4It Starts With Psychological Warfare
If you've been following the Ukraine story on the news, you already know that square and snow fortress would eventually become the apocalyptic hellstorm you've seen on television recently. But the violence was the culmination of a long campaign of back-and-forth mindfucks.
And an ongoing attempt to birth history's most badass picture.
First, a little bit of background: All of this started when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych took a $15 billion bribe from Russia in exchange for pulling out of a treaty that would have brought his country closer to the European Union. The president wasn't exactly popular in the first place, doing things like rigging his election, as well as stealing $160 million from the central bank and using government funds to build a private palace complete with its own zoo. But this move to align with Russia over the EU was the last straw, and citizens who were terrified of winding up under Putin's reign started to protest.
The clashes with the government were nonviolent, for a while. Almost passive-aggressive, in fact. For example, one photographer we spoke to attended a human chain in front of one of the lines of riot police. Rather than packing their usual homemade shields and beat sticks, the protesters showed up with mirrors:
Shame! It's the emotional equivalent of a catapult loaded with rocks. Of course, the government had their own tactics, like forcing protesters to stand around naked in below-zero weather while riot police laughed and took photos.
Tensions built as the protesters made it clear they weren't going anywhere. And they knew that, eventually, the inevitable was going to happen ...
3All at Once, the Protest Becomes a Revolution
As in any war, the supply lines are crucial. The barricades don't hold themselves -- thousands of protesters eat thousands of pounds of food, drink thousands of pounds of water, and poop thousands of pounds of poop. They need supplies, waste management ... in other words, they have to run their own functioning city. To keep their fortress supplied, the protesters formed the Automaidan: car-owning cavalry who ferried supplies where they were needed. To quote another activist we spoke to, "Olesya":
"The Automaidan patrol the streets, they know where the police are -- which streets you can expect to see them at and when their patrols are scheduled for. If a car does get stopped by those police, they have a radio system, and they can call for reinforcements. Cars full of protesters will swarm the traffic stop and start taking video and yelling whenever we catch them violating some procedure."
So they didn't have time to decorate. It's still more Road Warrior than anything you've done.
Olesya's husband was involved in this continuing tit-for-tat between the Automaidan and the Berkut. At one point, some prisoners were being driven to a jail, and swarms of car-mounted protesters surrounded the motorcade on the highway and forced the police to stop. The protesters jammed the road, blocked all exits, and mobbed the police van with a sea of angry humanity. They told the Berkut they could walk out, but only if they removed their helmets so the protesters could take pictures of their faces. It was a rare victory during a difficult time, and the Automaidan paid for it. A few days later, Olesya said, the worst happened:
"They pulled over one vehicle in the Automaidan and stole their radio, so they started sending out requests for all the other drivers to converge on this one area. And when my husband and his comrades arrived, it was an ambush. They were all arrested and beaten, and their cars were impounded."
The whole thing was caught on video:
But the supplies kept flowing. In this brand new "wartime" economy, the two most valuable commodities were firewood (because nights with below-zero temperatures aren't uncommon) and tires. Try smuggling huge piles of either past a police checkpoint in your car to see why. The cops recognized this, and for weeks the citizens of Kiev couldn't transport car tires or firewood without risking a beatdown. For a brief time, Kiev was the only city on Earth where "felony possession of tires" was a thing. And just why are car tires useful? Well, it just so happens that you can stack a bunch of them up into a fairly effective barricade:
But fuck it, you can stack anything. The real value of the car tire is its ability to burn like a son of a bitch for hours while pouring off clouds of inky black poison smoke at anyone downwind. So when the Ukrainian police slammed against the rebel fortress, the only way to hold the barricades was by turning them into a ring of fire. Alexey was there for the final, apocalyptic showdown:
We'll just leave this here to set the scene.
"The Berkut were very close now ... The whole place was disorganized, and a lot of the self-defense force guys were missing. Berkut snipers with rubber bullets were shooting for the heads and abdomens of the Afghan veterans to remove them from the scene. At some point we [civilians] realized that this was all on us. We had to stop the attack from progressing ... The cannonade was nonstop. Something was exploding every second. Stun grenades and smoke grenades, mostly. The police had advanced right up to the barricade. So the protesters decided to light the barricades on fire to keep them out."
A thousand heavy metal album covers were born that night.