It was a cold Thursday morning and Independence Square in Kiev was covered in a slushy soup thanks to the water cannon. Paving stones had been pulled up in many places and used by the protesters as projectiles for their catapults while car tires burned on the barricades. Demonstrators directly behind them threw Molotov cocktails and the sound of gunshots rang through the air. Men who had pulled gas masks or motorcycle helmets over their heads carried the injured through the center of Kiev, the wonderfully European capital of Ukraine. Many of them shouted in fury while others screamed in pain. The smell of smoke filled the air on this Feb. 20, 2014, as did the sound of explosions.
As he was lying there in front of me on Institutska Street at the edge of the square, more commonly known as the Maidan, he was 51 years and 117 days old. His yellow neckerchief had slid up over his face and he was no longer moving. A group of men surrounded him and were screaming at him and each other.
Two of them had kneeled next down to the man and were trying to resuscitate him, one of the men pressing down hard on his breast with his hands, one on top of the other. The other plugged his nose with thumb and forefinger, placed his mouth over the victim's and blew in a breath of air. They tried over and over again, five or six times. But to no avail.
The way the paramedics tried to treat him; the way he was lying on the ground; the way the chaos continued to spread around them: For those who have never been at war, it is difficult to say if the scene was warlike. After around 20 minutes, the two lifted his body onto a makeshift stretcher and covered his face with a dirty sweater. They then carried him off to a provisional mortuary in St. Michael's Cathedral, located some 700 meters from the Maidan.
St. Michael's isn't just any old church. The monastery has several domed towers covered in gold and its walls are sky-blue. In summer 2012, when the final of the European Championships was played in Kiev, tourists swarmed to the site, taking pictures and smiling before heading down with friends or family to the countless restaurants on the Maidan for a meal. But on the afternoon of Feb. 20, 2014, the place was filled with dead bodies. On the left leg of one of the corpses, someone had written a name and a birthdate in green, felt-tipped pen: Andriy Saienko, Oct. 26, 1962.
Who was he? What
led him to join the Maidan protests? Five years ago, my search for what it was
that defined the life of Andriy Stepanovich Saienko began there, in front of
the mortuary on St. Michael's Square.