Zaporizhian Sich was a protected territory near modern Kakhovka reservoir (Zaporizhia region, Eastern Ukraine) where the unregistered Ukrainian army, so called Cossaks, was located in the 16-18th centuries. Present-day Euromaidan in Kyiv strikingly resembles Sich in many aspects of its social environment, but also has some distinctive features.
I shall start with the origin of the word “Sich”. One of historical records evidences that this word comes from the Ukrainian word “sichty”, which describes the process of cutting wood. The territory where Cossacks stayed had sharp wooden sticks around the stronghold. This fence separated and defended them from enemies. Therefore, the place was called “Sich”. Today, one witnesses the same mechanism of protection on Euromaidan, since the nearest streets are blocked by various materials: benches, iron materials and even cars. Such hedge makes the access of the outrageous riot police to the center of Kyiv more difficult.
A church was situated inside Zaporizhian Sich. Actually, Cossaks were deeply religious people. They started their breakfast and supper with a prayer. On Saturday, November 30, 2013, after the notorious act of violence on behalf of the riot police, beaten people came to the church to find protection. The St. Michael’s Cathedral provided them with help and defense straight away after the first protesters started to ask for a shelter. Hundreds of people had an opportunity to have a rest and some sleep inside the cathedral. The next day, priests were approaching newcommers with watchwords and prayers. The St. Michael’s Cathedral became one of the strongest symbols of Euromaidan. Perhaps, it would be an exaggeration to call this event the beginning of the revival of glorious religious traditions in Ukraine as happened in Poland after the election of Pope Paul Joann II. Still, it’s a step towards respecting our religion and remembering the important role that the Church played in Ukrainian history.
Zaporizhian Sich also had some household buildings. In case of Euromaidan, the nearest buildings to the Independence Square were occupied by the protesters. At the moment, places for sleep, shower, eating are organized in The Kyiv City Hall and The Trade Unions Building. Press-conferences, briefings and other official meetings are held in these buildings as well . Additionally, protesters pitched the tents in order not to spend their nights on Euromaidan under the sky. One may be surprised to find out that Cossaks had a similar type of house called “kurin“– a temporary place to live that resembles a small hovel.
The main form of governance on both Euromaidan and Zaporizhian Sich is a self-governance, when people manage and organize themselves.
Anna, Kyiv: “Euromaidan is self-organizing..”
There were “pisar” (writer), “suddia” (judge), “osavul” (organizers of different spheres of life) on Zaporizhian Sich. Journalists, social activists and lawyers play the equivalent roles on Euromaidan today. In the same vein, “Desiatnyky” (groups of ten people) and “dvadciatnyky” (groups of twenty people) are formed to watch the territory of Euromaidan. In the times of Sich, such groups were called “sotnia” and counted up to one hundred of Cossacks. Moreover, anyone can easily join the team of volunteers on Euromaidan as well as anyone had an opportunity to join Sich if he (only men participated there at that time) wanted to.
Another similar feature is the values of people.
Anna, Kyiv: “Both young and old generations come to Maidan, and they share the same values..”
Zaporizhian Cossacks were free, independent and courageous warriors. A person who takes part in Eгromaidan and expresses his or her feelings and thoughts is also free and independent, as well as seeks for freedom and independence for Ukraine in general. Another common trait is that people are not afraid. Of course, there are some risks about uncertain future, but modern protesters, just like their progenitors from the 16–18th centuries, are fearless. It can be called the “spirit” of Sich, which is a feeling of freedom, liberty and disengagement from powerful others. In addition, the feelings of equality and unity can easily be discerned on Euromaidan.
Roman, Kyiv: “All people are equal.. It does not matter who is who on Maidan. It is brotherhood.”
The same situation was among Cossacks, where the trust to one another was high.
Coming to another point, similarities can also be found in everyday practices. Every evening people on Euromaidan relax by playing sport games and by singing. Cossacks also had fun singing folk songs and holding competitions to find out who was the strongest or the most skillful with weapons.
Finally, similarly to Zaporizhian Sich, modern Euromaidan became a shelter for those who have no place to go.
Anna: “There are many homeless people who are just basking, sleeping, and eating”
After talking to such people, it appears that some of them come from areas outside Kyiv. Some of them are single and seek the company. And some simply do not have where to live.
The only questions the newcomers were asked on Sich were if they drank “horilka” (Ukrainian alcoholic beverage) and if they believed in God. It is peculiar, that volunteers on Euromaidan use the same questions when treating people with food. The only difference is that they do it more as a joke.
Vasyl, Kyiv: “Yesterday I asked a man on Euromaidan kitchen for a sandwich. He answered me with a smile on his face: ”Do you drink horilka? Do you believe in God?” In a while, I realized that it was the famous Ukrainian journalist, filmmaker and presenter, Anatoly Borsiuk”
However, one should not have a one-sided picture of direct resemblance between Maidan and Sich. There are also huge differences between them.
Olena, Groningen: “There is no leader on Maidan”
Thus, there is no clear leader of Euromaidan. There is still no such an influential personality as Bohdan Khmelnytsky or Ivan Sirko were for Sich. Still, a number of social activists, musicians, journalists, and politicians have a certain potential to grow into such a personality.
Moreover, if we draw more parallels between the two, it is clear that Euromaidan is a peaceful demonstration, whereas Sich was a military base. However, given Tuesday’s voting in the Parliament, there is no legal way for making the Cabinet of Ministers and the Government resign. In combination with people’s frustration and the uncontrolled police actions, there exists, unfortunately, a strong possibility of bloody revolts.
So, one can behold a sort of Renaissance of Zaporozhian Sich in Kyiv these days. Such resemblance can be explained by positive archetypical images of Cossacks as strong free protesters, who fight for their liberty. So do many people standing on Euromaidan. It seems like Maidaners possess the mental map of Zaporizhian Sich organization, obtained from Ukrainian history and literature. Therefore, they unconsciously reproduce its social order nowadays. Though, Euromaidan does not have a right to repeat the fate of its ancestor. It is good to remember that Sich was destroyed in full with the decree of Catherine II, the leader of Russian Empire.