any questions, Euromaidan SOS (E-SOS) was also involved in coordinating people and forwarding their requests to the relevant Maidan organizations.
Romantsova herself started as a volunteer on the hotline of this initiative and worked there throughout Euromaidan. Later, she worked as a human rights defender at the Center for Civil Liberties, whose branch is Euromaidan SOS.
In 2014, Euromaidan SOS established the Volunteer Award, which awards the most active volunteers. The ceremony is held annually.
"This year, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Volunteer Award. We invite volunteers, large volunteer communities, and small initiatives to say 'Thank you!'. Every year, we are supported by famous scientists, singers and actors, media personalities, business representatives, and others," says the Center for Civil Liberties executive director.
How human rights violations were documented
The participants of the initiative documented human rights violations — first, during Euromaidan and when Russia occupied Crimea and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions — in these territories.
"One of the problems was the completely illegal behavior of the police, the prosecutor's office, and any law enforcement agencies at that time, including the use of "titushky," mercenary agents who supported the Ukrainian security services during the administration of Viktor Yanukovych, who could simply, for example, physically catch Maidan participants outside of it and out of control, actually self-defense of Maidan," says Romantsova about the winter of 2013-2014.
There was immediate physical danger for the participants of Euromaidan SOS, as the Center for Civil Liberties office was located near Independence Square, and most of the volunteers identified themselves as its supporters.
"On the other hand, we constantly expected that, for example, the Security Service of Ukraine would calculate where the hotline is located and simply arrange a search and pressing," the human rights activist recalls. "That's why we had special scenarios in case of danger: what and how to do, where to put the equipment, how to protect the information we collected."
Over time, the risks became even more dangerous — when volunteers started going to Crimea (February-March 2014) and then in mobile groups to Donbas.
"In Crimea, our groups were chased by local self-defense, and it was dangerous, up to the point of murder. Then the groups that went to the Donetsk and Luhansk directions were put on lists, the so-called shooting lists — for execution," explains Romantsova.
The activist herself also traveled to the east of Ukraine more than 40 times as part of mobile monitoring groups.
Oleksandra Romantsova during one of the actions within the framework of the Let My People Go campaign aimed at protecting all Ukrainian citizens imprisoned for political reasons in Russia and occupied Crimea / Photo courtesy of the Central Bureau of Statistics
Therefore, the participants of the initiative began to look for entirely different forms of information gathering with the help, including colleagues from other countries (from Russia, Belarus, Armenia, and Georgia) who visited, for example, Crimea or the territory of the occupied Donbas from the Russian side and then brought reports and information for the Ukrainian human rights defenders.
Romantsova shares: "Did we doubt that the documentation initiatives for ten years are needed? No, there was no doubt because, first of all, it is the systematized interactive inclusion of ordinary people in documentation, in the responsibility of the system, in reaction, in the construction of a system of reactions, that is, in the construction of state systems that can respond to such crimes. Therefore, we constantly felt that this is our obligation, which sooner or later will help bring those who committed these crimes to justice."
How Euromaidan SOS has worked from 2022 to the present day
Special chatbot and instructions for recording crimes
With the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Euromaidan SOS has renewed its focus on documenting to bring the truth about war crimes to the world right now and to promote international justice in punishing them, says Romantsova.
In the first months of the full-scale war, the E-SOS community turned into a powerful information hub. They gathered a base of initiatives across the country that covered the need for evacuation/defense/help/information, etc., and connected people in need with these initiatives. There were a lot of requests, so the team created a special chatbot.
Currently, Euromaidan SOS continues to document thousands of war crimes with the help of volunteers who help collect video evidence according to the instructions created by the participants of the initiative.
Romantsova explains: "We purposefully collect information about deliberate attacks on civilian objects and the civilian population. Separately, in cooperation with state authorities, we began to create a database of prisoners and missing persons. We are actively working in the international arena through our golden diaspora, international human rights networks, partners, and friends worldwide."
Also, Euromaidan SOS and the monitoring group OZON monitor the Maidan cases.
How these ten years have passed — for the initiative and the country
"Over ten years, Ukraine has changed and matured, and people began to take responsibility more often for their state of society. An increasingly large critical mass feels that it can organize its own state, and for this, it needs to be included, gathered, united — and that's great," says Romantsova.
The activist is convinced that there is an answer to the question, "How can we resist a country that is five (or maybe even ten) times larger than us in terms of territory and exactly three times larger in population?"
