Euromaidan kicked off in 21st November 2013, and fair to say I was against it from day 1. I’d lived in Kiev, seen first hand the elements behind Euromaidan (Svoboda, right), and none of it washed with me. President Yanukovych may have been unpopular with factions in Ukraine, but his 2010 election was described by observers as an ‘impressive display of democracy‘. As for the 2012 parliamentary election, whatever else is said about them, the observers from the European Academy for Elections Observation (most of whom where European Parliament members), stated it was “a good election, not perfect but clearly acceptable”.
Euromaidan rolled on through winter, then ramped up in January with the violent rioting of January 19th, on Kiev’s Grushevskogo street, which I was witness to. January 22nd saw the first deaths, Mikhail Zhyzneuski, a native of Belarus, and Serhiy Nihoyan, an ethnic Armenian. Attention focused in in Nihoyan, 21, of Bereznovativka, a small village near Dnipropetrovsk, in the east of Ukraine, with mass portrayal of him as a ‘fallen hero of Maidan’ etc. I saw things rather differently, actually I saw him as a troubled, and troubling, young man, with military training, and an affiliation to terrorist groups. I wrote a blog post stating that he was a terrorist.
My blog had been running for over a year by this time, I’d published a couple of hundred posts, and it had been growing in popularity, from dozens, to hundreds, to sometimes thousands of hits in a day. A new post would likely attract a couple of hundred hits on its first day, if a good day. My post, given the provocative title ‘Good News – Terrorist Killed in Kiev‘, immediately lit the touchpaper. That title, not meant to be gratuitously incendiary, rather to provide a polar position to the mass-purported version of Nihoyan as some sort of a slain hero. I’d been on Maidan, seen protesters hurling missiles, and molotovs as riot police took cover behind shields. Protesters had already moved onto guns by the time of Nihoyan’s death. There can be no doubt that the police on Maidan made mistakes, but they were also mostly young men. However they had the law on their side, and an order not to allow a violent mob to overthrow the government of Ukraine.
Whatever opinion there is of the former Ukrainian president and government (left, Yanukovych and former Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov), as they were, and the democracy which elected them, there can be no denying that they were far more democratic than the Euromaidan which overthrew them. Even if you put the figure of those protesters on Maidan as a generous 500,000, it’s still only 1% of Ukraine’s population. And the militant contingent which brought about the president, and government’s downfall, on February 22nd, just a couple of thousand. A couple of thousand, like Sergey Nihoyan. I called him a terrorist then, I’ll call him a terrorist now.
Of course the world is very different now, my own life is very different. And that column was instrumental in the latter. A stream of hate rained down upon me, hundreds of comments and messages with every single form of abuse imaginable. Now, I have a lot of supporters across the world. Then, I was new, and many still hadn’t fully decided what to make of Maidan, I had few real supporters, perhaps one or two comments shared my sentiments.
The rest, just a tirade of vitriol. I remember sitting with my mum, having gone back to the UK, then France, for my birthday (on my birthday here), comments pinging in pouring hatred, death wishes. My mum looking over my shoulder, just saying to me ‘Graham, what have you done…‘ I was a bit shocked by the level of venom, but, believed in, stood by what I’d written. Actually, the level of hatred fired me up, made more more determined to express things exactly as I saw them.
I returned to Ukraine shortly afterwards, and things were never quite the same. I’d taken the decision to live down in Odessa, understanding there would be less journalism work than in Kiev, but that compensated for by living in the amazing city of Odessa itself, learning Russian, more time to work on longer-term projects, books etc (myself pictured in Odessa here). As it was, there turned out to be next to no journalism work down in Odessa – there was just nothing of sufficient note happening there I could, as a freelancer, pitch in. So, I’d started my own business, beginning English lessons at an IT firm, Ciklum, becoming the sole teacher there, giving corporate classes.
And, if i do say so, I’d been making a pretty good living. Then, Euromaidan came along, and from the start, I didn’t support it. I actually thought my career as a journalist was over due to the divergence in my position and that of, it seemed, every other western correspondent. So, I didn’t even bother pitching articles in, but I was active in my views on Facebook, on my blog. These views started to clash with some of the students of Ciklum, many of whom had subscribed to the Euromaidan promise of a fast ticket into Europe, the associated glamour of the ‘revolution’ added by an instantly sold western, and Ukrainian press. (Myself with some Ciklum students, in happier times)
The secretary of Ciklum was a Maidan supporter, had started messing my classes around. The Euromaidan-supporting students were incensed that I, as a westerner wasn’t only not supporting the on-trend Maidan, but was an active critic of it. They had started not only boycotting my classes, but putting pressure on those other non-Maidan students to do so. Yet in all of this, I was hanging in there. I’d lost students, so streamlined my groups, and was getting through it. But, after the ‘terrorist’ article, I came back to a different office. Those previously against me now absolutely hated me, the pressure on those other students attending my lessons ramped up to where they were almost running a gauntlet to get to my classes.
I fought through the first couple of weeks of February, but it was getting tougher by the day – conspiracies going on behind my back to oust me, group emails pinging around the company looking to take me down, the collapsing hryvnia meaning it was necessary to renegotiate the rates of my lessons, but the company secretary making this entirely impossible. This was all coupled with my own losing interest in teaching, viewing it only as taking time from the journalism I wanted to be doing, having become a regular contributor for RT who found me through one of my blog posts, as action started to shift down in the Odessa direction. I began tweeting more, stating my intention to go to Crimea (pictured here on March 1st, Simferopol), as it rose up against Euromaidan’s unelected new power. Through this, I received a $500 offer to write an article for Politico magazine, along with an RT appearance.
I went down to Crimea, covered events there, came back to Odessa, ploughed on teaching for a few days, with some ex-students now openly rude to me. Yet, this didn’t bother me so much. I was fired up, focused. At the end of the first week, my mind abuzz with the need to cover everything that was going on, feeling something in the air, I quit my job at Ciklum, took the $500 from Politico, and set off to drive all over the east of Ukraine…