Our Epic Planet
When many of us think of an epic we usually think of great battles of the past with swords clashing and armies charging into a bloody fray. Some of us might see elves and orcs commanding great power or even wizards summoning ferocious beasts on landscapes of rolling hills with castles towering in the distance, and who can blame us for having such grand visions. However, as enticing as these ideas are it is important to realize that there are epics happening now all over our small world. They may not involve sorcery or ancient armor but there are men and women standing against powerful foes and making great sacrifices to save their country or secure a future for their loved ones that will offer more opportunity than they ever had. Heroes that have chosen to give up comfort to stand against a political tyrant or a hateful ideology. To honor those struggles, I created this page so that we will not forget that great deeds are not something of the past or exist only in fantasy realms but are present here and now in this world.
"He who fights for freedom is free"
I would like to start by saying this particular epic is personal for me because I had the pleasure of living and working in Ukraine for over a year. I taught English in Odessa, Ukraine in 2010 which was right around the time that Pro-European Union (EU) politician Yulia Tymoshenko and leader of the Orange Revolution was replaced by Russian ally Viktor Yanukovych. Four years later Yanukovych would be cast out of office by a legion of determined young Ukrainians that believed Ukraine’s future belonged with the EU. Unfortunately, while the progressive Ukrainians were successful in replacing Yanukovych, they enraged Pro-Russian separatists that lived in the East of Ukraine igniting a civil war. The instability gave Russian President Vladimir Putin the excuse he needed to cease Crimea with a shady election and sent privateer forces across the border to support Pro-Russian forces. Today the civil war is still burning and tensions with Russia have only gotten worse. Indeed, the ending to this epic is uncertain but there is without a doubt a story here that must be told and is worth the attention of the world.
As in most epics, the heroes of this tale come from humble backgrounds. Most of the Ukrainians involved in the fight for a western alliance were college kids or day laborers that were unsatisfied with the corruption they saw around them. Unfortunately, corruption is very common at all levels of government in Ukraine. I had multiple issues with border authorities that forced me to pay “fines” because regardless of the fact that I had a work visa, they managed to find a law that I had somehow violated. My most interesting experience was standing in the rain at midnight on the Ukrainian-Moldovan boarder while two men with AK-47s stared at me patiently waiting for me offer a solution to my “visa problem.” On the bright side, the current president Petro Poroshenko (also known as “The Chocolate King”) is a billionaire and major business mogul that ran on a Pro EU platform and as such promised to clean up corruption. The extent to which he has been successful is so far mild at best.
Back to the heroes of the story, I would like to highlight one in particular, my friend Andrii. He was a medical student at the time the protests in Maidan erupted and selflessly answered the call of his country. During the day he was interning in a doctor’s office and at night he would throw on a bike mask and helmet and enter the fray. He would usually spend his nights reinforcing barriers and mixing Molotov Cocktails which they would use to fling at police and Anti-Maidan forces that had began opening fire on weaponless protesters. In fact, after Yanukovych had fled and a new election was scheduled Andrii returned to his university in Odessa and was asked what he had learned in Kiev, referring to his medical internship, he replied, “How to make a Molotov Cocktail.”
However, Andrii wasn’t always on the front line. Because he had medical training he sometimes assisted with injuries where needed. Toward the beginning of the protests a young Ukrainian was carried to him with blood streaming down his face. The young man had been struck in the eye with shrapnel causing his eyeball to collapse. When Andrii saw it, his hands started shaking and a momentary wave of shock rolled over him. The injured man, remarkably noticed his doctors distress, gently took Andrii’s hand and told him, “I’m okay. Just patch me up so I can go back out there.” Following his comrades calm example, he managed to settle his own nerves and repair the man’s eye enough that he could continue the fight with an eye-patch.
As remarkable as the heroes themselves were, the setting they fought in was an epic scene in itself. Red flames threw up billowing plumes of black smoke that contrasted against sheets of white snow. Shelters made from plywood and scrap metal were constructed throughout the protest site and housed the rebels from the cold. Older men and women brought soup and other hot dishes to keep the soldiers spirits up. Even the surrounding shop owners opened their doors to the injured men and women and remarkably, while violence raged within Maidan Square itself, almost no damage was done to private businesses in the area. There was no looting or attacks on bystanders. In fact, one simply had to walk a few blocks in any direction and you wouldn’t even know a war for the soul of Ukraine was being waged. My favorite moment amidst the chaos was a moment when a woman decided to sit at a piano that had been brought into the fight and play a beautiful classical piece. Amidst the smoke, the ice, and fire a melody danced off the keys and into the fridge night. No words could ever catch the beauty of such a moment but cameras did.
I would like to end this short article by recommending a documentary that did an absolutely amazing job of catching the epic story that I, in my own limited ability tried to present. The documentary is called “Winter on Fine” and I have included the trailer below. Please take the time to watch it, you will not be disappointed. If there is a modern epic that deserves to be told it is this one.
Ukraine is an amazing country with wonderful people! It is rich in culture and spirit and I wish the country peace and prosperity in the near future.
Finally, a special thanks to my friend Andrii who took the time to show me around Maidan and tell me about his incredible experience!