The human rights activist explains: "We believe that by using our rights — to freedom of speech, to expressing our opinion in a peaceful protest, to association, etc., we organize our state as a democratic, legal and one that respects every person, their dignity and freedom. These are the mechanisms we have been using for ten years."
According to her observations, volunteer initiatives have only become more necessary for Ukrainian society during these ten years.
"That's why we did not doubt that we needed a Volunteer Award, which for many years gathered caring people in one place, helped them get to know each other, see each other's difficulties and successes, talk about their initiatives, find like-minded people and even more mechanisms for spreading their activities. All this was undoubtedly the result of ten years of work — not only ours but also other human rights organizations, volunteers, military, and civilians. Everyone who cares about the country's future and its citizens," says Romantsova.
She concludes: "We feel that we have contributed to volunteering becoming the norm for active citizens. As a result, many are professionally involved in volunteering and often even become more successful in this field than, for example, some state institutions that still follow the Soviet order."
Maidan Open University: from street lectures to an online education portal
The idea of the educational initiative arose in several groups of participants of Maidan at approximately the same time, at the end of November – beginning of December 2013, recalls Ostap Stasiv, the co-founder and head of the non-governmental organization Maidan Open University, currently a service member of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
"The educational component was on the lips of many. We remember the students saying they were stopping the educational process and going to Maidan. In our community of graduates of the Kyiv-Mohyla business school, one of the hypotheses was: students are not studying, so they can, being on Maidan, study, and it will be a good combination of education and the protest movement," says Stasiv.
Yuliia Kochergan (now Tychkivska) from the Ne ZlYi Maidan initiative, Roman Tychkivskyi, and Oleksandr Starodubtsev agreed and decided to support each other and join forces. This is how the Maidan Open University was born.
"Let's imagine that we won"
In December, a stage appeared on Maidan, from which broadcasting in the form of lectures began. Stasiv, Kochergan (Tychkivska), Tychkivskyi, and Starodubtsev have already been named as the core of the educational initiative.
"This does not mean we were the only ones who had something to do with it. It just so happened that we took responsibility and began to deal with it systematically," Stasiv explains.
During December and until Christmas 2014, more than 290 lectures were held on Maidan. The speakers were bright and iconic personalities from various fields: business, education, public sector, etc. The only taboo was on political agitation.
Stasiv continues: "Starodubtsev voiced a great idea. He said: 'Let's pretend we won.' It sounded fantastic at the time. I will say frankly: we ourselves did not believe in this possibility until the end of December 2013, but we assumed we could win. If we win, we must take responsibility and answer the question: what do we do next?"
The lecturers came not as politicians but as sociologists, psychologists, public figures, etc. They spoke about the problems that, in their opinion, were important for the victory of Maidan and further life and interaction in society — the society of Maidan's victory, explains Stasiv.
In January, the scene was closed: MOU students simply could not stand such a pace. Then, there were lectures in the space of the Ukrainian House and in March-April 2014 — behind Maidan's central monument.
"And this was the end of the first stage of the Maidan Open University. In principle, we believed we fulfilled our function at that time," says Stasiv.
All co-founders of MOU are now well-known public figures and founders of other initiatives crucial for the development of society.
School of Conscious Citizen
Maidan participants gave the impetus for the next stage of MOU development. As it turned out, the listeners of the lectures mainly were not students but people of different age groups and social status. They often shared that the
Maidan Open University became the first place where they could ask essential life questions for themselves and get answers to them. Some people actually began to express their thoughts for the first time in their lives because they did not know how to do it before.
"The number of impressions from people who came to us at the Maidan Open University prompted us to think that we should not only share information from opinion leaders from various fields but also begin to form this kind of citizenship in people. Later, we called it civic competencies," recalls Stasiv.
This is how the initiators of MOU developed the program and created the School of Conscious Citizen. Over two and a half years, about 30 such schools were held in Kyiv and the regions, including Kryvyi Rih, Kremenchuk, and Mariupol.
Stasiv recalls that, in Mariupol, after participation in the school, there was a crazy explosion of social activism because people who existed atomized got to know each other, saw each other live, and began interacting. The representatives of Mariupol and nearby village councils came to the School of Conscious Citizen. "It was fantastic! Probably, the largest concentration of the public sector is in that place."
