During riots in Kiev Denys Bykovskyi stood on the pro-EU side of the fence. Now he is seeking a future for himself inside the European Union.
By Rikke Mathiassen and Maria Danmark
Lublin, Poland – Last year, now 24-year-old Denys Bykovskyi found himself in the center of the Ukrainian crisis, when fighting between protesters and the police escalated at the Maidan Square in Kiev. It was a wave of confrontations, which soon was named ‘Euromaidan’, because the demonstrators advocated for closer ties with Western institutions such as the EU instead of with Russia.
Denys Bykovskyi were there to support the protesters:
“I was at Maidan. I saw all those killings. I helped a friend of my mom, uncle Sergey. We carried the injured people from Maidan into the church”, he recalls.
He is telling his story sitting at the corner table at a local McDonalds. He has just finished a small cheeseburger. Less than six months ago his home was in Kiev, Ukraine. Now it is in a student dormitory in the city of Lublin in Eastern Poland, where he has recently started his Master’s degree in computer engineering.
“That picture was taken on the first day of the Russian aggression on Crimea”, he explains while pointing to a photo of himself on his smartphone: He is wearing the same dark green jacket as he was, when he entered the fast food restaurant less than an hour ago. In this picture, however, he also wearing a green army helmet while holding a meter long metal shield in front of his body. In the background, bare grey walls of a building half covered in a vague smoke, some tents, bright yellow and blue flags.
“On the 18th of February, I was watching what was happening on TV, and I told my mom that I couldn’t stay at home. And on the 20th of February I came to Maidan”, he says: “My mom said no, you must stay at home, but I was not listening. I wanted to help people there.”
That night, Kiev saw its worst day of violence in almost 70 years. A friend of one of Denys Bykovskyi’s friends died. So did dozens of other people. Even a year after, Denys Bykovskyi still has trouble falling asleep from the memory of what happened:
“One man was walking beside me, and then suddenly, he fell down…” Denys Bykovskyi pauses for a moment. “I was thinking ‘Please God, not me. I want to live just one hour more, I want to help the people on Maidan, I want to see my parents. One more hour, please.’”
Denys Bykovskyi says he escaped the violence during the Euromaidan with a couple of bruises on his legs from being beaten by the police. But he is okay now: “Most people who go to war or something like that, have seen more than I”.
For now, Denys Bykovskyi is planning on pursuing his career in Poland, and only to go back to Ukraine now and again to visit his mother in Kiev. Meanwhile, he is not in doubt about what he wishes for the future of the Ukrainians:
“We want to be in the EU and NATO and we want to build a big wall between us and Russia”, he says: “We want Crimea back because it is ours, and not a Russian territory. We want peace.”
Featured image: Denys Bykovskyi ignored when his mother told him to stay away from the Maidan Square and went out there to help. Photo: Private/Rikke Mathiassen & Maria Danmark