Maidan. Testimony. Kyiv 2013-2014. Olha Streltsova

Maidan. Testimony. Kyiv 2013-2014. Olha Streltsova

Translated excerpts are from the book “Maidan. Testimony. Kyiv 2013-2014” and are published upon the publisher’s consent.

The book was compiled by Leonid Finberg and Ulyana Holovach and published by Dukh i Litera publishing house in 2016. The original text is in Ukrainian.

Three years after the Revolution of Dignity and in the light of commemoration of the Heaven’s Hundred Heroes UCMC publishes a testimony of Maidan participant – 42-year-old Kyivite, medic, widow of Heaven’s Hundred hero Olha Streltsova.

When your colleagues speak about Maidan they mention you with special warmth and excitement, they refer to you as a person who went through all the Maidan events and was helping out as medic. What was your motivation?

You know, I love my country very much. “Ukraine above all!” [one of the nationalist slogans, one of the slogans on Maidan – UCMC] indeed was “above all” to me. […] My motivation was surely to make this mess stop!

In 2004 I was standing on Maidan against Yanukovych. If having acceded to power he had done what he had promised, at least to his native region, that was voting for him! But in such a way – that’s mean: so many people voted for you, and you cheated them. He was not an authority to us.

Back in 2004 we were on Maidan with a big group of friends. Our children, my child was small back then, they were all together at my place. We gathered them in one place instead of everyone leaving their children at home, so that they are not scared to sleep alone. When we were coming home, they were not sleeping but watching TV – “Channel 5” and chanting “Yushchenko!” They were all wearing the ribbons. […]

This time [during Euromaidan] my daughter was the first to go to Maidan, me and my husband followed her. It happened that we were bringing food and warm clothes to the young people there. When we saw that horrible dispersal, we saw things in a totally different light and we went there to help out seriously. Serhiy joined the Self-Defense (Samooborona), I joined the medical HQ, and we started coming there on shifts between our working hours.

I was very much surprised not to see the stereotype confirmed that there were only people from Western Ukraine that had come. Surely, many people from there came, and I do admire these people, well done, but there were so many people from other regions. I even remember the people from Yenakiyeve – native place of our former president [Yanukovych], from Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk [currently Dnipro – UCMC].

There was a senior aged man from Donetsk. He resembled Saint Nicolas with his white beard. He was sitting outside, it was after the midnight and it was very cold. We were warming ourselves by the barrels [with fire] and chatting. He was sitting there, quiet, his gaze fixed on a single point and he was entirely in his thoughts. He was wearing a classic coat as if he had been dressed to go to the theatre. […] I asked him why he was sitting there. […] He was staying at his friends’ place not far from Maidan. The grandfather said: “Yes-yes, just a few moments more, I will stay a little bit longer and will go. I have big fear. At night between December 10 and 11 [riot police attempted to mop-up Maidan – UCMC] when there was the first storm, I was walking home when I saw that they were going up [the hill]. Helmets – and so many of them! I approached them. Their faces were as if they had some sort of a chip in the head, crazy faces! I told them: “Guys, where are you heading?” They responded: “Go away, grandpa, while you’re alive”. I realized they were headed to Maidan, and Maidan does not know about it. I told them: “Guys, how can you, people are standing there for what you and your children need as well. How can you go against them?!” They pushed him away and this grandfather ran from “Berkut” back on Maidan where together with other people he was “holding the defense” on Instytutska all night long. […]

Could you please tell us about the work at the medical HQ?

The HQ was in the Trade Unions House, all the medicines were there. Everything was very well organized. We were on shifts and we were instructed. If there were enough people, three medics were sent to each sotnya [hundred] in peaceful times, when there were no combat actions. It was mandatory that one-two persons from the Self-Defense follow the medics, they were safeguarding them even inside the Maidan. We had to call back each hour, we were brought food, everything was set up ideally. Self-organization is best, there’s no need to have someone who will organize it, people can do it on their own. At night, we were also checking who’s got what trauma, who needs bandaging, who’s got heart- or headache. Should happen anything serious there, we were calling ambulance. We had clear instructions how to act. If it was a night shift, it lasted from 10pm to 7am. […]