During its existence, more than 3,000 participants were attracted to schools throughout Ukraine. A little more than a thousand of them received the certificate. That is, more than a thousand have become real engines of change in the public sector.
However, the time to change again came: school teachers were tired of constantly traveling around Ukraine with lectures. The question arose of a more rational use of professional resources.
One hundred thousand certificate
The new idea was voiced by Dmytro Savochkin, an initiative participant who later joined the army. He proposed to transfer the university to an online platform.
Further, it all turned into what we see today: an online platform for distance civic education, where almost 200,000 full-time users are actually learning. "By the way, the other day, there was a hundred thousand certificate of completion of studies on our platform," Stasiv happily shared.
There are a total of 88 courses, such as: "How youth should be involved in reconstruction: tools and practices," "Internet and digital human rights," "Book marketing for publishers,""From idea to change: project management for social initiatives" and others. All of them are free for listeners.
The completion rate of courses on the platform is more than 50%, which is an outstanding result for online education, says Stasiv.
Does to really work?
"Civic education for us was the fact that we sowed the seeds of enlightenment in the land that was disturbed by the events on Maidan, and we expected that it would give sprouts of understanding, knowledge, curiosity, initiative. The overall result turned out to be very good. Civic education today is a basic level of education that everyone must acquire to be a truly responsible citizen of this country," Stasiv is convinced.
"Any Ukrainian who has a certain need or is looking for a solution to this or that problem can find it on our platform," adds the head of the NGO.
He gives an example: just on the day of our conversation, he received a call from the village librarian. She was looking for a resource to help her understand how to make the library a networking space so that it would be truly needed by the community and not be closed. A corresponding course on the MOU website explains step-by-step how to build libraries as an open space.
"There is a demand in society for this form of education, and we satisfy it," concludes Stasiv.
"The winter that changed us": how the Babylon'13 community captures and reflects
"The feeling of total depression, that the country has simply fallen into some whirlpool. We had Belarus next to us, and this example told us that nothing would work for us." — this is how Volodymyr Tykhyi, director and co-founder of the Babylon'13 film association, recalls the atmosphere before the Revolution of Dignity.
The explosion of Maidan energy destroyed many stereotypes, including the infantile nature of modern youth. On November 30, 2013, the beating of students who opposed the suspension of the process of preparing for the signing of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union was a turning point.
"At that time, we had a certain active part of the film community, relatively young people who already had some experience working in various commercial fields and were trying to prove themselves as authors of feature films. We had a project called "Assholes. Arabesques", "Ukraine, Goodbye!", says Volodymyr Tykhyi.
He recalls the call from one of the administrators, Denys Vorontsov, on that November day, with the offer to get together and form a company that would shoot the video, his agreement on filming with Yuriy Gruzinov, now a leading documentary cinematographer, and at that time a lighting assistant.
"Six of us gathered. We arrived sometime in the evening of November 30 at Mykhailivska Square and recorded people's first impressions of what was happening there. This video was edited overnight in the workshop and published in the morning," Tykhyi tells the story of the appearance of the first documentary video about Maidan-2013, Prologue.
The intention was to tell the whole world what was happening in Kyiv.
"Our first films were, I would say, TikTok-like: they are pieces of the first protests, which we put subtitles on and showed on our YouTube channel, called Babylon'13," describes the director.
The initiative group found shelter in the Cinema House near Khreschatyk. This room was next to the Babylon restaurant, and the wi-fi password there was Babylon'13. At the same time, Babylon'13 is a cinematic allusion to Ivan Mykolaichuk's film Babylon XX.
"Not everyone understands this," says Tykhyi. "Sometimes we are asked: is it something religious?"Volodymyr Tykhyi in the office of Babylon'13 / Photo by Mykola Tymchenko
Community members immediately saw that their videos were needed primarily by those who started organizing on Maidan, setting up tents, and preparing.
"They saw themselves in a different category," says the director.
This is how Babylon'13 became a kind of Movie Hundred of Maidan, which made sense of what was happening from the point of view of social and cultural images.
"We began to engage in socio-cultural reflection on this moment in the life of society. Of course, documentary, because it is the most democratic way," Tykhyi explains.
The Babylon'13 community released about 400 videos without specifying authorship, then grew into a public association, and now it is Babylon 13 Production LLC.
