Today should of been the day when we were gonna throw it back to Chernobyl, by now we should of somehow realised that nowt ever goes right for us, as despite having emailed the hostel 3 days in advance to book it for us (and the government require 3 days advance notice to sort out your documents etc) they didn’t reply until a day later when it was too late. Factoring in our as yet unresolved cash flow crisis this was probably for the best. So over a spot of breakfast and beers in the hostel we decided the only thing for it was to head into Maidan Square to soak up the aftermath of an historic event – how often is history happening right up close to you, like an onion?
Now being experts at the Kyiv Metro Location Unit, we jumped on the metro for the two stops to Maidan and headed up the infinite escalator, quite unsure as to what we would find at the top. The metro emerged slap bang in the middle of the protesters encampment – a desolated square, covered in khaki tents with fires on the go, banners with patriotic slogans and Ukrainian flags, huge barricades of debris, tyres and burned out vehicles, the charred remains once-grand international bank headquarters and literally MOUNTAINS of flowers and candles for the people killed during the most violent couple of days of the riots. Words can’t describe the atmosphere – it was very sombre and triumphant at the same time. Someone we met later that day summed the feeling up very well – “We have won our freedom, but the cost was very high.” We would have felt very intrusive and disrespectful to be taking photos of the whole scene, but there were loads of people with cameras so we went ahead and got some really good pictures (too many to add to this post – we need to sort through them!). There was a big stage with some priests and lots of religious imagery, chanting what appeared to be a memorial to the dead Ukrainians and the whole place was generally a bit hushed and respectful, but as is always our way, we were approached by a couple of blokes who were bumming cigarettes from Jill, trying to communicate in international sign language and were pissing themselves laughing at our back of hand phrase books. We had a bit of a wander, taking in the whole thing which was quite upsetting and harrowing – so many photos of the people who had died over the course of the riots (bearing in mind these are not soldiers just normal folk who love their country and refused to sit down and take the blue pill, and were from such a diverse range of ages and backgrounds) and we wish we could have understood all the notes and tributes left to these brave boys (not being sexist, no women were killed). After an hour or so of exploring the area (after an interlude bumping into our rambunctious boys again) and noting that the Mothercare right in the midst of it all and made of glass was unharmed, we wandered off and happened upon a likely looking 24 hour bar in the corner of the square. We sat and enjoyed a couple of ciders and ear wigged to the news team behind us discussing their daily reports whilst adding our own running commentary about how they should shut up about what Obama says and let Ukraine be Ukraine. After the now repetitive question of “Why are you going to Dnipropetrovsk??? we tried again to learn how to say it, with the bemused bartender repeating himself whilst Susan intently replied “Dnipnobnobtnobnob?” to his further irritation. Susan went for a comfort break and returned to find Jill had become best friends with the aforementioned Australian journalist working for Chinese TV (who Susan had already planned to break the ice with the opener “Are you an MGM movie mogul? I’m not gay but I’m willing to do stuff to get to the top” and the sight of Jill in a riot helmet being hugged by a kevlar coated protester! Well she wasn’t expecting that! After he insisted Susan also try on his helmet it transpired that he had been in the middle of the protests and had lost a good friend, been shot in the leg by a sniper and had a bullet stuck in his jacket so was a big mission to get drunk, which is very understandably but his girlfriend was not happy about it.
Our new best friend for the day was called Dino, and he emotionally recounted for us what had happened on the night when the death toll soared and Ukraine finally overturned its government. It was the kind of thing that you really don’t know how to respond to, but we listened intently and bought him drinks (introducing him to that exotic new beverage – cider) , while trying to politely deflect the interruptions of the American bloke on the next bar stool who knew Kiev well and had been around at the time, Craig from we’re not sure where as he had so many houses, who was a nice bloke but “American (fuck yeah)”, despite looking like he should be selling acid at Woodstock. After many drinks and more than a few heated exchanges between Dino and Olga, they again donned their riot gear to go back out onto the street and were heading off to the church down the road to say a prayer for the fallen lads and invited us along but we politely declined, feeling it would inappropriate with us a) not wanting to intrude on a private moment b) having no real idea of their loss and c) the Pickwick Papers. After they left (after giving Jill a good dressing down for not wearing a coat) Susan was in the midst of a heated debate with now known to be a Republican Craig, who was slagging off Obama for not having enough wars and looking after poor people and thought Susan would be an easy target for brain washing, but she had been watching The Daily Show and Colbert Report so was well versed in US politics to argue back and proved to be a worthy adversary, the fella in the corner who had been drinking silently since we arrived who we thought was a local Ukrainian (from his dour expression) piped up from the corner and turned out to be a 72 year old bloke from Philadelphia who had rang his son with “it’s all kicking off in Ukraine – lets go!”. We ended up chatting to the three for the rest of the afternoon – (Mega-Dan and Mega-Dad and Mega-Republican). Mega Dan was an almost mulleted musician with “Heavy Metal” tattooed on his arm and kept bumming Jill’s tabs so he could pretend it was marijuana and he was an interesting chilled out dude who turned out to be Susan’s birthday twin and really loved his 22 year old, blind chihuahua, much to the chagrin of Craig who bred Newfoundlands which is a mans dog and Susan who hates small yappy type dags. Mega Dad was a really decent bloke with some socialist views that obviously us Northerners appreciated and we couldn’t believe he was 72. He and Susan had a lovefest over their philosophies and tormenting of Republican Craig over his opinions on gun laws and Obamacare and Susan was paid the highest compliment of “You could be an American” to which she of course she replied “Well I dinnit want to be! Why would I want to be!” and Jill exclaiming “she doesn’t want to have to go off and spill coffee on herself and sue someone!”. Things got very heated in the political arena with Susan and Mega-Dad on one side and poor bullied Republican Craig on t’other who a few times tried to put his coat on and leave, only to be dragged back and hugged and bought a cider and then shouted at again for his views, and Jill and Mega Dan on the sidelines looking on bemusedly whilst discussing heavy metal. Things calmed down for a while until Susan side mouthed to Jill “watch this” and loudly proclaimed “What about them Mexicans eh?” only to be surprised by both parties being in favour of Mexicans. All of these words cannot accurately describe the proceedings on this afternoon, but let it be said that all parties were top blokes and the heated debates were amazing, even the ones about heavy metal and kitchen appliances and dog breeds.
Eventually it was time for us to head back to the hostel, collect our bags from the locker room and head off to the central station to catch our night train to Dnipropetrovsk via a kiosk for some night train beers (we grabbed two big bottles of what looked like “Potato” but in cyrillic). We shared our train compartment with a young couple from Dnepropetrovsk, the lady half of which was very cute, joyous and friendly for a Ukranian and again asked us “Why are you going there? What have you heard is there? There is nothing!”, and found it hilarious when we proffered her our bottle and said “potato?”. Thanks to our good friend Google translate, we managed to tell them to tell us to shut up and go to bed if they wanted to go to sleep, found out how to get up to said beds (we couldn’t find any ladders and they were too high for us to climb up with our arms at our time of life with our knees) and tell her (once her boyfriend had stormed off in a sulk after an apparent tiff) that she was too good for him and that she should be a strong independent black woman who don’t need no man). Eventually we managed to scale the high peaks of the bunk beds and settle down to sleep before we were brutally woken up prior to arrival in Dnipro. And that my friends is another story and will told another time, along with the photos, as we are now having to go back to the hostel to rendezvous with the hostel boys for a Paddy’s Day night. But to sum it up it was a very emotional day that ended up with us making numerous good friends and having some great craic.