Faces of Maidan: Story of Student Activist Vitaliy Kuzmenko
Kuzmenko was injured when security forces attacked Euromaidan protesters on Nov. 30th, 2013. He would later join the military as an intelligence officer
He joined others who had been protesting for days in support of the Association Agreement with the European Union. They were peaceful protests, with songs, placards, and tea. But on Nov. 30th, in the middle of the night, a new page in Euromaidan history began.
“We were pushed back and gathered in one place, we had no chance to escape. They started beating us, pulling people out one-by-one out of the crowd. I tried to hide. I was pulled down from the stairs, dragged onto the other side of the street. Then I spent several hours in a police van,” Kuzmenko said.
That night, there were around 200 people at Kyiv’s Independence Square. Most of them were university students. Kuzmenko was beaten by the security service. The security service gave him a concussion and broke his arm.
About 80 people were injured and some three dozen detained. It was the first attempt to disperse Euromaidan protesters. But the violence led to a new stage in the protests. In one day, millions of people took to the streets across Ukraine.
With his arm in a cast, Kuzmenko returned to Euromaidan as soon as he left the hospital.
“I couldn’t fight. But I could do everything else. My elbow joint was broken and I had to go through some rehabilitation. However, the events that were happening in February took my mind off my broken arm completely,” Kuzmenko said. “It was one long day. From the 18th of February through the 20th. It all merged into one day, starting from the morning of the 18th. On the 20th of February, I couldn’t understand what was happening. Dead bodies were lying on the streets. We were going up to Institutska Street and saw those bodies.”
According to official data, 107 people were killed during the pro-EU protests. Most of them were shot in central Kyiv starting on Feb. 18th through the 20th.
On Feb. 21, Yanukovych and his associates fled the country.
“There was no euphoria after it all happened. For me, Maidan ended when Yanukovich was ousted, from that moment our country needed changes,” Kuzmenko said.
Kuzmenko had planned to graduate from university and to develop his business, which he opened shortly before Euromaidan. But Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its military intervention in eastern Ukraine made him rethink his goals in life.
“When your country is at war, you can’t just sit in Kyiv and think that you have done enough and proceed to do other things,” he said.
So Kuzmenko served as an intelligence officer for a time. In 2016, he returned to civilian life. Now he’s working with others who fought in the war to create the Ministry of Veterans.