One could not help but remember almost immediately one of the permanent residents of Independence Square. A short lad with curly hair, wearing glasses, with a confident and somewhat ironic expression on his soot-covered face, he moves about in a modern electric wheelchair carrying a plaque that reads “Julius Caesar.” He is always in the middle of it, always cheerful and sociable. One cannot imagine the square without him.
We talked one evening on the second floor of the Trade Unions Building near the press center, where our hero apparently sleeps.
Who are you and where are you from?
“My name is Yurii [pictured. – Author.], I live in Yevpatoria, a Crimean city (coughs). I came here for business and should have stayed here for a few days, but it turned into an almost two months-long stay so far. I go out to the barricades with other boys every day. I went straight there on January 25, climbed over all the barricades and went to look the riot police in the eye. Their lieutenant colonel himself came and shook my hand. He was shocked, of course, to see a severely disabled boy with a totally blackened face climbing over all the barricades in a wheelchair. Not only the lieutenant colonel was shocked, but all the riot police, 30 men who came with him, were like ‘Oh!’”
Why did you go to them?
“To prove that people are different. Even disabled people, such as myself, have their pride. I am prouder than anyone else in the square, so I climbed the barricades without any protective gear, without a helmet. I knew they could shoot me, but, well...”
Why have you decided to stay in the square?
“The first time I stayed just because of them [he points to his young companions. – Author.], because these youths stood there, and I respect the young generation. Then, when they began to beat students on November 30, I decided to stay until the end. Yeah, it is hard on me, too, there is no place to bath or relax properly, but everything ends someday. I think we will win in spite of everything, Viktor Yanukovych and the whole gang will go.”
What provides support to you?
“It is pride. I think it is my pride and willpower acting.”
In fact, your whole life is a struggle.
“I do not know, I have used to it. I keep calm.”
How often have you had to overcome prejudice against you as a disabled person?
“Often enough, of course.”
How old are you?
“I am 31.”
Over this time, as far as you can remember, how have attitudes towards people with disabilities changed? Has life become easier for people like you?
“No, nothing has changed. Young people neither respect anyone nor have pity for anyone, disabled included. They do not care. Before I went there on January 25, I told some young people: ‘Come on, what are you afraid of, nobody will touch you.’ They all chickened out! Only one adult journalist climbed with me. I told him: ‘Come with me, nothing will happen to you.’ He trusted me and accompanied me. There are videos and photos of this trip...”
Where did you get this wheelchair?
“A very good friend presented it to me, he lives in Simferopol. May God grant him health!”
Why is it called Julius Caesar?
“I like this movie (smiles).”
“The oldest of them all [he means film adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, released in 1953 and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. – Author.]”
Do you like movies?
“Yes, I am a fan of movies, especially historical ones.”
I majored in film criticism.
“If you competed with me, you would have lost totally. I would have convinced you anyway.”
I do not dare to object.
“Tell me, what is your name?”
My name is Dmytro.
“Tell me, Dmytro, who commanded the largest army in the world?”
The largest army in the world?
“Yes. Historically largest.”
Perhaps, it was Tamerlane?
“Another no. His army was large, of course, but Alexander the Great’s was the largest one, with 2.5 million soldiers. He marched halfway around the world, and was a very good strategist. Using his strategy, I would take the riot police positions easily.”
This is stunning. It looks like you could have become a great general.
“My good friend is standing nearby. We had a falling out on January 25, but I guess we will have no more quarrels. He helps me, may God grant him health.”
What are you dreaming about?
“I do not know (coughs).”
How will it all end, what do you think?
“Do not get me wrong: what I have seen here, this degrading treatment of young people, it was the limit of our patience. People will not give up. Should they do so, we would be totally f***ed up. The regime will imprison everyone, every last of us.”
Let us hope that we will win.
“We should fight to the end, to the very end.”