Medics were surely among the heroes. They were absolutely fearless: they were being shot at, and they were still running to render aid. […] Surgeons, dentists, massage therapists, these were all kinds of specialists. In such conditions, we were putting in IVs and providing all sort of pre-hospital assistance. It was complicated and scary to send people to hospitals, we were losing them out of sight or they were going missing. We had people coming even to our medical point by car saying: we have a car, we can take [the patients] to hospital outside Kyiv in the region. […]

My conscience was somehow rejecting such a big number of wounded. In general, the work itself was familiar to me. But at times I just wanted to sit in the corner, close my face with the hands and say that this is not happening to me, that I am not seeing it and I do not want to. It was morally hard. I was returning home, closing my eyes and I was seeing all the wounded again. At the frontline we were getting the people who required having their wounds stitched and bandaged, bleeding stopped. We were doing our utmost to send the people somewhere outside if the case was serious. Because in that field medical point there were no conditions for surgery. […]

Serhiy Shapoval, your husband, was with the Self-Defense. Could you tell about his Maidan? He has already become part of the history together with Maidan.

What should I say? He loved this country, that’s why he was risking so much. He had neither weapons, nor a shield, just a bat and a regular construction hard hat – to be honest I don’t know what protection it may give. He was taking it when he was going to safeguard the barricades at night. He was ready to protect this Maidan, each centimeter, it was important to him. He wanted so much that our president is changed, he was fed up to that extent and was not happy with the government. For the children, for his country, he was ready to stop at nothing. My daughter said that even if he had known that it would have happened that way, he would have come anyway. It was a matter of principle for him. I never told him: “Don’t go”. And neither did he, he never told me to stay at home. We had it that way: we decided and we are going. I knew it was dangerous, that something could happen to him, but to keep him home never came to my mind. […]

He was a good man, very kind. I knew him for thirty years, over the last seven years we had a family together. Surely, it is very hard to get used to the fact that he is not there. Because for many years he was my friend and my husband, I miss him. He was so close to me mentally. He also loved embroidered shirts [vyshyvanka] and traditional Ukrainian presents. We loved to go on vacation to Yaremche [a town in Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk region]. He was a patriot!

Why did he choose the Self-Defense?   

At first, he was not part of the Self-Defense, he was just coming. People in sotnyas were mostly people not from Kyiv, they knew each other and they were sleeping in the same places together. Kyivites were embarrassed to take the food offered at Maidan, as we could eat at home while they couldn’t. Serhiy behaved himself modestly from the very beginning, but then enlisted in the Self-Defense. It seems to me that they were assigned to the 11th sotnya. We spent Christmas together with him on Maidan. He was sent to safeguard exactly the medics. We were all night on Maidan. People were moving, singing, singing Christmas carols, it was great. We spent a night with the Afghan sotnya. Afghan vets were gathering together. While the people who were coming along were assigned to sotnyas without being asked about their preferences.

He went to that peaceful march [on February 18] even without the hard hat and the bat, he went to fight barehanded. He did not even go to fight, but just to support the people. And he was not with the Self-Defense that day, he just went there on his own. It was on February 18. We came on Maidan together, there was a peaceful march. We went up along Instytutska to the Officers’ House. People wanted to pass to the Verkhovna Rada where [the MPs] were supposed to be voting the law returning the Constitution of 2004. Surely, everything was closed there, people were not let pass. There were many anti-Maidan supporters or “titushkas” [thugs]. They had such faces, I would not be able to explain it. If they had been shown on TV, one could have said that they were filmed on purpose as stoned or drugged up. It was not clear who they were and why they acted the way they did.

Then they started throwing grenades. People were removing the cobblestones in the Maryinsky park. Then everything seemed to have calmed down. I had to go to work, it was minutes past twelve. Serhiy said: “Go, it’s not that they’re throwing grenades for the first time now, right?” I had no presentiment, indeed that was not the first time and we’ve been through the worse times. I went to work, he called me at one o’clock to ask me how I got there. I called him at one thirty at he already did not pick up. I do not know whether he could not pick it up or it had already happened. When he was calling, he said nothing about anything terrible happening.

I was calling him until two o’clock, at two thirty I left work, as I realized that something had happened to him – it was impossible that he was not picking up the phone for such a long time for no reason. I met with my friend Lena. By that time, the metro was already closed. We caught a taxi, so that it drives us closer to Maidan. And when we were going there, someone called me and introduced himself as policeman [milizia]. They need to identify the subscriber, to get to know whose phone number it is. I thought: oh, sure, tell it to the police who the subscriber is. I said: “Give the phone to the subscriber, and I’ll speak to him.” – “We cannot give him the phone,” they said. “Why not?” – “Because he is undergoing surgery in the 17th hospital”.

