I usually steer clear of hotels named after the city, country or continent that I am visiting, though exceptions occasionally have to be made. Hotel Ukraine ('Hotel Ukrayina' in Ukrainian) in Kyiv is certainly one of them, though architectural purists may disagree. It is a prized exhibit of Soviet modernism; horrifying most onlookers, but stirring nostalgia in a rare few.
Its unique vantage point over Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), where much of Ukraine’s political and social discontent has been expressed, makes it the ideal place to reflect upon the EuroMaiden protests mobilized in its shadow in November 2013
During these protests, the hotel’s foyer was converted into a makeshift hospital and morgue for those targeted by snipers, some of whom may have taken up residence on the hotel’s upper-floors. Over 130 protesters were killed when the government turned arms on its own people. A large banner on the building opposite reads in capital letters, 'Freedom is our Religion!'
At night, the hotel is resplendent in various manifestations of the Ukrainian flag. The hotel’s brow boasts the distinctive blue and yellow (representing the sky and wheat, respectively). Trees beneath bare festive blue lights, running parallel to the dim yellow of the street lamps. The sky may be grey and the wheat long since harvested, but the flag’s resonance is most pronounced here.
I watched the EuroMaiden protests unfold on a hesitant internet connection in Brcko District, in north-east Bosnia-Herzegovina. I recall flags being waved as if to warm the hands of those brandishing them. Then there was the mesmerising chanting to mark Orthodox Xmas (celebrated on 7th January), the wavering voices of the of Orthodox Priests immediately condensing in the winter air.
Sipping ‘Lvivarnya’ beer from Lviv (I have no such hesitation sampling beer named after its hometown, even if I’ve never visited), in western Ukraine, I ponder the revolutionary fervour unleashed on the square beneath, and the panicked Russian incursions in the east that continue to this very day.
On Maidan Nezalezhnosti you'll find a circle of billboards charting the chronology of EuroMaiden through narratives, social media moments and photographs of the barricades. Take time to consider not only these dramatic manifestations of discontent, but from why they were fomented in the first place. Consider too the criminal conduct that attempted, and ultimately failed, to silence them.
I read about the spike in ceasefire violations and deteriorating humanitarian situation in the east, now sparsely covered by Western media, and ponder just how and when it might all end. On the square itself I purchase a blue and yellow bracelet, the money from which goes to treat injured young soldiers, many of them amputees. It will be a long road of recovery for them and their country.
Inaugurated as Hotel Moscow back in 1961, and renamed Hotel Ukraine upon the country's liberation from the Soviet Union in 19991, maybe this creaking relic of the past will one day be christened Hotel Evropa (Hotel Europe). It is a future - a European future - for which too many men and women have already been martyred, though hopefully not in vain.
Ian is a writer based in the Balkans. He is the author of 'Dragon's Teeth - Tales from North Kosovo'. Follow Ian on Twitter @bancroftian.
Currently in: Belgrade, Serbia — @bancroftian