UK & World News

  • 13 March 2014, 6:57

Ukrainians Return To Roots In Crisis-Hit Kiev

As the international community wrests with the crisis in Ukraine, people from all over the world are working on the ground in Kiev alongside locals who took part in the Maidan protests.

Many who have come are part of the diaspora, drawn from across the globe to help.

"I'm a London girl but Ukraine is my homeland," said Lyalya Lisowska from south London. Her descendants go back generations here.

She came to the capital some months back to work as an international election observer.

It was the protests sparked by former President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to reject a trade deal with the EU which stopped her going home.

"I felt Ukraine needed my support. As a member of the diaspora I think it helps people to see we are here, that we want to help them. I felt bad not being here during the Orange Revolution and I got drawn into things this time."

Like others from abroad, Lyalya has left behind family and work and survives, along with the other protestors now living in the square that gave the movement its name, thanks to donations of money, food and equipment.

V.K Demjin Doroschenko is one of the best know figures in the square but his accent betrays his background. He was born in Australia and is based in New Zealand, but descends from a family that ruled Ukraine at various times over the last century.

He came to visit relatives at Christmas and has never gone home.

"My family, my parents are from Ukraine and it is really important for me and my heritage to be here to support my Ukrainian brothers and sisters."

After witnessing the protests, the bloodshed and the deaths in January and February he felt he could not just go home.

"People are suffering here. I couldn't just leave and go home to my life. I couldn't even stay and exist in a hotel or a nice apartment. I needed to be part of things with them."

And so Dem, like Lyalya, lives in the heart of the Maidan, sharing space with others.

It is a village within a city. Rows of tents, canteens and cooking areas, portable loos, stalls, even an artistic gallery area. People donate food and provisions and everyone pitches in.

"It's like a family," Lyalya said. "Ukraine is a lovely country but you feel the difference inside and outside the Maidan. There is just a closeness."

It is a closeness forged not just by proximity but by the shared experience of witnessing the horror of what happened when dozens of protestors were killed there.

Lyalya admits that she thought about leaving, fearing for her safety, but knew she had to get news of what was going on out to the world. She started blogging and tweeting and has been doing so ever since.

Dem captured images of the violence on his camera and continues to feed news and information to the English speaking world. The horror he witnessed drives him on.

"Yes it haunts me. But you have to get on with things. I have to get pictures to people."

This week he was able to capture images on board a plane from Kiev refused entry to Crimea.

Both of them have lives at home. They have given up a lot and spent all their money but neither is in any hurry to leave. 

With the Crimea situation and political turmoil Ukraine is in a perilous state and they want to stay to make sure that after the pain and sacrifice of so many things here really do change.

"There was so much sadness here when people died," Dem said.

"Everyone is united by the need to be free, to have freedom like we do in New Zealand, or England or Australia. And it's very important that these people get the chance to live as we do in a way we enjoy."

It is a sentiment shared by Lyalya, who does not plan to see London anytime soon. Kiev is home for now and long-term she wants to make Ukraine her place of permanent residence.

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