KIEV—Three years ago Ukrainians decided they would not tolerate a bunch of crooks and liars in power and an uprising in the streets, centered on Maidan Nezalezhnosti Square in Kiev, toppled the country’s leader. President Victor Yanukovych fled to Russia in disgrace, leaving Ukraine inflamed by what came to be called the Revolution of Dignity.
The more people learned after he left, the angrier they became. They discovered the truth about their president’s failed promises, his outrageous corruption, the absurd luxury that he enjoyed in his wooden palace outside of Kiev, where the staircases alone cost $200,000—unimaginable money for an average Ukrainian family.
Today, new liars and crooks are making Ukrainians furious, as more despicable crimes traumatize this vast European country that borders Poland, Belarus, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova and, yes, Russia—a frontier that Moscow is determined to re-draw.
To mark the anniversary of the revolution, several thousand people flooded Kiev’s center on Monday. Police alarms screamed all over the city. Hundreds of military and police units blocked the streets around Maidan Nezalezhnosti and checked every bag and purse that pedestrians brought with them to the square.
“The opposition promised to burn more tires, the revolution goes on,” one of the policemen, smiling, explained to The Daily Beast.
At about 2:00 p.m. over 500 far-right activists from the Azov Battalion marched first to the presidential administration headquarters, then to the Prosecutor General’s office, chanting, “Power of the nation!”
The protesters set up pieces of marble to build symbolic graves in front of the prosecutors’ headquarters with the names of “People Buried In Maidan’s Cause” carved on the stone.
As night fell, protesters did indeed begin to burn tires. Artem Skoropadsky, press secretary for the radical Right Sector, told The Daily Beast that the plan was to go and smash the oligarch Viktor Medvechuk’s office (which they did shortly thereafter). “He is one of Ukraine’s traitors, he lives in Moscow, works for Putin, so at least we should punish him,” Skoropadsky said.
Some of the crucial truths that inspired the Revolution of Dignity on November 21, 2013, were first revealed by a team of independent reporters from Ukrainska Pravda, the most trusted publication in the country, read by up to one million people a day. Then, two of the best investigative reporters, Mustafa Nayem and Serhiy Leshchenko, joined the post-revolutionary parliament to push for reforms.
To fill in the gap the in the staff and start bringing up a new generation of investigative reporters, Ukrainska Pravda’s publisher Pavel Sheremet, and its founder, Alyona Pritula (the love of his life), organized training courses for dozens of talented reporters.
“Today Ukraine needs an army of investigative journalists,” Sheremet told his friends last year.
But somebody in post-Maidan Ukraine did not want that.
In July, an assassin used a car bomb to murder Sheremet right by Kiev’s Opera House.
For the last few months, Sheremet’s students, young reporters, and his close friends have been trying to find out who committed the murder, and who ordered it.
“We do not trust police investigators,” says Dmytro Gnap, a senior investigative journalist at Hromadske TV. “We can count only on our own efforts and here is what we think: Russia has nothing to do with our friend’s murder.” (Moscow has been behind many crimes, to be sure, but it is also the default villain in just about every Ukraine conspiracy theory.)
“Our investigation gives us clues to at least five people involved in setting up the explosives and killing Sheremet,” Gnap tells The Daily Beast. “We believe that the assassins and organizers were local.”
Hromadske TV journalists investigated the murder in cooperation with Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project investigators, who had previously researched the scandalous Panama Papers.
“Time works against us, but even if it takes years, we are going to find out who ordered Sheremet’s murder. This is a matter of our personal professional dignity,” said Gnap.
Protesters hungry for quick revolutionary gratification did indeed set Medvechuk’s office on fire. The oligarch was famous for saying it was his “honor to be close to Putin.” Last year, in a grotesque affront to public sentiment, Medvechuk reportedly bought a luxury yacht, Royal Romance, for $214 million.
Ukrainians have no tolerance left for rich hypocrites. This is a country where, according to the latest social polls conducted by The Institute of Public Politics, 74.5 percent of the population fears poverty more than anything else.
While firefighters and police units were busy putting out the blaze and providing security for pedestrians outside of Medvechuk’s office, more news arrived: Somebody was smashing windows at the Russian Saving Bank in Kiev’s downtown.
It seemed Freedom and Dignity Day sounded to some disillusioned Ukrainians like a good time for revenge. They were tired of waiting for better times, they said. The reforms were too slow, the government too corrupt.
“People want to see success stories, the new laws being implemented, criminals punished but the progress has frozen, it is just a nice façade—we can hardly push through any of our ideas,”said Olena Salata, an expert in one of the most hopeful post-Maidan groups called Reanimation Package of Reforms.
Wounded by the Russian annexation of Crimea, by the war in the eastern Donbas region, by the economic crises, by millions of people living under separatist rule, Ukraine lives with constant post-traumatic stress disorder.
Three years ago many lost their friends to bullets here on Maidan square. Today the horrible memories stood up before their eyes, once again.
Was Ukraine worried about Putin-Trump bromance on this day?
“Nobody here thinks of Putin or Trump today, we have our own crooks to deal with, we look for our own truth, we care about our own dignity and courage, that we hope will be more pure than in Russia and America,” said Mykola Usaty, a veteran of the Donbas war, as we stood in Maidan.
The activist said that the demonstration’s goal was to remind the current government about the rules during the Revolution of Dignity, when to get a green light for every step, for every action, politicians had to seek permission from the crowd in the revolutionary square.
Today many progressive thinkers in Ukraine hope that even if it takes time, their country will succeed with reform and develop its democratic institutions.
One of the strongest optimists is Nataliya Gumenyuk, editor-in-chief of Hromadske International. In a recent interview, Gumenyuk told The Daily Beast that she saw bright possibilities in Ukraine’s future.
Gumenyuk had just returned to Kiev after covering the U.S. elections. Traveling around the southern states, she met with Donald Trump’s supporters, who often reminded Gumenyuk of Donbas separatists.
“If not for the success of our democrat revolution, I would have been in prison today, there would have been no journalist investigations, no anti-corruption organizations, and Trump’s [former campaign manager and] adviser Paul Manafort would have been friends with President Yanukovych,” said Gumenyuk over dinner. “So I suggest we celebrate and feel happy today. Three years ago we managed to catch the very last train of the democrat revolution.”