A year ago, gunshots and cries echoed through the historic streets of downtown Kyiv. The charred barricades of Maidan stood tall. Blood stained Instytutska Street.
Today, the scene is different. Cars traverse the roads that stones, sand bags, and logs once clogged. Pedestrians stroll were bullets rained. The whiff of burned rubber has been replaced by the scent of coffee and engine exhaust. The tents are long gone. Even the charred hull of the Trade Union Building is hidden. One can only occasionally hear the clang of a hammer emanating from behind the covering.
But for those who look closely, the scars of February 2014 are still visible. The pavement that rings around Maidan Square is chipped and cracked, the result of hurling rocks or the dragging of twisted metal. Stones are missing. One can still find the occasion bullet mark. They stand as testaments to violence that shook an entire nation, and then the whole world. This violence continues to this day, having moved from Kyiv, to Crimea, and then to Donbas. There, the struggle is the same. It’s a fight for Ukraine’s future, for its place in the world, for authority that constrained by rule of law, transparency, and the will of the people.
One year ago, few could have imagined the continued sacrifices required to realize this dream. Russia’s cynical aggression against Ukraine and its people have resulted in unimaginable suffering. Thousands have died. Many thousands more bear physical and psychological wounds. Nearly every citizen of Ukraine has seen their pocketbooks strained and their future darkened. This suffering is not accidental. It is a purposeful policy concocted in the Kremlin to crush Ukrainians’ dreams of a better country and society. It is a policy designed to subvert a new social contract between the Ukrainian people and state. Maidan stood opposed to everything that Putin represents. Putin and his supporters fear the ideals that Ukrainians died for.
While the battle for the defense of these ideals still rages on the steppes of Donbas, another battle is raging far behind the front lines. It is a war that will continue long after the last shot has been fired in Ukraine’s east. This is the battle to ensure that the ideals of Maidan are fulfilled to their highest potential. Ukrainians are not so naïve as to think that the victory of Maidan against the old regime is a triumph. This lesson has already been learned. One-time victory is not sufficient to bring about the change demanded. Sitting on the sidelines is not an option. This is a battle that might last decades. It is a battle to keep power in check, to keep authorities accountable to the people.
Maidan’s lofty ideals still remain largely unfulfilled. Corruption is still rampant. Some of the state structures remain as venal as ever. While it’s true that there have been some reforms, there have been many more unfulfilled promises. But without an engaged and vigilant populace, the old way of doing things will surely return. It is the scores of Ukrainian activists, volunteer organization, and engaged citizens that will prove the most lasting testament to Maidan and the Heavenly Hundred. They continue to bring the fight forward, to challenge those in power whoever they might be.
The way to honor the Heavenly Hundred and their sacrifice is to remain engaged, to demand accountability. To publicly challenge those who rule unjustly. To call for justice and prosecutions against the opportunists who have benefited from corruption and those who are responsible for illegal use of force. Ukraine still has a long way to go, and the struggle is nowhere near finished. The best way to remember the Heavenly Hundred is to take up their struggle to build a new country. Without determination and grit, this dream will surely die and the sacrifices of the past year will have been in vain.