By Marko Djurica
Slava Ukraini, Heroyam Slava!
At the beginning I didn’t understand what they were chanting.
The speaker at the podium repeated, “Slava Ukraini” and a mass of people responded in one voice: “Heroyam Slava!”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Glory to Ukraine! Glory to its heroes!” was the answer I got from a girl wrapped in a blue and yellow flag.
Who are these heroes they are cheering? This time I resolved to find out the answer for myself.
At the end of November, massive protests began in Kiev against a decision of the Ukrainian government to withdraw from talks with the European Union over an important trade pact. The protest has continued nonstop in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), which is where the name “Euromaidan,” the term used for the demonstrations, comes from.
There were barricades, tents, music, flags, as well as thousands of people in the cold weather enjoying themselves. A big festival, I would have said. I couldn’t help making comparisons with similar protests fifteen years ago in my home city of Belgrade.
In order for Euromaidan to continue and for the people to combat the vicious cold, a lot of help was needed. Hundreds have been working in improvised kitchens in the square. People are cutting bread and ham to make sandwiches and preparing soup and tea for the freezing protesters.
One of the volunteers in the biggest kitchen is Lisa Shaposhnik, 27, a girl with a beautiful smile and pleasant voice who since childhood has had a mild form of cerebral palsy.
When she signed up as a volunteer, people didn’t give her much credit but now in the sea of people preparing meals for protesters and sharing them on the streets, she sits in her place and helps with the tea. Her job is to separate tea bags from threads and paper labels.
“I came to Euromaidan for the first time on November 24, and five days later I decided to stay all night,” she told me through an interpreter.
“That was one of the nights where the special police were beating protesters. I managed somehow to run away. One man helped me to get to the Globus shopping center where I found a taxi to get away.
“The next morning I returned and didn’t leave again. I offered myself as a volunteer in the kitchens. At the beginning I carried a crate with sandwiches, but that was too heavy for me, so then I tried cutting lemons and now as you can see I am preparing the tea bags. I feel happy here, I feel needed, and I am surrounded by friends. I will stay here until the end, because there is no other option!”
Shaposhnik came to Kiev from Donbass, in eastern Ukraine, just a few days before Euromaidan began. She grew up in Odessa while it was still the USSR, then moved to Sochi. Shaposhnik’s father is Ukrainian and her mother is Russian, and she began living independently at age 17. She came to Kiev looking for work because she couldn’t find it at home.
I photographed and interviewed Lisa in the kitchen, and asked her to show me her favorite parts of the square.
“I finish at 11:30 p.m., wait for me out front,” she told me.
We went together through the throngs of people while a rock concert was going on. People were warming themselves, jumping up and down and standing around barrels of roaring fire.
We didn’t talk much because unfortunately I don’t speak Ukrainian or Russian and Lisa doesn’t speak English. The interpreter wasn’t with us this time, but we managed to express ourselves through gestures.
I understood that I had to follow her so she could show me where she wanted to be photographed.
At the end we arrived at a wall covered in posters and flags. She pointed with her finger at a small black-and-white picture. She smiled as she said “Jesus.”
Christmas is coming and I had finally met the hero of one Ukrainian protester.