The last hours of Poroshenko’s presidency and Zelensky’s inauguration. What was the life of Kyiv’s centre at this time and what was left behind the lenses of cameras – Opinion tells you right from the scene.
Three hours before the inauguration, the subway car, complete silence. Despite Monday, morning and stuffed trains, everyone is silent, as though everyone really has a thing to keep silent about. Moreover, not a word is mentioned about the new (or old) president. Only on the escalator, three women loudly assure each other: today everything will change.
The city center is also silent. Streets are blocked, everywhere you can see patrol cars and a bunch of law enforcement officers, it seems they have nothing to do. They lean on the walls, scroll something on their phones, chatter with each other. It’s so quiet and unemotional as if today nothing is going to happen at all. Yes, it’s like a typical Monday for jammed with automobile traffic Kyiv. Only motorcades that since early in the morning are rushing from airports, somehow break the silence of the city.
Silence is disturbed only near Arsenal metro station, from there everybody, as if it was agreed, goes to Mariinsky Park. The places where the president-elect invited citizens to meet before the official inauguration. Those are also the places, which hosted Anti-Maidan during the Revolution of Dignity. But it seems that this doesn’t bother anyone today.
Two hours before the inauguration. The whole park and the building of the Verkhovna Rada are surrounded by police and national guards. At each entrance – metal detectors and a thorough security check. Looking through my stuff, a man asks to turn on the camera, he jokes, “I saw that you took pictures of us, I don’t want to look bad.”
The park is almost empty. Communal Services’ staff completes the final chord of their work: someone finishes to mow the lawn, someone checks the hatch covers. In the end, everything is fine with lawns, and hatches. Security and policemen are lurking everywhere. It seems that it’s impossible to find even a square meter, from which you will not be seen by at least one of them. You get used to it quickly, afterwards, law enforcement officers merge with the audience of the inauguration.
“Excuse me, can you tell us, the president has arrived already?” two elderly women catch me near the entrance. I say that it will be unlikely, because these two hours the president is still Petro Poroshenko, so the only possibility to see him is going inside the building of the Verkhovna Rada. My companions give me a distrustrustful look, call me a twerp and go further, approaching the Mariinsky Palace and the courtyard of the parliament building.
After catching up with my new acquaintances, I understand: the park is empty since everyone has already taken the place from where it will be possible to see the next, sixth president of Ukraine. Next to me stands a man in his seventies and complains to his companion that he didn’t sleep all night long to come here as early as possible, but he’s still standing in the second row.
The crowd is getting bigger and bigger. At some point it’s hard to understand: who is more numerous, law enforcers or journalists? Representatives of various mass media run with cameras past the “corridor” of viewers, asking them about their expectations for Zelensky, the future of Ukraine and the reasons that made them be here during the workday. The answers are similar and generalized: almost everyone aspires to see the end of one and the beginning of another state leader’s reign. Almost everyone is willing to be photographed, they embrace one another, rejoice. The silence, with which Kyiv met me at 7 in the morning, dissolves here in the Mariinsky Park.
All this could be characterized as some kind of unity, but everyone is busy with his own affairs: someone is waving the flags of “Irpin’s Ze team”, someone raises the flag of Ukraine. Young lovebirds are kissing and hugging, almost every third makes a selfie against the background of the screen with words on the inauguration. Some are trashing the old power, others recall how they lived during Kuchma’s presidency. It is clear that the vast majority of people are supporters of Volodymyr Zelensky. Those who are trying to criticize their choice, are literally outshouted in a moment and buried under the tons of arguments. So swift that not always you can understand them. You start to miss the silence of the past hour. The sun starts to blaze mercilessly, however, nobody leaves their places to escape from it.
The appearance of Zelensky and the broadcast of him entering the parliament hall causes a real boom. The crowd pushes you closer to the fence, everyone gets a smartphone, starts shooting, calls relatives and tells that everything has started. When Andriy Parubiy appears on the screen, people start whistling. The camera changes, the image of Zelensky again. Applause and cheers, “Vova, come on.” Then the operator switches to almost former President Petro Poroshenko. People start going mad. A man next to me yells and demands to bring Poroshenko here, to the people. Obviously, no one hears him. Has it become possible to chat with the screen?
When Viktor Yushchenko, Leonid Kuchma, and Leonid Kravchuk are shown, they all keep silence and barely applaud, as if they don’t know, to whistle or to rejoice. In the end, all the binary opposition of good and evil is common for the majority, so former presidents seem to have no sins.
