- By Hanna KozlowskaHanna Kozlowska is a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously worked as a fixer, researcher and freelance contributor for the New York Times in Poland, and as the associate editor for Poland Today, an English-language magazine. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post and several Polish publications. She graduated from Swarthmore College where she was coeditor in chief of The Daily Gazette.
Lida Pankiv is a journalist and anti-government protester in Kiev, and in December she found herself in a most unusual situation one the front lines of the Ukrainian capital’s anti-government protests. Along with a friend, Pankiv inserted herself between a cordon of Berkut riot police and a group of protesters, hoping to stave off a clash between the two. One of the police officers overheard Pankiv dictating her number to a friend. A few hours later he sent the woman a text message, asking for her hand in marriage. "I stood in front of you with a shield last night, first I thought you are crazy, but then, when you and your friend stopped us, I realized I want to marry you," he wrote.
"First you will have to lower your shield," she responded. Several days later, he warned her to leave the Maidan, the Kiev square that has become the stronghold of anti-government demonstrators since anti-government protests began in November. Half an hour after his warning, police stormed the square.
Pankiv asked the officer, whose name hasn’t been released and who hasn’t commented publicly, to meet her on her side of the barricades. Though her heart reportedly "belonged to another," as she told Kyiv Post, the two crossed the barricades for a meeting. They spent an hour together before he had to return to his unit. That night at the barricades was the first time they managed to get together, but Ukraine’s descent into chaos didn’t prevent them from seeing each other again.
Their story has gone viral in Ukraine, where on Saturday the tensions that had been fueling intense street battles between police and protesters for days exploded into an outright revolution. Parliament impeached the country’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, and ordered the country’s military back to its barracks. Jubilant protesters mobbed downtown Kiev and pored into Yanukovych’s deserted mansion, gawking at its life-size pirate ship, private zoo, and veritable museum of expensive, antique cars. In a dramatic scene, the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was released from the prison where she had spent the last two and a half years on a corruption conviction that was widely seen been as politically motivated.
Against this charged background, the couple’s tale of unlikely love came as an unexpected example of unity in a country that has become bitterly divided over the protest movement. On Friday, Pankiv was supposed to tell the story of her lovesick Berkut officer on INTER, a pro-government news channel. "You probably want to hear the story of how I held back the Berkut all night with my bare hands," she said.
Instead, she chose to tell a very different story.
While in December she told the Kyiv Post that she was "happy to know that there are people like that man in Ukraine’s police force," today, after some one hundred protesters have died at the hands of the Berkut, she says she hates him. And everything he represents.
"I’ll tell you a story of how I carried dead bodies with my bare hands yesterday. Yesterday, two of my friends were killed," the 24-year-old woman told the audience in the studio.
Here’s the television interview in full:
Pankiv was composed, though visibly emotional. "You probably want to hear the story of how a Berkut officer fell in love with me and I fell in love with him. But no, I’ve grown to hate him." She said she hates various Ukrainian officials, including the now former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and Yanukovych, the ousted president. "I hate the people who carry out their criminal orders."
And then, in the blue-lit talk show studio, surrounded by a confounded group of guests that included two somber-looking priests, she said she had decided to participate in the interview when she heard it would be broadcast live.
"And I want to say I hate the INTER station for lying to its viewers for three months and spreading hatred among the citizens of our country," she said. "You know are calling for unity and peace … The only thing you can do is host your shows on your knees." The audience erupted in applause.
She brought photos of the victims of police brutality and showed them to the confounded host. "I want my dead friends to haunt you in your dreams."
Then, she stood up and left. "I’m sorry, I do not have more time, I’m going back to the Maidan. Glory to Ukraine!"