There is a strict guard at the entrance of the House of Trade Unions: it demands a pass, but people with press cards are let in without many words. On the ground floor there is a usual managed chaos: visitors, handing out of warm clothes, lost and found department, stream of food to the kitchen and out of it – all of this in a small lobby.
Another block post is located before the stairs that go up; activists, doctors, TV cameramen, couriers, fighters in helmets and body armor are running towards one another on the stairs all the time. Use the press card, go to the first floor, turn left (there’s another line of guards), turn left again, turn right, take a one-day pass from the girls at the table – a square piece of paper with a blue-and-yellow date, enter the press center.
There are chairs of all sizes and piles of clothes along the walls. Piles of helmets, gauze masks, and respirators. There is a huge window almost of the size of the wall. Along the long wall near the entrance there is a place where press conferences are held: there is a microphone, flags of Ukraine, EU, and three opposition political parties, and on the sides – the loud speakers on high posts, light boards for shooting, TV screens which broadcast the events on the main stage of the Maidan all day long. On the table near the microphone there is a plastic plate with a small collection of presents from the police: a Teren grenade case, cases from different bullets, and metal fragments. In a separate corner behind the yellow ribbon there are tables of the organizers and technical part.
PROBABLY, THERE IS NO BETTER PRESS CENTER IN THE WORLD
Journalists are present here all the time. They write, read, watch video on laptops, or interview someone. The Poles have taken a separate table and established a red-and-white flag on it. The highest number of people comes during the day and in the evening. The lower number of people comes at dawn. Both during the day and at night someone is sleeping on the floor, in the corner, near the radiators, under the tables. At first they covered themselves with coats, now they have sleeping bags and blankets.
Probably, there is no better press center in the world. You go two floors down and find yourself amidst the revolution. You go several blocks away from it and find yourself on the line of war actions. You see with your own eyes what you saw a minute ago on the screen. When there are active clashes or riot police gets ready for an assault, the information field becomes so tense here that people who are not used to it feel scared. Everyone understands that if Berkut breaks in, nobody will look at any passes – but they stay here not only because of self-defense units on all floors, but also because of professional fatalism, or something else.
I like this place. I like its fuss, the atmosphere of light psychosis, permanent grumbling of the revolutionary TV channel on TV set, colleagues with faces puffy because of lack of sleep, accidental encounters with people whom you haven’t seen for years, night political rumors, and grandiose conversations about the destiny of humanity, volunteer girls who stay focused all the time, tea in plastic cups at 5 a.m., faint morning light of dawn outside of the window, near which someone is snoring, covering his face with a hood. Here I feel how much needed and how dangerous my profession is; I understand that accurate information is a real weapon, and that truth is what tyrants are really afraid of, and that is why we will win.
“HERE WE ALL ARE A BIG AND FRIENDLY FAMILY”
We talked to one of press center’s coordinators A., who preferred to be incognito out of understandable reasons, about the routine of the press center.
When was the press center organized?
“The need for a press center arose immediately – to arrange the information connection between the civic movement and the press.”
How is everything functioning here?
“The process is coordinated by volunteers. The schedule of press conferences is written on the board every day: who and when will speak and on which topics. If there are any force majeure circumstances, for example, if beaten people or those who were missing are found, the oppositionists make an urgent statement – you can come up to the coordinators and they will set the time of your speech, and maybe reschedule another press conference.”
So, volunteers are the stronghold of this place?
“There are two groups of them: one group accredits, the other one works in the guard. No one gets paid, everything is done on voluntary basis. As for the journalistic education, some of the volunteers don’t have it, but it is not necessary. They organize themselves on their own. Some of them spend the nights here; others live not far from here. Without any special need they don’t leave the perimeter: they keep their finger on the pulse. That is why you can see people who sleep under the tables, on the tables, and near radiators.”
How are the speakers selected? For example, a person comes from the street with an important statement, what goes next?
“You cannot take the microphone freely. At first the person finds himself in an information center on the ground floor, then, if s/he indeed has important information, a decision is being made, which goes through a kind of hierarchy – to avoid giving fake news. You know, this is called a syndrome of a scout. I hear the bell ring, but I don’t know what it means: someone said a crowd of thugs rushing somewhere and wants to inform the world about this at once. There are many people of this kind, they all rush to the press center, but that is the reason we have accreditation, and they are not allowed to enter with such news.”
When did the first foreign journalist come?
“Almost at once. At first from Russia, then – from Poland. Now we have a huge geography. Even journalists from Iraq, Turkey, Israel, Canada, CNN, BBC…”
But what is the life of all of them here like?
“Everything depends on the dynamics of the uprising. The greatest fuss begins when all three leaders of the opposition come to make a statement. Then there is silence, which later turns into a festival: the outflow of journalists begins, those who stay record and shoot stories of different Maidan activists in tents. As soon as the situation gets more acute, the number of journalists increases in a matter of few hours. They arrive by planes, come from all corners of the world. In the tensest moments the press center is empty. For example, during the events in Hrushevsky Street everyone was there. If we get some urgent information, journalists gather and run out to work. After several days of clashes they do not look or smell very good. On the other hand, here we all are a big and friendly family; if you need anything – to have a shower, to eat, to solve some organization moment – they will help you right away. The press has made friends with people in the House of Trade Unions – with sotnias, self-defense, and organizers, and they communicate not only on revolutionary topics.”
As for the acute situations, when the Maidan was stormed, or there was a real threat of assault, did you feel scared?
“In these situations you immediately see pretty well who is who. A part of the volunteers or people from sotnias have sudden headaches or increased temperature, and they go home. Riot police shoots at journalists, they are at danger as well. And they have come to get the best shots, for action, they all go on the frontline, put on bulletproof vests and helmets, thinking that this will protect them, but it makes them the targets. So, like all others, the press gets to the second floor to doctors, it is as well vulnerable on the battlefield. As for me, I have used certain practices, I know that there is the Creator, and nothing bad will happen to me. The events of January 22, if we speak about them, in my opinion, looked like boys’ bluffing in terms of strategy. Nobody evacuated me, I was telling everyone what to do and stayed calm. But I could feel some animal chills on my back: women were evacuated, and I stayed. Yes, I do feel scared, but in such situations this is what it should be like – this is the instinct of self-preservation.”
How has this activity influenced your life?
“During these 1.5 months I have been trying not to lose my professional shape. Although I stay here at night and in the morning, I try to work and to sleep during the day. I am involved in worldly life. When everything stops, I will start to sleep more, feel less nervous, and recall all of this like an adventure. Because I get enough adrenaline in my everyday life. But it is not like this. Not every day you’re faced with an APC.”