A novelist takes the pulse of Kiev's Independence Square — and remains hopeful

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Kiev is ground zero for anti-government protesters in Ukraine.


Andrey Kurkov

Ukrainian Novelist Andrey Kurkov grew up on the outskirts of Kiev dreaming of living in the center of the city. Today, he lives not far from Independence Square, where a two-month long protest rages on.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Needless to say, it’s a dramatically different center than the one that he imagined as a child. Since the protests began, he's been visiting the Euromaidan, or Independence Square, on a daily basis.

“I’m a natural optimist. I always believe everything will end up well. Now I think also everything will end up well, I just don’t know when,” Kurkov said.

Protesters did win a major battle Tuesday when the Ukrainian parliament repealed anti-protest laws. The laws, passed earlier in the month, prohibited protesters from wearing helmets or gas masks and increased prison sentences for those convicted of creating disorder. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov also resigned on Tuesday.

Still, protesters remain encamped in the square and, according to Kurkov, their mood remains rather gloomy.

“Their psychological state changed a lot,” Kurkov said. Many protesters don’t trust opposition leaders to speak on their behalf, he adds.

“You can’t just stop protests with decision of opposition leaders who don’t have much respect from protesters who have spent two months on Independence Square,” Kurkov said.

A very small percentage of protesters are ready to accept one of the three opposition leaders according to Kurkov.

“The talks between opposition leaders and President Yanukovich sound more like bargaining about posts in the government and laws," Kurkov said. "It’s too sophisticated for the majority of the protesters."

Andrey Kurkov’s most famous book in the west is called Death and the Penguin. It's a satirical look at post-Soviet Ukraine, published well before recent protests and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution 2004. The plot is full of executed journalists, rampant political corruption, moral and political chaos. In short, it’s a pretty bleak picture of Ukrainian life.

But when asked if Kurkov thinks this fictional reality has come to pass, he says no.

“I do have hope. I wrote the novel in 1995 when life was very bleak. It was very dangerous to be outside. People were installing bullet proof doors on their flats,” he said. 

In fact, he still has bullet proof doors on both of his apartments. But the difference, he says, is that today he doesn’t need them.