The community unites about a hundred directors, cinematographers, sound engineers, producers, editors, translators, and other specialists. During its existence, many short and full-length works of the association received various awards and prizes. Among the recent ones: Volodymyr Tykhyi's movie The Day of the Ukrainian Volunteer Fighter won awards at the Warsaw International Film Festival and Sheffield Doc/Fest and became the first Ukrainian film shown on the BBC.
How the documentaries of Babylon'13 work
The Sect of War Witnesses
After the victory of Maidan, a completely different story called Russian aggression began, continues Tykhyi: "We quite naturally started working with the theme of the anti-terrorist operation (ATO) in the east of Ukraine. All the more so since most of the people who joined the ATO were already familiar to us from Maidan, and we had the trust of these people."
Babylon'13 filmed works about the battalions "Donbas," "Dnipro," the fifth company in the village of Pisky, and many others. They recorded a whole layer of materials that allowed them to develop a certain vision and created a kind of portal that immerses us in the reality of 2014-15.
"It seems to me that it was quite a powerful time for the creation of new images of Ukrainians," Tykhyi thinks. Eighty to 90% of the people who went to defend Ukraine were volunteers. They were people from civilian life, progressive; they knew what digital technologies were and started constantly filming something. But for them, it was still an artistic expression. This style was different from what modern boys and girls do.
People, sometimes ironically, nevertheless built themselves into the status of a storyteller: they tell about how they fight and what they are going through. It was a certain level of understanding oneself in space that made it possible to create a rather eloquent picture of the ATO, says Tykhyi.
The director reasoned that it was addressed to a small number of people because the efforts of politicians and many business groups interested in cooperation with Russia reduced the interest and full involvement of society in the war. Therefore, the audience addressed by Babylon'13 was about 200,000 people, including those with combat experience and their relatives.
"We have become a kind of 'sect of war witnesses.' In fact, not many of us talked about this war. We were almost the only cinematographic organization that sees this as a mission," says the director.
People outside the time of war
Of course, a full-scale war changed everything. "Now we have stopped being such sectarians of a certain idea. It has already become clear to everyone," says Tykhyi.
Nowadays, everyone is filming the war. Almost every division makes its channel, larger or smaller, where it posts video materials.
"But we remain documentarians who do what no one else films," the director is convinced. He explains: "We have to remain people who live outside the time of war, strangely enough, although it is discussed all the time. We look at all this from the position of a person for whom there is no political present, but there is some kind of eternal human history, the history of Ukraine as a certain space and time, measured in hundreds of years."
From this position, the story of a person walking to his position or sitting, making himself a coffee, can be more eloquent and important than a few hours of explosions.
"Just this piece will be the basis of understanding the world for which this man fought, even ten years later. These are our priorities," says the co-founder of Babylon'13.
How did the work of the film community affect society? This is not to "touch". But what Babylon'13 started doing in 2013-14, the way it presented the situation on Maidan, formed the basis of certain archetypal current ideas, the optics with which current events are filmed and Ukrainian heroes are presented.
"Certain experimental things with which we worked influenced the general aesthetics, general ideology of how certain visual things exist now in the Ukrainian cultural space," Tykhyi is convinced.
Documentaries quite literally tell the stories of specific people. But, visually and artistically comprehending, they generalize in one way or another. That is why the story of a person who is not close to you socially or politically from some other space but takes place in Ukraine can inspire your vision and understanding of how to feel in this life situation. Thus, the director explains that a person who repairs a tank near Bakhmut can inspire a young mother in the rear. That's how cinema works.
Unfortunately, Ukraine's mass game film industry is simply on hold, and it will take years to restore it. Therefore, currently, only documentary formats can work with some challenges so that they do not turn into global social traumas, thinks Tykhyi.
"We do it in this format. It is such a rather thorough and big job, about which it is practically impossible to tell in a simple way," says the director.
Still from the movie Independence Day / Courtesy of Volodymyr TychyiFor example, Babylon'13's immediate plans include cooperation with the employment platform and recruiting agency Lobby X, which has a website for job searches in the Defense Forces.
What you don't talk about turns into excruciating things. Society's idea of what the army is is very bizarre. In fact, only approximately 20% of the actual military force is engaged in combat activities, and 80% perform the same work as in some enterprises. "We will take part in educational work on how to find yourself professionally and become a person who can now fight the enemy very effectively," explains Tykhyi.
This will be a project about a more profound understanding of the army. After all, people's motivation has fallen very much nowadays, and something needs to be done about it, the director is convinced.
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