“Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s fight for freedom” is a 2015 documentary film directed by Evgeny Afineevsky that has all of a sudden become even more relevant due to the current tensions between Ukraine and Russia. It is a reminder of the strength of the human spirit and of a time when the Ukrainians stood against tyranny. There are two ways of living life. Either you follow a non-partisan approach, where you close your eyes and believe that the world around you does not see you, or you fight against what you think is wrong. Privileged are those who think that they can be apolitical in a world that is run by megalomaniacs, where to fulfill one’s vendetta, people are ready to stoop so low that it would give even the most unscrupulous person a run for his money.
In 2013, the citizens of Ukraine showed us that they were not ready to sit on their comfortable couches and merely criticize the political discourse taken by the fourth President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Instead, they came out on the streets to protest against the regime that was not being democratic in its approach. In November 2013, a lot of students came onto the streets and started protesting against the decision of the government to not join the European Union. Russia had vehemently opposed the decision to join the EU and had made a declaration that if Ukraine did not join the EU, then it would give a loan of 15 billion dollars to Ukraine and even offered to provide gas at a cheaper rate. President Yanukovych struck a deal with Vladimir Putin, and what followed was a revolution by the citizens of Ukraine that came to be known as the Revolution of Dignity.
Who Were The “Berkut” And The “Titushky”?
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a special police unit was formed in Ukraine that came to be known as the Berkut. The force was known for its notoriety and came directly under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. When the protest started at the independence square, the Berkut was ordered to get the crowd dispersed. They used rubber bullets and tear gas in the beginning, but as the situation became worse, actual shells were also used. Their actions were often extrajudicial in nature.
On the other hand, Titushky were mercenary agents who were ready to do any illegal act for money. They banded together to wreak havoc on the innocent people peacefully protesting in Maidan Nezalezhnosti. The Titushky achieved new heights of barbarity, proving that they were devoid of any consciousness whatsoever. The Berkut were smart enough to put some members of the Titushky amidst the group of protesters. They incited the crowd and started the violence, which gave Berkut a free hand to take any detrimental action.
How Did “Maidan” Become A Symbol Of Freedom?
The Independence Square in Kyiv, also known as Maidan Nezalezhnosti, became the focal point for the protest. The people on Maidan did not represent any religion or sect. They did not belong to any nationality. They did not belong to any caste or race. They were just revolutionaries fighting for their freedom. They wanted to be a part of the European Union and were forced to come out on the street as the dictatorial regime was not ready to listen to their voice. They built barricades by welding together whatever they got and creating a boundary using ice and water. On December 11th, 2013, when the Birkuts started pushing the barricades back and tried to enter the premises by breaking the hand chain formed by the protestors, something unusual happened.
All the bells of the Mykhaylovsky Monastery started ringing. Ivan Sydor, the priest, and the bellringer, knew that he had to do something when he started getting calls at around 1:30 in the night. The last time all the bells rang was in 1240, when the Mongols invaded Kyiv. The signal was loud and clear. The Ukrainian people were in no mood to back off. They knew that in order to keep the revolution going, they had to pay a considerable price, and they were ready for that. They were doing it for their children, for the generations to come, and to make this world a better place to live in. As a result, more and more people started pouring in, and as a result, the Berkut had to back off. The protest kept ongoing, and the lives of many innocent people were lost. But what the people didn’t lose was courage, and they showed the world the power of unity. They fought for their country and a better future. They were humiliated, beaten, bruised, and killed. But they refused to stand down.
The revolution went on for 93 days, and such was the aftermath that the Berkut forces were permanently disbanded. Victor Yanukovych fled Kyiv and was given refuge by his ally, Vladimir Putin, in Russia. Today, when we stand at the brink of yet another untoward situation, we question the worth of human life. In the fierce battle of diplomatic supremacy, the aggressors are to be blamed as much as those who decide to stay quiet, who sit on the fence and watch the show. Let’s allow this fact to sink in.
“Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s fight for freedom” is a 2015 documentary film directed by Evgeny Afineevsky.