We went to the 17th hospital, we saw there many Afghan vets who surrounded it not to let anyone [law enforcement] take the guys away. There were many wounded. They were sitting on windowsills, on the floor, on wheeled stretchers and medical couches. We did not find Serhiy there. We checked all the units, we were told that they have no such patient in the operating room either. We went down to Chervonoarmiyska street [Velyka Vasylkivska] on foot and my daughter came up there. Lena left me and hurried down to Maidan, as she had her husband there.

With my daughter, we did not know what to do and started calling “Euromaidan SOS” [self-organized civic initiative that was helping look up the missing on Maidan – UCMC]. And suddenly my daughter’s friend sent her a photo from the Officers’ House in which Serhiy is killed. We rushed there, everything was closed. We started knocking on all the doors. We were told that all the bodies had been taken away and no one knows where to.

It was already dark. We were standing with my daughter – we could hear something constantly exploding from the Maidan side. It was so scary, poor people, they were standing and singing the anthem. […] From another side, by Arsenalna metro station, there were “titushky”, a lot of them. And I realize that it is impossible to leave from there, the metro is shut down, buses do not go there. I am standing with my girl, and it becomes really scary. There is no one to protect us, no police, and some strange drunk people are wandering around. Then we called our friends, they went to pick us by car. We started searching for Serhiy in morgues and found him in the one on Oranzhereyna street. But we were not let to see him. We were kept waiting for three days. I said: “Show us whom we are to bury. We want to see him.” On the photo, we could see that most likely it is him, but you know there was some kind of hope: maybe he is in hospital, maybe he got arrested; maybe it was someone who looks like him. You understand that it has happened but you are trying to catch the last piece of hope.

We were waiting for three days for the police investigator in charge of the case to come. It was only in his presence that we would be allowed to identify the body.

Then the funerals and last goodbyes on Maidan. I saw so many people whom I did not know at all, who were mourning with us. They were saying so many words. As we were walking, they were saying: “Stay strong, hold on!” […]

I was even asked: “Are you not angry with the Maidan, that it took Serhiy away from you?” I never had such a thought. Serhiy loved Maidan and considered it to be a sacred place. […] people went through so many things together [on Maidan], they had such unity, mutual help and support. He loved Maidan, and there’s no Maidan’s fault in that. I try to explain to myself that it is fate, but still it is very much surprising that we were going there together, we stayed together all the time, he is not there and I am here.

He should have been taken to hospital, but the ambulances were not let pass. He was taken inside the Officers’ House, he was wounded. They could not render him medical assistance. And he was just dying. The priest was praying, people were trying to do something, but he had four wounds incompatible with life, at least while being in the place where he was then. Had he been quickly taken to hospital and undergone surgery, he would have probably had some chance. […]

Why they shot at him? He was unarmed, he had nothing with him. Why did they choose him? Camouflage pants? Half of the people there were wearing camouflage pants. At first it was so painful. […] It is still painful now, I cannot believe it happened. I do not know whom they were targeting, who was shooting. Office of the Prosecutor General is investigating, we saw a video from that day and even identified Serhiy on it. The guys gave him a closed face motorcycle helmet. He was standing barehanded, people were holding bats and shields, while he was standing with a backpack on his back and in the helmet on his head, that’s all. […]

What type of wounds did he have?

He was wounded in the liver, lungs, in a forearm and a hand. He was simply gunned down, riddled with bullets while he was armless. As if he was able to protect himself.

Most complicated and dangerous situations in our life were the ones that we went through together on Maidan. […]

People who knew you, say that you were a very special couple…

I don’t know. He was telling everyone that he was waiting for me twenty years. We knew each other but were not seeing much each other often. He had his own life, and I had mine. But we grew older, met again and realized that we need to change something in this life. And it was so long-awaited. He was always beside me, always. That’s why it is so hard now. […] We lived together for seven years. […] He loved my daughter very much, they were such good friends! […]

I sometimes even thought that if I were different, if I had not gone to Maidan, if I had been against it, maybe he would have also not gone there, maybe he would have stayed alive? I feel myself guilty. My daughter says: “Mum, are you crazy? He would have gone there anyway!” […] They say the God is taking best people to heaven, but it does not make it easier. […]