Word Origin: “Maidan” [my-DAWN] means “central square” in Ukrainian. The word originated during ancient times when critical issues like going to war or holding peace negotiations as a group were settled on the central square, or Maidan. Maidan also indicates a state of mind — to make a decision as part of a large group for the benefit of the entire group.
The idea for Women of Maidan began as something completely different. For most of 2012 I was bed-bound, recovering from an injury, and I spent my time reading news about my home country, Ukraine. I wondered why, with a highly educated female population, women were treated as sex objects in Ukraine — from mail order brides to human trafficking. And why, despite prostitution being illegal, Ukraine was becoming the leading European destination with a $700 million sex industry and two million sex tourists a year. I also questioned why the official number of rapes reported in the Ukraine was so much lower than what was being detailed by national and local media in the country. I saw a correlation between the violence against women, women’s status in Ukrainian society and the worsening regime of President Yanukovych.
The year 2012 was a key year for corrupt President Victor Yanukovych’s regime. As his “family” built excessive palaces and spent the country’s wealth entertaining the world’s elite, Ukraine was dying economically. There were no jobs, and no efforts by the government to create jobs. Industries that had produced for the entire Soviet Union were stripped into pieces and sold for nothing, or simply grabbed by those with access. Land was stolen from the people through corrupt privatization deals. A few at the top were getting everything while everyone else was left with nothing. Only those loyal to Yanukovych’s regime were able to conduct their business — they paid fees, or bribes, and in turn received privileged access and protection. The system operated similar to that of a street gang.
A year later, on a Saturday morning in November 2013, my mom called me from Ukraine crying and uttering, “the students, mostly girls, were brutally beaten in Kyiv,” I hung up in extreme distress. On the night of November 30th, 2013, special police forces trained to go after terrorists, illegal arms dealers and violent gangs had attacked a student rally, many of whom were young women. The students had assembled in the central square called “Maidan,” in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, to support the signing of a trade agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, an agreement that had been verbally supported by President Yanukovych himself. The students had hoped that an agreement between the EU and Ukraine might push the country toward that of a civilized European nation.
The next day I flew to Ukraine, and decided to follow the women. I believed that women as a group would show the true motives of the protest, without hidden political agendas for the sake of gaining more political power.
In my first days on Maidan, the atmosphere was tense, but what struck me was how well the protest was organized. There was order in everything, from how people took shifts to stand watch, how everyone was fed, where they slept, how they took showers and how they received medical treatment. It was as if an invisible hand was coordinating a massive amount of people; the majority of whom came from the countryside with a one-way ticket because that was all they could afford. They came because they were fed up. They’d quit their jobs, or if they were unemployed they had been chosen by their towns and villages. Food was donated, buses hired by the communities, and they were sent to the main square in Kyiv to protest. Once they arrived on the central square, people and businesses opened their arms to the protestors, offering a warm place to stay or a hot meal. Women became a core of this huge support effort, “the invisible hand” that allowed thousands of people to remain on Maidan through the brutal winter months, equip them for the cold and snow, and help them withstand police attacks, injury, and illness. Women sustained the life of the protestors. And one thing became clear, if enough women stood side by side with the men, their unity could defeat any regime.
Ultimately, they did. Victory was had when President Yanukovych fled the country. Three years later, in the midst of Russian aggression against Ukraine and Syria, a refugee crisis in Europe, and a presidential race in United States, Women of Maidan is a story that still resonates. It’s time for women around the world to recognize the power of the female force. The old ruling system based on protecting the interests of the “old boys club” is over. New ideas are on the rise. For the benefit of society as a whole, every woman and man who seeks freedom and prosperity for their country needs to stand up and speak out.