Ukrainians remember the first anniversary of the start of their revolution

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Doesn't it seem like Ukraine has been in trouble forever - annexation of Crimea, a war in the east of the country. But hang on, a reality check is in order. It was only one year ago today that the first demonstration took place on the Maidan square in downtown Kiev. A few hundred people went out to protest the decision of President Viktor Yanukovych to veto a deal for a closer association with the European Union. A year later, Yanukovych is gone, chased out, but Ukraine has also been partially occupied by Russia. It's been torn apart by violence. A passenger plane shot down was one of the worst causalities and things are not at all settled. Max Seddon was in Kiev a year ago reporting for Buzzfeed. Max, what did you make of that first demonstration?

 

Max Seddon: Well, this was a [unclear 00:00:50]. It was a cold, drizzly evening. People thought will this be a new revolution with hundreds of thousands of people in the Maidan, the central square in Kiev. It was nothing like that. There was about 1,000 to 1,500 people. At one point someone had grabbed a megaphone and said, "Let's march on to presidential administration." Everyone laughed. It didn't start until really late. Nothing was really going on. There was this tiny little occupy style tent encampment but it really didn't feel like it was going anywhere. The opposition politicians weren't very popular among even the protestors. They totally failed to energize the crowd and there really wasn't much sense for I think the vast majority of people who were even there that something was going to happen.

 

Werman: The way you describe it in Buzzfeed, it seems there was a lot of hesitancy, almost nervousness about taking the protest too far. Were people afraid? What or who got them energized enough to push ahead?

 

Seddon: I think you really have to distinguish between two phases of the protest which were different, not just in size and scale but also the motivation. The first protests that happened for about a week or so were really very about this pretty boring and arcane economic agreement with the European Union but it still wasn't getting people particularly energized until after the summit in Lithuania where Yanukovych finally did not sign the agreement. When he came back riot police came in the middle of the night and violently dispersed this tent encampment that was out on the square and that was the moment when everything changed, when it stopped being about this arcane deal with the EU and it started being a real revolution. We want to get rid of the president. We're sick of corruption. The next Sunday after that you had the largest protest in the history of Ukraine and the first time you had the pictures that really started grabbing people's attention around the world. I was actually out of town on that day. A couple of hours in I saw the police had fled. The people had seized the square. I got on the first plane to Kiev and it was like night and day. It was like two different worlds on that square. You had this real carnival atmosphere. People were really euphoric. People just sounded really excited, really motivated.

 

Werman: Now, the EU and the west have been very critical of Putin; have imposed stern sanctions on Russia. If you ask those Ukrainians today, who yearn to be part of a greater western alliance not allied with Russia, do you think they'd say that the west for the past year has had their back and eager to join forces with them still?

 

Seddon: one thing that's happened quite a lot over the last year for a lot of pro-European Ukrainians is that they have really sobered up and stopped idealizing the west in the way that they did before Maidan started. Because for all of the problems of the European Union to [unclear 00:03:36] up in Ukraine it looks like a paradise on earth compared to the absolutely appalling [unclear 00:03:40] you've put up with for the entirety of your nation's history. People really thought for the first month or so of the protests until the end of last year before things got violent that the European Union and America were going to come in like white knights and save them. That didn't happen. All that happened was the European and American officials would put out these statements every time something bad happened and said they were deeply concerned. This just became a joke essentially to a lot of Ukrainians and they saw that really if they wanted things to happen they were going to have to change things themselves.

 

Werman: Max Seddon of Buzzfeed speaking with me from Kiev, just where he was a year ago today when the first demonstration took place on the Maidan. Max, thank you.

 

Seddon: All right, thank you very much.

 

Werman: This past year of conflict has taken a huge toll on Ukrainians - 4,000 dead, thousands more displaced from their homes, and then there's the pain of seeing your country divided or worse your family divided. One of the BBC's reporters in Ukraine is Anastasiya Gribanova. She's based in Kiev for the past year but Anastasiya is originally from the troubled eastern part of the country. Here are her reflections on the past 12 months of turmoil.

 

Anastasiya Gribanova: I'm from the Donetsk region. My parents live in a small village not far from Donetsk. It's actually a territory which is controlled by the Ukrainian army. I remember the moment when I called my mom and I could hear the blasts, I could hear the shelling. I don't know. I could not believe it's happening to my family. I know it's a very peaceful village. Nothing is ever happening there. Well, I could not imagine that in my life there would be a war which would change everything I know, change the place where I used to live, where I used to grow, and it's breaking my heart I can say probably. Because I know that a year ago when I was home the last time it looked completely different. People were completely different. It's something personal. It's really intense and it hurts. It really hurts. My mom told me that she's never going to come to Kiev ever because it's been ruled by military and it's a city where she's afraid she's going to be killed just because she's from Donetsk. That's what the people believe there. There's a phrase my mom keeps telling me every time I call her. You do it in Kiev. That's all your fault. I don't know. She's addressing it personally to me and to all people living here. It's your fault. You're the ones that started it all. We all had a legitimate president. We all lived happily. There was no war. I'm sorry. I think I'm melting down a bit. I know she loves me and I love her too and every time we start arguing I call her and she just hangs up on me. I call her back and I tell her, "Mom, come on. I love you. I don't care. Let's forget about everything." That's the key point - that we love each other and I want everyone to just be happy and to be alive which is the main point even if they live in a completely different country.

 

Werman: You can really feel how painful Ukraine's crisis is for her. The BBC's Anastasiya Gribanova. Thanks to our friends on the BBC's fifth floor, home to the network's Ukrainian and other language services.