Cen­tral square is his­toric fo­cal point of cap­i­tal


Maidan Neza­lezh­nosti, or In­de­pen­dence Square, is per­haps the most fa­mil­iar place in Ukraine, the scene of heroic and tragic events.

In the win­ter of 2013-14, it was the fo­cal point of the EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion that ousted Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych. It was also the place where many of the bod­ies of those shot by snipers on Feb. 20, 2014 on nearby In­sty­tuska Street were laid out be­fore shocked on­look­ers.

The EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion is only the most re­cent mo­men­tous event to oc­cur on Maidan Neza­lezh­nosti. Many other dra­matic events have been place here.

Four rev­o­lu­tions

Over the past 112 years, the square has wit­nessed four rev­o­lu­tions. The first took place in March 1905, when 15,000 Ukrainian work­ers and peas­ants came to Kyiv City Hall, which was lo­cated on the present site of the square, to de­mand po­lit­i­cal free­doms and eco­nomic rights. Despite be­ing crushed, the 1905-07 rev­o­lu­tion contributed to the na­tional lib­er­a­tion move­ment later.

In Oc­to­ber 1990, sev­eral hun­dred stu­dents from all over Ukraine went on a hunger strike on Maidan Neza­lezh­nosti. The stu­dents’ strike her­alded Ukraine’s exit from the Soviet Union and in­de­pen­dence in 1991.

Ukraine’s Orange Rev­o­lu­tion in 2004 was also head­quar­tered at Kyiv’s cen­tral square. The rev­o­lu­tion was a pub­lic protest against the 2004 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, which was rigged in fa­vor of then-Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Yanukovych. The protests brought Vik­tor Yushchenko to the pres­i­dency in 2005. The Orange Rev­o­lu­tion, which saw the coun­try try – and fail – to shake off Rus­sian dom­i­nance once and for all, was the fore­run­ner to the EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion nine years later.

Ill omens

Due to all these events, some su­per­sti­tious people be­lieve that Maidan Neza­lezh­nosti is a place of ill omen, at­tract­ing death and bad luck. In Fe­bru­ary 1946, 12 Ger­man sol­diers, con­victed of war crimes, were pub­licly ex­e­cuted by hang­ing on the square. But the square’s bad rep­u­ta­tion goes back much fur­ther than that.

From the 9th cen­tury the site was called “Kozyne Boloto” ( Goat Swamp) and even in the times of the Kyiv Rus was con­sid­ered an un­lucky spot. Some his­to­ri­ans claim that in De­cem­ber 1240 the sol­diers of Batu Khan, a Mon­gol ruler and founder of the Golden Horde, who sacked Kyiv, broke into the city not far from the Kozyne Boloto area.

Maidan Neza­lezh­nosti is also fa­mous for al­leged pol­ter­geist ac­tiv­ity. In the 19th cen­tury, the res­i­dent of a house lo­cated where Kyiv’s main post of­fice building (22 Khreshchatyk St.) now stands called the po­lice be­cause fur­ni­ture and pil­lows were moving about by them­selves in the house. A pub­lic com­plaint about the “ghost” was en­tered into of­fi­cial po­lice records.

Dis­as­ter struck the same site in 1989, when the por­tico of the main post of­fice’s building col­lapsed, killing 13 people. How­ever, most be­lieve that the struc­ture cracked and fell be­cause of poor con­struc­tion, rather than the ac­tions of an evil spirit.

Name changes

Dur­ing its long and tur­bu­lent his­tory, the square has changed in ap­pear­ance, size and name many times. Dur­ing the late 18th to early 19th cen­tury Maidan Neza­lezh­nosti was a vacant lot. In the late 19th cen­tury, the area was named Khreshchatyt­ska Square, and a mar­ket and later a cir­cus oc­cu­pied the spot. The area was as large as it is now, but when in 1876 the Duma building (city coun­cil) was con­structed, the place was named Dum­ska Square. Dum­ska Square was lo­cated in the area of the present Globus shop­ping mall un­til the early 20th cen­tury.

Dur­ing Soviet times, Maidan Neza­lezh­nosti took sev­eral names – Radyan­ska (Soviet) Square, Kalinin Square (in honor of the first chair­man of the pre­sid­ium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, the tit­u­lar head of the Soviet state, Mikhail Kalinin) and then Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion Square un­til 1991, when it was given its cur­rent name.

The square has in the past hosted stat­ues of Petro Stolypin, the third primem­i­nis­ter of the Rus­sian Em­pire, known for con­duct­ing a ma­jor agrar­ian re­form; Karl Marx, the founder of Marx­ism; and Vladimir Lenin, the leader of Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion in 1917.

The square was greatly dam­aged dur­ing the Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion from 1941 to 1943 in the Sec­ond World War, and the build­ings around it were only fully re­built from 1950 to 1970.

In its present form, it is now a sym­bol of free­dom and in­de­pen­dence for the whole na­tion.

Above: Dum­ska Square, the site of to­day’s Maidan Neza­lezh­nosti, was lo­cated on part of the present site of the Globus shop­ping mall, and ex­isted un­til the early 20th cen­tury. The place took its name from the Duma building (city coun­cil), which was con­structed there in 1876. This his­toric photo was taken in the early 1900s. It comes from Niko­lay Tahrin photo col­lec­tion and is re­pro­duced cour­tesy of the Cen­tral State CinePho­toPhono Ar­chives of Hordiy Psheny­ch­niy. Be­low: The mod­ern-day Maidan Neza­lezh­nosti. The yel­low building is the Lyad­ski Vorota (Lyad­ski Gates) – a sym­bolic mon­u­ment to the an­cient south gates of Kyiv, which were de­stroyed in De­cem­ber 1240 by the sol­diers of Mon­gol ruler and founder of the Golden Horde Batu Khan. (Volodymyr Petrov)

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