By Michael Willard
It seems like only a fortnight back that Olga and I were on Kyiv’s Maidan and a revolution was raging with an uncertain future.
But it has been six years ago. Memories are as fresh as every tragedy and triumph.
During this week back then militia assaults were repelled but 100 people in and around ground zero, a hundred yards from our apartment, were murdered by sniper fire.
So much has happened since.
For starters, Olga and I, as well as two teenagers, moved to Florida where life and doing business is rather placid, more like the Blue Danube Waltz compared to Ukraine’s 1812 Overture with booming cannons.
But, we remember, and while I am not one for the ritualistic “thoughts and prayers”, I often reflect, which I think is slightly different from that oft-intoned cliche’.
Revolution and violence are not new to me.
Though on the sidelines as an observer and scribe, I covered the civil rights struggles in America’s south as a reporter. I camped out in Harlan, Kentucky in the 70s chronicling the violent Brookside mining strike.
In the 80s, I witnessed up close wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador, meeting with guerrilla leaders, as well as the militia that hunted them.
The 1990s found me in Sarajevo via a UN plane immediately after the Bosnian War, huddling and advising the Prime Minister on an issue not decided by the Dayton Peace Accord.
I stayed in a private home that had lost several of its occupants to a bomb that exploded in their backyard. I watched Larry King on CNN in one room, and in another, there was a huge gap caused by the earlier blast.
But, absolutely nothing approached February 2014 for sheer razor’s edge drama, living as we did about the distance Quarterback Tom Brady could toss a football, uphill from Kyiv’s Maidan.
We were, in essence, bystanders. I, personally, never claimed to be brave, but mostly curious, and then outraged.
We brought food and clothing down the hill, and we stood in large crowds shouting patriotic slogans against a corrupt, authoritarian regime led by a president who cozied up to Vladimir Putin.
Proceeds from my book, “Urainia: A Fable” went to buy medical supplies for the injured. I virtually suspended doing business, telling our staff to join the revolution, and they did.
I have never known a braver, more determined people, many of whom lost their lives and are still losing their lives in a war against Russia in Ukraine’s east — more than 13,000 to date.
With Mad Max armor and sticks for weapons, they overturned President Viktor Yanukovych’s Putin-backed regime with its trained militia, sharp-shooters and heavy weaponry.
Then, when called on, they took the fight to the East.
The whole world saw — when we finally got its attention — what a country could do to change its miserable lot, a nation where corrupt officials — with the help of an American named Paul Manafort — took up to $11 billion a year from the country’s coffers for their baubles and pleasures.
Some years ago I wrote an autobiographical book about my years in Eastern Europe. It was called “The Optimistic Alien”.
I will confess there was a time prior to the revolution, I was having second thoughts about all this optimism. Now, I am relatively confident about Ukraine’s future.
However, we are in the United States now.
These days — given an authoritarian-leaning leader named Donald Trump who seems at time to be bedmates with Putin, I am not nearly so optimistic about America’s future as I am Ukraine’s.
I’m not suggesting its time to man the barricades and tear up the streets, using the bricks for weapons as was done on Kyiv’s Maidan.
Today, however, America’s holiest values are being threatened. This has become more obvious every day. We have to democratically end the nightmare.