The announcement that Zelensky is president now, the transfer of the mace, every single word from his speech – everything comes with incredible joy and an explosive round of applause. The euphoria of the crowd is so unsystematic and uncontrolled that from time to time you just have to stop in order to take a breath and find the better way to approach the next “location”. Somebody grabs my shoulder and tries to stop. I turn around. A white-haired man who’s wearing vyshyvanka asks for a cigarette. I reply that I don’t have one, but he can’t stop, “Look how cool, it’s so awesome that I want to smoke! I wonder if for a long time this reformer Suprun will stay here (in the Verkhovna Rada – author’s note)? I can’t wait for her to be dismissed!” I try to explain to my new friend that the cabinet of ministers is not here but he does not listen to me and switches to another person who was fortunate enough to have an extra cigarette. Good for you, man. Good for you.
All in all, it’s impossible to have a long conversation here, as if the general attention switches in clip or second, like shoots on the screen. The only thing that’s left is to keep up with it because some of the viewers reflexively go on clapping since the first seconds of Parubiy’s appearance of the monitors. But it is unnoticed again. As well as a guy who meditates just in the middle of a crowd. By the way, on the cardboard with the inscription “Roshen”. Packed candies of the same company are scattered around the park. Negligence or too postmodern action – it’s becoming harder to understand. The priest with Ze team’s stickers tells something to his company, a man with a red-and-black flag calls himself a shadow that has died, therefore, he doesn’t exist. In these moments everything turns into some kind of sur as if it’s sucking in the synthesis of the absurd until a new round of applause turns you to reality: Zelensky dissolves the parliament.
People are hugging, jumping on the spot, they open their social media and write about it, take pictures and go on to applaud. “Like I said, like I said, I wanted to live till this moment so much,” a woman next to me almost falls on her knees. She is happy. She is so happy that nobody touches her. There are even more cheerful shouts than during the rising of the mace. Who knows what the guests of the Mariinsky Park were waiting for more. However, it is known for sure that they didn’t expect such a plethora of reasons for joy. To fire Lutsenko. Applause. To fire Hrytsak. Applause. To fire Poltorak. Applause. Not to hang portraits with the image of the president in the offices. It seems that the level of satisfaction of the crowd has reached its limit. Collective happiness, bypassing which you’re trying to be aside, you sneaking like a thief so that no one notices you.
The first hour after the inauguration. The crowd is moved from one end of the iron corridor to another. Law enforcers gradually become targets for those who have no one to talk to: why didn’t you come to me yesterday when I was calling? Doctors are bored nearby. Unity turns into a bunch of separate groups, where everyone thinks over his own thoughts. The first People’s Deputy leaves the Verkhovna Rada: Nadia Savchenko. Some of the viewers take off and run in her direction: “Nadia! Our Nadia!” Next to me, there is a man who, in a monologue, resents out loud: “Why didn’t they fire Yatsenyuk? For how long can it be tolerated?” I’m silent, after all, the conversation won’t be successful.
I got closer to the exit, stopping next to a man who gives a comment on the inauguration to some media. “I liked it. But not everything. You know, the part when he (Zelensky – author’s note) was joking, poking at others – it was cool. As for all this official stuff – I don’t like it. For example, I couldn’t listen to Parubiy at all, it was incomprehensible. Zelensky, on the other hand, is non-standard, funny, the way the real president should be,” assures the stranger.
One by one people are leaving, only the toughest are left. Those from the first line, who surrender, immediately give way to others. The majority is sprayed all over the park, going to the exits. Only a few people go in the opposite direction: either they are late or out of curiosity decided to look at it. Every second person shares his impressions in the telephone conversation. All of them are happy. They retell what they’ve seen, adding a little bit of fiction and exaggerating certain moments. Nobody cares for it. Only one elderly man, passing by, mumbles, “Well, he promises a lot, and what of that will he do? What will he do…” Collective happiness with some exceptions. Place of birth: Mariinsky Park. Place of death: Mariinsky Park. On the way out, those who were hugging one hour ago – walk separately, like they don’t know each other. Everyone is silent again, the city returns to the morning silence. Outside the park, the words “inauguration”, “Zelensky” and “president” are not heard at all. The policemen are also bored, waiting for the end of the working day. The streets of the centre are empty, and this makes you feel weird: whirling and fast Kyiv, albeit temporarily, seems to lose something important.
I finish writing the text in a cafe near the Arsenal station. A man at the table on the left calls someone. He asks whether he (or she) saw the inauguration. With pride and joy (as if he did it himself) he tells about the dissolution of the Parliament. The neighbour to the right, an owner of the place, asks her employee whether Zelensky has a right to do it. “What’s the difference?” a girl replies. Apparently, the women on the morning escalator were right: today everything has changed. At least a president. At most – it will become clear later.
Text and photo by Dmytro Zhuravel