Set in the very heart of Ukraine’s capital, Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) is bisected by the city’s main artery Khreshchatyk, and bordered by the central streets Hrynchenko, Sophiivska, Kostyolna, Mykhailivska, Mala Zhytomyrska and Architect Horodetsky.
Maidan’s long history dates back to the late 10th century, when the whole area was called Perevisyshch (first mentioned in 945) and was a swampy wildwood. During the 30s of the 11th century, the area was part of fortifications built under Kyiv’s Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise. It accommodated earth ramparts circled with a wooden palisade. The Lyadsky (Polish) Gates, marking the southern border of ancient Kyiv and leading to the High City, were erected on the same spot. Alas, all the fortifications, including the Lyadsky Gates, were utterly destroyed by Tatar and Mongolian troops under Baty Khan in 1240. And from here, the area becomes lost in the mists of time...
Taking Shaping As A Square
In the late 18th – early 19th century, the Maidan-to-be was just a wasteland littered with remnants of defence constructions and adjoined Kozyne Boloto (Goat Swamp), which earned its name due to the smelly gases that emanated from it. The square – as it is – started taking shape only in the 1830s, when the Goat Swamp was cleared and ancient ruins removed. The first stone buildings appeared here in the 1850s and the place took its first name – Khreshchatytska Square. And it’s little wonder why. As a matter of fact, Taras Shevchenko, the famous Ukrainian poet, lived here for a while in 1859 between Mala Zhytomyrska and Mykhailivska streets.
Kyiv grew immensely during the Russian Industrial Revolution and became the third major city of the Russian Empire, after Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Consequently, Khreshchatytska Square boomed into a prosperous commercial hub housing a market and offering a variety of entertainment activities. From then until now, Maidan has changed its name five times, with each new appellative reflecting the demands of a relevant regime and the spirit of a relevant epoch.
Tempora Mutantur (Times Change)
In 1876 the City Duma (Council) building was the centrepiece of the square, leading it to be labelled Dumska Square. In 1913, a monument Russian Empire Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin was unveiled right in front of the Duma building. Well, every epoch worships its heroes... However, just four years later, in 1919, the place was logically renamed Radyanska (Soviet) Square, and later dominated by a monument to Karl Marks. “Expropriated” by the ruling party, the City Duma accommodated the Regional Committee of Soviet Ukraine’s Communist Party as a successor.
With another turn of history, the place got its fourth name – Kalinin Square – after Mikhail Kalinin, the first Head of the USSR Supreme Council. In 1941, during Nazi occupation, the Duma building was completely burned along with much of the rest of the square and adjoining streets.
After World War II, it was rebuilt from scratch and integrated to the newly constructed Khreshchatyk Street designed in the neo-classical Stalinist style, typical for that time. The square was adorned with Poshtamp (Central Post Office) and, post-Stalin, Trade-UNI0N House with its high-rise clock. Today, these buildings are Kyiv landmarks.
In 1976 –77, the square was again rebuilt and consequently renamed as Ploshcha Zhovtnevoyi Revolyutsii (October Revolution Square). Part of the revamp included a truly monumental fountain complex, which was torn down in 2001 and is still missed by many today, as well as a huge statue dedicated to Lenin.
In 1991, when Ukraine was declared independent, the square was finally dubbed Maidan Nezalezhnosti. A decade later, in 2001, it was again given a facelift featuring the glass domes of the subterranean Globus Mall, a white column with Berehyna (goddess of protection), and the gates domed by Archangel Mikhail’s statue (erected on the site where Lyadsky Gates, allegedly, used to be).
A Place For Revolution
Despite what it has seen post-independent Ukraine, Maidan has long been a centre of political activity. The first revolution occurred in Dumska Square in 1905, more than a century ago, when workers and peasants rallied in front of the Duma building claiming their rights and freedoms. However, it was post-independence that political activity ramped up a notch. The next social campaign to hit the October Revolution Square was in 1990, when 157 students launched a hunger strike for the independence of Ukraine. Then came the movement that made the world sit up and take notice – the Orange Revolution, which broke out in late November 2004, bringing together hundreds of thousands to protest results of the run-off vote for the Ukrainian presidential election. The Orange Revolution was a turning point that cemented Maidan as symbolic of revolutionary spirit.
Now, the baton has passed to EuroMaidan and this square in the centre of Kyiv has come to represent the hopes, dreams, and resolve of a nation. The story continues...
The different names of Maidan, mid 18th– 20th centuries
1869 – Khreshchatytska Square
1876 – Dumska Square
1919 – Radyanska Square
1935 – Kalinin Square
1977 – Zhovtneva Revolutsia Square
1991 – Maidan Nezalezhnosti
Key revolution-inspired events that took place on Maidan, early 20th– 21st centuries
1905 – Workers and peasants’ rally
1990 – Students’ hunger strike
2004 – Orange Revolution
2013 – EuroMaidan (ongoing)
by Anna Azarova